It produces an almost pure black outer skin when it is harvested and dried right. The natural pearly bioluminescence of its underside makes truly spectacular water and sky pieces.
In Tahiti, the plant is called fe'i. In Samoa it is called soa'a. In Hawaii, where it is a rarity, the name is polapola. Most sources have said that the plant was brought to Hawaii at the beginning of the European era, most likely from Borabora (based on its Hawaiian name).
However, the research in Angela Kay Kepler's latest book, THE WORLD OF BANANAS IN HAWAI'I: THEN AND NOW, indicates that it is one of the plants Polynesian explorers carried with them in their canoes. She and her husband Francis G. Rust found evidence of ancient mountain plantain groves in Kauai and in Ka'u on the Big Island. In 1940, anthropologist E. S. Craighill Handy mentions that fe'i "grows in the uplands of all the principal islands of Hawaii." Today only a few isolated small patches remain. The rest were probably victims of commercial agriculture and feral pigs.
Kepler and Rust point out that of the several obsolete names for fe'i in Hawaii, all carry powerful religious overtones. It was called "akua," which means "divine being, god and God." It was called "Kane," honoring one of the most-revered of the ancient Hawaiian gods. It was called "ali'i," meaning "chief." With names like those, it is clear Hawaiians considered the plants sacred.
One distinguishing feature is its fruits which grow upright on the plant. There's a story in Samoa and in Tahiti about how the banana and mountain plantain cousins had a big fight. The mountain plantains won the battle, and that's why ever since the bananas hang their heads in shame.
The plants are grown mainly for its neon-bright fruits in many parts of Polynesia. They do need to be cooked when they're ripe. (The green fruits are inedible; the ripe ones have an astringent taste when they are eaten raw.)
However, the whole plant is useful. Tahitians used the trunks to make rafts for crossing rivers and streams. The fibrous black skin is sometimes used as rough cordage in parts of Polynesia, but most commonly, strips of the bark are added as colorful decorations in plaited hats, fans and mats. The purple sap was sometimes used for coloring kapa and the plant reportedly has various medicinal uses.
I love using them in my artwork.