An Experiment in Caring for Kalo

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Photo: Piliwale Kaai

By Piliwale Kaai, Grade 11 Hālau Kū Māna Public Charter School

This school year, my classmates and I were tasked with developing an experiment that would teach us how to take care of kalo. I hypothesized that when talking to the plants, speaking in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi is more beneficial than speaking in ʻōlelo pelekania. I reasoned that kalo is a native plant and, like humans, requires good transference of love and positive energy. Speaking nicely and in our mother tongue, therefore, should be beneficial to both the kalo and its caretaker.

My hypothesis was based on lessons shared with our class by ʻAnakala Küʻike ʻOhelo. He taught us that family members have a responsibility to take care of each other, and since kalo is alive it should be treated as our own keiki. In my experiment, I spoke Hawaiian to one plant (Kalo ʻEkahi) and English to another (Kalo ʻElua) to see how both plants might be impacted.

When tending to kalo, I often think of an ʻōlelo noʻeau that references Hāloa, the stillborn son of Wākea, from whose burial site the first kalo sprung: “Hāloa ke kalo, Hāloa ke kānaka,” meaning “Hāloa the plant, Hāloa the human.”

As I started to mālama my kalo I came up with a routine that reflected this understanding. I fed each kalo 20 ounces of wai three times a day and made sure I thought good thoughts as I prepared to greet them. I would greet Kalo ʻEkahi with “Pehea ʻoe, e Hāloa,” and Kalo ʻElua with “Good Morning, Hāloa.” Each Friday I measured their lau and checked for signs of developing ʻohā.

In November, as we were transitioning from Kū Season to Lono Season, the wind started to pick up, creating holes in the lau of Kalo ʻElua versus little to no holes in those of Kalo ʻEkahi.

The following month, I noticed that Kalo ʻElua had gained some of its colors and had started to reshape and reform into its original state. The mahae on each lau were the same and were very distinct in color, and the size of the lau remained at 12 inches for some time. When I returned a week later, I noticed that Kalo ʻEkahi started to sprout an ʻohā! That night I looked at the moon and it was Mōhalu, which means to unfold or to blossom. I thought that was a cool connection in itself. The kalo I’d been speaking to in English had not yet sprouted any ʻohā.

The experiment is ongoing, but I believe that my hypothesis so far has been true.

Our experiments with kalo will help to further research. This experience has helped me to figure out my career path and discover my passions for my future. It also taught me that it is my responsibility to learn and preserve our ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. In closing, I would like to highlight the saying “Koʻikoʻi ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi – Hawaiian language is imperative and important” to the thriving of our lāhui and communities.