Na pulapula o Haloa

SUBHEAD: There are plans to close the Makaweli Poi Mill. Maybe it’s time to go back to our roots.

By Dominick Acain on 12 May 2012 for Island Breath -

Image above: Front of the Makaweli Poi Mill in Waimea, Kauai. From (
This is from their (Makaweli Poi) Facebook site:

MAKAWELI POI MILL IS BEING CLOSED against the wishes of the farmers, employees and community. Mill owner, Hi'ipoi LLC has suddenly and unreasonably given the poi mill 2 weeks notice, with highly questionable plans for the mill's future and no community input. Last day of operations might be May 24th. For more information or to voice concerns come to: OHA Community Meeting Wednesday May 16th, 6:00pm King Kaumualii Elementary cafeteria, Hanamaulu. Any interested in helping to SAVE Makaweli Poi Mill should contact: Please let folks know.

This is my submission to them:
Aloha, My name is Dominic Acain and I am a Kanaka Maoli with roots to Makaweli Valley since time immemorial. My ohana still live on kuleana lands in Makaweli Valley and have been eating the kalo grown there also since time immemorial. According to one ancient legend;
“the Sky Father, Wakea, and the Earth Mother, Papa, had a stillborn son named Haloa-naka. After Haloa-naka was buried, the kalo plant grew from his grave. Haloa is another name for kalo or taro, and it means everlasting breath. Later, humans were created from the same union, and were sustained by the food provided by their older brother, Haloa.”
Even today, like in ancient times, we live on kalo grown in the same earth as our ancestors. We are as Kanaka Maoli, Nā pulapula a Hāloa (The descendants of Haloa). The hills of Makaweli house the iwi of my ancestors who all grew up surviving on the kalo grown in the valley. The art of planting and gathering of kalo has sustained our culture for many generations and it was the responsibility of all to be educated in the process for the survival of our people. Correct me if I’m wrong, but OHA’s purchase of the Makaweli Poi was approved by the Board of Trustees in December of 2007.

According to the February 2008 issue of Ka Wai Ola, under the title “OHA plans for Makaweli poi production, kalo education” the article states that OHA’s intention of the purchase of Makaweli Poi was “to serve West Kaua'i as both an economic stimulus and an outdoor classroom.”

At the time of purchase, the article further stated that business was good from its acquisition by John A’ana in 1993 until the sale was made to OHA. At the time of acquisition by OHA, Makaweli Poi boasted a 12.5 percent profit on sale for a “part-time” operation. John was quoted in the article that he, and I quote, “needed to free up more of my time, but I was cautious about selling to the right party, because I wanted to make sure operations would continue."

It also mentions John as saying that he “considered other offers for Makaweli Poi and his 12-acre wetland kalo farm near the Waimea River” and that “what cinched the deal with OHA was the way the agency folded in cultural and educational programs.” I can’t speak for my cousin John, but as ohana I can tell you that this alone was proof that Makaweli Poi was more than a business venture for him. It was a way to perpetuate the practice that had sustained the Hawaiian culture for generations. I believe that he had sold the business to OHA not only because of their objectives but because of OHA’s mission which is:
“To mālama (protect) Hawai'i's people and environmental resources and OHA's assets, toward ensuring the perpetuation of the culture, the enhancement of lifestyle and the protection of entitlements of Native Hawaiians, while enabling the building of a strong and healthy Hawaiian people and nation, recognized nationally and internationally.”
When OHA purchased Makaweli Poi, it had become:
“the latest nonprofit subsidiary of OHA's limited liability company known as Hi'ilei Aloha, which OHA formed in 2007 as the parent company of Waimea Valley.”
Its goals were to:
  • To preserve and promote the cultural and historical tradition of taro farming and poi production in a sustainable and economically viable manner and to serve as an educational resource for youth.
  • To restore the Makaweli valley as a major taro producing area.
  • Increase the cultural awareness and participation, of young Hawaiians, in taro farming and poi production through the implementation of education programs.
  • Increase taro production in the Makaweli valley and other areas in Waimea by establishing a taro farmers co-operative.
  • Increase poi production and sales by expanding markets for Makaweli poi on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, Maui, Big Island and the mainland.
Outputs/Outcomes over the next five years include:
  • Double taro production in the West Kaua‘i area.
  • At least 25% of the taro farms operated by new and/or young farmers.
  • Incomes significantly increase for at least 10 West Kaua‘i taro farmers.
  • Employment for at least 10 individuals involved in poi production.
These were all reasonable and highly achievable goals. Goals that could most definitely have been achieved under the right management. But that is the key. The right management. When John started operations it was done after hurricane Iniki had devastated the island and along with it taro production. Poi from the old Waimea Poi Mill came to a halt. Centuries of the old mill providing our main staple that kept our people nourished came to a halt.

