The Gift of Ku: Story of ʻUlu (Hawaiian Breadfruit)

June 27, 2021

The Gift of Ku: Story of ʻUlu (Hawaiian Breadfruit)

It is known that the ancient Hawaiians colonized the Pacific nearly 1000 years before Colombus crossed the Atlantic Ocean. One of the most important plants that the ancient Hawaiians brought to Hawaiʻi was known as the ʻulu, or breadfruit tree. For hundreds of years prior to Western contact, the ʻulu was considered a staple food in Hawai‘i and played a significant role in the culture and spiritual life of the Hawaiians. There is one moʻolelo (story / legend) about how the ʻulu came to be known as “The Gift of Kū.”

Whenever Kū, the Hawaiian god of war and prosperity came to the islands, the sky would always celebrate his arrival in commotion – thunder, lighting and loud cracks. However, the people did not recognize Kū as a god, in fact, Kū was known to live among the people as a planter. It is said that Kū fell in love with a young woman and decided to start a family, but years later, they were struck by a terrible famine. The people within the Hawaiian village became weak and began to starve – even Kūʻs children.

Kū knew something had to be done, he told his wife that he could help but needed to travel far away in order to do so. His wife agreed and soon Kū began to grow tall, planting his feet firmly on the ground sinking into it as the dirt swallowed him up. The next day, a sprout grew from where Kū was buried and the plant began to grow swiftly, reaching up to the stars. Hundreds of ʻulu fruit swung from the branches and Kū told his wife from within, “Roast the fruit well, remove the skin and you shall eat.” And this was the gift of Kū.

This moʻolelo reminds us about the sacrifice and preservation of the culture and of the ʻāina. There is a wise saying or ʻōlelo noʻeau that says “Ka ʻai kīʻoʻe lāʻau” or the food reached for with a stick – a reminder of the tall breadfruit tree.