Volunteers In Hawaii Strengthen Ties To Culture And Land By Reawakening Traditional Fishpond

Source: Hakai Magazine/Jon Letman

Photo: Josh Austin/Unsplash


Perched on delicate pink limbs and cloaked in black and white feathers, two Hawaiian stilts poke their beaks into the water, unaware of the outrigger canoe gliding silently across the pond behind them. A bearded man paddles while his young daughter sits near the bow beside Ruth Aloua, a native Hawaiian archaeologist and the kia‘i loko, or guardian, of this traditional fishpond known as Kaloko.

The pond spans an area roughly the size of five city blocks along the Kona Coast of the Island of Hawai‘i. Members of the community who care for this place watch from the water’s edge as Aloua and the girl, Haumea, glide past a ceremonial offering of a flower lei and traditional food wrapped in  (Cordyline fruticosa) placed carefully at the water’s edge. Aloua chants in a melodic voice that evokes her ancestors as she asks for permission from Kaloko’s spirit guardians for the boat to enter the pond’s deepest waters.

Fishponds, where wild fish are trapped and fattened to increase yields and make fishing easier, were once central to a sustainable lifestyle in Hawai‘i. But they fell into disuse as forces of immigration and development dramatically altered life on the islands. Kaloko was choked with invasive plants when Aloua set about restoring it in 2015 with the help of the community volunteer group known as a hui. Though their work is ongoing, over the past three years they’ve made significant progress in knocking back the invaders.

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Photo: Josh Austin/Unsplash

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