Hukilau brings back a time of celebration, togetherness

“A hukilau is a way of fishing invented by the ancient Hawaiians. The word comes from huki, meaning pull, and lau, meaning leaving. A large number of people, usually family and friends, would work together in casting the net from shore and then pulling it back. The net was lined with ti leaves, which would help scare the fish in the center of the net. Consistent with the Hawaiian subsistence economy, anybody who helped could share in the catch. A festive beach gathering is also known to local Hawaiians as a hukilau, and there is a traditional song and dance known as hukilau.”

A hukilau, once part of life on Kauai, is no longer. Now, when most people want fish, they go to the store and buy it. But there was a time, many, many years ago, when people wanted fish, they helped catch it. Not alone, though. Together.

Saturday’s hukilau on the North Shore — the first in decades on Kauai — might have been a disappointment for those expecting to see schools of fish in the nets as they were pulled to the shore. Instead, there were just a few. But, as organizers pointed out, the number of fish wasn’t the point. What counted, what really mattered, was how people came together, united, with a common goal. It was wonderful to see how everyone pulled together, on that net, how they worked in unison. How they followed directions, how they laughed, how they finished the task.

“It takes a community of people to accomplish a hukilau, from spotting the fish, directing the leaders and organizing community to pull in the nets.”

Hale Halawai ‘Ohana O Hanalei, along with the county and North Shore businesses, fishermen and families, organized this islandwide community traditional Hawaiian cultural event and paina. By all accounts, it was a blessing. Music, dance, food, it was a throwback to how people helped each other, depended on each other, understood each other.

The role of the ‘Spotter’ is one of commitment. The kilo i‘a sits atop a high point on a hill with a vantage point of fishing grounds. This is a task that requires patience. When a school of fish is spotted, the leader near the shoreline is signaled and directed for the dropping of the nets to surround the fish.

The reason they brought back Saturday’s hukilau was to share the island’s tradition with its many visitors and give them a look at what life used to be like on Kauai. And, they brought it back as a reminder to those who live here, of how people who called Kauai home recieved and gave back.

“Leadership is identified in advance. These individuals give guidance and direction to the process. They are in close proximity and direction to the net and the ocean. They exercise ongoing judgment and evaluation to guide the entire hukilau.”

I give credit to the leaders of Hale Halawai ‘Ohana O Hanalei, Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. and his staff, and North Shore businesses and families for putting on Saturday’s hukilau. It might not have any immediate impact on Kauai, but what happened — the pulling of the nets together, the following celebration, is how people get to know each other. It’s how they learn to help each other, to be part of each other’s lives. It might be a lesson that takes time to see any change. It might not have any lasting impact at all. But for those who were at the hukilau, they could sense the joy. They could feel the spirit. And for that, they will be forever blessed. And they can share that spirit with those who weren’t there.

Here’s to hoping for another hukilau again. Soon.

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