Covering up the poi bowl

LIHU‘E — In the old days, Hawaiians would cover the poi bowl if any disagreement would arise during meals. Today, the latest argument between Hawaiians and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs is about the very poi that fills the bowl.

OHA announced Wednesday that  it would transfer Makaweli Poi Mill to a community group called Lehua Poi Company. On Saturday, the board of Ka Piko o Waimea sent a press release stating that OHA’s decision came as a “shock and disappointment” to them.

Ka Piko O Waimea’s board was created at the request of OHA and selected by the community and taro farmers to establish a nonprofit organization that would ultimately take over management of Makaweli Poi Mill’s operations.

In the OHA press release Wednesday, OHA representatives thanked Ka Piko O Waimea for its hard work and dedication, but said that they were confident that Lehua Poi Company and their management agreement with Supporting the Language of Kaua’i, Inc., would be a success.

Ka Piko o Waimea President Kauakea Mata, however, said that the group is “incredibly disappointed in OHA’s failure to communicate with our organization as we complied in good faith of all of their requirements.”

He said many hours and late evenings were dedicated to the board’s mission to save the poi mill and continue this agricultural operation for local farmers.

“OHA owes the West Side community and this organization an explanation for their decision to unilaterally award transfer of the poi mill to another organization, without receiving the support of local farmers and the community as previously stated,” Mata said.

Taro farmer John Aana said this kind of decisions by OHA tends to divide Hawaiians, while doing nothing to preserve, protect, and support the kalo culture of West Kaua‘i, which was the mission of Hi‘ipoi and the reason OHA took over the mill in the first place.

“This decision by OHA is a stab in the back to the Waimea community and the taro farmers,” Aana said.

In May, shortly after the formation of Ka Piko o Waimea, an OHA representative sent an e-mail to the board indicating that OHA’s intentions to transfer the mill to Ka Piko o Waimea, the release states. A $1000 check was to be provided to Ka Piko O Waimea quickly as a good faith gesture, but that money was never received.  

Ka Piko O Waimea representatives were publicly promised in the spring that the transfer of operations would go to them.

Instead, on Nov. 29, Ka Piko o Waimea leaders were informed by OHA Chief Operating Officer Aedward Los Banos and Chief Financial Officer Hawley Iona (Alamodian) that OHA was moving in a different direction, and that the transfer would be taking place imminently.  

According to the release, Lehua Poi Company didn’t even express interest in the operation until June, 2012.

In the meantime, Ka Piko o Waimea was fulfilling all of OHA’s demands for the transfer of the poi mill to the organization within the prescribed deadlines, the release continued. Despite submitting all the requested documents in June, they did not receive any acknowledgment of the receipt of their documents until November.

And the reason for OHA’s revocation was an expiration of an undisclosed time limit.

“All activities were completed in good faith of OHA’s representations and actions confirming the poi mill transfer to the community-based organization, Ka Piko o Waimea,” Mata said in the release.

Ka Piko o Waimea board members Janna Aana said OHA stopped communicating with them.

“They never transferred documents as promised or communicated anything, not even feedback on the business plan,” she said in the release.

In September, Ka Piko o Waimea requested a meeting with OHA and agreed to meet in October, but the last minute OHA canceled their appointment and asked to reschedule.

While awaiting response from OHA on a possible meeting date, OHA “hastily” called a meeting with Ka Piko o Waimea in late November, where they announced their intent to open up the transfer process to other groups and that a decision would be made by Dec. 31 on who would receive Makaweli Poi.

On Dec. 26, five days ahead of schedule, OHA announced Lehua Poi Company from Waimea would be taking over the mill. OHA is supposed to provide seed money to the company to help with start-up costs.

“It seems the intent was never to transfer the mill to Ka Piko as originally promised, but to stall until they formed some other group to give it to,” Aana said. “This does not make it right for the Waimea community,”


At a community meeting in May, OHA announced that it would cease operations at Makaweli Poi Mill citing excessive expenses. At the behest of the community, OHA Chief Executive Officer Kamana’opono Crabbe held another community meeting, in which he said his intent was “to make this right for the community,” the release states.

Crabbe agreed to allow the mill to continue operation while a nonprofit organization was formed for the transfer of the mill.

In light of OHA’s requirements and indication of intent, Kaua‘i’s West Side community the Ka Piko o Waimea board within 48 hours. Also at OHA’s imposed deadline of receiving a submittal within six weeks, Ka Piko o Waimea adopted detailed Articles of Incorporation, Corporate Bylaws, and filed the extensive IRS 501(c)(3) application for tax-exempt status.

Ka Piko O Waimea states in the release that it will continue to focus their efforts on helping the Makaweli/Waimea farmers in sustaining and increasing high-quality kalo and creating and implementing educational programs, and  continue to be passionate in supporting the West Kaua‘i community and honoring the ways of their ancestors.

Current employees of Makaweli Poi will be given the opportunity to re-apply for their jobs, according to the transition plan announced by Lehua Poi Company in the OHA press release.

OHA did not answer by press time for a request for comments.

• Léo Azambuja can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@


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