Ethnobotanist Dr. Kāwika Winter tells of an ‘ōlelo no‘eau about kalo, the most important plant in Hawaiian agriculture. “It says ‘Ola ke kalo, ola ke kānaka; ola ke kānaka, ola ke kalo,’ which means if the taro lives, the Hawaiians live; if Hawaiians live, the taro lives.”
The proverb was more than metaphor, says Winter—it was reflected in reality. At the height of Hawaiian civilization more than four hundred varieties of kalo were cultivated. Then things changed.