Ai Pono Banner


Holoiʻa ka papa, kau ʻia e ka manu. Where there is food, people gather. 

Food is central in every culture, fostering traditions and a sense of community, while also providing us with the nutrients we need to live. In Ai Pono, we will explore the interconnectedness of Native Hawaiian food systems and access, nutrition, and sustainability. Through this series, we will attempt to draw connections between traditional Native Hawaiian food and health/well-being.

To start this series, we will take a glance at how kalo, which is also referred to as “The Staff of Life,” has fulfilled this title and the role it plays in Native Hawaiian diet and culture.

From the beginning, we can see the significance of kalo in Native Hawaiian culture. The origin of kalo comes from when the sky father Wākea and earth mother Papa gave birth to their first child Hāloa, who did not survive and was buried.  Fromthe spot he was buried, the first kalo plant sprouted.¹Wākea and Papa had a second child, Hāloanakalaukapalili, whose children became the Hawaiian people. Thus, kalo has come to represent the idea of a family with the main stalk representing the parent and the offshoots as the children.² We can see this even in the etymology of words like ōhana, as the ohā derives from the word for the shoots that sprout from the main kaloplant.¹

Pre-contact, kalo was the primary crop grown in wetlands. By the end of the 19th century, though, the acreage of land devoted to kalo farms had decreased from 50,000 to 30,000, and since 1965, only around 400 acres of land have been devoted to kalofarms.³ After western explorers colonized the Hawaiian Islands, the demand and supply for kalo fell as kūpuna with agricultural knowledge died from diseases that settlers introducedand resources that previously were dedicated togrowing and nurturing kalo were diverted to growing foods like rice and sandalwood for export.⁴

Kalo was also a highly nutritious food and one of the staple carbohydrates in the traditional Native Hawaiian diet. All parts of the kalo plant are edible as the leaves and stems can be cooked as greens and the tubers baked, boiled, mashed, steamed, or cooked.² Additionally, the main corm plant provides potassium, fiber, calcium, and iron, while kalo leaves provide sources of provitamin A carotenoids, vitamins C and B₂, and vitamin B₁.¹ Withthe decreased prevalence of kalo and other traditional Native Hawaiian foods in peoples’ diets came higher rates of obesity and diabetes – issues that Native Hawaiians continue to disproportionately experience today.

It was estimated that, pre-contact, Native Hawaiians ate up to 15 pounds of poi a day.⁵ Over the years, though, the price of taro and poi have been rising as the price of taro rose from 57 cents per pound in 2006 to 62 cents per pound in 2008, and the price of a pound of poi rose from $4 to anywhere between $5 and $7.99 or higher at grocery stores.⁴ Today, a pound of poi at Safeway can cost anywhere from $6.99 to $11.99 or $7.99 to $12.99 at Foodland. This is a lot compared to the average price of a meal in 2020 in Hawai'i, which is estimated at being around $3.39, according to Feeding America.⁶  Asthe prices of traditional foods rise over time, it becomes more difficult for people to incorporate it into their diets when they become unaffordable. This leads people to turn toward purchasing cheaper,oftenless nutritious foods, in turn, impacting their health.

The resounding impacts that a decreased prevalence of and harder access to kalo has had over time demonstrates the important role that food plays in our lives. Over the next couple of months, we will continue exploring topics of food access, nutrition, andfood systems, and how we can connect with food on a deeper level. 

~ Na Maris Tasaka, Communications Assistant


Further Readings/Media


  1. Cho JJ, Yamakawa RA, Hollyer J. 2007. Hawaiian kalo, past and future. Honolulu (HI): University of Hawaii. 8 p. (Sustainable Agriculture; SCM-1).
  2. Lincoln, Noa Kekuewa, and Peter Vitousek. "Indigenous Polynesian Agriculture in Hawaiʻi." Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. 29 Mar. 2017; Accessed 3 Mar. 2021.
  3. Kagawa-Viviani, Aurora; Levin, Penny; Johnston, Edward; Ooka, Jeri; Baker, Jonathan; Kantar, Michael; Lincoln, Noa K. 2018. "I KeĒwe ʻĀina o Ke Kupuna: Hawaiian Ancestral Crops in Perspective" Sustainability 10, no. 12: 4607.
  4. Taro Security and Purity Task Force. 2009, Taro Security and Purity Task Force 2010 Legislative Report.
  5. Mishan, Ligaya. “On Hawaii, the Fight for Taro’s Revival.” The New York Times, 8 Nov. 2019.
  6. “Hunger in Hawaii.” Feeding America
  7. Look, M.A., Soong S., Kaholokula, J.K. (2020). Assessment and Priorities for Health and Well-Being in Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.  Honolulu, HI. Department of Native Hawaiian Health,  John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawai‘i
Pin It

ssw logo new 2021


We are proud to announce that Papa Ola Lōkahi’s Executive Director, Dr. Sheri-Ann Daniels, has been appointed to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health Dean’s Advisory Council.

