WAINIHA — A taro patch along Ananalu Road was destroyed this week by an unidentified man using a backhoe, damaging not only property and a local food supply, but also a water line, affecting water service in the general Wainiha area.
The Kaua‘i Police Department is following up on the incident, but no citations or arrests have been made. Water service has been restored to affected residents.
Witnesses say they saw the man taking down the fence and tearing up dirt and plants on the property, just down Kuhio Highway from the Wainiha Store, using a backhoe on Tuesday around noon. This is the second time that this taro patch in Wainiha has been damaged. The first was about two years ago during a land debate conflict that has since been settled in court.
The property is being managed and cared for by Kaimi Hermosura, who is the steward or konohiki for the land parcel, which he says he inherited through his Native Hawaiian heritage. He has been caretaking the land for years, growing taro and other food plants. Those plants — many native and rare varieties of things like sweet potatoes and bananas, were destroyed.
Hermosura says the property damage is linked to the already-settled land debate.
“Yesterday the area was pillaged, even though this matter has been dismissed,” Hermosura said after the incident. “During these times of need, during this pandemic, our neighborhood and our families and friends were looking forward to harvesting and taking food from the land here, so it’s been a low blow.”
Nancy Chandler, who is also part of the group that helps caretake the lo‘i, said the act was “hewa,” roughly translated from Hawaiian meaning “guilty,” “sinful” and “wicked.”
“I live in Wainiha, and what is going on here today is desecration, without his (Hermosura’s) knowledge. What has happened here is fully disrespectful. This is desecration, fully. And what’s left now is just mud,” Chandler said.
Chandler is most distraught at the possibility of disturbance of Hawaiian artifacts located on site and burial remains which she says are located on the property. Chandler says those remains are of her family members who passed away during a tsunami in that struck the area in 1947.
This is not Chandler’s first time defending this property. She was here during the first incident when the taro patch was damaged.
With the harsh reality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic upon Kaua‘i, a taro patch is a valuable local food source. There also were banana trees and a coconut tree torn down, adding to the amount of food lost during the incident.
Area resident Joe Davis stopped by to help put the fence back up, which was removed during the incident. Davis is with the local organization Konohiki Restoration Project, which advocates for the interests of Native Hawaiian families and watershed management and was started by Hermosura. Davis says the destruction during these trying times is not only disrespectful but unwise.
“In the current state of the world right now, we are in a pandemic, an individual chose to take machinery and impulsively without thought and concern decided to destroy a personal farm on sovereign land,” Davis said.
“The food was to be used for community members. There was a great deal of food on this property that was destroyed. There’s no reason for it, especially for the time we are in right now, especially when there is organic produce. Food is very important right now.”
Davis continued to explain the extent of the damage done, “There’s also rare biological species that inhabited this property, there was cross breeding of species on this property, and numerous plant and biological and botany programs going on here. It’s just an absolute travesty and shame for the individuals and family members that put this much hard work into the property.”
Resident Rob Pa also responded to the event after he got a call from Hermosura to “come down and help us protect his place.”
Pa says now is the time for local families to stand together and protect community interests, like actively participating in local food production.
“I’d just like to note that we need more people out here,” Pa said. “I see some family members here, but we need more people out here. It’s time for you guys to come forward and show that you care, and do something for your culture. You should be walking forward with us, not walking backwards. It’s time to wake up and it’s time for a big change,” Pa said.
Monique Rowan is a lifelong North Shore resident who lives in Wainiha and writes periodically for The Garden Island.