An exciting opportunity has found it’s way to us at Ho‘okua‘āina! Some of you are aware that in our loʻi at Kapalai we use the mounded or puʻe puʻe style of growing kalo. The authors of the book Native Planters, considered the authority of traditional Hawaiian food crop cultivation, argue that the first settlers to Hawai‘i cultivated kalo in this style—as opposed to the predominant way that it is grown today, submerged in water. Our mentor, Uncle Earl Kawaʻa, who grew up farming kalo, acknowledges that we have been relearning this ancient method of growing through trial and error. From day one at Ho‘okua‘āina, we have been on a mission to gain back ancient knowledge that had been lost.
This past winter we were fascinated by an article in Hana Hou magazine about Rurutu, a tiny and remote island in French Polynesia where kalo is grown in the same mounded manner like we do. In addition, the people there pound kalo into poi exactly like Hawaiians, using the same implements, and they call it popoi! As far as we knew, Hawaii was unique in this regard. Coincidentally, months later, a young man named Tamatea whose family lives on Rurutu came to visit our lo‘i. Tamatea explained Rurutu’s thriving kalo culture and manner of eating it with every meal. After this intriguing conversation, we reached out to his uncle, Viriamu (the kalo farmer featured in the Hana Hou article) and began planning an expedition in search of lost ancient knowledge and important cultural connections vital to us as we search the past to find answers for our future.
For over 10 years we have been seeking knowledge of the ancient style of puʻe puʻe kalo cultivation, feeling almost like pioneers, and always wondering if what we are doing is correct. Going to Rurutu will enlighten and educate us on a tradition that has continued uninterrupted for 2,000 years, and affirm the path we are already on. Going there will allow us the opportunity to step back in time and experience a place where kalo is still the staple, and where the practice of pounding kalo into poi may have first begun. In short, this is an opportunity to reconnect to and build a relationship with others of a shared ancient heritage and bring that ʻike or knowledge back to share in Hawaii.