The Hawaiian Dictionary describes 'awa Nene as "A variety of 'awa, stems green with dark green spots." The dictionary notes that it is also called "awa kua 'ea," literally "turtle back" (Pukui and Elbert 1986, 34 and 168). According to Native Hawaiian Medicines (a recent translation of a work originally compiled in 1922):
'Awa Kua'ea is the secret name. The stalks of this 'Awa are like the 'Awa Makea. Furthermore, its general appearance is spotted and kind of lumpy like the spots of a turtle's back or also like the Moa hulu Nene (Chun 1994, 58).
Ethnographer Martha Beckwith has said, "Babies were given the juice of the nene variety as a soothing syrup. 'This is a fretful (onene) child and must be given the awa nene" (1970, 94). In Chapter 2, cultural historian Kepa Maly explains that "in this case, use of the word nene is symbolic of murmuring, like the soft chatter of the native geese. By the play on the word nene, use of the 'awa nene was believed to help temper the voice of the youngster."
This 'awa is easily recognized by its long, green internodes with raised lenticels and its erect growing habit. The leaf has a green piko.
Today, plants of this variety are relatively common. It seems also to have been a popular cultivar in old Hawai'i. It has been collected from a number of Hawaiian valleys: Waipi'o, Honokane Nui, and Hanakapa'ai.
Reproduced with permission from
Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure
Edited by Ed Johston and Helen Rogers
Association for Hawaiian 'Awa