Since few of us live on farms today then most kids can be excused for thinking that food originates within the freezer from which it is taken! In Hawaii it is possible to buy poi in bags or tubs in many, many grocery stores and small shops. How many Hawaiian youngsters think the poi just magically appears in those tubs and bags overnight while they sleep?
On Olelo Community Television I watched a video which concerned acquainting Hawaiian youngsters with something central to their culture and their history: the making of poi. The video is entitled “Keiki Cook Kalo” and in it young Hawaiians are shown learning where the poi comes from and how to make it. We watch as the kids take the Kalo (Taro) tubers and clean them, steam them, scrape the skin off of them and then for the first time sit down and make poi out of them. To make poi a sort of wooden bench with a built-in bowl is employed. The steamed tubers are placed in the bowl and a “poi pounder” is used to transform the tuber into the paste known as poi. The tubers are not really pounded but first rendered into a mashed state, and then slowly worked back and forth, over and over, until the mash becomes the paste.
Even in Hawaii if we want mayonnaise we can go to the store and buy a jar of it off of the shelf. If we really want to appreciate mayonnaise, however, we should make it ourselves! Of course that will require at least some kind of oil, egg yolks, lemon juice and a strong arm for wisking it together! My point is that the making of something creates an ability to appreciate that something. While it requires at least three different ingredients to make mayonnaise, poi on the other hand is incredibly simple: it is only itself! We cannot put other things together and have them wind up as poi! It is amazing to me that something so simple as poi could be the foundation for the rich complexity of the Hawaiian culture! But it is… and has been as far back as can be recalled.
We now live in a culture which makes everything and anything available to us either down the block or via Fed-Ex. When the latest technological gadget comes out crowds stampede to get it! I wonder if the availability of everything has caused us to lose our ability to enjoy what is simple? And I wonder if this reality affects the inability of most Mainlanders to appreciate the simplicity of poi? How can something so simple, with such a simple taste, be desired by so many people and be such a constant throughout Hawaiian history even while having no meaning to a Mainlander?
Even worse than the inability to appreciate simplicity is the Mainland tendency to dismiss poi because it is unfamiliar! How about if those who visit Hawaii decide to taste poi each day of their visit and become familiar with it in order to try to get some insight into why it is so beloved by Hawaiians? How about if Mainlanders try to make some poi while in Hawaii? And when they go home, how about if Mainlanders make some mayonnaise by hand in order to learn to appreciate what they so mindlessly grab off of the store shelf? Whether in Hawaii or on the Mainland, in the end appreciation needs to be cultivated!