*A version of the article below was first published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser: Island Voices on July 25, 2019 under the title “Rise of fishpond restoration a sign of hope in difficult times.“
By Brenda Asuncion
(Kahaluʻu, Oʻahu) ~ The Honolulu Star Advertiser’s recent story on students working to restore the ecosystem in Niu Valley resonated with many of us in the nonprofit Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA) whose mission is to support a number of grassroots community networks doing similar conservation work. Congratulations to the students, and to their kumu for fostering ʻāina-based learning and ultimately, commitment and kuleana (responsibility) to their place. They also demonstrate an important holistic perspective by sharing that in order to restore the loko iʻa (fishpond), they also need to care for the watershed where the water originates. We see a happy synchronicity in the fact that on the same day that this work was featured in the paper, dozens more community members were participating in restoration work at Kōʻieʻie and Pāhonu fishponds in Kīhei (Maui) and Waimānalo (Oʻahu), respectively. The following weekend saw community work projects on Hawaiʻi at Haleolono (Hilo) and ʻAimakapā (Kona).
If folks sense that fishpond action is on the rise, they are right. More kiaʻi loko (stewards / guardians of fishponds) are emerging leaders in their communities. There are more practitioners perpetuating the skills of kūpuna. There are more students doing research. And there are more ʻohana building relationships with each other, their communities, and these places. Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA) facilitates a statewide network of loko iʻa, called Hui Mālama Loko Iʻa, and we are proud of the progress that kiaʻi loko are making every single day.
To everyone who takes on kuleana as a family member, volunteer, intern, or employee at a project to mālama ʻāina (care for land) — whether it be for loko iʻa, loʻi (irrigated terrace for kalo), limu (seaweed), koʻa (fishing grounds), or wahi kūpuna (ancestral places) — know that you are not alone. Your community of peers is always growing. The love you feel for those places bonds you to the ʻāina and ultimately informs your understanding of the word ʻāina — that which feeds us all physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Your sense of aloha ʻāina unites you with strangers on the street who may also carry that love for place in their own community, and you are connected to each other in your love for Hawaiʻi and your active role in mālama ʻāina. We should be proud that loko iʻa practice is still ongoing and actively adapting. The re-activation of aloha ʻāina will ensure that the food systems that fed our kūpuna will be able to feed many generations into the future.
What grassroots networks are doing in Hawaiʻi is part of what is happening globally. For example, the stone constructed pools and channels of the Gunditjmara people in Australia are thought to be one of the oldest examples of aquaculture, first built 6,600 years ago. These sites, now on the UNESCO World Heritage list, are a testament to how humans can steward the environment to cultivate abundance and ensure thriving cultures.
The World Aquaculture Society gathering in Honolulu in February 2020 will connect us directly to indigenous aquaculture practitioners from around the world. KUA and the Hui Mālama Loko Iʻa plan to exchange ideas about how indigenous knowledge and the relationship of native peoples to the land can offer core aquaculture principles to improve contemporary “conventional” aquaculture practice and better prepare us for the future. We anticipate sharing what has been done and learned through the ongoing innovation at loko iʻa throughout Hawaiʻi. In a time of rising cynicism and dysfunctional leadership, the sharing of indigenous practices that have stood the test of time is helping to return us to the practices and values that have sustained practitioners and communities around the world. That is something to celebrate. Aloha ʻāina!
Brenda Asuncion works at local non-profit Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo and coordinates the Hui Mālama Loko Iʻa, a network of more than 45 loko iʻa across six islands in Hawaiʻi. They have gathered as a network since 2004 to share knowledge, leverage resources, and advance their common goals.