Proclamation acknowledges the critical role of seaweed in Hawaiʻi’s culture and environment
“As an indicator of healthy ecosystems, a food-source for many species, and a connector between ma uka, or the uplands, and ma kai, the ocean, limu has the potential to teach us so much about the health of the places we live”
– Malia Heimuli
By Kim Kamaluʻokeakua Moa
Heimuli is the Limu Hui Coordinator at Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA), a local nonprofit coordinating the “Year of the Limu” initiative, a statewide effort created by the Limu Hui network to raise awareness about the importance of limu to Hawaiʻi’s cultural identity and the health of our nearshore marine environment.
Limu is Life
“Throughout the world, especially near coastal regions, algae are fundamental,” said Ryan Okano, program manager with the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR). “As a food source, it seems that mainstream American culture is discovering something that Indigenous coastal communities have known for centuries.”
In Hawaiʻi, limu is both food and medicine. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, limu was once the third most important component of the Hawaiian diet along with fish and poi. In addition to its uses in religious ceremony, limu is also used by lapaʻau (healing) practitioners to treat a wide range of ailments from small cuts and scrapes to respiratory and alimentary problems.
The base of the marine food chain and an important habitat for marine creatures, limu also plays a critical role in marine habitats, one summed up by the phrase “no limu, no fish.”
Unfortunately, the loss of native limu runs hand-in-hand with the loss of Hawaiian cultural practice, generational ancestral knowledge and spiritual identity. While traditional limu knowledge and practice endures – held primarily by kūpuna in rural communities – the ability to maintain these practices and pass on this ʻike is hampered by the decreasing abundance of this once plentiful resource.
Urban development, improper harvesting, climate change and other pressures affect limu abundance. The work to reverse this co-extinction process and restore the ancestral abundance of limu knowledge and practice throughout the paeʻāina is part of a growing local movement.
The Limu Hui was created in 2014 at the request of kūpuna who gather and care for native Hawaiian limu around the islands. Hosted by ʻEwa Limu Project, the focus of that initiative was to “gather the gatherers” and identify loea limu (limu experts) in our communities who still retain knowledge of, and practice, the many traditional Hawaiian uses of limu.
Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo
Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA) is a movement-building nonprofit organization that works to empower communities across Hawaiʻi to mālama their environmental heritage and work toward a shared vision of ʻāina momona – abundant, productive ecological systems that support community wellbeing. Founded in 2012 by grassroots Indigenous and local natural resource management initiatives, KUA provides support to three statewide networks: E Alu Pū, Hui Mālama Loko Iʻa, and the Limu Hui.
“Year of the Limu”
“The goal of the ‘Year of the Limu’ is to recapture, retain, share and preserve traditional ʻike about limu for the benefit of the people of Hawaiʻi and all those who love our island home,” said Heimuli.
In a resolution proposed by members of the Limu Hui network during the 2021 state legislative session, legislators were called on to designate 2022 as the “Year of the Limu.” Although the resolution stalled, community members and limu advocates, with the help of KUA and DAR, petitioned Gov. David Ige to make the designation through executive order.
Signed by Ige on January 28, the “Year of the Limu” proclamation acknowledges the work of late loea limu such as Henry Chang Wo, Jr. of ʻEwa Limu Project and the “First Lady of Limu,” Dr. Isabella Aiona Abbott, and organizations such as KUA, the Limu Hui, and others who have worked to preserve limu traditions and knowledge.
“This proclamation affirms that the State of Hawaiʻi recognizes the importance of our work as limu advocates and limu educators in passing on traditional ecological limu knowledge to make our home a better place for future generations,” said Wally Ito, who along with “Uncle Henry” was one of the founders of the Limu Hui in 2014 and continues to carry on the work of ʻEwa Limu Project today.
KUA and the Limu Hui will be working with DAR and other community and organizational partners across the paeʻāina to plan and promote a variety of monthly Community Limu Events throughout the year where folks can connect with limu practitioners, and share limu stories, memories and living limu traditions. “We are excited to celebrate and showcase the collective efforts of limu practitioners, community stewards and limu advocates across Hawaiʻi,” said Heimuli.
The year-long designation will bring together partners, families, friends, residents, and visitors around mālama ʻāina (environmental stewardship) workdays, invasive limu clean-ups, limu plantings, educational shoreline walks, “show-and-tell” events, and workshops on limu pressing and cooking that seek to raise interest in limu as an important facet of our environment and communities.
Limu Hui members have also submitted another resolution this legislative session calling for the designation of limu kala as the State Limu.
Known colloquially as “the forgiveness limu” because of its use in the conflict resolution process of hoʻoponopono and in the protection of ocean voyagers, limu kala is seasonally abundant and commonly found in many intertidal and subtidal habitats, including tidepools and reef flats in areas with moderate to high wave action. Heimuli notes that it is just one example of the significant role limu plays in Hawaiʻi lifeways. “Through this effort, we hope to teach folks not just about the use and importance of limu, but how to harvest properly and how much we should be taking for consumption.”
In addition to the activities planned for 2022, KUA has also partnered with the University of Hawaiʻi Sea Grant College Program (UH Sea Grant) to republish The Limu Eater by Heather J. Fortner. First published in 1978 and scheduled for re-release in July 2022, this classic publication includes oral histories, recipes, and information on cultural uses of limu in Hawaiʻi.
