Some Memories About Limu

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Dear friends of this newspaper from the fine sands of Hanakahi (in Hilo) to the shell sands of Niʻihau. Greetings! As I was contemplating this “Year of The Limu,” a distant sound struck my ear, which was the song, “Waikīkī Hula,” written for the home of Prince Kalanianaʻole, namely, Pualeilani. The lyrics, “the fragrance of the līpoa (dictyopteris plagiogramma),” is what I pondered as I remembered that I saw and smelled this limu (like mango to me) during my childhood near Pualeilani. I haven’t seen līpoa in Waikīkī since. It was lost to the pollution of the sea. Very regrettable.

I also remembered an elder native speaker, Rachel Mahuiki, showing us teachers the lush growth of limu kohu (asparagopsis taxiformis) on the reef of Wainiha. She demonstrated how to properly pluck this delicious limu. Never pull the roots lest the plant dies. Alas! Today this limu is long gone due to the reckless over-harvesting by greedy people.

Then, another line of song came to me. I remembered, though imperfectly, a hula that Leinaʻala Heine Kalama taught me called “ʻIke i ke one kani aʻo Nohili” (as sung by Mahi Beamer). In the hula, one demonstrates how the lei of pahapaha (ulva fasciata) or pālahalaha is worn. Polihale is famous for its limu pahapaha (a.k.a. sea lettuce) and if one visited there, he would fashion a lei to show friends and family. In the newspaper, Hae Hawaii, it is written that the limu pahapaha can also be found at Keawaiki, Kōloa. It was near the cape of Makahuena. There, at Wawapuhi, was another barking sands like Nohili’s. The author wrote, “Don’t go to Nohili because we have barking sands like Nohili’s.” If the limu is still there at the beach, it remains to be seen.

While at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, I was fortunate to be in the class of Isabella Abbott, the first Hawaiian woman to receive a doctorate degree in science. She was famous for her work on limu. Her teaching assistant took us students to gather limu samples for a herbarium. It was the first time seeing līpeʻepeʻe (laurencia nidifica). According to hula master Kahaʻi Topolinski, this limu was never eaten by hula folk lest the knowledge of hula peʻe (hide) from the learner. If this limu still thrives in the deep tidepools of East Oʻahu, I don’t know.

Once upon a time, one could pick limu at the sandy beach of Puʻuloa, ʻEwa. Remember? Incredibly thick were the piles of seaweed like manauea, kala, wāwae ʻiole, and numerous other kinds. Gone forever are those mounds of precious seaweed.

I believe we should return to the practice of the konohiki land manager to declare prohibitions as Liliʻuokalani did for her lands of Hamohamo, Waikīkī. A prohibition was declared by her land agent in Nupepa Kuokoa (1906, Mar. 2) placing limu pakaelewaa (misidentified), limu huluhuluwaena (grateloupia filicina) and other sea plants and creatures off-limits.

Intelligent and wise were the ancestors in caring for the limu. It would really be best if we followed their ways of caring for the abundance of the sea.

“Familiar and cherished with the fragrance of the līpoa” – Edith Kanakaʻole.