Concerning the Well-Filled Imu of Hāmākua Hikina


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

By Uakoko Chong, Hui Mālama i ke Ala ‘Ūlili

From the sunrise in the east at Hawaiʻinuikuauli to the sunset in the west at the steep precipitous cliffs of Nīhoa, we extend greetings of aloha to you all.

During these past few months of our rainy season here in Hāmākua, we, Hui Mālama i ke Ala ʻŪlili, observed the changes of seasons with transitions in the atmosphere, transitions on the land, and transitions in the ocean. We experienced restless nights, awakened by the pouring rains from the dark clouds, the striking of lightning, and the rolling of thunder. Our eyes were drawn up to the rising of smoke in the uplands at Mokuʻāweoweo, and the red burning glow of Pele flowing down Mauna Loa. The unmistakable, incessant sound of enormous waves crashing at the base of the cliffs strike our ears, and our eyes peer down from the cliffs of koaʻe birds towards the spouting “imu” (blowhole) in the ocean. That is when we know the koholā (whales) have returned.

As these changes of the ʻāina become apparent to the eyes, where might one observe another “spouting” imu? It is, perhaps, in the uplands, where food crops are cultivated and meats are raised. According to kūpuna, “the well-filled imu belongs to the kanaka who cultivates the ʻāina.” One interpretation of this saying lends itself to credit the hands of cultivators that are turned down to the land for filling the pit of imu with food. Every day is an opportunity to cultivate food. Small tasks daily in your garden accumulate towards an abundant growth of food.

That is the work we do in Paʻauilo and Koholālele, completing the small tasks every day to produce food by removing invasive species, watering crops, and planting in the planting holes. Our hands have become accustomed to cultivating the soil and preparing food. When the imu is set and the stones are glowing hot red, our hands gather together, ready to work neatly and thoroughly in the preparation of the food. The food is then laid down in the imu, and it remains there until cooked. When the imu is uncovered, no one leaves empty-handed. Bundles of food are secured at hand, and the aroma of the imu smoke sticks to our clothes. Hū! The imu is so ʻono!

And so, my fellow cultivators of ʻāina, from that edge to this edge of the land, from the mountain ridges to the shores, continue to tend to the fire of your imu, because we are all ʻono for the cultivated foods of the natives of this ʻāina. Let us all work together! E huliāmahi like kākou!