“We have been so fortunate to collaborate with people for over 50 years whose passion and commitment center on the intimate connections between land, ocean, and people – including our friends and partners at KUA,” said Dr. Darren Lerner, director of UH Sea Grant. “Reprinting The Limu Eater in partnership with KUA is particularly meaningful this year, as it marks both the ʻYear of the Limu’ and Hawaiʻi Sea Grant’s 50th anniversary. We are thrilled to share the moʻolelo and importance of limu, as well as delicious recipes, in this unique publication.”
Heimuli also sees the “Year of the Limu” as an opportunity to continue the work of “Gathering the Gatherers.” During the coming year, KUA plans to safely connect Limu Hui members to each other through small interisland exchanges and virtual programs that nurture productive spaces for growth and pilina (connection) and promote deeper knowledge sharing of limu practices, stories, and lessons learned.
Ito, who retired as Limu Hui Coordinator at the end of 2021 and organized annual gatherings of the Limu Hui prior to the pandemic agrees that these types of gatherings are important in creating the safe spaces needed to preserve ʻike and raise the next generation of limu practitioners.
Since their first gathering, Ito noted that the network has grown to include over 50 cultural practitioners, educators, researchers and community members from across Hawaiʻi who are committed to the protection, perpetuation, preservation and restoration of limu knowledge, practice and ancestral abundance of limu throughout our islands.
The Limu Hui: Preserving ʻIke and Restoring Abundance
In September 2014, more than 30 loea limu (traditional limu experts) representing six islands came together. It was the first gathering of its kind, and a rich time of learning, sharing and documenting ʻike pertaining to native Hawaiian limu.
This “gather the gatherers” event was organized by Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA) in partnership with the ʻEwa Limu Project. The opportunity for limu practitioners to gather and network is critical to their collective effort to restore limu knowledge, practice and abundance. An outgrowth of this initial gathering was the Limu Hui, an association of individuals and organizations bound by their passion for limu.
The Limu Hui continues to gather annually and has grown to include more than 50 individual limu practitioners who are working to preserve the ʻike related to limu – from moʻolelo and traditions, to its culinary, medicinal and ceremonial uses – as well as to restore limu to abundance in their own communities.
There are a number of organizations across the pae ʻāina that focus on limu restoration, education, and invasive species removal including ʻEwa Limu Project, Hānai Ā Ulu, Koʻolau Limu Project, Lānaʻi Limu Restoration Project, Mālama Maunalua, Paepae o Heʻeia, Waiheʻe Limu Restoration, Waikalua Loko Iʻa, and Waimānalo Limu Hui.
“The greatest challenges to restoring native limu abundance is getting the seed stock to replant into the ocean and access to abundant saltwater to grow out the seed stock,” explained Ikaika Rogerson of the Waimānalo Limu Hui.
“Luckily for the Limu Hui as a whole, we have Uncle Wally (Ito) as a resource who cultivates the stock at Ānuenue Fisheries and Research center. He provides limu for all of the restoration projects and for limu education at many school and community events.”
Waimānalo Limu Hui on Oʻahu hosts a monthly community workday where volunteers can learn about the different types of limu found in the area and the methods used to outplant limu back into the ocean.
Restoring limu abundance starts with education. When to pick limu, how to pick limu without destroying the roots, and taking only what you need are emphasized. So where appropriate, involving the community, especially our keiki, in restoration efforts is one strategy to help replenish dwindling limu resources and build awareness of limu’s important role, both culturally and ecologically.
Nalani Kaneakua is the director of Koʻolau Limu Project on Kauaʻi. They recently hosted a group of 1st-5th graders from Kanuikapono Public Charter School in Anahola during spring break for a program called “Limu is the Lesson.”
“We had an overwhelmingly positive response and interest in more programs that are fun and focused on ʻāina and kai-based learning,” said Kaneakua adding that project participants also “have a greater appreciation for limu and of its importance on all levels.”
Takeaway manaʻo from the students included: “Do not take more limu than you need.” “When harvesting limu don’t pull the roots out.” “Only pick enough limu to feed your ʻohana. Fishes and sea urchins need limu too!”
For more information about the Limu Hui or other limu restoration projects across the pae ʻāina email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow KUA and the Limu Hui on these websites and social media platforms:
- Year of the Limu Website: go.kuahawaii.org/yearofthelimu
- Limu Hui: www.kuahawaii.org/limu-hui
- Limu Hui Facebook: www.facebook.com/LimuHuiKUAhawaii
- KUA Facebook: www.facebook.com/KUAhawaii
- Instagram: @kuaainauluauamo
To volunteer to kōkua with limu restoration efforts check out these organizations:
- Waimānalo Limu Hui: www.waimanalolimuhui.org
- Waiheʻe Limu Restoration: www.waiheelimu.org
- Waikalua Loko Iʻa: www.thepaf.org/waikalua/
- Mālama Maunalua: www.malamamaunalua.org
- Paepae o Heʻeia: www.paepaeoheeia.org
Free “Year of the Limu” Zoom backgrounds are available for download at: kawaiola.news/cover/year-of-the-limu-zoom-backgrounds/
#YearoftheLimu2022 #noLIMUnoFISH #LimuHui #KUAhawaii #KuaainaUluAuamo
For more updates or info about the Limu Hui or “Year of the Limu” activities, follow KUA on Instagram or Facebook or visit www.kuahawaii.org.
Kim Kamaluʻokeakua Moa is an Oʻahu-based documentary photographer and photojournalist with a passion for social justice and visual storytelling through an Indigenous lens. She has been the communications coordinator at Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo since 2015.