‘Uala – sweet potato. Sometimes spelled as ‘uwala (but NEVER pronounced with the hard V sound), this wide-spreading vine was a kinolau, or body form, of Kamapuaʻa, the pig demi god, and dedicated to Lono, god of agriculture.  In fact during the makahiki festival in honor of Lono, ‘gala were laid on the altars of the heiau located in Kealakekua (people believed that Lono had made his first landing in Hawaiʻi here) since it was a staple in that dry area.

Though kalo was, by far, consumed in greater quantities, the ‘uala is more superior nutrition wise.  It was “steamed” in the imu, eaten whole or mashed and mixed with water, similar to poi, although in this form it did not “keep” quite as well as poi kalo. In this way it was considered inferior to its kalo counterpart.  Fermentation was quick.  Sometimes ‘uala was mixed with coconut milk (kōʻelepālau, a delicious dessert and favorite dish in my ʻohana) and eaten thusly or sometimes the raw tuber was grated, mixed with coconut milk then baked in the imu.  The leaves of the ‘uala were also cooked and eaten. I have, in fact, used ‘uala leaves to make laulau, when lūʻau (young taro leaves) were not available.  It cooked faster and tasted ʻono loa!

ʻUala is also used as a medicinal plant.  It is used to induce lactation, and some varieties are said to cure asthma.  It is also used to reduce phlegm (otherwise known as galagala)

‘Uala was cultivated extensively because it would grow in places that kalo would not.  On Ni’ihau, where rainfall is scarce, the people there relied heavily on ‘uala.  It could grow down at sea level, up in the mountains and Hawaiians knew when and where to plant the cuttings depending on the rainfall in the area.  In fact, sometimes when there were times of drought they would grow ‘uala in the lo’i kalo, the taro terraces, when kalo could not be grown.

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‘Ono ka ‘uala – Sweet potato is delicious.

Na wai i ‘ai i ka poi ‘uala? – Who ate sweet potato poi?

‘O ka ‘uala poni ka’u punahele – The purple sweet potato is my favorite.


He ‘uala ka ‘ai hoʻōla koke i ka wī – The sweet potato is the food that ends famine quickly (the sweet potato is a plant that matures in a few months)

Copyright: 2015 – Liana Iaea Honda. All rights reserved. All versions of He Momi e Lei ai”, in its entirety, past and present, is the property of L. K. I. Honda. Reproduction and use of any kind other than the sharing of this website is prohibited. Alteration to the original content in any form is prohibited in every and any instance, and use in any other variant is prohibited without written consent of the author. Adress inquiries to: hemomi [at] gmail.com. Definitions and wise sayings are from: Hawaiian Dictionary by Pukui and Elbert, 1986. ʻŌlelo Noʻeau – Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings by Mary Kawena Pukui, 1983.

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