[Story and photo by Mike Foley, originally published in Kaleo on December 17, 1998]
(Left-right): Sione Feinga, Theresa Bigbie, Tino Koahou,
Martha Kalama and Lemau Tauali’i show the taro they’ve just pulled.
It seemed like déjà vu as kupuna and other community members gathered at the new Hawaii Reserves taro farm mauka of Laie in Po’ohaili, only this time it was to huki kalo or begin to harvest the taro many of these same people helped plant on Feb. 6, 1998. Many of them were dressed appropriately for climbing into the mud of the lo’i or taro patches.
Ten months later five of the lo’i stretch makai with the plants in various stages of growth. It was windier and cooler than when the huli kalo were planted, but the plant leaves now stand more than three feet above the taro roots, which can be seen poking out of the mud.
The Nani Laie Serenaders, a kupuna group, were there singing in Hawaiian. William K. Wallace III, a keiki o ka aina o Laie and director of the BYUH Center for Hawaiian Language &?Cultural Studies, several of his students and Cy Bridges, Director of Cultural Island Presentations at PCC, chanted in honor of the occasion.
“On behalf of all of our kupuna and our kanaka maoli here in Hawaii, we share our aloha with you,” Wallace told the group.
Representing the kupuna, Roland Ahi Logan gave “thanks to Akua [God], thanks to Akea — the sky, Papa of the earth and the first offspring which, unbelievable, was tossed in the ground and grew Haloa — taro. Taro is very important to the Hawaiians and throughout Polynesia.
“As we look at all this beautiful taro, each taro represents an ohana — the makua [parents], the oha [offspring], and if you keep it in the patch long enough, the pu’u [extended family]. Each taro that you see can represent an individual family. How rich was the planter that had many taro in the lo’i, because it represented ‘öhana to him,” Logan said.
“I would love to see the valley of Laie have more acreage [of taro] than Hanalei, Kaua’i. At least one acre more.”
“We’re grateful for this milestone which has helped bring our community together,” responded Leonard J. Peters, HRI Director of Property Operations which includes overseeing the taro farm.
Daniel T. Ditto, HRI?President &?CEO, thanked all who helped with growing the taro. “We’re committed to seeing this happen,” he said. Picking up on Logan’s remarks, Ditto added, “I think this taro represents more than just another agricultural crop. It really represents a growing, beautiful and vibrant community.”
HRI farm manager Bert Pestana then led the crowd to the third lo’i where he and Wallace demonstrated the technique of getting hands around the taro root to rock and lift it free of the mud while preserving the stalk or huli for replanting.
It was quite a sight:?HRI board chairman Jack Hoag did the first honors and others soon followed — kupuna to community leaders and kids — each anxious to have the experience of pulling the large taro roots from the ground. State Senator Bob Nakata took a turn, making it look easy and saying that it reminded him of the many taro he pulled in his younger days.
Walter Wong also showed a lot of skill. “My grandfather was a farmer and taro planter,” he said, adding that his family stopped planting taro about 1936 or ’37. “The Hawaiians before, they got down on their knees, and they were pulling and they were planting. Pau [finished], and then they went on to the next one.
“When my grandfather planted, he always pule — he prayed to God — and then let the taro grow.” Wong recalled that the luau or leaves were not very large, but the roots were big — holding up his hands to about the size of a volleyball. “That’s the Hawaiian kind. That’s what you call a good planter. His name was Mamane Keawemauhili.”
Each of those who harvested took their taro and the huli home. Martha Kalama, for example, said she cooked hers for the grandkids and intended to plant the huli.
Wallace said working with the taro and harvesting it is almost a spiritual experience, again explaining the allusions to family. “My grandfather and father taught me when you finish pulling, you sort out what you’re going to cook and the huli. You actually start preparing the huli to replant as soon as you pull.”
He added that his students will continue to help HRI harvest and plant taro, and that the BYUH Hawaiian Studies program will eventually make their own lo’i kalo.
The next morning, HRI opened its new Farm Market under the kamani tree at approximately 55-248 Kamehameha Hwy. The taro sold out very quickly at only $1 a pound.
“We want to make the taro available to the community,”?Leonard Peters said. The farm, which also sells other HRI farm products, will open on Saturdays at 7 am until the produce is sold out. Phone orders for the taro can also be left at 293-0114.
“Throughout Polynesia we’re used to this kind of market,”?Peters said, “and we’re glad we could provide this source of taro to the community.”
Pestana added that the HRI Farm also already has bulk orders for the taro, some of which will be shipped to the mainland.