Ho‘ohuli, a time of returning

The return of wai to East Maui has allowed new generations of farmers to work land that is momona once again. - Photo: Courtesy

This has been an extraordinary time of ho‘ohuli, of returning, reformation and reconciliation; of a circling back to our great traditions and wisdoms of the past. On the global stage, there has been no greater Hawai‘i example than that of Hōkūle‘a and its historic voyage, Mālama Hōnua. Our wa‘a embarked on an epic journey and came home safely!

Ho‘ohuli is also an apt word for the story of taro restoration in East Maui, for its literal root word, huli, is also the name of the taro plantling. This past year, in a historic development, the spirit of returning, of ho‘ohuli, pervaded as wai was finally returned to Ko‘olau Moku, Maui Hikina, Ke‘anae-Wailuanui after more than a century of diversions to feed the thirsty sugar barons of Central Maui.

As a result, Mālama Hāloa – caring for Hāloa or kalo – has also seen an historic resurgence in our community. This portends wellfor communities like Ke‘anae- Wailuanui whose inhabitants possess the ‘i‘ini, the strong desire, to perpetuate traditions that will keep our people vibrant and healthy.

It has taken East Maui taro farmers organized as Na Moku Aupuni o Ko‘olau Hui (“Na Moku”), with the help of attorneys from the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, nearly two decades of legal battles and many more decades of struggle to accomplish this historic return.

While a decision on exactly how much wai those who, for centuries, have gorged and profited from it will have to restore, the unprecedented return of wai to East Maui in the interim has signaled a new beginning and great optimism for the future, as new generations of farmers return to land that, once dried and cracked, is momona once more.

While we embark upon these new beginnings, many obstacles and challenges must overcome the wounds and trauma the diversion of billions of gallons of water annually inflicted on generations of Hawaiians:

• The loss of many küpuna practitioners with their deep knowledge of the ‘āina and traditional farming, fishing and gathering practices;
• The opportunity lost to several generations who came into adulthood when farming was no longer viable due to lack of water;
• Devastation caused by the thick overgrowth and proliferation of invasive plants and animals throughout the East Maui watershed during the decades when there weren’t a sufficient number of farmers to carry out maintenance on a regular basis;
• Severe degradation of the historic lo‘i (taro patches) and auwai (traditional ditch) systems caused by invasives as well as unchecked erosion, segments of which are many miles in length along steep cliff sides along the Hāna coastline.

In facing these challenges and obstacles, one of the greatest blessings to the farmers has been the partnership with the Hāna-based non-profit, Ma Ka Hana Ka ‘Ike, and its affiliate organizations, Mālama Hāloa and Māhele Farms. Participants in the Mālama Hāloa (Ku‘i) Program have cleared lo‘i and planted thousands of huli in the Wailuanui taro complex under the direction of long-time kalo farmer Ed Wendt, my husband. Their restorative efforts and maintenance throughout the Wailuanui lo‘i complex have benefitted many of the farmers; in addition, the program shares Na Moku’s commitment to restoring the streams and the lo‘i they supply.

Restorative efforts include planting as well as many of the arduous tasks required to clear and maintain a lo‘i complex spanning hundreds of acres.

The Mālama Hāloa program hosts Ku‘i Thursdays at Hana School from noon through late afternoon and, according to its website, sometimes into the evening. This past year, they steamed nearly 10,000 pounds of kalo, and hosted an estimated 500 participants from keiki to kūpuna, including community members. The students ku‘i (pound) kalo and have the opportunity to share the pa‘i ‘ai with kūpuna unable to come ku‘i for themselves.

Up until now, kalo for Ku‘i Thursdays has been supplied from outside East Maui, but East Maui farmers have great hopes that through their contribution, the ‘āina’s bounty will be far more substantial in the future.

As we look forward to the bright promise of this coming year, i ke Akua ka ho‘omau ‘ana i Kana ho‘opōmaika‘i iā kākou pau – May God bless us all.

Submitted by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.