  Aubrey Hord WEB Sheri Daniels 005 

At the helm of Papa Ola Lōkahi, the Native Hawaiian Health board, since 2016, Dr. Daniels has worked tirelessly over the past year as a co-lead of the Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Hawaiʻi COVID-19 Response, Recovery & Resilience Team since the beginning of last year.  She has been a member of the International Indigenous Council of Healing Our Spirit Worldwide since 2018and since 2019 has served on theAdvisory Council on Minority Health, and HawaiʻDepartment of Health’s Tobacco Prevention & Control Advisory BoardWe are confident she will be a valuable member of the advisory council. 


Jodi 10 12 18 pic 2 revised 1

 Dr. Daniels will be joined by Dr. Jodi Haunani Leslie Matsuoan alumna of the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialistalong with nine other council members.

The School of Social Work & Public Health was named for Myron B. Thompson, an alumnus of the school who also helped establish Papa Ola Lōkahi.  The school is committed to achieving social justice and health equity for the people of Hawaiʻi in a changing world. Its core values are centered around Mālamaike Kanaka Apau, Ulu Pono, and Hoʻokaulike.

We look forward to seeing how Dr. Daniels and Dr. Matsuo help manifest the school’s values and advance its mission, and are excited to see the work they will do as members of the Dean’s Advisory Council.


Pin It



MEDIA ADVISORY Sen Brian Schatz opens Telehealth webinar NHPI COVID19 3R 2020 10201024 1Register here

Pin It

NHHSP Scholars 2021 final

(Kaka‘ako, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i)   The Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program announces awards to nine students in medicine, nursing, social work, psychology and dietetics.

“We’re so pleased with the diversity of backgrounds represented by the scholars in this cohort,” exclaims Dr. Sheri Daniels, executive director of Papa Ola Lōkahi, which administers the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program.  

Four (4) are studying in the continental U.S., two (2) in Hilo, two (2) at UH Mānoa and one (1) at Chaminade.  One student is from Molokai, three (3) are from Hawai‘i, two (2) from O‘ahu, one from the continental U.S. and one who claims home both O‘ahu and U.S.

Modeled after the National Health Service Corps, the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program (NHHSP) has been a catalyst in building a workforce knowledgeable, capable and committed to serving the unique needs of Hawaiian communities. Each graduating scholar is obliged, upon completion of study and licensure, to serve full-time in a clinical capacity in medically under-served areas in Hawai'i for a period commensurate with the length of scholarship support.

Since 1991, more than 300 NHHSP awards have been made in 20 different primary and behavioral health care disciplines and even more sub-specialties. More than 200 have been placed into the workforce across six islands impacting the well-being of the communities they serve. More than half of those have chosen to stay in those communities beyond the required service obligation.

“This program has identified individuals committed to their communities by improving the accessibility and acceptability of health care,” shares Dr. Donna-Marie Palakiko, NHHSP director and herself a NHHSP alumna.

“Many of our NHHSP alumni have risen to positions of leadership in the local medical, public health and Hawaiian communities,” Dr. Daniels continues. “Which is exactly what the early Hawaiian health program visionaries hoped for 30 years ago; a competent workforce dedicated to providing day-to-day health care that will contribute to raising the health status of Native Hawaiians and their families.  That’s servant leadership.”


Visit for more information about the Native Hawaiian Health Scholarship Program.                                

The next round of applications is now open through March 15, 2021.

PDF News Release attached

# # #

Pin It

Papa Ola Lōkahi, in partnership with ‘Ahahui o nā Kauka, Association of Native Hawaiian Physicians, has embarked on an campaign to raise awareness of issues around Hawaiian involvement in genetic and genomic research for medical purposes. We have begun by introducing a series of presentations on Hawaiian Genomics in the fall of 2020, and we are providing a reading list below.  Eventually, we will be reaching out to Hawaiian communities for guidance.  Meanwhile, check back here regularly to catch up on the resources so that you and yours are able to make informed recommendations.


HGenome 4 Webinar 002 thumbnail


Ola Hawai'i presents Emerging Research in Hawaiian Health & Well-Being


Part 4:  State of the Field

June 12, 2021, 1:00 PM HST










Current Genomics Nov 21 2020 flyer


Part 3:  Current Genomics

November 21, 2020, 4:00 PM HST








Ancient Genomics 2020 1023 finalPart 2:  Ancient Genomics

October 23, 2020, Friday, 6:00 PM HST


Recording (FB)






Hawaiian Genomics 101 announcement flyer 2020 1010 final


Hawaiian Genomics 101

October 10, 2020, Saturday, 4:00 PM HST










Reading List




Pin It

Stay Informed

Subscribe to our mailing list



Real time web analytics, Heat map tracking