While some dog breeds have thrived throughout history and become some of the most popular breeds across the globe, other breeds have rapidly diminishing numbers. Unfortunately, some breeds have become extinct for various reasons. One such example is the extinct Hawaiian Poi. Although this dog is important to Hawaiian culture, there are many things that people do not know about this breed. Here are 10 things that you might not know about the Hawaiian Poi.
1. They Were Descendants of Polynesian Dogs
The Hawaiian Poi was a type of pariah dog from Hawaii. It is believed that the dogs were initially introduced to Hawaii by travelers from the Polynesian Islands who arrived in Hawaii on boats. Studies have shown that both the Hawaiian Poi and the New Zealand Kuri dogs originate from wild dogs in Indonesia.
2. It Shares Its Name with a Hawaiian Food
Hawaiian Poi dogs were given their name because of the food that the Hawaiians fed the dogs. They would give the dogs Poi, a staple food in Hawaii that is made from taro root or Kalo. The Hawaiians fed the dogs this substance to help fatten them up in preparation for eating. Although dogs are carnivores, the Hawaiians could not afford to give to their dogs, as meat was a rare and valuable commodity due to the lack of land mammals to hunt on the Hawaiian islands.
3. The Polynesians Sometimes Ate These Dogs
Although it may shock some people, the Polynesians often bred Hawaiian Pois as a source of protein. Air to Hawaii (https://www.airtohawaii.com/whats-poi-dog/) says that although some people kept these dogs for companion purposes, they were often bred in the same way as farm animals as a source of protein. Dog meat was often saved for feasts and celebrations, and it was reserved for the men.
4. They Were Used in Various Working Roles
Many people assume that people kept Hawaiian Pois for hunting, but this is likely not the case. Due to a lack of large land mammals other than feral hogs, the Hawaiians had little use for dogs for hunting. Although some people kept Hawaiian Poi Dogs as companions, they were usually kept as guard dogs for a tribe or village. In most instances, the tribes or villages kept more than one dog in the same location.
5. Hawaiian Poi Dogs Were a Small Breed
Hawaiian Poi Dogs were a small breed, says Easy Pet MD. The average height range for this breed was between 13 and 16-inches, while the dogs’ weight varied depending on their height and gender. However, it is estimated that a healthy Hawaiian Poi Dog would weigh between 15 and 35 pounds. Not only was this breed notable for its small size, but it also had a long body in comparison to its short legs, so it looked slightly out of proportion. Other distinctive features of the dog include a short and sparse coat, large pointed ears, and a flat but wide head. The widest point of the head is where the jaw meets the skull.
6. They Have Been Extinct Since the Early 20th Century
The Hawaiian Poi is now an extinct breed. Although it is unknown exactly when the breed became extinct, it is estimated that it happened during the early 20th century. Three factors contributed to the extinction of the breed. The first is a lack of hunting opportunities for the breed on the Hawaiian Islands. Second, interbreeding has taken place throughout the breed’s history, leading to the Hawaiian Poi’s gradual diminishment. Finally, modern religion meant many people put less importance on the spiritual significance of the Hawaiian Poi, which led to people having less interest in breeding them. Although the Hawaiian Poi does not exist as a distinct entity, it has various ancestors through interbreeding.
7. There Were Attempts to Reintroduce the Breed
A process called back breeding involves deliberate selective breeding of domestic animals intending to create an animal breed that resembles its wild ancestor. This process was used to attempt to reintroduce the Hawaiian Poi in 1967. Leading the project was Jack L. Throp, the director of Honolulu Zoo. Although the project was soon discontinued, a dog from the program traveled with a crew of researchers on a 1976 research voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti.
8. The Term Poi Dog Is Still in Use with Different Applications
Although Hawaiian Poi Dogs have been extinct since the early 20th century, the term Poi Dog is still used in various contexts. In some cases, the Hawaiians use the term Poi Dog to refer to any dog that is either a mixed breed or shares some of the characteristics of the extinct Hawaiian Poi. The term also describes any dog that shares personality traits with the Hawaiian Poi, such as greed or a strong will. Furthermore, the term is sometimes used colloquially in Hawaii to describe people of mixed heritage.
9. Hawaiian Poi Dogs Have Spiritual Significance
The Hawaiian Poi Dog was more than just a working animal or a companion to the Polynesians, as they attached spiritual significance to these dogs. The Native Hawaiians believed that the dogs had several spiritual purposes, particularly that they were guardians for children. Therefore, keeping these dogs in tribes or households meant that the family was spiritually protected. Due to their spiritual significance, Hawaiian Poi Dogs are considered an important aspect of Hawaiian culture, society, and history.
10. Polynesian’s Used Their Teeth as Charms
Not only did the Polynesians see Hawaiian Poi Dogs as having spiritual significance, but they also believed that they could bring good luck. For this reason, women would often use the teeth of these dogs to create necklaces for people to wear as a lucky charm. While modern charms often have a single item on a chain or string, the tooth necklaces made by the Hawaiians were made using multiple teeth that hung all around the necklace.