Island Voices by Malia Heimuli appeared in the Hawaii Star-Advertiser (March 16, 2023)
House Bill 819 was introduced and passed in this year’s legislative session to recognize limu kala as the Hawaii state limu. It now sits on Gov. Josh Green’s desk awaiting his signature.
At many places along the coastlines of Hawaii, you may encounter a brown leafy mass washed ashore. Some of the leaves look spiky, the colors are of a brownish hue, and it looks like a small branch that came from the reef.
This is called limu kala, a limu common to Hawaii. There is an important connection noted in the Kumulipo, a creation cosmogony chant of Hawaii, between limu kala and the mauka species of ‘akala, Hawaii’s endemic raspberry plant. In this relationship between species within mauka and makai realms, our kupuna have recognized important connections between our land and ocean ecosystems beyond just their physical characteristics.
Limu kala is also used for its medicinal properties in healing open wounds and ho‘oponopono ceremonies to release from hurt and inspire forgiveness between people. We also see the importance of limu kala from ‘Auhea Ke Kala, a pule that seeks forgiveness of our actions or wrongdoings we may not be aware of that hurt our environments and in turn hurt ourselves. Beyond these spiritual values, we need to ask why limu kala is important to our marine ecosystems.
Limu kala grows in thickets on the reef flat and is used by many sea creatures as shelter and a food source, like the kala fish. When asked, some fishermen have said they use limu kala as bait to catch kala. Have you asked one of your family members about limu? How about their favorite limu to eat? Did you pick limu with them as a young child or do you remember limu on your dinner table?
In my family, my great grandmother used to harvest limu kohu along the reef flats on Kauai. The taste of limu kohu was favored by my grandmother and mother, but the ‘ono for limu kohu was not passed down to me. I was introduced to limu later in life through Uncle Wally Ito, Aunty Pam Fujii, Miwa Tamanaha and others in the Limu Hui who have worked hard to bring awareness of the importance of limu to our health and the health of our watersheds and marine ecosystems.
I encourage you to dig deep into your own family history. There is plenty you can learn by asking your family members about limu and how it is prepared as food. By asking questions and talking story with your ‘ohana, you gain knowledge that has been collected by your family members and is waiting to be shared with future generations willing to listen.
There are simple ways you can connect to limu. Go out and respectfully explore your coastlines. It is best to go with kamaaina of the area who can introduce you to these spaces. We have the ability to access these resources, but with that comes kuleana — a responsibility to the resource, its vitality and future growth in Hawaii.
It is this kuleana which drove advocates to push for the recognition of limu kala as the Hawaii state limu. We believe doing so will spread more awareness of limu as an important resource to be cultivated and protected. We urge Gov. Green to enact this bill into law to ensure this feature of our food systems and cultural practices is continually cared for.