Poi Dog

Max is a good shopper who stands in line to wait his turn. That's the AJF on the right.

Max is a good shopper who stands in line to wait his turn. That’s the AJF on the right.

Max likes to gift his doggie friends with poi products at Christmas time.

That’s the reason we headed a few miles mauka of our home to visit the Hawaii Doggie Bakery in lovely, misty Manoa Valley.

Max loves this bakery which specializes in dog treats, gifts and paraphernalia with a distinctly Hawaii touch.

Their selection of local goodies includes fish & poi gingerbread men, Christmas “Pawty” cookies, sweet potato snowflake biscuits and a variety of muffins and cupcakes.

Here's the good stuff.

Here’s the good stuff.

For Christmas, Max is distributing to his boon companions gift boxes which contain a bag of chicken & poi cookies, a poi & honey candy cane and a roll of poop bags for post prandial clean up.

Max is a dog who likes his poi but he is not a poi dog.

See, in Hawaii “poi dog” has a very specific meaning. It refers to mixed breed dogs, especially those of uncertain lineage.

We even use the phrase to describe folks of a mixed Hawaiian-Something Else heritage. Don’t worry, the phrase has a positive connotation suggesting stamina, durability and a salt-of-the-Earth personality.

The Hawaii Doggie  Bakery doesn't bake doggies. It does make some mighty fine treats for doggies!

The Hawaii Doggie Bakery doesn’t bake doggies. It does make some mighty fine treats for doggies!

So Max, as a purebred Malt,  is not a poi dog even though his appetite suggests he is a mix of Maltese and voracious Great White Shark.

Poi is the primary Polynesian staple food, made from the underground part of the taro plant.

Ancient Hawaiians, believed that taro expressed the sacred spirit of Hāloa, the original ancestor of the Hawaiian people.

Poi is traditionally made by cooking the heart of the taro root in an imu, an underground oven, for hours and then mashing it until it is a very thick paste.

Water is added to achieve whatever consistency is desired.

Poi is low in fat, high in vitamin A, has bunches of complex carbohydrates and is naturally gluten free. It can be a bit of an acquired taste, particularly if left to ferment for a few days into sour poi.

When folks first make its acquaintance they inevitably compare it to wallpaper paste.

When folks first make its acquaintance they inevitably compare poi to wallpaper paste. We expect that remark and feel disappointed if someone doesn’t make it.

Folks all around the world eat taro but only Hawaiians make poi.

Local folks eat it plain or mix it with a little sugar and sometimes milk.

No matter how it is served, the AJF can’t stand it but I like it and a Hawaiian plate lunch is not complete without some poi.

Poi is also used as an ingredient in many wonderful baked goods.

It adds a soft, satiny mouth-feel and smoothness to breads, rolls and numerous desserts.

Enough about food, let’s get back to today’s subject which is the Hawaiian poi dog. What we today call poi dogs has absolutely no relation to an actual poi dog. OK, that needs a bit of explanation…here goes:

Poi dog from Wiki.

Poi dog picture from Wiki.

Many folks don’t know that there once was a breed of dog known as the Hawaiian poi dog.

It came to Hawaii with the Polynesians during the first settlement more than 1,000 years ago and was an important part of the Polynesian people’s life.

It’s now extinct.

Pounding poi. After baking, this is how the process starts. Photo credit: Honolulu Magazine

Pounding poi. After baking, this is how the process starts. Photo credit: Honolulu Magazine

Poi dogs were raised by Hawaiians as companion animals and as a food source. The dogs were only fed poi because meat was too valuable to be used as dog food.

This limited diet made the dogs inactive and obese, waddling around with distended bellies not unlike the author of this post.

Over the years the diet changed the shape of the dogs’ skulls which became large and flat due to disuse of the temporalis muscles from lack of chewing.

Women were in charge of the care and maintenance of poi dogs. Guys were busy with waddling and their distended bellies which, as all men will agree, did nothing to diminish their sex appeal.

Some poi dogs were kept as “good luck” animals for children thus it was highly possible that a poi dog might sleep with the kids on Monday and be eaten for dinner on Tuesday. Bummer.

Captain Cook recorded encounters with pot-bellied, short-legged poi dogs that freely associated with hogs in the village. It seems that hogs and dogs were pretty much peer critters to the Hawaiians.

Not a poi dog.

