Kukui

Common name: Candlenut Tree
Hawaiian name: Kukui
Scientific name: Aleurites moluccana
Native Status: Indigenous

kukui



Habitat: Kukui trees are found in woods, wet gulches, and valleys.

Description: The kukui is a tall tree. Some grow as high as 90 feet. The leaves are pale green in color and can grow as long as eight inches. The underside of the leaves is covered with a silvery, gray powder which gives the tree a very light green color when seen from far away. The flowers are small and whitish. The fruit is shaped like a ball. It has a thick, fleshy husk with a nut in the middle. The shell of a young nut is whitish while the shell of a mature nut is black. The kernel of the nut is rich in oil.

Uses: The oil in the kernel was used in different ways. The raw kernels were used to polish wooden bowls. Oiling inside and outside of the bowls made them waterproof so they could last longer. The oil was also put on the runners of the wooden holua sled to make the sled go faster. The kernel could be burned to make fire. Fishermen made torches out of kukui nuts wrapped in leaves on top of a pole. The lamaku was a large torch made out of a short piece of the coconut leaf midrib. On the midrib, they would string kukui kernels to make the torch. If the Hawaiians wanted a brighter light they put roasted kukui nuts in a hollow piece of bamboo and lit them. Candles or kalikukui were made by stringing the kernels on coconut midribs or on slivers of bamboo. The children's job was to keep turning the candle so the next nut would light. Each kernel would burn for two to three minutes. Lamps or pohokono or pohokukui gave a light that lasted longer. The fishermen used the kukui in many ways. Fishermen would chew the nut and spit the oil into the water. The oil made the water clearer so the fish could be seen. Fishermen soaked fish lines in the oil of the inner bark of the kukui tree. The inner bark was rich in tannin. The fishermen also made decoys with sticks rubbed with kukui and coconut oil. A bag of bait was tied to the stick. When the fish smelled the bait, it would swim near the stick and it would be scooped up in the fisherman's net. The Hawaiians used the kukui as a medicine. When eaten raw it could act like a laxative. The kukui was used as a dye. The bark of the kukui gave a brown dye. The roots gave a black dye. The charred nut shells and the soot from burned nuts gave a black dye, too. The kernel could be roasted in hot ashes, shelled, and then pounded with salt to make 'ina mona. The Hawaiians used the nut for jewelry like necklaces and bracelets. The Hawaiians would make tops out of the kukui nut and bamboo. First they would sand the top of the nut and make one or two holes in it. Then they would put a small bamboo stick through the holes. To play it, they would hold onto the bamboo and spin the kukui nut like a top. The player whose top spun the longest was the winner.

Legends and Stories: An old Hawaiian belief was that a person should not plant a kukui near his house. But it was all right for a stranger to plant it for him. That stranger could plant it in the back of the hale or house but not in the front. If it were planted in the front, it meant that the owner was exposing his soul to everyone. To catch a criminal, the Hawaiian priests would put a kukui nut in the fire and ask the guilty person to confess. If no one confessed, the priest said prayers for punishment. Usually the wrongdoer would suffer from great guilt. The guilty person believed that the priest's prayers would bring punishment from the gods, so the guilt and fear were the punishment. One legend says that when Makali'i, god of plenty, could not see the shark that swallowed his brother, he chewed some kukui nut and spat it on the water so the water would clear. That way, he could find that shark.

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