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A Calabash of Poi

Based on "A Calabash of Poi," originally published in In the Path of the Trade Winds by Coral Wells Thorpe (New York/London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1924).

It was a sizable house, as Hawaiian houses go, perhaps fifty feet long, its side thatched with ti-leaves—a sign of rank. Its only window, about a foot square, looked out on a carefully planted taro patch, while rows of coconut palms and fruit-laden banana plants made a pretty background.

Pele, the goddess of fire, was walking down the mountainside. Today she had disguised herself especially as an old, feeble woman with a hard face, and bitterness in her eyes. She grasped her cane, and hobbled up to the big house.

"Aloha," she said to the small group of people sitting in the doorway.

"Aloha," was the reply, in a not-too-friendly voice.

Pele waited. Apparently there was to be no invitation to enter or to refresh herself.

"I have walked many miles," she said finally, using a weak voice. "I am very hungry. Perhaps you have a calabash of poi for me."

"We are very sorry, but we have no poi," said the Hawaiian chief, the master of the house. "Besides our evening meal is pau."

"Then, perhaps, a small piece of salted fish?"

"No, nor fish," was the short rejoinder.

"Then, at least, some ripe berries? I am parched with thirst?'

"Our berries are all green, as you can see for yourself, providing your eyes are not too dimmed by age."

Pele's eyes were far from dim! At other times, flashes of fire blazed in her eyes at a moment's provocation. But this time, bowing low, she made her way in silence to the gate. A few steps further down the hard road, she entered a smaller garden and paused at a small hut. The work of the day and the evening meal were over. The children played. A man and woman sat watching the last golden rays of the sun sinking behind the gentle slopes of Mauna Loa.

"Ah, I see your evening meal is past;" sighed Pele. "I am sorry for I am tired and hungry, and had hoped for a little refreshment after a day's walk down the steep mountain."

"Neither fish nor awa have we," said the poor fisherman, "but to such as we have, you are most welcome."

Even as he spoke, his wife had risen, motioned Pele to a place on the mat, and set before her a large calabash of poi.

Pele ate happily. Dipping her finger in the calabash, she raised it dripping with poi, and placed it in her mouth. She finished the entire contents in no time and, looking up, remarked:

"I am still hungry. Would it be too much to ask for another calabash?"

The woman arose and placed before her a second calabash of poi, not perhaps as large as the first, but filled to the brim.

Again Pele emptied the calabash eagerly. She sighed as she finished the last mouthful, calling attention to the empty calabash in her lap.

This time, a third calabash—smaller than the second, but quite full—was placed before her. Pele finished half of it, arose to her feet, and, uttered these words:

"When your neighbors plant taro, it shall wither on its stem. Their bananas shall die on the stalk, and their coconuts shall fall on their favorite pig. But when you plant taro at night, you may pull it in the morning. Your cane shall mature overnight and your bananas ripen in one day's sunshine. You shall have as many crops as there are days in the year!"

Then Pele trudged out of the gate and was seen to disappear toward Ha-le-mau-mau in a cloud of flame.

When the astonished fisherman walked outside his hut the next morning, yellow bananas hung on new plants, the full grown taro stood ready to be pulled, and the cane-cuttings reached to the eaves of his house. Looking across to his rich neighbors land, he saw that, indeed, the curse of Pele had already come. In place of prosperous acres stood only sun-parched remnants of yesterday's proud crop.

In modern times, they say: "Whether you believe in the old lady Pele or not, don't ever forget to be nice to the old folks. It just might be Pele. You can't always tell."

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Last updated on Tuesday, July 9, 2013.

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