The Wonderful Kukui

This article draws on a contribution by Jim Fallon and is concerned with the symbolism and use of the kukui nut.

Source of the kukui nut

Image courtesy of Susan Floyd

The kukui nut comes from the kukui nut tree (aleurites moluccanus) sometimes referred to as candlenut and found in the tropics including Hawaii. The nut is round approximately 5 cm in diameter and the seed shell has a white, oily, fleshy kernel. With its many uses, the highly revered kukui tree is Hawaii’s state tree.

Practical uses of the kukui nut

The kukui nut had many uses:

  • Because of its high oil content, the meat of the kukui nut was used for lamps and torches.  Hawaiians also extracted the oil from the nut and burned it in a stone oil lamp called a kukui hele po (light, darkness goes) with a wick made of kapa cloth.
  • The oil in the kukui is used in Hawaiian healing or La’au Lapa’au as a purgative or laxative to cleanse and as a hair stimulant.
  • The kukui kernels and leaves were boiled to make a tonic used as a remedy for:headaches; fevers; and ulcers.
  • The oil is used for lomi lomi massage and for the skin.
  • The nut is also roasted and mixed with certain foods and eaten. It is called ‘inamona’. It tastes similar to macadamia nuts when prepared correctly.
  • The meat of the nut was chewed by inshore fishermen and spit onto the water to create a window for locating octopi and fish. This enabled the fishermen to have "clear seeing", and to create a portal to look beyond the reflections on the surface of the water.

Kukui symbolism

The kukui nut carries a range ofrich symbolism and kaona or hidden meanings:

  • The kukui nut was a symbol of light. It reminded the ancients of the light around the body, or the aura.
  • In the Hawaiian language, the word kukui means ‘enlightened’. The kukui nut tree is a symbol of enlightenment, wisdom, protection and peace for the Hawaiians and said to contain subtle energy known in Hawaii as “ki”. The shell of the nut was polished and worn as a lei by nobles and royalty as a symbol of being enlightened.
  • One of the first properties of this tree is that it directly connects the heavens to the earth. Trees in all indigenous traditions are alchemists. The kukui nut tree converts the Love light or the ethereal (aka) substances into solid substances like wood, sugars, and fruits of the tree. The upper branches of the tree relate to sunshine kahi, the roots relate to root kahi, and the trunk related to stone kahi. This process of alchemy, conversion of substances, is the basis of life on this earth plane.

Kukui in sayings and proverbs

There are a few phrases and proverbs that refer to kukui and its uses and symbolism.  These include:

Ua pio ke kukui.

                                               ‘The light is extinguished’.

This was referred to when a person had fallen asleep and was not aware of the external world.

Ua lilo i ke koli kukui a maluhi.

                                                                ‘Gone lamp-trimming until tired’

This referred to someone who had gone on an all-night spree and also refers to kukui lamps as a form of time keeping. When the top kukui nut on a candle was burned out, it was knocked off and the next nut on the stick was allowed to burn.

Pupuhi kukui—malino ke kai.

                                                             ‘Spewed kukui nuts—calm sea’.

Fishermen chewed kukui nuts and spat them into the sea to calm the waters. It has a similar meaning to the phrase to pour oil on troubled waters.

Other uses of the kukui nut

The Kukui with its living energies became a powerful healing tool because of its association with the love light. The kukui is a transmitter and receiver that aligns to the la'a kea (lovelight) energy level, the auric field and all resonating factors. It is a powerful amplifier for sending love and light. The kukui pendulum is a great tool for working with this and we will cover this in a future article.


Mary KawenaPukui. Olelo Noeau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings. Bishop Museum Press. 

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