By: Vance Kaleohano Farrant
On December 18th, 2019, I sat down with Uncle Dean in the afternoon once he had finished working in the loʻi. We set two chairs down on the lawn and started to talk story. Uncle Dean has been good friends with my Uncle Ken since high school and college, and for a few years prior, I had been coming to the loʻi every now and then to volunteer. I was thinking about research project ideas as I entered the second half of my junior year in college. The timing of the meeting was perfect, as Uncle Dean began to tell me that he and Aunty Michele had been reflecting quite a lot on how to quantify the waiwai (value, wealth) of Hoʻokuaʻāina’s work in Kapalai, and how that sort of research could connect them to more partners within and beyond Hawaiʻi. Those questions of waiwai and storytelling resonated with me, and I was inspired to play a role in answering them.
Three years later, I feel grateful to say that I have interviewed 41 staff, interns, and other community members connected to Hoʻokuaʻāina. I have also facilitated an online survey and several group discussions with staff and interns. Hoʻokuaʻāina became the focus of my undergraduate thesis at Stanford University as well as my Master’s capstone project in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at UH Mānoa, where I expect to graduate in Spring 2023. One exciting culmination of this work is a collection of essays about Hoʻokuaʻāina that tells the story of the organization’s waiwai through the voices of its community. I converted transcripts from several of my interviews into a form that would read well as a short essay. Then, I edited these essays with the interviewees, who are ultimately the authors. These essays are beautiful narratives that speak to the heart of Hoʻokuaʻāina. The Wilhelms and I look forward to sharing these essays and this collection more in the future to spread the wisdom and inspiration that they hold, grown in the lepo of Kapalai.
For me, this project has been one of the greatest honors of my life. School is sometimes frustrating, but working with Hoʻokuaʻāina has never been anything less than a profound joy. Part of my mom’s family goes back more than five generations in Kailua, including the Maunawili area specifically. Until a short time ago, my grandpa’s family had a farm right near where Hoʻokuaʻāina works today, and while I grew up in Paumalū on the north shore, we still always come to Tūtū’s house in Olomana every holiday. Hoʻokuaʻāina’s work honors all of the ancestors of Kapalai and the surrounding area, which was once abundant in kalo, and I am humbled to share the stories of this region and its caretakers today. Since the beginning of this project, the Wilhelms and I acknowledged that the process of understanding and communicating the waiwai of Hoʻokuaʻāina would take time. We still have only scratched the surface, and I hope that more people will be excited to join this journey.