The History of the

East Maui Taro Festival©

Hana, Maui

[Chapter One]

By Maria E. "Ka`imipono" Orr

To Promote Taro & Other Hawaiian Cultural Products
To Promote & Support Hawaiian Cultural Values

As we approach the Annual East Maui Taro Festival©, people ask about its history. With the help of past calendars and minutes, the history is recapped in brief, noting especially the dates, the significant people involved in its inception, and the reasons why it was started. However, it doesn't begin to relay the countless hours that were spent "behind the scene" on organizing, fundraising, record keeping, correspondence, and travel time to Kahului and Wailuku by many people who were dedicated to its cause. In this relatively brief history, it becomes evident that the East Maui Taro Festival was truly a labor of love by members and friends of the Hana Community. This then, is just "a first chapter."

Without going into a lot of preliminary detail or personal history, the idea of a taro festival germinated after I found out about Oahu's Pacific Islands Taro Festival in the summer of 1992 from a friend, Victor Wishalla. Victor was a temporary resident of Hana, coming from the United States and Canada by way of Germany. He was very interested in eco-tourism and found a kindred spirit in me. We had several discussions of how we could change tourism in Hawaii. In June 1992 Victor saw an advertisement about an upcoming taro festival on Oahu. I said that I thought it was a fabulous idea and that Hana would be a natural place for a taro festival. He arranged for us to fly to Oahu with Hana resident and pilot, Scott Redlich to attend. However, personal commitments prevented me from going, so Victor went with Scott to scout and to talk with Oahu's organizers. While there they met Mitsue Cook-Carlson, one of the founders of the Pacific Islands Taro Festival. She was excited that Hana was interested in having a festival since one of her dreams was to see a taro festival on every island in order to promote public awareness about taro.

Mitsue and her friends decided to come to Hana on July 5, 1992, to talk with me and to do some sightseeing. It was made it clear that any taro festival Hana had would be completely "owned" by the people of Hana, and would not at any time be considered a "branch" of the Oahu festival. The Hana festival would be "created" and organized by the people of Hana to suit their style and needs. I asked her if she would be willing to come back at a later time to share with interested Hana residents, the activities included in the Pacific Islands Taro Festival. She agreed and also suggested Spring or Fall for Hana's festival since Oahu had a festival in the Summer [Kauai later scheduled their festival for the Fall]. We decided it would be best to aim for Spring, 1993 for our first festival and those to follow, to take advantage of Spring Break.

Two days later I shared with long-time Hana resident and Hana Cultural Center Treasurer Coila Eade about our idea. She was interested and asked to be informed of our progress. Victor and I began brainstorming. Victor volunteered to write a mission statement, which he completed on July 13th. The next day I shared everything with part-time Hana resident Evy Dana who also expressed an interest. On July 17th Victor and I met with Hana-born and raised J. Kalani English at Healani (mosquito infested) Park. We shared with him the concept of a taro festival in Hana, its value as an economic booster, a builder of cultural pride, and a means for the people to come together for a common cause in a non-political setting. The people of Hana were going through some very trying times as economics and community politics made adversaries of kinfolk and neighbors alike. Some people felt they couldn't be seen with certain people for fear of being ostracized in some way.

I suggested that the "Deep Taro" of the festival was the symbolism of taro. The term "Deep Taro" was my take on Levi-Strauss' "deep structure" which, simplistically, is the "core" of how and why a culture orders itself. Traditionally, taro represents the origin of the Hawaiian people, and taro was the staple of the Hawaiian people. Therefore, for the festival, taro became the symbol of the Hawaiian culture, which I experienced in Hana more than anywhere else in Hawaii. The festival concept was based on these facts, and could be utilized to draw the people of Hana together for a common good, to re-build cultural pride, to share the uniqueness of this community with the rest of the world, to enhance its economic base, and to provide a means to network with other farmers, artisans, and scientists. Kalani liked the concept and offered to help in any way he could. He suggested names of people who may be interested. We all kept in phone contact for the next two months. On July 30th I met with Parley and Ipo Kanakaole and shared this idea and several others. Parley gave his blessing to the festival and agreed to help in any way. He also agreed to be the liaison with the Hana School faculty and students.

In late September, I scheduled our first public meeting for October 10th, an auspicious day. Flyers were posted all over Hana town inviting everyone to come to the first pre-organizational meeting for the East Maui Taro Festival (EMTF). Mitsue flew in on October 9th, and met with Kalani and me the next morning. Her trip was sponsored by Hui No Ke Ola Pono-Hana. Coila helped us get the Wananalua Hall for our first taro festival meeting held between 5-7pm on October 10th. The following people attended this first meeting: Coila Eade, Kalani English, John Kalalehoe, Sr., Fred & Maria Orr, Terry Poaipuni, Keanae taro farmers Pauly Sinenci, Kimo and Michelle Wendt. Mitsue shared a video of a past Pacific Islands Taro Festival, then decided to facilitate the meeting to see if those in attendance were willing to help organize the East Maui Taro Festival.

