Reflections from Limu Hui Gathering 2017

(Pa‘ia, Wailuku, Maui) ~ In 2014, at the request of kūpuna (elders) who gather and care for native Hawaiian limu (seaweed) around the islands, KUA partnered with Uncles Henry Chang Wo, Jr. and Wally Ito of ‘Ewa Limu Project in an initiative to “gather the gatherers.”

As a result, over 30 traditional limu practitioners representing six Hawaiian islands came together for the first gathering of the Limu Hui network.

Since then, the Limu Hui has grown to include over 50 loea limu (limu gatherers), haumana (students), researchers and passionate individuals who are actively working to restore limu knowledge, practice, and abundance across Hawai‘i.

In June 2017 these hui members gathered for four days of learning, sharing, knowledge documentation, and discussion at the Rinzai Zen Mission in Pa‘ia, Maui for the 4th Annual Limu Hui Gathering.    

They participated in various huakaʻi to Ia’o Valley, Kepaniwai, Wailuku Stream, Kaʻehu, Waihe’e, Waipuilani and Kalama beaches in Kīhei, and the Maui Ocean Center in Māʻalaea and told stories of limu abundance, shared traditional knowledge about their places and gathering practices, and visioned together about what abundance might looking like for the next generation of limu loea.

Special Mahalo to community hosts, Jay Carpio of Wailuku CMMA, and to Aunty Napua Barrows of Waiheʻe Limu Restoration Project, Aunty Lily Filomino, and ʻohana for sharing your limu ʻike and to all those who dedicated their time, manaʻo, energy and commitment to making this event happen.

By Kim Kanoeʻulalani Morishige

Ph.D. Candidate, NSF Graduate Research Fellow, Marine Biology Graduate Program at UH Mānoa

Kūpuna knowledge of limu is deeply embedded in an intimate understanding of mauka to makai connectivity, stream health/water quality, fish behavior/habitat use, natural seasonal changes, and human impacts. Gathering around restoring the abundance of limu means setting the stage to build on a larger movement of limu advocacy that confronts the challenges of degraded water quality and stream ecosystem health presented today. During the 2017 Limu Hui Gathering, we were surrounded by kūpuna who grew up with memories and limu gathering practices. We were all inspired to see limu and shoreline systems through their eyes with an emphasis on the importance of muliwai, where freshwater and saltwater mix. Through coming together on common ground much like other community networks that KUA facilitates, we continue to build a shared knowledge base of limu, harvesting, and food preparation specific to place and upbringing.

Along with fish and coral communities, limu is a living testament to why place-based traditional knowledge and resource management is crucial to restoring the health of our kai. Every place, ‘ohana, and community observes different types of limu growing in their areas that may look different compared to other areas. Our kūpuna lawai‘a shared how they observe seasonal changes in limu and how major rain and stream events are connected to these observations. Some collected limu on the shoreline and walked the āpapa, not needing to look for limu but being able to feel the limu under their feet. These are all practices that helped them to understand their ‘āina.

Words such as “nourishing” and “feeding” were common themes that described the space provided to be nourished by ‘ike and personal reflections of every kūpuna that brought their experiences and memories to the circle.  This Limu Hui Gathering created a space to understand kūpuna knowledge from humble upbringings. Intertwining all senses of smell, touch, sound, and sight were the cords that wove their stories. The interaction and relationship they had with these places make up the subtle nuances you can learn only by spending time listening to them and applying their stories to your personal observations and work within our communities. Their reflections encourage us to re-connect with our ‘āina through place-based observations and show us how harvesting deepens our relationships to ‘āina and allows us to understand how to mālama. The many emotions expressed during the gathering revealed the beauty of comfortable, intimate spaces that enable us to support each other on our own paths, personally and collectively.

In my personal work as a part of Nā Maka o Papahānaumokuākea, we implement Nā Kilo ‘Āina (observers of our sustenance) programs within several communities to support a collective movement to train ourselves as kilo–keen observers–of our places that feed us, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Our goal aligns with honoring traditional knowledge and engaging in traditional knowledge systems to support ‘āina momona–productive ecosystems supported by healthy relationships between the people and the places they mālama. This gathering has helped to internalize the process of how loea limu observe the shoreline.  Understanding this strengthens the way we kilo and harvest and builds our ability to interpret what the growth or presence of certain limu indicates about our ‘āina. We can also grow more integrated monitoring tools that draw from Western institutional science to track changes in limu as well as intertidal communities as a whole. Gathering around limu has helped me to envision how kūpuna knowledge of limu can inform the way we teach about kilo and help empower ourselves and our communities to pay attention to the whole system in their places.

Limu serves as one of the pillars of ‘āina momona. The decline of our resources, stemming from the consequences of Western colonization, land development, pollution, and the diversion of natural waterways, continues to be a major source of ‘eha, or deep hurt, in the hearts and na‘au of our kūpuna and our lāhui in general. Though the ‘eha is there, gathering together to learn from the kūpuna and link arms with other kanaka who share the same passion helps us along a path of healing and making ready for what we are up against in the future. We honor the spirit and presence of Uncle Henry Chang Wo, Jr. and all the hulu kūpuna who have left an unforgettable legacy and have truly helped us identify our kuleana to ʻauamo.  Mahalo maoli nō to Uncle Wally Ito and the KUA team for making these gatherings happen and giving us the fire to persist!


