Na Ke Kanaka Mahiʻai Ka Imu Ō Nui
The well-filled imu belongs to the man who tills the soil
NA KE KANAKA MAHIʻAI KA IMU Ō NUI. #2239*
The well-filled imu belongs to the man who tills the soil.
What does it mean to be wealthy?
How do we quantify wealth?
One might argue that the way a society quantifies wealth speaks to what it truly values. In Hawaiian, the word for wealth and riches is waiwai. Here we see the word wai (freshwater) repeated twice, emphasizing its importance. [More info on wai: Uwē ka lani, ola ka honua]. Water brings life to both land and people. This partnership allows land to be cultivated, in turn producing food that nourishes body, mind, and spirit.
This process requires time, commitment, vision, and a lot of hard work. It takes around a year for kalo (taro) to grow to maturity. Within that time, you may need to cultivate and fertilize the soil, build up the kuāuna (banks), pull weeds, cut grass, rebuild mounds, clear out and maintain the ʻauwai (irrigated ditches/waterways), pull some more weeds, and then, after months of tending, you are ready to huki ʻai (pull the kalo).
In Hawaiʻi, as in many cultures around the world, food is enjoyed communally and is often a way we express our aloha for one another. Being able to not only sustain yourself but also present your loved ones with ʻai (food, taro) that you poured your own hard work and dedication into growing is seen as a mark of wealth.
This ʻōlelo noʻeau reminds us that celebrating abundance comes as a result of hard work.
It might take months, or perhaps years, of hana (work) to grow enough food to fill an imu (underground oven). However, that commitment to everyday tasks means that in the end, one is able to share and enjoy what was produced through seasons of labor. This is waiwai.
As we savor the things we are enjoying in this season, let us also reflect on and appreciate the times of challenge and perseverance it took us to get here.
By that same token, let us also remember that if we are ʻono (craving) for poi today, we should have been thinking about it a year ago. What do we want to be able to enjoy in the future and are there ways we need to begin preparing today?
- Why is hard work important?
- What is a goal you are currently working toward? Why?
- What will it take to get there? What are the challenges you may face? How might you overcome them?
- Why is it worth it? What will you have accomplished and be able to enjoy once you achieve your goal?
- Waiwai: Wealth, rich, valuable, wealthy
- Wai: Freshwater
- Kanaka: Human being, man, person
- Mahiʻai: Farmer, planter; to farm, cultivate
- Kuāuna: Bank or border of a taro patch
- Huki ʻai: Pull taro that is ready to be prepared. Literally pull food
- Imu: Underground oven
- Nui: Big, large, abundant; a lot
- ʻOno: To crave; delicious
- Kilo: To observe, watch closely
- What is the author urging readers to do? What is the underlying fear?
- Where was this taking place? What was that area like at the time this article was written?
- What is this area like today? Are there hundreds of acres of loʻi kalo there today? Currently, do we see many people working this ʻāina? Is it producing food? Why and how do you think this transition took place?
- How do you think this author would react to seeing this ʻāina today? What might he or she do about it?
- What can we do to steward this ʻāina differently?
- How might we apply this ʻōlelo noʻeau to the information presented in this article?
- In the moʻolelo of Mākālei, what was Kawainui? Did people gather food there? How does this compare with Kawainui today?
- What did the people of Waimānalo and Kailua do in order to mālama (care for) Kawainui fishpond? Why did they do this? What were they able to accomplish?
- What lessons do we learn from this moʻolelo? How might it connect with our ʻōlelo noʻeau?
- If Kaʻahumanu sent messengers all the way over to Kailua to get food, what does this moʻolelo teach us about the ʻai (food) and ʻāina in Kailua?
- How do we see the ʻōlelo noʻeau, Na Ke Kanaka Mahiʻai Ka Imu Ō Nui, exemplified in this moʻolelo?
Possible Extension Activities
- What plants and animals are growing? What do they sound, smell, and feel like (as appropriate)? Do they change at different times of the day or year?
- When does it rain? What does the rain look, sound, smell, feel, and taste like? Are there different types of rains that I notice? What are their characteristics? Where and when do the clouds gather? Are there different types of clouds that come around at different times of the day or at different times of the year?
- What do our streams, rivers, and springs look like? Do they change over time? What does the rain look, sound, smell, and feel like?
- What is happening in the ocean? What do you see, smell, hear, feel (and taste if appropriate)? Does the activity (waves, animals, limu, etc.) change at different times of the day or year? Are there different types of fish, limu, or other animals present at different types of the year?
- Math: Measure the area needed to plant. Create a sketch of the area with a key that includes your measurement scale. Be sure to map out where each of your plants will go. Each kalo should be around one haʻilima (from elbow to fingertip) apart.
- Science: Prepare the soil mixing it with natural organic fertilizers and/or compost before planting. Do daily observations of your kalo and other things in the ʻāina. You can record this data along with measurements on a data table or use our Kilo Journal.
- English: Write poems, reflections, or short stories about your māla and the food you are growing. Write an argumentative essay or constructed response about the importance of food sovereignty and growing our own food.
- Social Studies: Research the konohiki, ahupuaʻa, and moku systems in Hawaiʻi and the self-sufficiency of traditional Hawaiian land management.
- What have you learned about what your plants need to stay healthy? How do they respond to different things you have or have not done?
- How are tasks like watering and pulling weeds essential to the healthy growth of your plants? What happens when you do or don’t do these things?
- How might caring for those plants also help you, your family, and your community to thrive?
- Do you notice a shift in your own demeanor when you see your plants thriving?
- What do you think would happen if you were not there to care for your māla? How would its health be affected? How would you be affected as well?
- Prepare kalo to be eaten by cooking and cleaning.
- Cut kalo
- Math: Measure ingredients, making adjustments with correct proportions if cooking more or less than what is shared. Given how much of each type of food (kalo, kale, lettuce, etc.) you eat in a given week, calculate the amount of food you need to plant to be able to have enough of that item to satisfy your needs.
- Science: Study fermentation of poi. Do taste tests and observations. How does it change from one day to another? What are the effects on your gut biome and overall health? Compare it with other fermentation processes, such as kimchee and sauerkraut.
- English: Design videos or blog entries with pictures sharing your own culinary creations.
- Social Studies: Consider the statement, “Our food systems determine our social systems.” Create an argumentative essay, constructed response, or video addressing the following questions: Is there truth to this statement? How would we evaluate our current food and social systems? What practical things can you do to improve them? What impacts could this have on Hawaiʻi and the world?
*Pukui, M. K., & Varez, D. (1983). ʻŌlelo Noʻeau: Hawaiian Proverbs & poetical sayings. Honolulu, Hawai’i: Bishop Museum Press.