Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023 |
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KEKAHA — The late Hookipa Kanahele had a vision.
“He wanted to see something like this where the students would see the significance of kalo, or taro, and how important the aina is to the well-being of people,” said Jason Yotsuda, principal of Kekaha Elementary School.
It turned out as Kanahele had hoped.
The Kekaha school garden started as a community project, with Kanahele being one of the volunteers who had turned out to help.
“Uncle Hookipa had a real passion for this,” Yotsuda said. “In a year-and-a-half, we’ve had eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkins and more. But above all, we had taro. In this dry part of the island, we had taro!”
Daniel Anthony of Mana Ai gathered under the shade of a monkeypod tree on the hula mound at the school Monday. His group of assistants, including Kalia Mayer and Hena Caberto, was busy preparing taro for making poi.
“Hena was with Hookipa when this taro was planted about a year ago,” Mayer said. “This taro, which we harvested Sunday, is from Hookipa’s huli. He wanted to teach the importance of kalo, the Hawaiian culture and the importance of where we live.”
Anthony reiterated those points, noting how without taro, a large leaf tropical Asian edible plant, he would not be in Kekaha, teaching students.
“Without taro, I would not be doing what I’m doing today,” Anthony, visiting from Honolulu, said. “I was a real rascal, and taro forced my parents to love me because I had the sweet hands and had to make poi for the parties and luau. Without taro, I might be in jail, or out on the streets.”
Student Kimberly Keikilani Vidinha shyly told Anthony, “My papa helped plant this,” prompting the visitor to ask, “What is papa’s secret? There is a secret which makes the taro so special.”
The shy student retreated, her mind in thought.
“There is no secret,” she said. “They just grow.”
Mayer said the secret was Hookipa’s heart and aloha that went with each huli as it was placed into the ground.
“Hena wanted the students to learn this, and we invited a lot of students to our farm in Waiawa Valley,” Mayer said. “Hena connected with these people from Honolulu, and they brought poi boards and stone. We’re going to learn from them and develop more boards and stones so the kids can learn.”
Gerard Martin, the school’s custodian, said there are two types of taro planted in the school’s garden and overflowing to the length of the parking lot.
“Maui Lehua is the one they’re using to make the poi today,” Martin said. “The other type is No. 7, growing in another section of the garden.”
Yotsuda said after Hookipa passed away during the summer, he had Martin take a more active role in maintaining the garden, which was filled with students avoiding the mud puddles and negotiating through the leaves, which nearly concealed the pathways.
“The aloha is Hookipa’s legacy,” Mayer said. “We do this at our home.”
“People are amazed at how the taro grows in this dry area,” Yotsuda said as the warmth of the sun blanketed the school as it rose higher. “It is Uncle Hookipa’s legacy.”
• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.
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