Story told by Audrey Nakamura
Transcribed by Vance Kaleohano Farrant
My family had a banana patch in Maunawili for 40 something years. My dad was first generation in Hawaiʻi, born in Okinawa. He didn’t have money, so he got a job as a janitor at Castle and Cooke. We worked the farm every single holiday vacation we ever had, and it was like home over there. For me, coming to Maunawili is like coming home. I grew up in Palama, on the same block as the Palama Settlement. I used to go to the Settlement for piano lessons. I actually took hula for a little while, and then sang in the children’s choir. They took us to Central Union Church to sing. We had to wear a pastel dress, and my mother said, “What’s a pastel dress?” We had to get out the dictionary and look up what pastel was! We needed to have shoes, so my mom had to buy me shoes. Everything was all strange and new, but it was eye opening and really worthwhile.
Momi is the person who first introduced me to the poi from Hoʻokuaʻāina. She told me, “Audrey, you gotta have this poi cause it’s the best one on the island.” I go, “Yeah right. Poi is poi.” Then she brought me some when I went to the dentist, because she was my teeth-cleaner. I said, “Oh my god, this is out of this world!” So I started going to Hoʻokuaʻāina. The poi that they produce here is the best tasting and makes everybody feel so good, including all the kūpuna. I used to know someone who was 98 years old, and she would really look forward to getting the poi every other week. A 93-year-old woman that I know was gonna give up driving and doing things, but her two daughters said that as soon as she sees the poi, she perks up, and then she’s walking and doing some exercises. Another 94-year-old woman told me that because she has the poi to eat, she gets up and does yoga in the morning. The poi gives her something to look forward to.
I didn’t grow up with poi. Japanese only eat rice! We only had poi once in a great while. My mom was a really healthy eater. She wouldn’t fry things, and she always baked or slow-cooked food. Poi was kinda expensive, too, so she only made rice. After a while, it was only brown rice, and she made sure we had more fruits. That’s when she began using a little bit of poi. But when she tasted the poi from here, she was like “Oh my god. Gotta have this one.” I tried the other kinds of poi, and we used to get the Hanalei poi, but the other ones are not even close to Hoʻokuaʻāina’s. My mom could recognize the difference, too. With her, I learned that when you eat good food, you feel better and your health gets better, too.
Recently, one of my friends that I deliver poi to had six university students from his daughter’s volleyball team on the continent visiting and staying at his house. When I dropped the poi off, he said, “My god, they don’t know what a treat they’re getting! And they’re getting the real poi and the real taste of Hawaiian kalo and stuff.” His daughter was jumping up and down in the garage. She couldn’t stay still! The mother was busy inside, and as soon as she saw me, she jumped up and came running, saying “Thank you for bringing the poi! But not only for the kids. We get to eat a little bit, too!” I laughed! They’re more happy to see the poi and kalo than they are to see me!
That family has always appreciated the poi tremendously. The parents said that they tried hiding the poi, so they didn’t have to share, and I said, “What?!” Both of them are educators, and I started laughing. I said, “You have that side to your personality?” He said, “I was trying my best to hide it, but I couldn’t succeed. I didn’t give with an open heart, but I gave with a really closed heart.” I just started laughing and laughing. I said, “This is what you teaching your students?!” He said, “No! But I’m teaching them what stuff is good!”
The people that I drop off poi to, they’re all different in education and age, yet you can see how much they all enjoy the poi. When I come, it’s not me—it’s the poi and the kalo that they happy to see. They tell me that they always feel so much healthier and happier. People I know in town think that this place is really country and really far. I tell them, “It’s right at the beginning of Maunawili. You guys don’t even go into Maunawili?” They’re like, “That’s far to go over the Pali.” I say, “What?! Ah, I’ll just pick it up and then drop it off for you.” But I have quite a round of deliveries. I’ll start with about 30 bags of kalo paʻa and 30 bags of poi, and I’ll drop off in Waimānalo, Keolu Hills, Hawaii Kai, Niu Valley, Wilhelmina Rise, downtown by the old stadium, and Pauoa valley. I feel like Santa Clause! Then I give to people at my office. I give poi to the maintenance people because they always working so hard and doing extra things for me. I ask them, “You guys do it for the poi?” They joke and say, “Of course! We not doing it for you!” At least they’re honest!
