[Story and photos by Mike Foley: Originally published in KALEO, February 12, 1998]
Several hundred kupuna, kuleana neighbors, VIPS, community and business leaders, residents, keikis, students and guests gathered in old Po’ohaili on Feb. 7 to participate in the large-scale restoration of taro to Laie.
The sounds of the pu shell and Hawaiian chanting by William Kaiwiulaokalani Wallace III, Director of BYU-Hawaii’s new Hawaiian Studies Program, welcomed the crowd that beautiful, sunny afternoon to a special ceremony to honor a new six-acre taro farming project being initiated mauka of Laie by Hawaii Reserves, Inc. (HRI).
By the time the first phase is completely planted and the plants have matured, HRI may harvest 100,000 pounds of taro from the project. But that’s getting ahead of the story:
Gladys Pualoa-Ahuna, president of the Lanihuli Hawaiian Civic Club and a Laie kupuna, offered thanks in her pule [prayer] for the “great and wonderful blessing which has come back to our community— the replanting of the taro in an area where our kupuna [elders/ancestors] labored for many, many years; the area that they lived in a century ago.
“We have looked forward to this time for the past 10 years,” she continued, “the time when the taro would come back to Laie — a community that was once well know for its farming and growing of taro. As descendants of this wonderful land, we are thrilled to see the fulfillment of a dream we have had ever since the taro discontinued about 40 years.”
Pualoa-Ahuna also prayed that poi factories might come back again, noting that at one time Laie had three such factories.
In his remarks Wallace first apologized to the crowd, explaining that the Hawaiian custom is to plant taro in the morning before the day gets hot. “We’re doing this [in the afternoon] because of the occasion and the ceremony we share,”?he said.
“Kupuna in the olden times would work from before the time the sun would come up, to be able to feel the coolness of mother earth, and to be able to enjoy the early morning light.” Wallace also paid tribute to the kuleana families. “We want you to know that we love you.
At the same time,” he continued, “Laie is a very special place and we look forward to the opportunity to work together and to be able to have the spirit of the pu’uhonua [place of refuge] — the feeling of healing within our community so that things will become pono [right] for all of us.”
Wallace recognized Buzz Ka’ohi, a third generation taro farmer from Waimea, Kauai, who helped secure the huli or planting slips and has been acting as the taro consultant to HRI. He discovered that he and Ka’ohi are actually cousins through his mother’s Kauai family. “And so I believe that’s it’s not by chance that Buzz has been involved in this project, because he also has roots and connections and ties with our community as well, and we give our mahalo to him and his family for sharing his huli and his time.”
Wallace said this historic planting of the kalo was also a “fitting way to begin the week” in which BYU-Hawaii will announce its new Hawaiian Studies Program, “because for Hawaiians it doesn’t just represent the planting of a food source, but is actually a perpetuation of our ‘ohana, our family; because as Hawaiians we believe that the kalo is our elder brother, and it was given to us to care for us.”
Uncle Joe Ahuna addressed the group on behalf of the older Hawaiians and Samoans who grew up in Laie tending family taro patches. “As I was growing up in Laie there were lots and lots of taro patches,” he said, recalling how at age 12 he tended a patch almost 60-feet square. “My brother had a taro patch equal in size, as well as my father.”
He told how his mother used to chant as they pounded the taro, “ku’i i ka ‘ai, ku’i i ka ‘ai, ku’i i ka ‘ai pa’a ‘ai.”
“I am very pleased to see the taro back in Laie,” he continued, recalling how the Kekauoha, Kanahele and Ka’i’o families, “along with our Samoan brothers had so many taro patches here.” He also recounted how the patches eventually gave way to the sugar plantation, which used up most of the water needed to grow the taro.
U.S. Congresswoman Patsy Mink and her husband, who had done water studies in the area, came to the ceremony and praised the “spiritual, religious and cultural coming together” of the community.
“It’s very, very inspiring,” she said. “With my presence, I hope to signify how important, I believe, the leadership of this community, the kupuna, all the people who lived here in the valley, who know the history of the taro how important it is. Not only for the life, the vigor and the vitality and health of the people of Hawaii, but also because it is truly the history of our place here in the middle of the Pacific.”
Daniel T. Ditto, President & CEO of HRI, said as he looks over the lo’i or taro patches that he sees “something more important than just the planting of another commercial crop. “I see in the planting of this taro a great symbol — a symbol of peace and of tolerance, and an effort on the part of this community to come together, to work together and to learn the best that the Hawaiian culture has to offer to teach all of us ho’oponopono and cooperation, living together in harmony, all of which will help this community be what it can be.
“We’re here to celebrate certainly the restoration of taro in the ‘ahupua’a Laiewai,” Ditto continued, “and we’re here to celebrate Hawaiian culture which has so warmly embraced all of us in this community; but perhaps more importantly we’re here to celebrate our aloha, our friendship, our unity in the building of this community.” Ditto also recognized that a number of families in Laie have kept planting small taro patches over the years.
“What a special place this is,” he said, “a place where all can come and feel the value here. I think this was seen by one of our great leaders, President David O. McKay, years ago when he visited this community and said that ‘this community must be a moral town, with no hatred, no backbiting, no fault-finding; and above all, may the beauty of your town be but a symbol of the beauty of your characters.’
“As this taro grows and as the green leaves appear, and as these fields will become beautiful,” Ditto said, “so can our community become just as beautiful and successful if we will follow this prescription for success.”
Before Cy Bridges, Director of Cultural Islands at the Polynesian Cultural Center, offered a blessing in Hawaiian on the new taro project, he shared the story of a Hawaiian mele he composed for Laie when Arthur Haycock was released as president of the LDS Hawaii Temple: “The story talks about welcoming the many people who come from all around the world to Laie. Bridges and Wallace then chanted the mele together while Hawaiian Studies students from BYU-Hawaii and others danced a hula.
Following the speeches, prayers and ceremony, everyone who wanted to was invited to get into the soft mud of the lo’i and help plant the huli which are mainly of the Maui and Kaua’i lehua variety, good for making poi.
Laie kupuna Ahi Logan took the head of the first row [pictured at left] and expertly planted a couple of huli. HRI Board Chairman Jack Hoag and HRI Directors Sione Feinga and Kapua Sproat from Punalu’u along with her mo’opuna [grandchildren] also did fine, as did BYUH President Eric Shumway, his mo’opuna and several of the BYUH Executive Council members.
Laie Community Association President Theresa Bigbie and her sister, Napua Baker, looked fashionable out there (what DOES one wear to a taro planting?). Before it was over, dozens of adults and families together with their children took up huli and planted them in the lo’i. Afterwards, the keiki were naturally excited. Some played in the mud. A couple of kupuna needed help negotiating the mud, and some of the huli looked like they might have to be replanted, but everyone seemed pleased with the first few rows of new taro plants. In short, it was a beautiful sight.
Then, after everyone had rinsed off the mud, a feast followed featuring, what else, poi and table taro.
As the project develops, HRI Director of Property Operations Leonard Peters said his crews will also plant table taro and other Polynesian crops. He estimates it will take anywhere from 8–12 months before the first crops are ready to harvest.