Kim Kanoe‘ulalani Morishige is a Marine Biology Ph.D. candidate at UH Mānoa and program coordinator for Nā Maka o Papahānaumokuākea (NMP). Through community partnerships within NMP, she supports the Nā Kilo ‘Āina program to build communities of kilo and integrate knowledge systems that grow community capacity to re-build sustainable and healthy relationships to ‘āina. She implements community monitoring founded on traditional knowledge systems utilizing the tools of western science to develop effective place-based, community-driven marine resource management.

By Kanoelani Steward

Assistant Marine Coordinator/Marine Fellow, The Nature Conservancy Hawaiʻi

I am from Lahaina, Maui and attended the 2017 Limu Hui Gathering as a member my community to learn, kākoʻo, become inspired, and connect with others who share the same passion for our ʻāina, people, and limu. I believe limu is part of who we are as a people. It’s part of our stories and cultural history and allows us to practice simple traditions to be continued and carried on by the next generation.  Limu is also an extremely vital food source, for us and our favorite fishes, and an important bioindicator of the health of a coastal ecosystem. As my first time to a Limu Hui gathering, I felt extremely fortunate to spend time with many aunties, uncles, and kūpuna who grew up with an abundance of limu and an abundance of stories. I learned that different limu were used depending on how the fish was cut–pokepoke style or slanted for sashimi–and that when making and eating raw heʻe, it’s best with kohu, huluhuluwaena, manauea, or lipoa with a side of fresh wana. One uncle even shared that the best enenue poke uses the lipoa from the guts of the enenue! I definitely hope to try that one day, but one of my favorite experiences from the gathering was seeing lepeohina for the first time. I didn’t know what it was until I brought it to shore to share with the Hui. Uncle Wally Ito and Aunty Pam Fujii of ʻEwa Limu Project were the first to recognize it. Aunty Pam started describing the details just as I saw in the ocean: the colors–reddish, sometimes dark-reddish, with leopard-like spots; the shape–how it can be big and fanny like a lepe, or shawl, because that’s what it is, it’s the “shawl of Hina.”

I felt honored, privileged, lucky, and blessed to spend those four days surrouned by living legacies–Uncle Mac from Mo‘omomi, Uncle John and Aunty Tweety from Kīpahulu, Uncle Presley from Hā‘ena, Aunty Nani Fay from Kuliʻouʻou, and so many more. Even though I was born and raised in Maui, I still went to places I never knew existed. To start the weekend up uka in I‘ao Valley and see Wailuku River for the first time since the September 2016 flooding, and then end the day near the mouth of the stream at Kaʻehu Bay–where the community is actively engaged in restoring such a culturally significant site–was just a pā ka naʻau kind-of-feeling. To hear stories of the nearby freshwater spring that used to be gushing and bubbling and then went bone dry at one point, and then actually seeing it alive and full of wai is a testament to the resilience of our culture, and a huge respect to our people who fought and continue to fight for one of the most vital resources we have–without wai, we definitely wouldn’t have limu.

Many of the stories shared were stories of the past, stories of how abundant limu used to be. The entire landscape from their upbringing has dramatically changed.  Now overgrown with invasives (people, included) or overdeveloped with buildings, they are no longer able to continue their gathering practices. While these are stories of loss, they are also the stories of abundance and smells and ʻono-ness are that I live for. They are stories of vision and hope that I hope to one day create for my “moʻopuna’s moʻopuna.”  In sharing their experiences, the kūpuna, aunties, and uncles of the Limu Hui share resources that need to be valued and lessons we need to live by: Value the wai, the ʻāina, the people around you, the places you come from, and everything that feeds you. Be flexible and adaptable and be able to work in different ways with different people. Share experiences and stories of the past, stories of those who have passed, and always remember moʻokūʻauhau–whether it’s the lineage or genealogy of your ʻohana or of the group, program, or organization. Be committed, embrace kuleana, stand up for something you believe in, and invest in others and the next generation just as others invested in you. These ʻōlelo noʻeau that were shared hit my naʻau. They are constant reminders to me of a greater movement to which I’m committed–to continue to kuʻupau for our pae ʻāina and our lāhui Hawaiʻi.

As I reflect on this hui, I envision myself as a luahine with my moʻopuna kualua, sharing stories of my time now–the struggles, obstacles, difficulties, hana nui, blessings, and so on.  I envision an ʻāina momona that feeds and gathers families for generations to come. To share the vision of the past and then be in the presence of it.

All my aloha and mahalo nui to Uncle Wally and the KUA staff for allowing me to be part of this extended ʻohana and network of support. Gatherings like these are so important to our people, our culture, and our Hawaiʻi–being in a safe place where we can share emotions and feelings and stories and inspire each other to take action and contribute to this movement. Through these gatherings we experience the kuleana that everyone has to constantly ʻauamo, we express and share that kaumaha (heaviness), and can be there to kōkua, kākoʻo, and KUA.

E kūpaʻa naue ʻole kākou i ke aloha Hawaiʻi.

Kanoelani Steward is a Marine Fellow in The Nature Conservancy Hawaiʻi’s Marine Conservation Fellowship Program. As part of her program, she is monitoring native stream life to help restore water to West Maui’s streams. 


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