Water Cycle at Kapalai

Did you know that not all loʻi are the same? There are different type of loʻi, although there are universal characteristics. Depending on the ʻāina the farmer may cultivate on, will, in part determine how we are able to grow kalo there.

Our loʻi starts with pūnāwai, or springs. This is also called wai hū – “swelling water,” because our water comes right up from under the ground. The topography of the land at Kapalai is like a basin, and with gravity, the water naturally flows down to Kawainui. Other loʻi do not have pūnāwai and divert the water from and return the water to, the kahawai, the river.

While there are multiple pūnāwai, or wai hū at Kapalai, we do intentionally adjust the water flow with wooden boards. And we also allow the spring water to flow between patches through what is called the maka wai. Literally “water eyes,” each patch will generally have two maka wai, just like how we have two eyes. Our maka wai are pipes in the ground at one or two corner(s) of each patch, which meet a corresponding maka wai of the neighboring patch. Hence the natural gravitational flow and sharing of water from patch to patch.

A map of the water cycle at Kapalai. Click and you can download a PDF version.

Near the end of our loʻi system, we have an ʻauwai, a ditch or canal. This is the last place our water flows until it flows into a natural hoʻi wai. Literally meaning “water return,” the water leaves the ʻauwai, flows into the hoʻi wai as the water returns across the street to Kawainui. I use the term “return,” because even though our water originates in the ground (from our natural mountain aquifer of Maunawili) in the bigger picture of the water cycle, all freshwater is making its way back to the ocean. So in this sense, the water returning to Kawainui, is making its long journey back to the ocean.

The banks of the loʻi are called kuauna. We grow our kalo in what is called puʻepuʻe style, another name is lalani. Puʻepuʻe is a mound, or the action of mounding up. Lalani means “rows.” Those of you who have visited us in the patch are familiar to the mounding and the rows. Other loʻi system grow in a style called kalo wai. Here the kalo is partially submerged in water and there is no mound of mud mounded up for it. We have found that puʻepuʻe is the best style of for our particular ʻāina. There are those who assert that puʻepuʻe style is the original style in which the ancestors cultivated kalo. There is some evidence of this in the Austral Islands, near Tahiti, one of the places our histories tell us that the ancestors came from and traded with. On an island called Rurutu, in the Australs, they cultivate kalo in the puʻepuʻe style and also pound the kalo into poi. Even the national flag is a pōhaku kuʻi ʻai! This is an interesting connection for us to explore.

Perhaps the most humble part of our loʻi are the mahiʻai, the farmers. Humble, yet vital. The word mahiʻai literally means “food cultivation.” Kalo can be referred to simply as “ʻai.” We know we are an integral part of a larger ecosystem. We are blessed to be both contributors and beneficiaries. We must both contribute to the momona of the ʻāina and then we are able to enjoy the fruits of the labor. We must do both for this system to work. This is perhaps a healing paradigm for all of us on Earth at this time. We must contribute before we can enjoy the fruits of the Earth.

At Kapalai it is clear, we are waiwai. We have much water, and from the Hawaiian viewpoint, this makes us wealthy – because our water is our wealth. I will also offer this viewpoint for our entire planet. We must realize first we are waiwai, we are blessed with the natural resources of our lands. However, we must humbly steward them to be able to thrive from them. Hawaiian wealth is not in dollars or material possessions but in the quantity and quality of our water.

Written By: Pomai Stone, Education & Research Assistant