Not a poi dog. This is a tourist dog.

By the 19th century, the Hawaiian Poi Dog had inter-bred with feral dogs brought by European settlers to Hawaii and was no longer a pure breed.

The Honolulu Zoo tried to reconstruct the original but after 12 years of trying it was deemed a failure and the program was discontinued.

Aloha, poi dog.

24 replies

    • Thank you for coming by the silly dog blog! Those poi dog cookies smell great, too. So much so I thought about giving one a bite but they are too hard to risk losing a tooth so I’ll leave them to the pooches. Aloha.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think I can see the connection between poi and wallpaper paste. Gee, it really does not look all that appetizing. Max; however, looks like every store’s dream shopper. Waiting in line to make his selection. What a cutie.

    Liked by 2 people

    • He is so spoiled that he naturally assumes he is welcome in all stores and feels perfectly comfortable going up to complete strangers and begging. You might expect folks to say “Don’t you feed that dog?” but then they look at him and realize that he does indeed get fed very well and very often..

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ten out of ten for this interesting read. Maybe we should all start delving into our cultural histories and tell the tales to our friends. Thanks Max, I think you are a real cutie.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m with the AJF, blech on the poi. It reminds me of purple tofu and has the same amount of flavor. When I was in HI earlier this year, I was amused that poi is sold in bags at Costco. Who’d have thunk it? That bias shared, I loved your poi dog history lesson. Looks like the day won’t be a complete loss since I learned something new. As always you deliver a good yarn with some fascinating info. Well done! Mele Kalikimaka and a good belly scratch for Max since I don’t have a real biscuit for him. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Costco has become a major source for poi because the price has risen so much. There are all sorts of local debates about which bran is the best poi, which island makes the tastiest poi, how thick it should be and how many days old is best. Serious stuff. Aloha Kalikimaka to you and Sam!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. You all should be ashamed of yourselves for killing off a breed that made its skull flat. I have never eaten poi nor pet a poi dog but I do recall the band Poi Dog Ponderin in the 80s, though I don’t know what they sang. Maybe they were from Hawaii. It looks like raspberry gravy to me. And I like both of those things, so let’s eat! Will it make my skull flat?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Tom,
    Another great post. I just read it with the kids and we all loved it and the comments. You do such a great job interweaving Hawaiian culture and history with Max’s adventures and he is such a cute dog. Have you thought of compiling your stories and putting a book together? It think it’d be a real hit…especially if you could get Max on a surfboard and tackling that Hawaiian surf. I can just see those ears flying! Hope you an the AJF had a wonderful Christmas. Christmas has been such a wonderful antidote to last week. Not only after the dreadful events which took place but what with the broken foot and the dreadful cough which has finally responded to antibiotics after 2 weeks. The doctor told me it wasn’t life threatening but that wasn’t very reassuring. My husband took 4 days off work and the kids were worried. Ah! The joy of being able to breath. Even inhaling foul dog breath is a blessing!
    By the way, my aunty adopted a dog who has spent three months at the pound a week before Christmas, He arrived from the pound and along with her other dog Molly was taken off to the dog salon for a pre-Christmas “pampering”. Then it was off for a 1 hour bushwalk and the family hoardes arrived Christmas Day with all sorts of treats falling on the floor. We are good Irish stock on that side and another aunt suggested he was called: “Riley…a good Irish name”. So there’s a very Happy Christmas story.
    Reblogging this post by the way xx Ro


    • Thanks for the re-blog, that is very sweet of you! It sounds like you had a wonderful Christmas with the family. What a trooper! A bush trek with a bad foot and other challenges. The most trekking we did yesterday was to and from the kitchen.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Max,
    You awake or has your human had too much Christmas cheer? Happy New Year!
    xx Bilbo & Lady
    PS Did they have big bang noises over your way? That Lady is a real scaredy dog. Hid in the garage while the family was out and then jumped on Mum’s lap. Naturally, I disassociated.
    Anyway, Happy New Year
    xx Bilbo & Lady


    • It was a big year for fireworks over here. Lots of illegal aerials and firecrackers that sounded like small dynamite sticks. Max does not seem to care at all about them. He shows no fear at all but then will bark his silly Maltese head off if a neighbor closes his door louder than usual. Are you sure Lady is a scaredy-dog or maybe she’s just very shrewd about getting some extra Mom hugs!


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