(Hā‘ena, Halele‘a, Kaua‘i) ~ The Limu Hui was created in 2014 at the request of kūpuna (elders) who gather and care for native Hawaiian limu (seaweed) around the islands. Hosted by ‘Ewa Limu Project the focus of this initiative was to “gather the gatherers” and identify loea limu (limu experts) in our communities who still retain knowledge of and practice the many traditional Hawaiian uses of limu.
Since then the network has grown to include over 50 cultural practitioners, educators, researchers and community members from across Hawai‘i who are committed to the protection, perpetuation, preservation and restoration of limu knowledge, practice and ancestral abundance of limu throughout our islands. In September 2019, network members gathered at the YMCA Camp Naue in Halele‘a, Kaua‘i for the 6th Annual Limu Hui Gathering.
Special Mahalo to our community hosts, Hui Maka‘āinana o Makana with kāko‘o from the Nā Kilo ‘Āina crew, and to the ‘ohana of Limahuli, Hā‘ena, Wainiha, ‘Aliomanu and Moloa‘a for sharing your places, knoweledge, and time with us.
By Kim Kamaluʻokeakua Moa
Communications Coordinator, Kuaʻāina Ulu Auamo
Hoʻokohukohu e ka limu kohu,
Ke kau i luna ō nā moku la
ʻO ia moku ʻula la e hō
ʻOni ana i ʻōi ʻaneʻi
How enticing is the display of limu kohu
Atop the rocks in the ocean,
Enticing one to pick them
As they sway to and fro
– excerpt, “Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai” by Edith Kanakaʻole
I am sitting in the KUA office in Kahaluʻu, Oʻahu with Limu Hui Coordinator Uncle Wally Ito and a few of the KUA staff who attended this year’s 6th Annual Gathering of the Limu Hui Network hosted by Hui Makaʻāinana o Makana from April 11-14 in Haleleʻa, Kauaʻi. As facilitators, event organizers and backbone support for the networks we serve, one of our kuleana as staff is to help carry forward the story of each gathering–so we make it our practice to debrief, reflect, and talk about the themes.
Preserving and perpetuating ancestral abundance
The Hui’s first stop was a mauka huakaʻi (journey) to Limahuli Garden and Preserve. Guided on a hike by Lei Wann, the group was gifted with stories of the ʻohana and wahi (places) of Hāʻena and Wainiha by Lei, Uncle Blue Kinney, Aunty Annie Hashimoto and Uncle Moku Chandler.
“To be so willing and open to share stuff they might not even share with their entire community,” says Wally reflecting on the generosity of our hosts in passing on knowledge to our group.
Photo Credits: Kim Moa
We heard about efforts to mālama (care for) the fishery and subsistence practices from the area on a shoreline walk from Wainiha to Hāʻena with members of Hui Makaʻāinana o Makana. During a visit to the loʻi, we remembered the life of Uncle Tommy Hashimoto, a beloved member of the Limu Hui who passed earlier this year. We also spent time focused on kilo (observation) not only of limu on the papa (reef) but of the Limu Hui and it’s members who brought the ʻike kūpuna and ʻono of their places with them to Kauaʻi.
At our home base for the four days, YMCA Camp Naue, Hui members participated in mini-workshops including one led by members of the Waimānalo Limu Hui on how to make cordage from ule hala (drop roots of the hala tree). We heard presentations on nā kilo ʻāina and limu lāʻau lapaʻau. The Hui shared in focused meaningful discussion about mission, values, membership, resource sharing, monitoring and a Hawaiian naming process for limu. They also laughed and ate together.
“This was the most successful Limu Hui Gathering,” Wally asserts enthusiastically. “You know the way I measure that,” he smiles, “it’s by the amount of laughter.”
KUA’s Co-Director Miwa Tamanaha recalls the beloved song by Edith Kanakaʻole, Ka Uluwehi O Ke Kai. “We think of our kupuna seriously, but there is also that mischievous, kolohe, energy,” she says, referring to a story involving a slit muʻumuʻu and the “other kine limu kohu” during a huakaʻi to ʻAliomanu with Aunty Nalani Kaneakua on Day 2 of the gathering.
How enticing is the display of limu kohu
“I really like limu kohu as the theme,” says Uncle Wally.
Limu Kohu (Asparagopsis taxiformis) is a soft, succulent, small seaweed, with densely branched furry tops that are tan, pink, or dark red, arising from a creeping stem-like portion. According to Pukui and Elbert, “it is one of the best-liked edible seaweeds that is prepared in balls for market.” The word “kohu” has many layers of meaning–resemblance, likeness, similar, match, suitable, agreeable, appropriate, in good taste, attractive, becoming, pleasing, fit.
“The moʻolelo was very pink,” agrees Miwa, recalling the hula noho performed by haumāna (students) of Kumu Lei Wann following a lunch stop in Moloaʻa on Day 2.
The sight of these haumāna, dressed in bright pink pāʻū (skirts) dyed using limu kohu as mordant, dancing mele about limu, composed from oral histories taken from ʻohana in the area, reveals the intergenerational nature of these limu traditions and the ʻike kupuna of these cultural practitioners.
(R to L) Gathering limu in ‘Aliomanu during a huaka‘i to Ko‘olau. A celebrated chef specializing in ‘ai pono (healthy food), Aunty Nalani Kaneakua demos how to prepare namasu salad with limu ‘aki‘aki in Moloa‘a. Aunties Napua Barrows, Vani Ainoa and Hala Pale package samples of green limu for analysis. Haumāna of Kumu Lei Wann perform hula noho. Photo Credit: Kim Moa
For those of us who attended the 2014 Gathering in Punaluʻu, Oʻahu, we note a marked shift in tone. The thread of sadness and loss we heard during that first gathering of limu loea (limu experts) has shifted to one filled with joy…and laughter.
“There wasn’t much talk about decline or threats,” says Wally reflecting on a discussion about the rising commercial demand for limu kohu by outside interests and the potential for unsustainable harvest of this cultural resource. “We are dealing with these things in a space that’s hopeful,” says Miwa.
KUA’s newest staff member Niegel Rozet notes the significance of seeing limu kohu come out on the dinner table. “It’s not an untouchable thing,” he says, acknowledging the kuleana attached to ensuring that generations to come still have limu for eating. We recall the delicacies shared with us during our four days in Kauaʻi–lomi ʻōʻio with limu kohu, ʻeleʻele with vinegar, poke with līpeʻepeʻe, cookies with ʻakiʻaki, dried paheʻe, and samples of Caulerpa lentillifera, a.k.a umibudo or sea grapes.
Wally recounts how Aunty Vani Ainoa, one of the original members of the Hui, talked about wanting to bring ʻeleʻele to the gathering and how disappointed she was at not finding any growing in the area where she gathers in front of her home on Molokaʻi. We learn at the gathering that Aunty has been experimenting with different ways of helping the limu to grow. We are also delighted to find ʻeleʻele has shown up on our plates at suppertime–two kinds!
We agree how privileged we were to be with and to learn from people who are actively using and caring for their limu areas in ways that are transgenerational and ensure this type of ancestral abundance.
Wally says that THIS is what he loves about the Limu Hui–folks like Aunty Vani who are still learning, still doing research, still experimenting with how to restore and mālama their places. “They share what they know, but are also still learning, still adapting,” he says. “That’s resilience in nutshell,” points out Niegel.
Kim Kamaluʻokeakua Moa is a documentary photographer based in Kalauao, Oʻahu and the Communications Coordinator for KUA.