Photo: Ka Papa Loʻi ʻO Kānewai
Ka Papa Loʻi ʻO Kānewai - Art by: Ruth Moen, 2024

By Derek Ferrar

In the early 1980s, amid the blossoming Hawaiian cultural renaissance, a few Native Hawaiian students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa uncovered the remnants of an abandoned ʻauwai irrigation ditch hidden away in the bushes alongside Mānoa stream, near where the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies stands today.

They discovered that this land, called Kānewai, was traditionally highly valued for its kalo productivity, and it remained a royal possession well after the Māhele of 1848. Later, the area was cultivated by farmers of Chinese and Japanese ancestry, and eventually became part of the university’s landscape.

Photo: Art Display at the Kanewai Kalo Exhibition
Kāne and Kanaloa at Ka Papa Lo‘i ‘o Kānewai by Haley Kailiehu

Inspired by this history, the students teamed up with the university’s Hui Aloha ʻĀina Tuahine Hawaiian language club to restore kalo cultivation in the area, calling the project Hoʻokahe Wai Hoʻoulu ʻĀina, based on the philosophy, “make the water flow, make the land productive.”

With the guidance of kūpuna such as Harry Mitchell from Keʻanae, Maui, and ʻAnakala Eddie Kaanana from Miloliʻi, Hawaiʻi, they rebuilt the ʻauwai system leading from Mānoa stream, dug loʻi for planting kalo and gardens for other traditional food plants, and built a traditional hale waʻa structure.

Eventually, they named the farm Ka Papa Loʻi ʻo Kānewai. Their emphasis was to create a unique resource for the university and the surrounding community by providing experiential learning opportunities and a peaceful retreat from the urban surroundings.

Today, as part of the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge, Ka Papa Loʻi ʻo Kānewai continues to propagate the culture of kalo.

Each year, the loʻi hosts around 15,000 visitors, including UH classes, K-12 student groups, and people of all kinds who participate community work days on the first Saturday of each month. The loʻi sustains nearly 70 varieties of native kalo, thought to be the largest collection of Hawaiian varieties in existence.

Now, this rich legacy is being celebrated in a new exhibition, Hoʻokahe Wai, Hoʻoulu ʻĀina: Kalo and Community, at the East-West Center Gallery, located just across Dole Street from the loʻi itself.

Through works of art, memorabilia, and photographs, the exhibition – co-curated by Ka Papa Loʻi ʻo Kānewai Director Makahiapo Cashman and his daughter, Pilialohamauloa, a librarian at Kamehameha Schools Maui – shares moʻolelo and artistry from those who have been touched by Kānewai Loʻi over the years.

Visitors to the exhibition are greeted outside the gallery by a large wooden sculpture of a taro plant, titled Kalo by Kalo and made especially for the exhibition by artists Amber Khan and Kainoa Gruspe, with pieces fitted together like a giant puzzle and lau hala matting forming its leaves. Inside the gallery space, the mood is set by a video and sound projection that follows the flow of water through Kānewai, enveloping the viewer in serene loʻi-scapes.

Adorning the walls are photos capturing the loʻi’s community over the decades, along with artwork that has been inspired by its environs and mission. Included are a number of significant items in the loʻi’s story, such as a model of the original Hale Waʻa created by UH architecture students, and an image of the poi-pounding board used by Kānewai’s founding elders. In a side room, a video loop plays the 1999 Nā Maka o ka ʻĀina documentary Charles Kupa and Marion Kelly at Ka Loʻi ʻo Kānewai.

“We have learned at Ka Papa Loʻi ʻo Kānewai that we are guided by three kahu (values) that bring into perspective the attitude and mindset that we who work at the loʻi must have in order to provide a positive experience for our visitors and kamaʻāina,” the curators write in the exhibition literature.

“Laulima, many hands working together, reminds us that it is because of many that we are able to experience what we are able to observe today. As we work as a collective group, we can continue this for tomorrow. Mālama refers to Mālama ʻĀina and the idea that a reciprocal process is achieved when each of us cares for the land and all things that feed us mentally, physically and spiritually…[and] we hope to provide a modern Puʻuhonua, or place of refuge, for all plants, animals, and people that frequent and live in the area of Kānewai.”

Derek Ferrar serves as communications specialist at the East-West Center. He was formerly a public information specialist for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and editor of Ka Wai Ola and has also served as editor of Hawaiian Airlines’ Hana Hou! Magazine and a founding editor of the Honolulu Weekly newspaper.

Hoʻokahe Wai, Hoʻoulu ʻĀina: Kalo and Community

East-West Center Gallery, through Sept. 15
Weekdays from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 pm;
Sundays from Noon – 4:00 p.m.
(closed July 4 & Sept. 1- 2)
Free admission