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Molokai Permaculture Education Initiative - PRI USA & Sust`aina ble Molokai Partnership
Molokai Permaculture Education Initiative - PRI USA & Sust`aina ble Molokai Partnership
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Aia na kai po`olo`olo`u o Molokai -- There are the turbulent waters of Molokai

Project: Molokai Permaculture Education Initiative - PRI USA & Sust`aina ble Molokai Partnership

Posted by Malia Akutagawa about 13 years ago

Loko Kuapa - Hawaiian Fishponds. Photo Essay: "Talking Story with Kalaniua Ritte" who cares for Keawanui Fishpond. Molokai PDC Site Visit, Oct 2010.

My grandmother often says as many of the old-timers do, “The ocean is our ice-box.”  We knew of the ocean’s abundance, so we harvested only what was needed for our family and shared with neighbors and elders.  Before I was born, my Tutu (great-grandmother) Keli`i Ha`aheo was interviewed for a Hawaiian oral history project.  In her interview, she mentioned offhandedly the abundant schools of fish in the shallows, so much that one could easily kick at them and catch by hand whatever was needed for the table.  I never thought I would witness such a phenomenon that was an every day occurrence in my Tutu’s life.  Yet I was fortunate to see it one late night on my drive home turning the corner of an ancient fishpond, a cacophony of sound as heavy rain pelting a tin roof made by a million fish spawning and writhing like earthworms clustered tightly together. That experience profoundly altered my perception of the world.  In that moment I truly understood the name given our island from ancient times: Molokai `Aina Momona (the fat/abundant land).  We fed armies of people from neighboring islands without putting a dent in our own stores.  We were called the fat land and envied by all for the wealth and bounty of our island.  We gave from our infinite store because we always perceived that there was more than enough.  There was never a lack, only in the perception and limitations imposed by our own minds.  I realized too that when my Tutu knew only abundance, when her mindset was always momona, her world then was one that encompassed everyone.  Sharing and giving was a natural state of being.  Without a lack, there was never a need to hoard, never a need to compete for resources. 

As climate change and global economic collapse ignite collective fear, many seek sustainability without much of an understanding of what sustainability means. The movement for sustainability requires the mindset of momona.  Our practices to renew our planet, to revitalize our economy, to rehabilitate our communities and our families cannot be based in fear but on the understanding that momona, the re-creation of “more than enough” is what is called for our times.  

Our loko kuapa (walled fishponds) possess a rich history as told by the late Kumu John Ka`imikaua:

The original architect of the fishpond was Paepaeko`a.  The first loko i`a  (fishpond) was built on Molokai in the district of Kanu`u.  The pond was named Kahinaloaloa - the long Hina or Hina of the great length - for the large, long stones laid as the foundation of the pond.  In the construction of the pond, thousands of people were utilized.  Seven human chains transected the 10-mile length, connecting Pelekunu, the north valley on the other side of the ko`olau (mountain range), to Kanu`u on the southeastern shore. The ancestors carried stones one-by-one, hand-to-hand along these human chains to build the pond.  To commemorate this great achievement, the place name of Kanu`u was changed to Puko`o.  This name change recognized the complete organization and cooperation that was accomplished to successfully build the first fishpond.  

Paepaeko`a designed 7 ponds on Molokai.  He was also invited to Oahu to teach and establish loko i`a in Pu`uloa.  He also served as a consultant on Maui and Hawai`i Island.  

By the end of the 6th century, Molokai had built hundreds of fishponds of which there are 58 main ponds.  The smallest pond measured at 10 acres, the largest (in the district of Pala`au) measured 500 acres.  The amount of fish produced far exceeded the needs of the people.  Molokai was perceived by the other islands as an extremely wealthy island for its bountiful supplies of fish. 

I recalled Kumu John relating to me an ancient phrase unique to Molokai that expressed the abundance of life in the loko i`a:  “Aia na kai po`olo`olo`u o Molokai.”  It literally means, “There are the turbulent waters of Molokai.” He told me that in the old days one could see and hear the roar of the waters within the shelter of the loko kuapa, even while the sea outside the pond wall remained tranquil.   This was so because of the multitude of fish within the fishpond that splashed and churned the waters.

The kupuna (ancestors) of old when they built the first fishpond asked themselves, "How can we feed everyone, including the keiki (children) not born yet? 

How can we create an environment that the fish will come to, so everyone can have food and not go far out into the ocean to capture it?"  

How can we fulfill the needs of the fish, so that they will fulfill our needs?

How can we malama (care for) the papa (reef) and the moana (open sea) that holds the life and the source of our sustenance?  

 How can we reduce pressure on these areas so that they can continue on forever?"   