Under John’s ownership and management, the Makaweli Poi Mill brought light and reconnected us to our past. He proved that he was “the right management.” He was the right management because not only did he live the culture but because all of the people who worked under him lived the culture.

They all had a vested interest in making this work. It wasn’t only about the money. If anyone here has ever worked the lo’i you will know that the labor is not worth the pay. You will not get rich or fat retirement checks from working in the lo’i. What it's all about is the preservation of the culture and historical tradition of taro farming. In fact it's the EXACT same goal that OHA had for the acquisition of Makaweli Poi except for one thing. John, his workers and taro farmers work back breaking jobs to get minimal pay, hardly any money, while OHA officials get to make decisions and earn their pay in the comforts of their air conditioned offices.

When OHA purchased Makaweli Poi, along with it came a responsibility. Not only to John and what he had achieved, but to all descendants of Wakea and Papa. OHA took on the responsibility to make sure that its goals were achieved. Like John, the successful management of the program would take someone who had a vested interest in the land and its people. Including generations not yet born.
Most of the people who farm the land and processed the kalo did not put their college education to work to achieve success. They poured in blood, sweat and tears into preserving our lifestyle. That came first. To make it work again, it would have to take people with a vested interest not only in the “program” but in the land and people who have been here for generations. Whether it is run by a council or a program manager, they would all have to have a vested interest to preserve and promote the cultural and historical tradition that the cultivation, process and education of everything regarding kalo is concerned.

The people on this island know who is who and who are capable of making this work. We have always been a close knit community who pull together through times of the most adversities. For the sake of preserving our culture and traditions, most of us think it unwise to thrust our entire culture into the hands of those who haven’t sacrificed what we have for us her. ON the soil of our ancestors. Many of us never went away. Some of us still live on the same land as our ancestors before the landing of europeans.
Your hiring process falls outside the realm of our west Kauai way of making things work and of persevering during trying times. Maybe it’s time to give our people, locally, here on Kaua’i the opportunity to show what we can do. To do something that we have been doing for generations anyway.

Not by objectives and goals made by people outside of the trenches, but by those within. We have lived the life without straying too far for many generations. We have a time honored tradition of continuing the traditions of our ancestors. We have a vested interest in our culture, our people and our future here on Kauai.

Maybe it’s time to think outside of the box and go back to the roots. Na pula pula o Haloa. We will never stop the preservation and promotion of our culture. We will never stop educating our youth and people in the historical traditions our ancestors. And we urge you to look through our eyes, and listen to our mana’o and to never stop fulfilling your obligation to our people. Nā pulapula a Hāloa (The descendants of Haloa).

Image above: Makaweli Poi Mill worker Annie Lacro with a 1-pound bag of poi from the Kaua‘i mill where she has worked since 1997. From (


1 comment :

  1. Hello, this is Steve.

    I feel for you on this, I really do. For years beyond memory, your people have cultivated this staple and used it to feed your families. As I understand it, a government organization purchased this enterprise and is now shutting it down because they are facing austerity.

    Can the community now buy this property at a vastly reduced price? After all, it is being shut down, it would seem that any offer would be entertained. What does the community need? An organizer? An investor? Let's discuss how we can help in this situation.

    Regards, Steve.