Euphemia ʻIhilani Spencer ("Lani") lived in Honolulu, on the island of O‘ahu. She went for vacations in Pauka‘a, on the island of Hawai‘i. Nearby Honoli‘i brings her visions of cooking because this is where her maternal grandmother lived, spending much of her time in the kitchen. While Lani was young, her parents were poor and saving money for a house. The foods they ate most commonly were poi, fish, and salt. Lani also grew up on stews and salads, as well as taro, chicken, and pig. In addition, her family ate a lot of fresh vegetables and made their own fruit juices. Modern health problems, including heart disease, were unheard of.
Next door to Lani’s home in Honolulu, her paternal grandparents raised chickens. In Honoliʻi, Lani enjoyed making large Portuguese sausages with her family, which were preserved in lard-filled crocks. These were delicious boiled with cabbage. Fish was usually steamed or pickled. Salmon with cream sauce was typical. Cod was cooked with potatoes, garlic and vinegar. Lani and her family hardly drank milk, although they sometimes had cream for their oatmeal.
All fish, beef and pork were dried and salted for preservation from the 1800’s until the 1930’s. So there was no refrigeration during Lani’s early childhood. Instead, the “ice box man” brought ice every day and placed it in a box at her home. Sugar plantations brought the kerosene refrigerator soon after in 1934, and electric refrigeration followed in 1936. Lani remembers her uncle-in-law, an overweight Chinese man who had huge refrigerators with all kinds of food.
Maui- Nā Hono a Piʻilani
Lani was thirteen or fourteen years old when she moved to the island of Maui, where she met Francis Vierra Marciel, Jr. ("Bushy"). Lani's mother was very sickly at that time. Thus, she had to take care of her younger brothers and cook for them. Their common fare was meat and vegetables over rice, always accompanied by poi. Soup was also made, from meat bones and vegetables. In addition, their home was practically on the shore, and Lani remembers that her mother would walk way out into the low ocean tide, and look under the rocks for limu (Hawaiian seaweed), shellfish, and crab.
Bushy lived up the mountain from Lani. He walked down to Wai‘ehu Golf Course, where he worked as a caddy to earn lunch money, along with Lani’s younger brothers. So the boys always had spending money and ate good plate lunches. The kids all attended Catholic school down the street.
Bushy has always loved fishing. At the time, he lived with his uncle who drank frequently, and his aunt who was sickly with asthma. So he did a lot of fishing to help feed the family. Sometimes, his hunting endeavors went beyond fishing. Lani becomes hysterical when she recalls the following antics. On their way to go fishing, Bushy would tell his friends to steal a chicken from the Japanese man down the street, then cook it on the beach!
Nā Kula Kamehameha - Kamehameha Schools
Lani returned to O‘ahu to attend Kamehameha Schools, part of a special trust for Kānaka Maoli (aboriginal Hawaiians) provided by the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. The entire faculty were Protestant haole (Caucasians). Hence, she experienced the privileges of a middle-upper class, American lifestyle. She never ate so well either. Her fellow classmates would remark at how she would be thin at the beginning of every school year, and return home plump in the summer.
Senior year at Kamehameha Schools was the most memorable for Lani. For three months, she and her classmates had the privilege of living at the cottage in Kapālama Heights, Honolulu. They had their own dining hall and cooking teacher. There was even a Chinese cook and a dietitian. They cooked meals for the other children, and took turns being waitresses. They ordered meat and dairy products from the Kamehameha Schools Dairy Farm in Niu Valley, and even had them delivered.
Vegetable salads, fruit salads, and desserts were available every lunch and dinner, and birthdays of the month were celebrated. Cereal was always eaten for breakfast—very fine bran flakes topped with cream. After serving all of the other kids, Lani would devour all the bran and cream leftovers, gaining weight as a result. She exclaims, “the food was so good in there!”
Kaupō - ʻĀina Hānau o ka ʻOhana Kaʻilikea-Marciel
Bushy’s family in Kaupō, Maui, was almost entirely self-sufficient. They grew all of their own food and “lived off the land.” Taro, rice, yams, sweet potato and breadfruit were the main dietary starches. Bushy remembers about twenty different varieties of ‘uala (Hawaiian sweet potato) that grew wild, with red, white or yellow skin. All you had to do was snip a vine, replant it, and it would propagate. Beans, corn, cabbage, peas, carrots and other vegetables were grown as well.
Taro was the only plant that wasn’t grown at Bushy's family residence. Instead, his father brought home wild mountain taro. When Frank was twelve years-old, he and his three older brothers would cook and pound the taro into poi.
There were many fruits in Kaupō. Bananas grew wild. Bushy’s father would plant shoots of many different varieties. The Hawaiian variety, with red skin, was good for cooking. There was also the long Chinese Bluefield variety. You only needed to plant them once and they would propagate.
Bushy used to climb four mango trees in the yard, one of which was grafted with five different varieties. He remembers getting acid sores from handling too many mangoes. He used castor oil to clean up these sores. The mango trees lived long. Some he remembers, thirty feet tall, still live today!
There were also different varieties of papaya. Passion fruit grew along the river. Jackfruit was introduced from the Philippines by the Hāna sugar plantations. Hawaiian plumb, macadamia nuts and selected varieties of avocado were also grown. They even planted coffee trees. Bushy says some are around two hundred years-old! At his maternal grandmother’s house, he remembers pomegranates. Everything grew so much that trees had to continually be cleared to get access.