Those in attendance agreed on the importance of a taro festival and expressed a willingness to help. John, Kimo, Pauly and I became part of a core-group. Coila, Fred, Michelle, and Terry became background help. I became responsible for minutes/updates. An Organizational Meeting was scheduled for two weeks later, but later re-scheduled for November 6, 1992. Guard duty prevented John, Kimo and Pauly from attending, but a brainstorming session was held in Wananalua Church Rice Conference Room with John Blumer-Buell, Keolani Noa, Terry Poaipuni and Maria Orr. Discussions included location, committees, tent rentals, sponsors, events, PR, and a logo. Hana artist Jozef Smit had offered to submit some logo designs. The date for the 1st East Maui Taro Festival was set for March 26-27, 1993 [partly because of Prince Kuhio Day] to be held at Hana Ball Park. Between monthly EMTF meetings there were several individual meetings with Jozef, Evy, Coila, and myself.

At the third meeting, held November 20th, John Blumer-Buell, Coila Eade, Judy Kinser, Pauly Sinenci, Jozef Smit, Kimo Wendt, Maria Orr and guest Travel-writer Laurel Murphy attended. Friends of the Hana Coast agreed to be a sponsor, as did the Hana Community Association and Alu Like. The Hana Arts Council agreed to allow EMTF to funnel their money through the Council. Jozef presented designs for a logo. A simple taro plant was chosen. I asked that a rainbow be added because of its symbolism. Attendees volunteered to chair various committees and be responsible for various tasks. Judy Kinser was the Kipahulu coordinator; Pauly and Kimo chaired the demonstrations and lo`i committee. Laurel later interviewed Kimo and Pauly for an issue of the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight magazine. The next meeting was scheduled for December 4, 1992, but only Pauly Sinenci and I made it so a meeting was re-scheduled for December 11th.

Keolani Noa and Maria Orr submitted a grant proposal to Alu Like on December 8th. Evy Dana, Coila Eade, John and Kanani Kahalehoe, Jozef Smit and Maria Orr attended the December 11th meeting. Keali`i Reichel, through Kalani English, had agreed to open and close the 1st East Maui Taro Festival, as well as have his halau perform. Terry Poaipuni agreed to be the Hana Coordinator, Bob Bradley volunteered to chair the Clean-up Committee, and Victor was working on the first press release to go out in early January. John Kahalehoe agreed to help Pauly and Kimo. Evy took on media, Jozef presented the finished product for the official logo, and Kanani offered to help with recruiting people. Kimo and Pauly made suggestions for the taro symposium participants: taro researchers Dr. Susan Miyasaka, Dr. Robert Paull and Jim Hollyer of UH College of Tropical Ag. Everyone agreed to hold it in Helene Hall at Hana Bay. There was also a unanimous decision once again, not to allow any politicking at the festival.

At the January 8th meeting Coila Eade, Kalani English, Terry Poaipuni, Pauly Sinenci, Kimo Wendt, and Maria Orr attended. DOE Bilingual Department sent a box of pamphlets entitled Planting Taro, which were distributed at the festival. Terry acquired two DOH publications Taro and Poi and Hawaii Grown Chinese Taro which were also distributed. Rita Goldman of Off Center magazine interviewed taro farmer Kimo Wendt for an article. Lisa Ferrentinos sent us a copy of her taro project video, Nourish the Land, Gather the Leaves. It was decided that the festival be dedicated to all taro farmers, past and present, instead of one person. It was also decided to use part-time Hana residents Jerry and Deni Krtizman's company to print the t-shirt and create our logo pin. Sonya Frazel was recruited to do the press releases for January.

The January 22, 1993 EMTF meeting had a big turnout. Attending were Kekula Bray, John Blumer-Buell, Geraldine Carroll, Evy Dana, Kalani English, John and Kanani Kahalehoe, Pauly Sinenci, Jr., Jozef Smit, Kimo and Michelle Wendt, Dove White, and Maria Orr. The sponsor-request letter by Maria was approved and mailed out to the Hana business community, taro-related businesses (statewide), politicians, and friends, as were the press releases Maria edited. Tuti Baker agreed to show her video, Kapapa Lo`i O Kanewai after the symposium. Geraldine Carroll consented to be the EMTF Treasurer. Bill Chang, President of the Hana Community Arts Council officially agreed to serve as fiscal agent for EMTF. Kanani started posting notices for vendors. John Kahalehoe posted notices for farmers to participate, and took responsibility for set-up and traffic control.

John Blumer-Buell, Evy Dana, Coila Eade, Kanani Kahalehoe, Terry Poaipuni, Pauly Sinenci, Jr., Jozef Smit, Dove White, and Maria Orr attended the February 5th meeting. I reported that I had received a terrific response from the community and from personal friends who supported the idea. The following were our first sponsors: Hana Cultural Center $500, K. Kida Fishing Supplies $250, Friends of the Hana Coast, Inc. [Evy and Bill Dana] $200, Maui Visitors Bureau $150, Coila Eade $100, Mike McKenna's Windward Ford $100, Hui `Aina $100, Hana Community Association $100, Cultural Conservancy $100, Maui Councilmember Pat Kawano $50, Alfreda Worst $25, Jeannie Pechin $25, Sina Fornander $25. In-Kind sponsors were Hotel Hana-Maui, Alu Like, Friends of the Hana Coast, Inc., Hui No Ke Ola Pono, Jerry & Deni Kritzman, Hana Community Arts Council, Heavenly Hana Inn, Dollar-Rent-A-Car, and Wailua Taro Farmers Association. Hana Cultural Center also loaned us the funds to rent our tents from Kaleo Kaina.

