Navy to Work With the Community to Restore Loko Iʻa Pāʻaiau

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A uniquely worded Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed last November between the Navy, the Aliʻi Pauʻahi Hawaiian Civic Club (APHCC), Living Life Source Foundation, and Nā Lima Noʻeau to affirm their commitment to work together as an ʻohana and in the spirit of aloha.

The MOU states: “Whereas the Navy and the recipients form an ʻohana or familial partnership grounded in trust to align efforts among the parties, united in compassion, understanding and aloha to achieve the successful preservation, restoration and maintenance of the fishpond system.

“So now, therefore, the Navy and the recipients embrace this historic partnership and important vision for the future in the spirit of aloha.”

“It’s not common for the Navy to use those [kinds of] words,” said Kehaulani Lum of APHCC. “Allowing the words to be placed on the paper that say that we are ʻohana is a step in the right direction.”

Lum and the other signers of the MOU, lineal descendants Kahu Bruce Keaulani and Verna Takashima, worked together with the Navy to craft the unique wording expressing their commitment to work together on the preservation and restoration of Pāʻaiau, an ancient royal fishpond.

Mōʻī Wahine Kalanimanuʻia, was the daughter of Kūkaniloko and, like her mother, she ruled over the island of Oʻahu. She is known to have built many loko iʻa (fishponds), covering hundreds of acres of Puʻuloa (Pearl Harbor) and providing abundant sustainable food resources for her people.

She had three kapu loko iʻa (fishponds reserved for royalty) built close together: Pāʻaiau, ʻOpu and Kapaʻakea. Today, ʻOpu and Kapaʻakea are now mostly filled in. A small area of Kapaʻakea Fishpond is still visible, but is located on private property.

Loko iʻa Pāʻaiau was recorded in 1933 to be about 190 x 600 feet in size, rectangular in shape, and fed by fresh water running through surrounding taro patches. Kalanimanuʻia reigned for over 60 years and Pāʻaiau, located in the Kalauao ʻahupuaʻa, was the site of one of her two residences.

The Navy assumed jurisdiction over the property in 1947. Over the years, the fishpond was overgrown with mangrove, kiawe and other invasive plants and filled with sediment from runoff.

While clearing mangrove, Jeff Pantaleo, a Navy archeologist, found remnants of the original fishpond wall dating back about 400 years. Of the three royal fishponds, Pāʻaiau is the most intact. Pantaleo worked to have the site added to the State Register of Historic Places and was instrumental in the Navy establishing partnerships with APHCC, Living Life Source Foundation, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), descendants of Noa Webster Aluli, and other community groups to facilitate implementation of the fishpond preservation and restoration plan.

In the last eight years, Lum, Keaulani, and Takashima have seen six or seven Rear Admirals come and go. Some still keep in touch and have passed along the importance of the fishpond and the value of maintaining the Navyʻs relationship with the community before they leave.

The current Navy commander is Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett. He has been working closely with Lum, Keaulani, Takashima and other community members, and is the signatory on the current MOU, which has no end date.

Loko iʻa Pāʻaiau is the last, and only, royal fishpond in Puʻuloa that is envisioned to be restored as a fully operational fishpond. This would support the perpetuation of traditional knowledge, resources, and practices. And perhaps provide an opportunity for its stewards to return to a more traditional way of life.

Clearing the mangroves a few years ago made space for a variety of native birds to return to the area, along with some marine life. The next task is to dredge the silt that has filled the pond. This will allow fish, limu and even oysters to revive in the fresh water flowing in to the harbor.

“Restoring ʻāina is a healing work, so for long-term sustainability, we don’t want it to just be a project,” said Lum. “Restoring these places, giving them [the wildlife] places to nourish again, to grow again, to thrive again, helps everybody.”

Pāʻaiau community leaders hope to bring forth the fullness of this historic wahi pana once again by cultivating the values of peace, abundance and sustainability inspired by Kalanimanuʻia’s six decades of benevolent, peaceful leadership.

“There is the possibility of returning to the abundance that she [Kalanimanuʻia] created,” added Lum. “The remedy to heal this place is aloha.”