The Hawaiian Dictionary describes Kumakua as "a variety of 'awa with green intemodes of medium length" (Pukui and Elbert 1986, 34). Recently, this cultivar has been called "Puna green."
Kumakua is a dull green with few lenticels. Young shoots show striation and mottling, but, as they mature, the stalks lose these markings. The plant's growth habit is normal.
A reference to this cultivar is found in the writings of the Reverend Stephen L. Desha, which were translated from the Hawaiian for the book Kamehameha and His Warrior Kekühaupi'o (2000, 145). Desha says that "ka 'awakumakua" was among the offerings Kamehameha set before his god, Küka'ilimoku, with the body of Kiwala'o after the battle of Moku'ohai.
Kawika Winter's master's thesis comments that:
Athough no records are known to exist about the meaning of this name, it could possibly be a shortened version of the word "kü-ma-kuahiwi," or "stands in the mountains." If this is true, then its name could possibly be an indication of its ecological habitat. It might suggest that this is a variety that is suited for mountainous areas (2004, 86).
Cuttings of this cultivar were collected in 1996 in an abandoned 'awa field on the slopes of Mauna Loa in upper Kalapana, Puna. It was part of an old planting that extended through several acres of 'ohi'a and hapu'u forest on state-owned land. The site had other features of Hawaiian gardens, such as rock walls, and could have been considered a historic site.
Around that time, the high prices being paid for 'awa on the U.S. mainland and in Europe put historic forest plantings at risk from pillagers, who were shipping out large quantities of 'awa. Their method was to rip out the 'awa completely without replanting.
That is what ultimately happened to this huge patch, which consisted of Kumakua and Mahakea varieties and may have been there for hundreds of years. Because access required an hour of forest hiking, the thieves constructed a roadway to the 'awa with a bulldozer. They completely eliminated the planting and destroyed the historic site.
Reproduced with permission from
Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure
Edited by Ed Johston and Helen Rogers
Association for Hawaiian 'Awa