Editor’s note: The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation invited Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo to submit this guest column.
Henry Chang Wo Jr. learned the Hawaiian cultural practice of limu gathering from his grandmother, mother and aunt. Their primary limu harvest area encompassed the entire ‘Ewa Beach shoreline from the mouth of the Pearl Harbor channel to Barbers Point. Young Henry was a reluctant participant in his family’s limu gathering practice when he was recruited (forced?) to be their “bag boy.” He described tedious hours spent collecting,cleaning and preparing limu for their family parties. It was from all of this hard work that he learned the names of many of our native limu, as well as their uses as medicine and uses in Hawaiian cultural and religious practices. It wasn’t until much later in his life did he realize the value of that knowledge.
As his three limu mentors became older and started to slow down, the limu responsibilities fell on his shoulders. Having no one in his family to pass on this important cultural practice, he decided to share his knowledge with anyone and everyone. Henry Chang Wo Jr. became affectionately known as Uncle Henry. He hosted community groups, school groups as well as individuals for shoreline walks along his beloved limu grounds and inspired an entire generation of limu gatherers, practitioners and researchers.
Uncle Henry started to notice that limu was becoming less and less abundant. The limu along the ʻEwa Beach shoreline was dying and the decrease in limu abundance correlated with the transition of the ʻEwa plains from agriculture to urbanization. Housing development, shopping centers, golf courses and other construction projects were causing the collapse of an important ecosystem that provided food for us, and for fish, and provided Uncle Henry and other limu practitioners the ability to continue their traditional Hawaiian practice of limu gathering. Uncle Henry stepped up and stood between his precious limu and the corporate polluters.
Uncle Henry taught us that the story about limu was not confined to the shoreline. He always talked about the importance to mālama that “first raindrop on the top of the mountain until that water reaches the ocean.” Limu depends on that freshwater. Urban development prevents the recharging of the underground aquifer and contributes to surface runoff which carries so many pollutants detrimental to limu.
Uncle Henry filed a lawsuit to protect and preserve the fragile ecosystem of Hau Bush (Oneʻula Beach Park) so limu can once again thrive in that area. Unfortunately Uncle Henry passed away after battling cancer. He was a selfless champion of bringing back limu to that area and he fought for this literally until his last breath. Just days before his passing, Uncle requested that the non-profit organization, Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA) substitute where he left off. This request underscored his abiding commitment, how meaningful this work was to him, and the legacy he hoped others would carry forward. That kuleana is not his alone to fulfi ll but everyone’s and not just during his lifetime, but for all time.
Uncle Henry’s ashes were spread out at ʻEwa Beach on Monday, September 4, 2017. Some of the parties involved in the contested case hearing that Henry took on to protect the ʻEwa limu patches are now challenging KUA’s standing as a substitute to carry his case forward. The essence of their argument is that because Henry was a human (and not an institution) who passed away, his claim was personal and died with him. Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation is representing KUA as it continues Uncle Henry’s fight for our communities’ interests and for the rights of all Hawaiians to gather from and mālama their place.