All of the workers at the office wait for me to come. I used to only give the supervisor and his assistant, but then the workers started jumping in to volunteer. They’d say, “If it’s for Audrey I’ll go!” So I said, “Okay, I gotta bring a batch for the workers.” They started introducing themselves to me, saying things like, “I’ve been working here three years already, you know, and I’m the one that did this and that,” because they’re trying to get poi, and I just laugh! One time the supervisor’s assistant saw me in the lobby at work and told me, “Audrey, anything you want, you just ask!” It’s interesting how the poi can change people a lot. The relationships and interactions change so much. The supervisor’s assistant said that since I started sharing poi with his work crew, they are a lot more open. They see me coming, and they’re running to the elevator to hold it open for me, but I see them doing it for other people, too! It’s so neat to see that the good food can bring out the goodness in people.
I tell people that the vibration here is very different, if you just come and see. I was telling one of the people that I deliver to, “You gotta go and experience it.” His daughter-in-law has come here before, so he told her, “Next time you go, you better bring me!” His son went wild when I shared some poi with him, because he has that Hawaiian side, yeah? His mother was hundred percent Hawaiian, so they ate poi growing up. He sent poi to his half brother in Iowa who is Hawaiian. He told me that he mailed it, and I go, “What?!” He said, “The thing is so good and so different, I had to do it!” He also gives poi to a retired policeman next door who is on hospice care with cancer, and I think he knows two other people that are pretty much ending their lives, but they’re eating the poi. He said “You see their faces when they get the poi, and it’s really worth it.”
It’s the same for me when I deliver poi and see how happy people are. Usually I’m pounding away at their bodies, giving deep massages. The guy who sent the poi to his brother in Iowa says that he remembers wanting to run away and not ever come back to my office because the massage I gave him was so painful. Then, he walked out and forgot his crutches in my office. He was walking to the elevator, and I yelled out his name and said, “You forgot something!” He says, “What did I forget?” When he saw the crutches I said, “I can make some money from this if I sell it…” He looked at me and said, “Oh, you funny!” After the massage, he didn’t even remember that he had walked into the office with the crutches. It’s kinda similar to giving people poi. You give them something, and then they feel so good they can’t even understand what happened.
Interacting with the people like Dean, Michele, Makana, and Ethan makes me feel connected to this place, along with eating the poi. All of the people here are really open and want to do the best that they can. One time, Ethan was valet parking at a restaurant, and he came running up to me. He said, “I know you!” He is usually busy when I pick up poi, so I don’t see him often. I looked at him with his mask on, and I said, “How do you know me?” Then he looked at me and said, “I’m the one that’s pounding the poi!” I go, “What? Pull down your mask. But even if you do, I wouldn’t know you!” He started laughing.
I think the most valuable thing about this group is where they are coming from, in just serving and being the best that they can. That hits home for me. They are giving 100 percent. I think a lot of businesses are more motivated by money, but it’s never been like that here. Never. Your love has to go into the poi. If not, the poi wouldn’t taste the same. Absolutely not. I have friends that brought people to work in the loʻi, and they got soaked in the mud and water. I didn’t hear one person say anything negative, which made me want to open up more possibilities for other people. They all said that they felt so much better after, like they got cleansed from the inside out. I feel that when I eat the poi, too. I always feel better, and just so lucky. I feel happy watching this place grow. I get chicken skin when I see the view of the loʻi. Everything looks so nice. I’m happy that it’s spreading, and that it’s gonna have more people enjoying it. It feels
Edited by Vance Kaleohano Farrant