“Mālama i ke kanaka nui, i ke kanaka iki, i ka ʻelemakule, i ka luahine, i ke keiki, i ka ʻilihune, i ka mea maʻi. Care for the big person and the small person, for the elderly men and women, for the children, for those in destitution, and for the sick.”
– ʻUmi-a-Līloa, 15th century aliʻi nui (high chief) of Hawaiʻi Island
It’s a little word with a lot of meaning.
In ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, ea translates to independence or sovereignty. It can also mean life. Together, ea can be interpreted as living an independent life, or living a balanced life with reciprocal arrangements with everything around you, such as coming together as a community where all live healthy lives together,
Ke ea o ka ʻāina, the life of the land, is the lesson from our kūpuna. Ea is a good thing.
Founded in 2011, Hui Mālama i ke Ala ʻŪlili (huiMAU) is a community-based nonprofit made up of ʻohana from East Hāmākua on Hawaiʻi Island.
The hui is committed to cultivating kīpuka (safe, regenerative spaces) that foster and regenerate the growth of place-based ancestral knowledge, healthy food- and eco- systems, and strong ʻohana with the capacity to live and thrive in Hāmākua for generations.
Their mission is to re-establish the systems that sustain their community through place-based educational initiatives and ʻāina-centered practices that cultivate abundance, regenerate responsibilities and promote collective health and wellbeing.
A recipient of an OHA Community Grant award to support responsible resource management, huiMAU’s primary grant objective is to clear invasive species (guinea grass and ironwood trees) and restore coastal native ecosystems at Koholālele, an ahupuaʻa located in Hāmākua near Paʻauilo. The restoration work includes the reintroduction of native food crops, including kalo, maiʻa, ʻuala and ʻulu.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to suspend most mālama ʻāina activities, huiMAU shifted gears from hosting individuals and groups for community workdays to harvesting meaʻai from their native crops and providing food baskets to the kūpuna and ʻohana of the area.
Rallying their community, they’ve held regular food distributions since March, and they even repurposed their annual Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea (Sovereignty Restoration Day) celebration on July 31.
“In late March, when COVID-19 was beginning to become a reality in Hawaiʻi, our first thoughts were for the safety and wellbeing of the kūpuna and keiki in our community,” said Dr. Noʻeau Peralto, huiMAU’s executive director who holds a doctorate in Indigenous politics from the University of Hawaiʻi.
“We knew that many in our community would be losing their employment, and that access to food would become a growing challenge for many. We acted immediately, guided by our kūpuna to hānai kānaka, as the moʻolelo of our famous aliʻi, ʻUmi-a-Līloa reminds us.
“We began with sharing the abundance that we had grown and raised on our own ʻāina, and it didn’t take long before others began to share as well. Soon we had neighbors, farmers, and funders all donating and contributing to make sure our community was cared for and fed during this time of great change.”
Since 2016, huiMAU has been organizing a community celebration of Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, which has been described as Hawaiʻi’s first national holiday. These events have brought together up to 1,000 people from around the island to learn about and build relationships rooted in ea and aloha ʻāina.
“This year we decided to adapt our celebration to express our ea as a community through the act of hānai kānaka. Ea emerges out of our relationships with ʻāina and each other. By sharing our abundance and feeding each other from the ʻai of our own ʻāina, we strengthen our aloha for each other and our ʻāina. We breathe ea together,” Peralto said.
“The story that we’ve tried to share is that this time is showing us, more than ever, the ea that already exists in our communities. We’re seeing that we have abundance and we have aloha to share with each other, and to sustain each other in challenging times. Feeding ourselves from our own ʻāina is one manifestation of ea.”
Peralto said that with the support of OHA (through a funding stream separate from the community grant program), the Consuelo Foundation and the Hawaiʻi Island United Way, huiMAU was able to begin purchasing locally grown produce to share with the community from mahiʻai in Hāmākua and across the north and east sides of Hawaiʻi Island.
With additional produce provided by Liliʻuokalani Trust, by mid-April huiMAU was distributing more than 5,000 pounds of fresh, locally grown produce and value added products like poi, honey, puaʻa kalua, and frozen meat bi-weekly to kūpuna and ʻohana in their community.
“Now, with the support of the County of Hawaiʻi Coronavirus Relief Fund, we plan to continue our Community Kitchen Food Distribution Program at least through the end of 2020,” Peralto said.
“Ultimately though, we are committed to restoring the systems that sustain the long-term wellbeing of our ʻāina and community. This involves more than short term relief, but lasting change. Healthy ʻāina is the foundation of healthy kānaka.”
Spend any time with Peralto, 32, and one can see that he – and his staff of eight – are the type of ʻōiwi leaders so needed in the Hawaiian community today. Educated, passionate, and grounded in Hawaiian cultural values, they have the ability to move the lāhui forward.
“Noʻeau is a true visionary,” said OHA grants specialist ʻAikūʻē Kalima. “He is a Hawaiian leader who cares deeply about his culture, ʻāina, and the community of Paʻauilo. It’s rare to meet a young leader with the passion and dedication to uplift Native Hawaiians through cultural education, restoration and by providing food to the community.”
“We have always considered our hui to be an ʻohana more so than an organization,” Peralto said. “ʻOhana is where aloha begins, for each other and for the ʻāina. Within the ʻohana unit is also where ea, resurgence and governance begin.
“We believe that strong ʻohana, rooted in place for multiple generations, are the foundation of strong communities. Strong communities are the foundation of a strong lāhui. We’re working to normalize aloha ʻāina as a lifestyle again in our ʻohana and community.
“We’re working to create the space for, and build the capacity of, ʻohana to be able to noho papa (live and thrive for generations) in this place. ‘Programs’ can only last so long. Our real goal is to make aloha ʻāina lifeways the norm again for all ʻohana in our community.”