Father Bachelot and his Kiawe Tree

It is not hard to miss all the kiawe trees located in Kalaeloa Heritage Park as you drive along Coral Sea Road in Kalaeloa.  Especially our 100 year old signature kiawe which will eventually be the focal point of our Visitor’s Center.  The origin story of the kiawe tree in Hawaii is the story of a Catholic priest by the name of Father Alexis Bachelot who was amongst the first Catholic priests to come to Hawaii around the 1820s. During those early years, when Father Bachelot first visited the Hawaiian Islands, downtown Honolulu was an arid, extremely hot, dry and barren landscape. There is a street in Honolulu today named after Father Bachelot.  This is an interesting story.  Especially considering how abundant the kiawe tree can be found in all parts of the Hawaiian Islands.  Most people think that kiawe was brought to these islands to serve as food for cattle. However, that was far from the truth.  The very first tree was brought and planted by Father Bachelot next to the Cathedral Catholic Church in downtown Honolulu on the Fort Street Mall in 1827 to serve as shade in a hot barren landscape.

The origin of the kiawe appears to be from Peru, Boliva, Equador and Chili.  It grew in hot, dry coastal regions in South America where there were no other trees except for the kiawe.  On his visit to Peru, Father Bachelot learned this tree was able to grow in a hot climate and thrive with no water.  It grew in areas where no other tree would grow.   It is also interesting to know that kiawe is amongst the few trees that can survive on just salt water. Few people are even aware that kiawe in Peru is a subsistence nutritious food source.  The Inca used to grind the seed into a powder to make a kind of flour in the baking of bread. It was also used to make beer and molasses.

This was a time when there were free roaming cattle in downtown Honolulu. It all started with this single tree. It became apparent at that time that the kiawe bean was a preferred food for cattle.  It was within just a few years when kiawe had spread to the rural coastal areas, especially today’s ‘Ewa, Wai’anae and Kalaeloa due to cattle.  In addition, today we know that Hawaii’s kiawe honey is known worldwide for its light clear texture and mild sweetness.  Here in Hawaii kiawe wood is the only wood preferred to hanalima kalua pig in an imu.  kiawe is an extremely hardy tree and known to live for over 1,000 years even under brutal weather conditions.

As a result of study and research during times of famine worldwide, it has been determined that even when all other sources of food resources are lost from extreme weather conditions, ulu, niu and kiawe would be able to sustain a population.  Lucky we all live in Hawaii.  Mahalo to Father Bachelot.

Comments are closed.