Olonā – Touchardia latifolia


Me he lauoho māewa napenape nā lī lewalewa o luna o ka hale wili olonā.

Like swaying hair in the breeze were the strands of olonā hanging from the worksheds. – N. Gomes, as inspired by S.M. Kamakau, translated in Thrum 1919.

One of the strongest natural fibers in the world and endemic to our pae ʻāina, uses for kaula olonā (olonā cordage) are nearly innumerable. The twine doesnʻt kink, and many gauges can be used to fashion nets of all types, cords fasten adzes to handles, and a few fibers may tie ʻuo (feather bundles) to nae (very small-meshed nets) when constructing feather cloaks. Fishing nets, dyed with kokiʻo bark and resistant to salt water, last generations.

ʻUo, feather bundles, are tied to mind-bogglingly fine mesh of nae, netting made of olonā, to make ʻahu ʻula, or feathered capes. Special tools worked in and out of the net as nimble fingers knotted fibers.

Olonā and its cousin māmaki are both members of the nettle family, and prefer growing in wetter climes. Formerly cultivated in acres-big plantations, olonā is increasingly difficult to find in the wild. Introduced slugs are very fond of dining on the plants, and habitat is often destroyed by pigs or overcome by invasive plants. But, a few dedicated folks so inclined are growing olonā in shadehouses, enriching our lives, while recapturing what may have been.

Mahalo piha iā Gary Eoff no kāna hana maikaʻi ma ka hoʻoulu ana i ke olonā. Much thanks to Gary Eoff for his fine efforts in growing olonā.