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Even if you’re not sure what the Kukui means to Hawaiian culture and history, you’ve probably spotted the rich dark brown/black shiny Kukui nuts,

strung into a lei and ready for purchase in most Maui souvenir shops. Once upon a time, the wearing of a Kukui lei was reserved only for royalty, but today, it is warmly given to anyone to show appreciation, and serves as a popular keepsake and reminder of a special Hawaii vacation.

The truth is, the Kukui Nut tree in Hawaii signifies so much more.

“The seed was sown. It budded; it blossomed. It spread out and budded again and joined line on line, like the candlenut strung on one stem. ‘Tis lighted. It burns aglow and sheds its light o’er the land.’

The Kukui Nut tree was brought to Hawaii by Polynesians migrating to the Hawaiian Islands. The Kukui was highly revered by ancient Hawaiians for its many uses, and became an essential part of life, providing raw materials for medicine and healing, dye, canoe-building, and most commonly, for light (both literally and spiritually). The word “kukui” means light or torch; its English name is ‘candlenut.’

To serve as a light source, kukui nuts were shelled, then skewered onto a coconut frond and lit from top to bottom. The oil in the kernels provided enough fuel to burn for several minutes. The oil, sap and crushed meat of the nut were also used to soothe mouth sores, skin rashes and acted as a laxative. Other parts of the plant were used to make dyes for tattoos and kapa clothing, and the trunk of the tree was used to build canoes. The Kukui Nut tree was a symbol of enlightenment, protection, guidance and peace, and its spiritual powers are still believed to flow through Hawaiian culture and its ceremonies. In 1959, the Kukui tree itself was made the official tree emblem for the state of Hawai’i.

Kukui Nut trees are fairly easy to spot. Their canopy of silvery green leaves often glisten in early morning light and offer a shady retreat from the hot mid-day sun.

Destination Residences Hawaii recently added a graphic symbol of the Kukui leaf as a design element to the company brand because of what it represents to Hawaiian culture -- the essence of home, light, renewal and celebration, the very characteristics that draw visitors to our island home, year after year.


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