The Canoe Begins In The Forest
The mild temperatures, abundant rain fall and rich soils make the Hawaiian Islands exceptionally inviting for plants and animals. However, being more than 2,000 miles away from any other land mass, required that any form of life making it to these islands had to fly or float over the ocean to get here. Up until the arrival of man, only a small number of colonizers succeeded in establishing a foot hold. Over a period of five million years, these early indigenous plants and animals evolved into a multitude of different endemic species. In this isolated but balanced world, these species developed a very interdependent and interrelated life cycle. Competition was limited and interdependence promoted survival.
Indiginious and Endemic Plants Used In The Construction Of The Hawaiian Canoe
The Koa is endemic to Hawaii and is used to build the Ka'ele (Hull) of the canoe. It takes the Koa some 150 to 200 years to reach the size sufficent to make a 40 ft canoe.
Kawa'u is indigenous to Hawaii and also found in Tahiti. It was used to make the mo'o (gunwale) of the canoe.
Ho'awa is endemic to Hawaii and was used to make the mo'o (gunwale) of the canoe
ʻŌhi'a is endemic to Hawaii and is the most common native tree. It is the first tree to grow on fresh lava flows. The 'Ōhi'a was used to make the mo'o (gunwale) on the canoe and 'Iako for large double canoes.
Naio is indigenous to Hawaii and is also found in the Cook Islands of the South Pacific. It is used to construct the mo'o (gunwale) of the canoe.
Introduced Canoe Plants
The early Polynesian settlers brought with them plants and animals that were critical to their survival. These introduced plants and animals along with the clearing of the native forest and wetlands for agriculture, greatly changed the landscape. Archaeological records indicate that many endemic species became extinct soon after the arrival of these first settlers. The descendants of these settlers however realized that they too would have to fit into the cooperative life cycle of these islands if they were to survive. They too would have to become interdependent with the other species that lived on and around these islands. It was through this process of becoming interdependent and inter-related that these settlers became Hawaiian.
The Kukui is found throughout the tropical Pacific but not on the Asiatic continent. Because the seeds/nuts of this tree do not float nor are they resistant to salt water, it seems certain that the early settlers brought the Kukui to Hawaii. The Kukui was easily worked wood and favored for making small canoes, under 15 ft. It was also used for making the kupe. The nuts were used for light Thus the English name Candle Nut Tree.
The Ulu or Bread fruit tree, while some times used in the construction of Kaele, (hulls) Mo'o and Kupe, were valued more for its fruit. The round fruit provided a very nutritional food and was made into a form of poi. The sap of the Ulu tree was also used to create a calking to patch cracks in the canoe hull and fill spaces in between canoe parts.
Niu is a tropical tree found from Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and through out the islands of the Pacific. The Coconut was used as food and the fiber of the coconut used to make cordage and used in making calking to seal cracks in the canoe hull. Niu was so valued that to cut down a Niu tree was considered a declaration of war.
Hau is native to most tropical countries in the Pacific but brought to Hawaii by the first settlers. Because of its usefulness it was a serious offence to cut any Hau without first obtaining permission from a Chief. Hau was used to make the 'Iako and ama of the canoe along with the spars and mast for the sail. It also was used in making fire.