Putting the poi back on the table
In her dedication to the community, Rose Marie H. Duey dons many hats, and the pen has been her weapon of choice.
But beyond all the committees the Native Hawaiian works on, board meetings she attends and the volumes of paper passing across her desk, Duey’s soul is rooted in the land.
In addition to her ongoing 33 years of service at Alu Like, Duey is the executive director of the community-based nonprofit, Olowalu Cultural Reserve, founded in 1999.
The preserve is situated in the ‘Ahupua’a at Lihau, Olowalu, and consists of 74-acres running from the base of the West Maui mountains to the ocean.
Its mission is to “perpetuate the traditional and customary practices of ‘kanaka maoli’ of these Hawaiian Islands and promote opportunities to regain the spiritual connection of ‘Malama ‘aina’ of our ancestors by insuring these beliefs and customs are passed down to future generations.”
“The Olowalu Cultural Reserve is not about tourists and tourism,” Duey explained. “It’s about community involvement and bringing back poi as a staple to our kids.”
“When we had the protocol to open up the Olowalu Cultural Reserve, we had about 30 Hawaiian kids there and very few of them ate poi. We realized that poi wasn’t something the families could afford, so this generation of children was not eating poi. It was the biggest eye opener,” Duey said.
“Our whole priority changed,” the 72-year-old added, and the crusade to put poi back on the table began.
It wasn’t just a rebuild, replant and reap effort; a poi kitchen was added as a final touch.
“The very first priority for the project was to get the taro patches started and let the kids adopt a taro patch,” she explained.
Youth from Sacred Hearts, Maui Preparatory Academy, Baldwin High School, Kamehameha Schools, St. Anthony and Maui High School have participated in the program.
“It’s actually rebuilding of the patches,” Duey described. “Those patches were bulldozed for the plantation sugarcane. The kids had to go get the rocks, bring it to the area where the patches were, rebuild the patches, plant, then wait eight to 11 months to pull that taro, depending upon the variety of taro that it is, then take it to the poi shop and cook and make poi,” she said.
Her taro farming activities are extensive.
“We started restoration of them (the taro patches in Ukumehame) in 1993. We restored 17 in Ukumehame, restored three in Olowalu, rebuilt 15 in Olowalu and restored one in Iao Valley. That brings a total to 36,” the Lahainaluna High School alumni quantified.
Her quest to protect the taro has taken her from the lo’i to the courtroom.
Duey is a member of Hui O Na Wai Eha. Along with Maui Tomorrow Foundation and State Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the “Hui” successfully filed an appeal with the Hawaii State Supreme Court over a decision made by the state Commission on Water Resource Management regarding the diversion of surface waters.
“Na Wai Eha case came out of the fact that the four streams here in the Central Maui area did not have water. That’s because the plantations are using the water. One plantation went out of cane and decided not to give up the water but to sell the water,” she explained.
“Water is a public trust, and it’s needed for cultural planting practices especially,” she remarked.
Cousin Ekolu Lindsey defined the critical leadership role she plays.
“To me she is the po’o of my father’s generation. She is responsible for teaching/leading my generation to remember our roots while traversing today’s political landscape.
“We get so caught up in materialistic things and electronic communication that we forget the simple (yet complex) knowledge of cultural farming (I use cultural farming to represent sticks, stones, and the relationship of man to the aina and each other),” the President of Maui Cultural Lands continued. “She represents the light of our future, and we will be responsible for keeping that light burning to pass to the next generation,” he said.
Master Maui artist Al Lagunero serves on the Olowalu Cultural Reserve board of directors. He has experienced the depth of Duey’s character first-hand.
“Rose’s family is traceable to a beginning, Hawai’i Nui Akea–a parcel and part of Po. She also has family traceable to a myriad of family lines spanning the globe; and for them all is this gift of caring for the ancestral lands, the connected histories of what we memorize to the best of our abilities; and, inside ‘eia nei, is the living mysteries of Hawai’i, The Great Expanse of Sky Father, Nui Akea.
“She plants, generates, and regenerates — a spitting image of the mother, Papa; and she maintains a contemporary approach to knowing how this gift aims to save what it knows as good for the life of the land, its people, the ancestor. She is a living exemplary of Hawaii and Hawaiian women: staunch, mindful of the laws, unafraid… Hu, na maka o ke ki ele (secret eyes of gardenia).”