The ancestors studied the habits of the fish and selected for those lowest in the food chain (the herbivores) to attract as the most efficient (pound for pound, biomass for biomass) and conscientious way of eating in bulk.  They observed these fish to feed from the mats of algae on the bottom and to eat limu (seaweed).  They observed these fish to search for the “sweet water,” the underwater springs seeping along the shoreline.   After careful planning, the kupuna constructed the loko kuapa around these springs to create a micro-environment for their selected fish, the awa (milkfish), the mullet.  They supported the conditions that would promote algal growth, where nutrient inputs were made by natural spring flow. They built the ponds, and the fish came, in droves, multiplied, and never left until traditional ahupua`a management (self-sustaining land divisions from the mountain down to the ocean) gave way to western abuses. 

Much of the land in this most isolated place in the Pacific and designated endangered species capitol of the world, has become degraded through overgrazing by introduced ungulates (goat, deer, cattle). Fishponds have become sinks for valuable topsoil carried down the barren mountain during heavy rain events.  Realizing the damage they were causing, ranchers introduced mangrove as a band-aid to stem the flow of silt into the ponds and reef.  What it served to do was break down or totally engulf the pond walls; accrete soil; plug springs; reduce circulation and decrease dissolved oxygen in the water, thereby tipping the balance to an anaerobic state that could not support fish.  

My search for solutions to heal the land, revive our ahupua`a, and bring back the abundance to our fishponds and reef by restoring the forest and watershed above, led me to permaculture.  I found that permaculture utilizes the same lens through which my ancestors saw the world.  At the same time, permaculture creates a bridge connecting the past to the present, where modern strategies mixed with indigenous knowledge can bring back momona (abundance) to the land. Mindful that not all knowledge is found in one halau (school), we welcome our brothers and sisters from around the world to share of their own `ike (knowledge, wisdom). 

We partnered with the Permaculture Research Institute USA to create that bridge to abundance.  In October 2010, we held a series of courses that would train our local people in permaculture who would in turn teach others on our island as well as take part in the earth repair work that we envision.  

The first class was a 2-week intensive Permaculture Design Course (PDC) taught by Andrew & Shenaqua Jones.  Attached is a photo-essay of our class visit to Keawanui Fishpond in the ahupua`a of Ka`amola on the east side of the island (Mana`e).  Ka`amola means “the movement of the `anae (mature mullet) as they spawn.” The adjoining ahupua`a is named Pua`ahala which means literally “the passing of the pig”.  When tribute was made to the konohiki (chief’s land agent) for the blessings of the land, the people placed upon the ahu (stone heap) a pig and other foods of the land and sea.  In times when a pig could not be procured, it was substituted with the `aholehole fish. Kumu John Ka`imikaua shared with me these ancient names. He explained that these names connote the presence of fertile waters.  Both the mullet and the `aholehole are known for their preference for the sweet and cooling waters that seep along the shore from freshwater springs that mix with the sea. The springs are fed by a network of lava tubes that connect the lush northern valley of Pelekunu to the south shore. 

We met up with Kalaniua Ritte and his father Walter Ritte, teacher of the Ho`omana Hou School and Director of the Hawaiian Learning Center.  Father and son team manage the fishpond.  They also took part in the Molokai Permaculture Education Initiative, learning permaculture alongside us.  They shared the strategies they used to restore the pond, respond to siltation, utilize mangrove as an opportunity and a resource, re-open springs that have been covered to re-optimize growing conditions for algae and fish to multiply.  

This is the first in a series of stories about the Molokai students involved in this Permaculture Education Initiative.  The following posts will also highlight what we are doing individually and collectively to heal the `aina (land); malama i ke kai (care for the sea); propagate the knowledge to our `opio (youth) and peers; and grow food for ourselves, our families, and our community. 

 Any insights from our global permaculture `ohana (family) are most welcome!


p.s.  a number of us attended the Statewide Fishpond Conference hosted on Molokai.  Walter and Kalaniua handled the logistics.  Fishpond managers throughout the Hawaiian islands as well as regulatory agencies were in attendance.  Walter shared with me a video presentation put together for the conference which highlights the work being done throughout Hawaii nei and the ongoing challenges faced.  To view, click on the following youtube links:

Part 1


Part 2






Na.kai.po%60olo%60olo%60u.sepia.small Fishpond%20page%201 Fishpond%20page%202 Pdc.at.keawanui

Comments (5)

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Theron Beaudreau
Theron Beaudreau : Great post, Malia! The fishponds sound amazing... I wish you all luck in restoring them all to their former bounty (or momona).

I will be making a trip to the islands in September on my way to Zaytuna Farm in Australia for the PRI internship program. I'd love to visit Molokai and see all this amazing work first hand!

Thanks for posting this and for being an agent for the restoration momona! (I like that one of the first words I've learned in the native Hawaiian language is the word for abundance!)
Posted about 13 years ago

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Malia Akutagawa
Malia Akutagawa : Mahalo Theron! Glad you liked the post. When you make it to Molokai, I will be happy to show you around. By the way, I read your profile and the work you've been doing. Very inspiring! Perhaps we can learn from each other.
Posted about 13 years ago

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