(Kalaemanō, Hawaiʻi) ~ The Limu Hui was birthed in the fall of 2014, at the request of kūpuna (elders) who gather and care for native Hawaiian limu (seaweed) around the islands.
Hosted by ‘Ewa Limu Project in partnership with KUA, its focus was to “gather the gatherers” and identify loea limu (limu experts) in our communities who still retained knowledge of and practiced the many traditional Hawaiian uses of limu.
Subsequent gatherings have evolved to include over 50 teachers, researchers, and haumāna (students) who are actively working to restore limu knowledge, practice, and abundance across Hawai‘i.
In March 2018, hosted by the Nā Kilo ‘Āina Kalaemanō Intertidal Crew through Na Maka o Papahānaumokuākea & UH–Hilo/Sea Grant, this network gathered at the Ka‘ūpūlehu Interpretive Center at Kalaemanō in Kekaha, North Kona, Hawai‘i for four days of learning, sharing, huaka‘i, and discussion for the 5th Annual Limu Hui Gathering.
By Emily Akamine
My connection with limu began at ʻEwa Beach. I surf at Empty Lots, a break tucked away behind a residential neighborhood on the south shore of Oʻahu. It appears as an expansive field of water sleeping in the backyards of the ʻEwa community. Empty Lots gets its name from the open flat seabed that expands for miles across the west end of the ʻEwa shore. The surf break is not ideal, and the waves are slow and sloppy. This is where my journey begins. I’m surrounded by murky green water atop my surfboard, as a gentle lazy current laps the shore. Suddenly, I am sitting in a hot viscous soup. The waves drag in a warm water over the bleaching reef. I saw before me a once pristine environment in the process of degrading. I never imagined working with limu as an incentive to heal my surfing community.
The Enduring Song of Uncle Henry
My introduction to Uncle Wally Ito and the Limu Hui came shortly after reading a Civil Beat article honoring the late Uncle Henry Chang Wo Jr., a limu practitioner who dedicated his life to restoring limu in ʻEwa Beach – an area once known as the “House of Limu.” A student of marine biology eager to learn about limu gathering traditions, Uncle Wally Ito worked closely with Uncle Henry to educate local communities about the importance of native seaweeds. Their work together with ʻEwa Limu Project was the inspiration for the Limu Hui Network, which Uncle Wally now facilitates as Limu Hui Coordinator for the nonprofit Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA).
My own work with Uncle Wally began as his intern. Every Saturday we worked at the Ānuenue Fisheries Reseach Center facility in Sand Island, scrubbing tanks covered in limu ‘ele‘ele and diatoms, and monitoring the growth of limu manauea used for restoration and education across the islands. Uncle Wally shared his wisdom with me and over time I’ve adapted these experiences and kilo (observations) as my own.
Gathering with the Gatherers
The opportunity to meet other limu ‘nerds’ and practitioners came when I was invited to participate in the 2018 Limu Hui Gathering organized by KUA in Kalaemanō Kona, Hawaii. Here, I took in the knowledge of limu by taking in the manaʻo (thoughts, beliefs, ideas) of my kūpuna (elders). This gathering of the Limu Hui began with Aunty Hannah Springer and Aunty Kuʻulei Keakealani and Aunty Leinaʻala Lightnertelling the moʻolelo (stories) of Kalaemanō and the importance limu has to the ʻāina (land; lit. ‘that which feeds’). The names of places revealed the history of their land, and I questioned when I lost touch with my own.
As more Limu Hui members shared their manaʻo, I learned that the names of limu also gave insight into the history of our limu gathering ancestors. Hāʻula is a red limu that grows around the crevices of reefs and caves. It is the red breath because its leafy extremities move in the swell of the tides. ʻEleʻele is a beautiful long green algae. When prepared correctly, it darkens in color to an almost ʻeleʻele (black) shade of green. Overwhelmed by the knowledge of my kūpuna, I was filled with deep gratitude to be accepted into an environment full of wisdom and aloha.
As one of the most inexperienced members of the Hui, I intended to gather knowledge and listen to my kūpuna, aunties, and uncles. During the gathering, I enjoyed hearing the limu adventures of my elders. In their youth, limu was extremely plentiful and many kūpuna regarded it as a bothersome sea plant. Limu would get in the way when playing at the beach and it was often a chore to gather limu in bags for their families. In my lifetime, I have never seen limu abundance even close to that of the youthful days of my kūpuna. Living through the tales of my fellow Hui members gave me a vision of what Hawaiʻi’s shoreline should be.
Although I aimed to listen to more limu stories, kūpuna wanted to hear what I had to say. A memorable moment was when Aunty Napua Barrows of Waiheʻe Limu Restoration Project in Maui told me the story of how she got into limu. In order for limu to grow her kumu instructed her to build an umu. Her story began, “He just said ‘umu’. I didn’t know what an ‘umu’ was! Do you have any idea what an ‘umu’ is?” I had no clue but I told her it sounded like an ‘imu’! Aunty Napua nodded and laughed. Yes, I understood: an underwater imu (fish house or trap made from a heap of rocks) for the limu to grow! Sometimes knowledge cannot be put into words.
As time leaves tradition behind, values, such as limu, that once kept our communities close are now lost to the next generation. It is difficult to teach one another concepts about our shoreline when there is no shoreline left. The nutrients of the land are meant to feed into the ocean to hānau (give birth to) limu and life. Without limu, Hawaiʻi will lose a part of its identity. Restoring limu back to its natural abundance is a goal that the Limu Hui members share. As our separate experiences flooded into one, the kilo and mana‘o that shaped us as individuals took form. Many of our limu practices confirmed our beliefs while others contradicted them. Although the total of our limu knowledge is a fraction of what it once was, it sustains the future of aloha ʻāina (love of the land). If my kūpuna in the Limu Hui have taught me anything, it is that we are in the constant process of being made. The work of the Limu Hui is constantly seeking improvement, through new ways of teaching, documenting, and sharing the limu knowledge of our elders, through new methods of restoration in the hopes of successful limu growth. Mostly, we look to one another for advice. We communicate when mistakes are made and we laugh. Our ʻohana treasures limu above all things because it yields the potential to heal our shoreline and Hawaiʻi’s communities.