The Lo‘i Pa‘akai ‘o ‘Ukula ma Hanapēpē forms a rich cultural hub for the production of pa‘akai, a culturally significant resource traditionally cultivated and gathered by Kānaka Maoli. When mixed with ‘alaea, this salt is vital to preserve mea ‘ai, cook, conduct ceremonial blessings, and ward off negative energies. I fondly remember ‘alaea being a part of my tūtū For its unsurpassed value to Kānaka Maoli and its overall significance in Hawai‘i’s history, the Lo‘i Pa‘akai ‘o ‘Ukula ma Hanapēpē is listed on the Hawai’i State Register of Historic Places. Today, the cultural tradition of making pa‘akai continues on a small sliver of coastal land in Hanapēpē.
Today, the cultivation of pa‘akai is endangered by threats of particulate pollution and chemical runoff that have been of particular concern to practitioners who wish to maintain the quality and safety of their pa‘akai. These threats to pa‘akai cultivation prove a challenge to Maoli cultural survival throughout Hawai‘i where state and county laws have repeatedly failed to sufficiently protect sacred cultural practices. If these lo‘i can no longer be tended as they have been over a millenium, future generations may never have the opportunity to perpetuate the experience and the healing properties of pa‘akai itself.
Protecting pa‘akai practitioners remains close to my heart. My aunt, Elizabeth Yamamoto, a former pa‘akai practitioner from Kalaupapa, detailed the hard work that goes into preparing pa‘akai, including creating the clay beds to the immense hardship that comes with harvesting the pa‘akai.
The Kaua‘i Planning Commission has the affirmative duty to protect and preserve traditional and customary native Hawaiian rights. In their consideration, the Planning Commission must make specific findings and conclusions considering: 1) identifying potentially impacted cultural and natural resources and the extent to which traditional and customary practices are exercised in the area; 2) the extent to which those resources will be affected, and; 3) feasible actions that may be taken to reasonably protect Native Hawaiian practices. Given that Hanapēpē is the only area where pa‘akai can be cultivated in a traditional manner, considering “whether actions or decisions support and restore cultural integrity as a partial remedy for past harms or perpetuate conditions that continue to undermine cultural survival” is a critical starting point for review.
The Planning Commission must assess “whether a particular action perpetuates the subjugation of ancestral lands, resources, and rights, or attempts to redress historical injustices in a significant way.” For years, practitioners have been raising concerns about possible impacts from these helicopter operations. Added pollution, noise, heavy metal contaminates, and chemical storm water runoff will have significant adverse impacts on the ability of pa‘akai practitioners to continue farming in Hanapēpē. These impacts would be additional to other threats, including sea level rise, a heavily used beach park, houseless residents taking up residence within the flats, a road cutting through the salt beds, a makeshift beach access route blocking drainage, the razing of a nearby forest, and polluted runoff from neighboring agricultural operations and a highway. These numerous impacts provide the basis for the Commission to begin fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to assess potential impacts to resources and mitigation measures associated with Native Hawaiian traditional and customary practices.
As decision makers, we are obligated to work with our Hawaiian communities to employ local laws that will protect and perpetuate our traditional cultural practices in these storied places for future generations. Our pa‘akai practitioners are still here. And as long as they are still here, they are still fighting.