Waipiʻo Kūpuna Seek Support from Hawaiian Community

Waipio Valley lookout
Waipi‘o Kūpuna are asking all to enjoy the beauty of the valley from the Koa‘ekea Lookout while Waipi‘o rests. - Photo: Courtesy

By ʻIʻinimaikalani Keali‘ikua‘āina Kahakalau

Waipiʻo kūpuna are putting out the call to the community to come and kōkua their efforts to protect the sacred valley on Hawai‘i Island.

Since Sept. 19, Waipiʻo Valley kūpuna along with Protect Waipi‘o Valley ʻohana members have manned a 24/7 Kūpuna Checkpoint at the Koaʻekea Lookout to call attention to the countyʻs failure to address important safety issues.

“We need kākoʻo (supporters) at the checkpoint,” said Kupuna Nellie Thomas Angelo who was born and raised in the valley.

The Waipi‘o ‘Ohana asks the public to please show their aloha and respect for the valley by not going into the valley until repairs on the steep Waipiʻo road are completed. “All we are asking is to allow the ʻāina, the kai, the kahawai and the muliwai to rest while the road is repaired,” said Waipi‘o lineal descendant Kahea Kaʻaihili.

Road access into the valley has been an increasingly dangerous situation for years. In February, Mayor Mitch Roth issued an emergency declaration closing the road because it “presents significant safety risks.”

“Mayor Roth promised us we would get a plan and a timeline for repairs at a community meeting scheduled for Oct. 5 in Honokaʻa. But we came for nothing,” said Waipiʻo taro farmer Hiʻilei Toledo. “If the road posed ʻsubstantial endangerment to public health and safety’ in February, how come absolutely nothing has been done to fix the road or give us a plan? Instead the mayor has now opened the road again, as if the safety issues magically disappeared.”

On Sept 19, pressured by a lawsuit, Mayor Roth amended his emergency order to allow tour operators and residents to descend, while keeping restrictions impacting Waipiʻo farmers and valley residents in place. “It makes no sense to allow tourists and outsiders into the only place on our island where wetland taro is produced, while restricting how farmers and resident access the valley,” Toledo declared.

So far, the Waipiʻo ʻOhana has collected over 5,000 signatures in person and online asking Roth to rescind the provisions that infringe on the rights of farmers, residents and kuleana land owners.

Waipiʻo’s Sacred Resources

Waipiʻo’s estuary is the entry way for hinana, who turn into multiple species of ʻoʻopu (native goby fish) as they make their way up into the river and its tributaries. In fact, Waipiʻo is one of a few places in all of Hawaiʻi that still has ʻoʻopu alamoʻo, also known as hi‘ukole, considered threatened by the American Fisheries Society.

Alamoʻo, who climb Hiʻilawe, a 1,450-foot waterfall, are an endemic species found nowhere else in the world.

“Until the road is fixed, all who really love and respect Waipiʻo should allow her to rest,” said Waipiʻo taro farmer and kupuna Jason Mock Chew. “All of us need to put our personal wants aside and think of what’s best for Waipiʻo. That’s the Hawaiian way. That’s what our ancestors did – put a kapu (prohibition) on places that needed to rest and rejuvenate.”

Kūpuna Checkpoint at the Koaʻekea Lookout. – Photo: Courtesy

The group is looking forward to collaboratively work out guidelines and preventive actions to conserve fish populations and their habitats, as well as to protect and manage the many other cultural and historic resources of the valley. They hope the emergency proclamation will allow for the development and implementation of a community-led, government supported management plan for the valley and prioritize the much needed road repairs.

Since the checkpoint was established, the kūpuna and ʻohana of Waipiʻo have been requesting community support to pressure the county to take care of their kuleana. “We are not blocking access to the valley,” said Kaʻaihili, “We’re asking the mayor to begin fixing the road and for people not to access Waipiʻo for personal pleasure and gratification until repairs are completed. That way we can allow Waipiʻo to breathe.”

Respected Waipi‘o educator Kū Kahakalau agrees. “It’s time for the county and the large private Waipiʻo landowners to work with the community to address the many issues that have been ignored for multiple decades. This includes not just fixing the dangerous road – neglected for decades by the county – but also curbing illegal activities and unsanitary conditions in the valley and at the beach, and dealing with ongoing trespassing issues involving locals and tourists lured to the valley by the tourist industry.”

“Waipiʻo is not a destination. We have seen the communities in Hā‘ena and Maunawili successfully protect their taro-growing lifestyle. We know it can be done.”

Kahakalau encourages kānaka to come and show your support for the ʻāina. “The kūpuna invite all to come to the Koaʻekea Lookout, and listen to their moʻolelo of growing up in the valley, to kanikapila and learn about the unique history, cultural practices and stories of Waipiʻo, once the seat of Hawaiian civilization. Waipiʻo is an important wahi pana to the Hawaiian people. We need kānaka to come and kākoʻo Waipʻo.”

For more information visit www.protectwaipiovalley.org

The petition can be signed online at www.protectwaipiovalley.org or in-person at the Kūpuna Checkpoint.

ʻIʻini Kahakalau is a social entrepreneur, educator, taro planter, cultural practitioner and social media influencer raised in Waipiʻo Valley. A lifelong resident at the Koaʻekea Lookout, ʻIʻini and her ʻohana have spent the past three decades planting taro in Waipiʻo, providing Hawaiian culture-based educational programs, and working with the community to protect this sacred wahi pana. Since 2017, she has been co-owner and senior project director of Kū-A-Kanaka LLC.