by Veronica S.
Local Hawaiian Bananas
Yes, the Latin word for the banana is Musa. Coincidence?
The banana belongs to the plants of the ancients and
has been given God-like powers in many diverse cultures.
These "old-world" plants are thought to have
originated in India and played an important role in
ancient Egypt and Assyria as early as 1100 BC.
For the early Hawaiians, the banana tree was the embodiment
of the God Kanaloa who came from Tahiti and was himself
a banana planter and it is said that the folk of Mu,
the aboriginal, mythological race that inhabited the
islands long before the Polynesians arrived, already
were avid banana munchers.
When the first Polynesians migrated to the islands
in their slender canoes, they took with them 3 or 4
species. After all, they also had to take their other
produce. Richard Ha, owner of Keaau Banana Plantation
and Mauna Kea Bananas , imagines, "If I had to
paddle a canoe, I would have brought only species with
huge and heavy bunches."
The Hawaiians created at least 50 different varieties
out of these original plants. But they never used them
as a staple food source. Bananas were too sacred. They
were a delicacy, and a welcome alternative in times
of scarcity. The banana was often used as symbol for
man in the many religious ceremonies. Often a stalk
substituted for a human sacrifice, and the favorite
ceremonial banana was the lele, with its double meaning,
because lele also means "to fly away." Thus,
in any ritual were a suggestion of flying transpired,
the lele featured. Love, for example, could fly to a
Under punishment with death, women couldn't touch the
sacred fruit till the abolition of the taboo in 1819.
The early Hawaiian banana belongs to the general category
musa paradisiaca. Many of its local varieties are seldom
seen on the market, including the dark-blue ice cream
bananas, the wild tall Brazilian (falsely named "apple"),
and the different cooking bananas. The sweet dessert
bananas we are used to, are recent imports. Examples
are the Chinese Cavendish, the popular Williams, and
the dwarf Brazilian banana, which tastes like a tart
green apple, and is rapidly taking over the markets
in its brief ten years of Hawaiian existence.
Hawaii leads the United States in banana production,
growing well over 13 million pounds of the creamy fruit
yearly. The two plantations owned by Richard Ha, on
the East Coast of Hawaii in Keeau and Pepeekeo, form
the largest plantation in the state, providing over
60% of the Big Island's total production.
"We grow almost all varieties," Ha says,
"including cooking bananas."
And here's a last and deepest banana muse: The banana
tree might be all we need to learn about life, from
birth to death. All Hawaiian proverbs surely say so!
In modern English those words of wisdom sweeten down
The banana being a herb, its trunk is soft and tender
at the core, yet strong and yielding against the Hawaiian
winds. Patient and enduring, the banana produces one
majestic flower loaded with a complete food. New shoots
emerge at its sides. After the fruit reaches maturity,
the parent, reassured, simply dies. Could we only live
this way. Too heavy a thought when you reach for
a banana again?
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