Rolling sweet potatoes

By Jennie Peterson

With a Tantalus neighborhood garden currently in the planning stages, it’s a good time to take a look back at perhaps the largest ‘garden’ on the mountain.

Pu`u `Ualaka`a (Round Top) translates as the hill of the rolling sweet potato. Thousands of years ago, this rejuvenation phase cinder cone ejected rich ash and cinder that provided good drainage, mineral rich soil and was blessed with abundant sunshine and enough rain brought by the Kakea winds. With easy access from populated areas, this was a prime gardening spot.

The first record of the cultivation of sweet potatoes is by King Kamehameha the Great. He had his maka`ainana grow them in a large area on the hilltop. Reports say at harvest some of the `uala would roll down the hill and end up growing on the lower slopes. Old-timers reported seeing cultivated patches on the slopes and remember families catching the Manoa trolley with gunny bags full of potatoes on their way to market.

There are several legends that speak to the origin of the name `Ualaka`a. One says that a rat gnawed through the stem of a sweet potato vine sending it down the steep slope where it sprouted. Other stories say the potatoes grew so large they broke free and rolled down the hill crashing into things and causing considerable damage. Whatever the real story is it seems clear it was a most successful crop.

May our garden flourish as well.