Palytoxin: History and Prehistory
David Malo, 1838, HAWAIIAN ANTIQUITIES, Translated from the Hawaiian by
N.E.Emerson, 1898, Bishop Museum Press, Special Publication 2, Second Edition,
"In Muolea, in the district of Hana, grew a poisonous moss in a certain
pool or pond close to the ocean. It was used to smear on the spear
points, to make them fatal. The moss is said to be of a reddish color
and is still to be found. It grows nowhere else than at that one
Again nighttime wails of anguish pierced the air
above a small Hawaiian fishing village on the island of Maui near the harbor
of Hana. That evening, when all the outrigger canoes had returned
from the sea with the day's catch, yet another fishermen was missing.
Desparately seeking answers, the villiagers placed the blame on the hump-backed
loner living in the cliff above.
Swarming up the ridge and ripping the tapa cloak
from his back, they uncovered gaping rows of triangular teeth within a
huge mouth. They had caught a Shark God, one with an insatiable lust
for human flesh. Their suspicions were correct. Each day after
the canoes went out fishing, the hunchback had leasurely come past the
villiage and gone swimming for his breakfast.
The enraged fishermen mercilessly ripped the hunchback
to pieces and burned him completely. His ashes were thrown into a
nearby tide pool. But, the continuing malevolence of the demon
slowly transformed the pond into a pool of death. Ugly little brown
anemones began to cloak its walls. Much later, it was found
that these "limu", when smeared on the tip of a daggar or spear, would
perpetuate the evil of the Shark God by bringing sure death to the victim.
Thus, the stationary little animals in the tide pool came to be known as
the "Limu Make O Hana" (Seaweed of Death from Hana).
By 1961, University of Hawaii researchers interested
in local natural products had discovered Malo's writings about a Hawaiian
spear poison, Limu Make O Hana. Only a few Maui natives remained
who knew where the Limu Make O Hana grew, but none would tell. Finally,
after drinking enough Okole Maluna (a local brew from the ti plant), one
of them led the scientists to the sacred tide pool. As the
biologists prepared to take specimens, a group of natives interrupted them.
These announced that by an ancient cures the pond was "kapu", and warned
that if anything was disturbed, the evil of the curse would be activated.
Smiling, the scientists said, "We don't believe in superstition",
and took their samples. Coincidentally, on that same day a fire destroyed
the main laboratory building of the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology
on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu. The anenome samples
taken, proved to be a new species, which was named
and contained the deadly poison, palytoxin.
*Walsh, G.E, & Bowers, R.L. (1971) A review of
Hawaiian zoanthids with descriptions of three new species. Zool.
J. Linn. Soc., 50, 161-180.