The Hawaiian Poi Dog (‘īlio in Hawaiian) was a Pariah dog brought to Hawaii more than 1,000 years ago by Polynesian settlers. These island dogs lived amongst the tribes and sometimes played with the Polynesian children.
Back then, the Hawaiian Poi Dog was bred to be eaten and was seen as a delicacy. In order to fatten them up, they were fed only poi, which is a granular paste made from the taro root. This vegetarian diet led to the dogs becoming fat and lazy with distended stomachs.
They also were given as gifts to children at birth and were considered protective. If the child predeceased the dog, the poi dog was buried with the child. If the child outlived the dog, the dog’s teeth were pulled and made into a necklace for the child’s protection.
Hawaiian Poi Dogs were obese with distended bellies and measured about 14 inches at the shoulder. Because of their barrel-shaped bodies with short legs, they waddled around like the hogs they often were with.
As a result of their vegetarian diet that didn’t require chewing, their skulls became large and flat due to the disuse of the bones. Their diet also caused them to have a low mentality.
The Hawaiian Poi Dog was friendly, but clumsy, and often acted like the hogs they often ran with rather than dogs. They were playful with the tribe’s children but weren’t able to keep up with them when the children threw them fruits.
Despite being seen as protectors of the tribe’s children, the island dogs were too slow and inactive to bark and protect children against strangers.
Around the early 19th Century, the Hawaiian Poi Dogs were crossed with other breeds. Because they were no longer pure, Hawaiians lost interest in the dog breed and the breed became extinct. Later attempts to recreate the pure version failed to succeed. Today, the term poi dog may be used to refer to any mixed breed dog in Hawaii, although the original Poi Dog was its own distinct breed.