Tens of thousands of years ago, brave Polynesians followed the stars to the islands of Hawaii by canoe. With them, they carried roots, cuttings and seeds of their most precious plants, which would provide food, materials for clothing and shelter – life itself.
Coconut – niu – and ‘awa are two of the most treasured plants in Hawaiian culture.
They are considered to be body forms of our ancestor, Kane. Niu symbolizes the head or po’o of Kane and Awa the backbone or kua of Kane. Both are used for healing and in ceremony, and both niu and ‘awa helped early Hawaiians in life-sustaining ways.‘Awa, a shrub from the pepper family with heart-shaped leaves, was widely used in traditional Hawaiian culture in a variety of prayer rituals and medicinal remedies. The plant assists in opening communication channels, helps relieve pain and relax muscles. It also stimulates and refreshes the body.In Hawaiian culture, drinking ‘awa is an offering of gratitude to the divine, and traditionally ‘apu ‘awa – special cups made from coconut shells – are used in ceremony. Sometimes the water from coconut is mixed with ‘awa for drinking, for it’s seen as the purest water.Beyond the nourishing benefits of coconut, niu provided ancient Hawaiians with shade, material for baskets, mats, clothing and fans. Coconut meat, from nuts of different maturities, was eaten cooked and raw, prepared in various ways to provide sweet and savory dishes packed with nutrients. Coconut meat was also chewed after the ingestion of a bitter or otherwise displeasing medicine.When ancient Polynesians began their first treks across the ocean to the Hawaiian archipelago, they carried precious cargo that would sustain them for thousands of years to come. They, as did ancient Hawaiians, understood the life-giving force of plants, and our duty – our kuleana – is to be stewards of the land.With our exhaled breath, CO2 is transformed into the sustenance we breath by the plants around us. Our clothing and shelter – from plants. Our earliest musical instruments – from plants. They nourish us, and we care for them.
As spring arrives, cheerful and warm, we are surrounded and blessed by new blooms and growth. The bees awaken, ready to pollenate. And as for us, something inside awakens, too.
Spring is the season for renewal, for nourishment, for life. Just as the earliest Polynesians to arrive on the ‘aina of the Hawaiian Islands, carrying nature’s bounty, so does spring arrive with the sustenance of life.As you take a moment to reflect on the power of plants to provide for us, nourish us, and complete the cycles of life that nature intends, what is it that astounds you most? How do plants inspire your health and well-being? Share your reflections in the comments.