Jozef Smit began the first teen art program focusing on ethno-botanical plants. Scholarships were to be presented to the teens at the Festival. Terry Poaipuni, Jackie Kahula and I measured the Hana Ball Park to facilitate a schematic of the festival layout. Kanani Kahalehoe began chairing the Arts and Crafts Committee. Lucinda Estrella volunteered to take charge of the Food Booth Concession. Checklists for the Symposium, Festival, PR, and Program were discussed.

At the next meeting on February 26th, Kekula Bray, John Blumer-Buell, Evy Dana, Kalani English, Kanani Kahalehoe, Kathleen Morton, Jozef Smit, Pauly Sinenci, Kimo & Michelle Wendt, Dove White and Maria Orr attended. Robert McCabe, editor of the Maui Press wrote a wonderful article on taro and our upcoming Festival. Haleakala National Park at Oheo Gulch Rangers Donald Lono, Dino Brown and Kema Kanakaole volunteered to coordinate Makahiki games at the Festival. Evy Dana organized a taro poster project with the Hana School children. Judy Kinser organized manpower volunteered by the Kipahulu Community Association. Evy also coordinated the Information Tent and the many non-profit groups that participated.

Kathy Morton asked if the Hana Canoe Club could have some space at the Info Tent to sell their t-shirts. Kimo Wendt and Pauly Sinenci made sure that taro was the main feature at the Demonstration Tent. Mary Estrella procured the onion bags they needed for the taro. Maui County Parks & Recreation (thanks to Charmaine Tavares) and John Romaine were added to the sponsor list. Taro (Waipio Valley) Researcher Kent Fleming was added to the symposium. Maria Orr sent a memo to all symposium participants on February 23rd.

March was a time of frenzy as everyone completed tasks. On March 5th we picked up a partial order of our t-shirts and logo pins, then sold some to the Maui Cultural Resource Council members who were in town. The t-shirts and pins were distributed to Hana Store later that day where Maddie Helekahi took charge of selling them. The minutes for the March meetings (5th and 18th) are not at hand, therefore much information cannot be included.

On March 11th a press release was sent to all the newspapers, and other media announcing that the first East Maui Taro Festival on March 26 & 27 will include the participation of the communities of Hana, Kipahulu, Wailua, Keanae and Kaupo and celebrate the renewal of interest in the traditional taro crop, the staple of ancient Hawaiians. The activities to promote taro and other traditional foods, arts, crafts and cultural values will include a taro symposium of prominent University of Hawaii taro researchers, followed by viewing two videos on taro growing in the Pacific Islands at Helene Hall, and an all-day festival event at Hana Ball Park that will include taro processing demonstrations, hala and coconut weaving, la`au lapa`au, farmers market, arts and crafts and food booths, and performances by local entertainers.

The EMTF Banner was put up on March 20th across Hana Highway near St. Mary's Catholic Church, with the help of Roland Torres and the Maintenance Department of Hotel Hana Maui. Additional sponsors were Jeanette Freitas, Hana Gardenland, Hana Hawaiian Village, Hana Tropicals [Tony & Susie Pu], Healani Farms [Matthew & BJ], Kauiki Council, Na Pua O Hana, and HPC, Inc. [Hawaii Poi Company].

The final checklists and program indicated that in addition to names mentioned above, Keali`i Reichel opened the festival with a chant, Parley Kanakaole said the blessing, and Jackie Kahula, Robin Kalama, Harold Nako`oka and Sam Kalalau, III served as MC's. Mitsue Cook-Carlson presented a certificate to the family of Uncle Harry Mitchell. Aunty Daisy Lynn demonstrated traditional poi pounding. Cyril Mangione took care of the electrical needs. Bob Vogele set up the public announcement system in Helene Hall, Jackie Kahula took care of permits, reservations, facilities and grounds.

Performances by the following groups enthralled over an estimated crowd of 3,000: Na Leo O Hana, Steve & Cathy Sargenti, Keali`i's Keiki Hula Halau, Halau Hula Ka Makani Wili Makaha O Kaua`ula, Cecy Kupau & Sisters, Pekelo & Family, Ho`opai Family & Island Heat, and Danny Estacado & Hana's Own.

As I mentioned above, these snippets of information can not begin to recount the amount of time and energy it took, and continues to take, to organize the festival, which always seems to just "come together." It is done with aloha, lokahi, laulima, and hana, and truly representative of Hana and her people.

East Maui Taro Festival, Inc.
P.O. Box 295
Hana, Hawaii 96713

For scheduling and information call 808-375-3317.

E-mail: info@tarofestival.org