Protecting the pa‘akai traditions of Hanapēpē, Kaua‘i

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Pa‘akai from Hanapēpē, Kaua‘i is a treasured gift that is valued throughout the pae ‘āina o Hawai‘i and has been shared with family and friends around the world. From time immemorial salt makers have prepared the salt beds and harvested salt in this wahi pana known as Waimakaohi‘iaka which is located in the ‘ili of ‘Ukulā, the ‘ahupua‘a of Hanapēpē, in the moku of Kona. The salt is used for cooking, ceremony and medicine, and critical to the preservation and perpetuation of many other Native Hawaiian traditions and customary practices.

Photo: Aerial View of Hanapēpē
Hanapēpē. – Photo: Courtesy

Hui Hana Pa‘akai o Hanapēpē is a Native Hawaiian organization comprising 22 ‘ohana that are cultural practitioners, kia‘i, protectors of this wahi pana. For many generations, they have exercised their traditional and customary practices at the salt-making area, which is also listed on the State inventory of historic sites. It is beautiful to witness ‘ohana members and friends of all ages learning from one another and sharing the mo‘olelo of our kūpuna as they perpetuate this practice.

However, in recent years this treasured cultural practice is being threatened by the changing climate (increased rain, change in weather patterns, overtopping of ocean waves, and sea-level rise) as well as proposed expansions in the neighboring parcels.

On June 25, 2019, the County of Kaua‘i Planning Commission held a public hearing to review the application for a proposed expansion from Smoky Mountain Helicopters (dba Maverick Helicopters) at the Burns Field airstrip that is next to Waimakaohi‘iaka. A kāhea went out by the alaka‘i of the Hui asking for support to protect pa‘akai.

The hui launched an online petition to inform the Kaua‘i Planning Commission that the community is against any after-the-fact permits and proposed modifications to the existing helicopter facility near Salt Pond. The Hui Hana Pa‘akai feels strongly that the expansion would irreparably impact the salt ponds, the last remaining site where Native Hawaiian ‘ohana continue to make salt in this manner.

“We stand in the exact same place as our ancestors and create a product to share with family and friends,” said Ku‘ulei Santos, Vice President of Hui Hana Pa‘akai o Hanapēpē.

After over four hours of testimony on June 25, 2019, the Kaua‘i Planning Commission decided it will hold a contested case hearing on the proposed expansion. This decision comes in response to the community’s requests as over 75 testifiers, over 100 written testimonies and the 33,000+ supporters who have currently signed the petition that urged the planning commission to protect the salt ponds. The hearing date is still being determined.

It was amazing to hear person after person describe how much the salt practice means to them, all while underscoring its importance to a thriving culture and community. Here’s just a glimpse of what was heard throughout the hearing-

Frank Santos said, “I’ve been working in the salt pans for 65 years. There’s a new generation of salt makers that are coming online and they are here to protect the ʻāina, protect our heritage, protect our culture, to educate the local people to help them understand how important Hanapēpē is, to understand how important this salt is.

Haunani Kaiminaauao said, “It’s our right, it’s our birthright, it’s our way of living. I’m a grandmother and I always pledge to leave behind a legacy. I want this legacy to continue for my children and grandchildren.”

Berna Kali Vea said, “I represent the past, which is my dad, Benjamin Kali Sr. and I’m also here to represent my future, my grandchildren. The red in the salt pans represent the blood, our koko of our ancestors. We are fighting against something (the helicopter company) that has no benefit to our ʻāina, no benefit to us, has nothing to do with us, just money, money, greed! The airport should be just gone.”

Kupuna Janet Kahalekomo, a 4th-generation salt maker who is now teaching the three generations below her said, “We want to PRESERVE, we want to PROTECT, and we want to PERPETUATE the culture.”

Momi Ka‘iakapu-Lanning said, “We cannot see what is happening underground. So how can you determine whether or not the use of the illegal cesspool is adequate. We are on the lower end of the terrain. Everything that is happening underground is affecting us.”

In August 2019, The Hui Hana Pa‘akai o Hanapēpē sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Hawai‘i Department of Health requesting an immediate investigation of the use of the unpermitted restroom facility utilizing a cesspool at Burns Field, Kaua‘i. The cesspool poses significant threats to our sensitive ecosystems including the traditional and customary practice of making salt beds and gathering salt in the neighboring land that is also at a lower elevation. In addition, the cesspool poses a risk to a sensitive ecosystem as untreated effluent could leach to impact marine life and corals and pose risks to humans in recreational pursuits along the shoreline and in adjacent ocean waters.

In addition, in August 2019, the County of Kaua‘i Planning Department sent a Notice of Violation & Order to Pay Fines to Smoky Mountain Helicopters (dba Maverick Helicopters) and D & J Air Adventures (dba Sky Dive Kauai).

Stay updated on this issue by adding your name to the online petition found at change.org/protectpaakaiFollow the Hui Hana Pa‘akai on their social media pages

  • Facebook: @protectpaakai
  • Instagram: @protectingpaakai

#protectpaakai

More info available at protectpaakai.org.