Bushy’s family always caught fish and gathered limu from the ocean half a mile away. Limu-kohu is a sweet seaweed. Poke is limu mixed with fish, tomatoes, onion and salt. Kinilau is limu mixed with fish, onion, soy sauce, and a little tomato sauce.
Chickens and pigs roamed around in the yard at Bushy’s home. Each year, only four of the pigs were raised in a pen to be fattened and slaughtered during the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Lau lau was fish, chicken, or pork wrapped in taro leaves and steamed in ti leaves. Most meat was either steamed or boiled in stews with a lot of vegetables. Bushy’s parents raised no cattle, but his uncles owned Kaupō Cattle Ranch, which his grandfather founded in the 1800’s. In fact, Bushy’s cousins still operate it today.
Keonona - Ka Hiapo
Francis Vierra Marciel, III ("Keonona") was the firstborn child of Bushy and Lani. During Keo’s formative years, between 1941 and 1951, water came from artesian wells and rainwater catchment tanks. Fresh teas and medicinal herbs were commonplace. He also remembers guava, tamarind, pineapple and sugar cane. He especially remembers the first time he tried asparagus. His aunt forced him and his cousins to eat it: “It was like swallowing wooden dowels covered with splinters.” They were punished to an early bed for upchucking the asparagus.
At ten years of age, Keo first learned to eat live ‘a‘ama, a common black crab. He vividly remembers his great-grandmothers sitting around a table supporting a huge ceramic bowl filled with live ‘a‘ama all trying to escape over the sides. Skillfully, these kūpuna (grandparents) would each grab one, quickly insert it into their mouths and dispatch of it. Keo watched the crabs’ legs frantically clutch the outer part of his grandmothers’ lips in a vain attempt to escape. He “thought they were nuts!” The ‘a‘ama is a pure vegetarian that eats only seaweed. Very nutritious and high in iodine content, its curative powers were in warding off goiter and malfunctioning of the thyroid gland.
Dessert during a Kanaka Maoli lū‘au, or feast, included sweet potato and yams. Haupia was a coconut pudding, and kūlolo was a coconut and taro pudding baked in an imu, or earth oven. Kūlolo is rarely found today, except at first year birthday lū‘au or ‘Āina Waimaka (Feast of Tears), marking the first year after death.
Kaua a me Hope - War and After
During World War II, people in Hawai‘i had to stand in line and purchase goods with ration coupons. After World War II and the Korean War, Keo remembers that the diet changed drastically to an “occidental and oriental mishmash.” Rice, bread and potatoes became the dinner starches about half the time. More meat was available with refrigeration. The arrival of big supermarkets gradually put the local produce vendors out of business, while the U.S. military and other foreigners confiscated much of the fertile lands used for local food production.
Processed foods soon prevailed. Popular items introduced by the military were frozen turkey and chicken, as well as canned tuna, Spam, Vienna sausage, corned beef hash, and pork & beans. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), introduced by the Chinese and Japanese, became a popular taste enhancer, replacing fresh minced seaweed at the dinner table. Imported candies and pastries also appeared.
The present diet in Hawai‘i is all mixed: rice, poi, meat, fruits and vegetables from the old diet, along with hamburgers, fast foods, plate lunches—you name it. Most of Hawaiʻi’s food is now imported. However, much of the traditional diet still remains in Hāna, Maui, and the outer islands. On O‘ahu and in the cities, the diet is similar to the urban, continental United States: people buy most of their food from supermarkets and restaurants. Overall, Bushy maintains that “Hawai‘i has the best mix of foods.”
Kaleponi - California
In 1956, when Keo was a teenager, Bushy and Lani relocated to Santa Clara Valley, in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California, due to the impact of recession in Ka Pae ʻĀina (the Hawaiian archipelago). This is when the major change in their diet occurred. Rice has become the main starch, and occasionally potatoes. Pasta, tortillas, Spanish rice, refried beans, bread and biscuits have also become common. In California and Hawai‘i alike, poi—the traditional Kanaka Maoli staple food—remains scarce and expensive.
ʻŌlelo Pākuʻi - Epilogue
This food history was researched and written in the winter of early 1995, while I was an undergraduate student at the University of California, Davis. (It was the term paper assigned for the course, Nutrition 20, Food and Culture, taught by professor Louis Grivetti.) At the time, Bushy and Lani followed a stable diet. They avoided canned foods, bacon and eating out. Bushy missed having fish every day. Safflower oil, tomato sauce and tomato paste were used for cooking, but not lard. Mayonnaise, ketchup, Tabasco sauce, soy sauce, salad dressing, margarine and butter were the popular condiments of Bushy, Lani, and their offspring. Bushy and Lani—as well as Keo—ate two main meals per day. Beverages were coffee, tea, and fruit juice from concentrate.
"Bushy" a me "Lani" Marciel Francis Vieira Marciel, Jr. (4/2/1918-6/14/2014) Euphemia ʻIhilani Spencer (4/30/1918-9/3/1995)
Papa Kuhikuhi o nā Puke i Heluhelu ʻia - Bibliography