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Planting of kalo in Kahoma expands cultural restoration for community

By Staff | Aug 10, 2017

(From left to right) Archie Kalepa, Tiare Lawrence and Nainoa Thompson joined forces last weekend with the community to restore kalo to the lo‘i in Kahoma. PHOTO BY Asa Ellison.

LAHAINA – In the valleys above Lahaina – Kahoma and Kanaha – native families are returning to their kuleana lands, restoring the waters to once-diverted, dried out streambeds, regenerating life, connecting with the community, revitalizing the culture.

“Today is about a miracle of renewal,” Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, shared with a group of like-minded stewards and community stakeholders gathered along the banks of the now-flowing Kahoma Stream on Kalepa family lands last weekend, Sunday (Aug. 30).

“This is not just important for Kahoma,” the international leader added. “It is important for every stream. Every family who lost their land for the wrong reason; this is important for all of them. And I will say, from the global perspective, the world is looking at what Hawaiians are gonna do to bring back the day that was pono; that was right.”

It was an historic, momentous, ceremonious occasion, the first time in 130 years kalo (taro) had been planted in Kahoma Valley.

The opening pule was offered by distinguished family member Kalepa Baybayan, the pwo navigator on board the Hokule’a.

It was an historic occasion; for the first time in 130 years, kalo (taro) has been planted in Kahoma Valley. PHOTO BY Asa Ellison.

The welcoming speech, in gratitude, was given on behalf of the Kalepa ‘ohana by Archie Kalepa, legendary Hawaiian waterman.

“I want to thank each and everyone one of you for all your hard work, participation and sharing your knowledge; everybody, all these taro farmers that came from everywhere and helped. The list goes on and on and on. They shared their knowledge, openly, willingly to help us get to where we’re at today. We’re far from where we need to be, but it’s all about the process;” and it was long, extending over a decade, encompassing permitting, attendance at public meetings, negotiations with Kamehameha Schools and neighboring landowners, clearing the land and releasing the water.

Kai Keahi, whose kuleana lands adjoin Kahoma to the south at Kanaha, was instrumental during this laborious time.

“It was a back and forth thing for many years,” Keahi explained. “So finally, they (Kamehameha Schools) said, ‘We going to put back some water in the river.’

“(That was) eight years ago. You see the water flow maybe two to three years now pretty steady,” the Lahaina native continued.

“It took five years to saturate the stream – just to reach the bottom Five years later, then we saw the water. So that’s how long it took. Now the water is flowing.”

Archie witnessed the transition: “It was really, awesome to see the river change from warm to cold and from gray to clear; it was really amazing to watch it happen right in front of us.”

Now, he is a stronger advocate of the native Hawaiian ahupua’a system.

The most valuable part of this learning, he said, “is how important it is for rivers and streams to flow. The importance of that is so valuable on so many fronts; there’s way more plusses by allowing streams to flow from mauka to makai than there are negatives – on many fronts, including those beyond my knowledge.”

And on Sunday, all ages — kupuna, keiki and in between – got their feet muddy in the recently restored lo’i.

Supporting native flora was included in the mix planted along the streambed last weekend.

Keahi, from a long line of Mala fishermen, didn’t forget to add o’opu, hihiwai and opai to the fresh mountain waters of Kahoma.

“If you going to plant taro, we should plant something else too,” he said.

Tina Lopez is a Kalepa family member. She recounted the experience as “life being put back into our traditions with people, all kinds of people – not just Hawaiians – but all kinds of people coming together to make something work.”

Archie has a vision of restoration.

“It’s going to allow us, more importantly than anything else, to reconnect to the culture; it’s environment existed and can now come back and exist again,” he said.

The community is invited to share in this ecological rebirth.

The goal, according to Archie, “is to create a nonprofit organization, so we can allow our Lahaina community to join us along with the schools – use this place as an educational and cultural resource.”

“There’s so much there that we can learn from, that we can share with our younger generation. We can help tell the story of how Lahaina, the town of Lahaina, once was,” Kalepa concluded.