Rescheduled Hana taro festival on tap for the weekend

The Maui News
Friday, July 23, 2004

By SHERI TANAKA, Staff Writer

HANA - After being rained out in March, the 12th annual East Maui Taro Festival will be held this weekend, celebrating Hawaiian traditions on Saturday and Sunday at the Hana Ball Park.

"The festival is to gather the people together and talk about how to preserve and malama the land," said John Lind, a Kipahulu farmer who pioneered the first taro festival. "That is the only way we can save the aina. It is also to educate our people, the government, community and visitors, teaching them how to restore the ahupuaa."

Festival organizers canceled the last two days of the four-day festival in March when heavy rains combined with thunder and lightning to create serious safety concerns. This weekend's weather in East Maui looks promising, according to Robert Ballard, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service.

Those at the taro festival can expect partly cloudy skies with scattered showers, Ballard said. "It will be generally passing-type showers, and, when it does rain, it won't rain for very long," he said.

The festival includes entertainment, arts and crafts sales and the traditional taro pancake breakfast beginning at 7 a.m. on Sunday. The fest runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

But a main attraction will be the tours of cultural areas around Hana and Kipahulu, including the tour of the Kapahu Farm at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Created by the Kipahulu 'Ohana Living Farm, a nonprofit organization that restored the taro loi, Kapahu Farm recreates a Hawaiian lifestyle and educates residents and visitors about the "ways of the old," directors John and Tweetie Lind said.

In partnership with Haleakala National Park, John Lind and his wife, Tweetie, have restored 2.5 acres of loi at Kapahu. At the farm, they cultivate four varieties of wetland taro: moi, lehua, mana and ha'akea apuwai.

"I was in awe when I drove up here because of the memories that I saw of my grandfather and my family," said Arnold Kekahalono, 40, of Hana. "This is the first time I've been back in 20 years.

"We used to eat and sleep up here and work the next day and take care of the farm. It was part of the culture, and my grandfather taught us how to live off the land. It was hard work."

Taro, a staple of the traditional Hawaiian diet, takes nine to 18 months to mature for harvest. Friends, visitors and family all help in the muddy harvest - yanking out the fully grown taro, pulling the roots off and cleaning the corms with water from the stream that also feeds the loi. The taro plant is then cut up and separated in piles of leaf, stalks and corms, with the leaf and corm to be cooked, while the stalks, or ha, are replanted to grow into new taro.

"Growing taro is a lot of work," said Kamaui Aiona, 29, a Big Island native who has been living in Hana for two years. "A lot of people spend one day working and think it's just paradise, but you gotta respect the taro farmer for doing this work day in and day out."

The Kapahu Farm is a replica of the kind of Hawaiian community that would have been found in the region between 1778 and 1848, demonstrating how traditional Hawaiians lived off the land. At the far end of the Kapahu Farm, a view of the length of the Oheo Gulch extends from lush green mountain slopes to the deep blue sea.

According to the Linds, Kipahulu was treasured by the Hawaiian alii for its bountiful resources of the land and the sea.

"We're encouraging East Maui young people or any taro grower to go back to growing taro to keep the culture alive by using the water and the land," Tweetie Lind said. "That's the idea."

She said taro cultivation is not only to preserve the culture but is also a way to create jobs for the Hawaiians of Kipahulu, especially members of the younger generation who want to stay in Hana.

"With Uncle John and Auntie Tweetie, they don't really teach; they live. And the way they live is how we learn what the old way was like," Aiona said. "They live their culture, and when you hang around them long enough it rubs off on you."

Sheri Tanaka can be reached at

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