Beyond the Road to Hana

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Beyond the Road to Hana

After the fifty-two serpentine miles of cliff-side road that cross 54 one-lane bridges and maneuver 600 hairpin curves. After dozens of scenic vistas, bamboo jungles, fruit stands, waterfalls and sacred heiau, sites. Only then do you enter Hana. With all the hype that is deservedly Hana, though, the “road to Hana” doesn’t end here. It continues another 10 miles to an even smaller Hawaiian community called Kipahulu.

Once thousands of people lived here fishing the seas, farming the lowlands and harvesting resources from the upland forests to survive. Today 300 people make up the local community, and some are returning to the old way of life following the ahupua’a model. That model turned to the bounty of the earth from the ocean all the way to the mountaintops for survival. Over time, as communities cared for their land, the pie-like shape of the ahupuaa became natural land divisions around the islands.

In 1995, a small group of Native Hawaiians decided to revive their ahupuaa way of living. They formed the Kipahulu Ohana, a nonprofit organization, and Kapahu Living Farm.

“In some respects, the farm is like a community garden,” said Scott Crawford, executive director of Kipahulu Ohana. “A family adopts a loi, taro patch, and maintains it throughout the year. Then, they harvest it for family events—a baby luau, graduation or wedding. The farm provides people a place to grow food, because they don’t have enough land in their own yard.”

The farm’s focus is Polynesian-introduced plants—often called “canoe plants.” Like Hawaiian heirloom varieties of bananas, sugar cane, breadfruit, mountain apple and sweet potato. The main crop, however, is taro.

In addition to the local community, school groups make field trips to Kapahu Living Farm to learn about the ahupuaa system and to actually get dirty by weeding a loi.

“The thing about the farm is it was created as an active, working farm with an educational component,” said Crawford. “The farm gives youth a chance to experience the central aspect of Hawaiian culture which is taro.”

In recognition for their efforts, the Hawaii Tourism Authority awarded Kapahu Farms with a grant as part of the HTA’s 2008 Living Hawaiian Culture Program. Back in 2005, the HTA awarded Kipahulu Ohana with the prestigious Kahili Award as part of the HTA’s “Keep It Hawaii” program.

As word about the farm’s efforts spread, interest in it grew among the visitor community, too. So, the farm added a cultural interpretive hike and tour. “The farm wasn’t created with that in mind,” said Crawford. “The visitor component is secondary, but it’s still falls under our educational mission.”

In addition to clearing old, overgrown loi and growing taro, the Kipahulu Ohana is also embarking on a native reforestation project in the upper reaches of Kipahulu and reconstructing a 36-foot boat as a marine management education tool.

“Hawaiian life once was all about fish and poi,” said Crawford. “We’re trying to revive that.