Canoe Plants of Ancient Hawai`i
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`Ape - `Awa -`Awapuhi -Hau -Ipu -Kalo -Kamani -Ki -Ko -Kou -Kukui -Mai`a
Milo -Niu -Noni -`Ohe -`Ohi`a `Ai -`Olena -Olona -Pia -`Uala -Uhi -`Ulu -Wauke
There are those who say that the beautifully grained milo wood utensils, furnishings and jewelry were only for the chiefs of ancient Hawai`i. It is told that the Waikiki home of Kamehameha I was surrounded by milo trees.
Although rare today, in old Hawai`i milo was a commonly found tree, cultivated as a shade plant around homes near sunny coastal areas with loose soil. It does not grow in the high inland forests.
Brought to these islands by early Polynesian settlers who carried the seeds, this fast-growing evergreen tree was planted around the temples in Tahiti, as it was said to be spiritually connected to the chant and to prayer. It is a widespread species throughout Polynesia and Micronesia, as well as in tropical Africa.
Milo's scientific name is Thespesia populnea, and it is also known as a portia tree. A member of the Hibiscus family, the malvacceae, it is a close relative of hau, `ilima, and ma`o, Hawai`i cotton.
The bark of milo was used for cordage fiber, similarly to hau, but it is inferior in quality to hau and to olona. The tree also yields tannin, dye, oil, medicine and gum, from various parts of the plant. The milo wood was skillfully crafted into poi bowls called `umeke `ai, and into plates, too. Calabashes/bowls of kou wood were more highly prized than those of milo, and were more often used.
`Umeke `ai is an honored implement in a Hawai`i home, for through the ceremony of eating poi one at a time from the bowl at the center, the traditions and protocol of Kanaka Maoli is maintained. The `umeke `ai filled with kalo (taro) is considered the means of survival of the people of Hawai`i Nei.
`Umeke la`au is the Hawai`i name for these containers or calabashes of wood, which were used for the storage, transport and serving of food in various stages of preparation. Milo wood is flavorless, since it is lacking in any unpleasant-tasting sap that could contaminate stored food.
The milo tree is a small to medium-sized one, growing to less than 40 feet high. The trunk can be 2 feet in diameter at full maturity. The bark is corrugated, with scaly twigs. The branches are widely spread and usually horizontal, making for an ideal shade tree. The glossy heart-shaped leaves are 3-5 inches across. Young leaves are edible. Bell-shaped pale yellow flowers with maroon or purple centers turn purplish-pink as they with in their short one day hibiscus life. Following the flowering stage, the one inch diameter seeds grow in globular 5-celled woody cases that have downy hairs on their surface. These remain on the plant for sometime, and ripen only in areas of dry climate.
Milo wood has an attractive grain that takes to a high polish and, in addition to food utensils and containers, was fashioned into paddles and other carved objects, as well as for an occasional canoe, although koa was considered to be the most popular material for canoes.
|Canoe Plants of Ancient Hawai`i|
Intro - Contents - Bibliography - Links - Credits