June 6, 2018

Fishpond Practitioners Gather at Waiaopae

It’s amazing what the help of many hands can accomplish. Since 2015, the Lanai community has banded together to help restore a critical piece of island history at Waiaopae Fishpond, and in doing so, support a vision for a more sustainable future.

Over a weekend in May, Waiaopae became a gathering place for a group of special guests. Members of Hui Malama Loko Ia traveled from throughout the state to attend the hui’s annual conference and workday, held on Lanai for the first time.

Experts in fishpond restoration

Hui Malama Loko Ia is a group of cultural practitioners who possess skills and expertise related to the restoration and management of loko ia (traditional Hawaiian fishponds).

Every year, the hui organizes a gathering at a fishpond site on a different island, where they share their knowledge and work with members of the community on restoration projects. The event brings people together from across the island chain to learn from each other and connect with one another through the restoration of fishpond sites.

Collaboration between Pulama LanaiKUA and the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center, along with grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Bay Watershed Education and Training Program (NOAA B-WET) and Hawaii Community Foundation made it possible for Lanai to host this year’s gathering.

“All these practitioners who work on loko ia in their own communities came to Lanai. It was a privilege to host the gathering this year,” said Shelly Preza, who works in the culture and historic preservation department at Pulama Lanai. “It’s very important to learn from other people’s knowledge and apply it to what we’re doing here.”

Born and raised on Lanai, Preza’s involvement in the restoration of Waiaopae goes back many years. “We have been working on generating more awareness about the rich cultural resources we have on Lanai and how special this place is,” she added. “We’re figuring out ways to inspire community members and even visitors to take part in stewardship.”

A weekend of work and wisdom

More than 60 members of Hui Malama Loko Ia and roughly 20 Lanai community members spent May 17–20 camping on Lanai near Waiaopae. It was a learning experience and an opportunity for practitioners to empower each other with their wisdom and knowledge.

“We discussed various topics related to loko ia practice and Hawaiian culture. Members shared their manao, their advice about how to improve our efforts to reach the community and generate more interest,” Preza explained.

And of course, there was the physical work of rebuilding the fishpond wall (kuapa), which once stretched approximately 2,000 feet in length in its heyday. Over the past three years, volunteers were able to restore approximately 200 feet to the wall. The large gathering provided enough manpower to add another 100 feet to the wall.

A vision for the future

The long-term vision for Waiaopae is to see it restored to a functioning fishpond. With the help of Hui Malama Loko Ia, substantial progress was made in one weekend, but there is still much more work to be done. “I hope to see it restored in my lifetime, but it may take more than one generation,” said Preza.

The site once provided nourishment to hundreds of native Hawaiians on Lanai. Preza believes that in time, it has the potential to become a sustainable food source for residents once again.

“It’s about more than building the wall. It’s building the ecosystem and making sure it’s healthy. We’re working on methods to help curb erosion and runoff into the ocean,” she said. “We’re bringing students out to the fishpond to do educational outreach and teaching them about the entire ecosystem. As we bring more students out, hopefully, the experience will inspire a new generation to carry on this work.”

To take part in fishpond restoration efforts, look out for La Hana workdays at Waiaopae or visit the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center website for upcoming events.

Photo credit: Jake Cahill, Hi Level Media.

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