community cultural heritage study
'Alekoko Loko I'a
The Legend, or Mo'olelo, of this Special Place
'Alekoko Fishpond is commemorated in a legend about two chiefs who were brother and sister. Some residents say these two children had super powers so that sister could change herself into a lizard and brother took the form of a shark. In this way they were guardians of the pond. The story is told that these two royals (ali'i) commissioned the building of the fishpond by enlisting the help of master builders known as the Menehune. The Menehune are considered a mythical race, extremely small, but strong in stature, leprechaun-like, and famous for completing massive building projects in just one night. They gained a mythical status as unsurpassed builders and notoriety for being quick-witted, mischievous, and playful trouble-makers when not at work.
It is said that one night when the moon was full, the Menehune began to work on the fishpond project for the two chiefs. They worked only at night, in silence, and under terms that no one was allowed to see them building. But the brother chief, whom we now call 'Alekoko, broke his promise by peeking at the Menehune while they worked, causing them to cease the project, and in so doing they humbled this mighty chief. The Menehune washed their lava rock-scraped and bleeding hands in the unfinished pond before the sun came up, and to this day, the chief and the pond are called 'Alekoko, meaning bloody-ripple, for the reddish, rippling water in the pond. The 'Alekoko Fishpond is affectionately known as the Menehune Fishpond in honor of the many workers that helped in building the thick stone kuapa wall with stones that were passed man to man for 25 miles from a place in the west called Makaweli.
The Menehune Fishpond is located on the island of Kaua'i in the eastern land division or ahupua'a called Niumalu. The pond is adjacent to the Hule'ia Stream, nestled below the verdant Ha'upu Ridge. The Hule'ia Stream flows east and empties into the sea at Nawiliwili Bay. The 'Alekoko Fishpond was originally built by damming a bend in the stream with a rock wall about half a mile long which created this 32 acre pond called a loko wai (freshwater pond).
Fishponds in the Hawaiian Islands are cultural sites that tell of a well-developed civilization dating back to more than 1,000 years ago. According to scientific research, the number of fishponds across the islands at one time was estimated at 300 to 500, ranging in size from less than an acre to 600 acres! At approximately 350 pounds of fish per acre, that adds up to a lot of fish!!
Raising fish in ponds is not uncommon throughout the world, but what is different about Hawaiian style aqua-culture are the shore ponds built with rock walls and sluice gates that let fish in at high tide and kept them in as they grew to maturity.
Although food from fishponds was a privilege for higher rank before commoners, they are evidence that a thriving aqua-cultural system sustained hundreds of thousands of citizens. The ingenious engineering implemented clever techniques of recycling and ecological conservation, required leadership to mobilize whole communities as workforce, and they remind us of important cultural values at work for this kind of endeavor to succeed in a barter economy. Values such as laulima (cooperation), malama (caring), pa'ahana (hardworking), and kuleana (responsibility).
The reasons that these fishponds came into disuse and subsequent disrepair are complex. Factors include social and economic changes such as the loss of traditional fishpond management skills because of dramatic decline in Native Hawaiian populations, alternative work becoming available, and the economic exchange of money replaced bartering. Natural forces also contributed to the fishponds' decline; from poor water quality to land erosion filling in ponds with silt, to destruction of walls due to storms and lava flows.
When archaeologists surveyed the different types of fishponds throughout the state in the 1970's, 56 ponds had the necessary integrity for restoration and these were nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. The 'Alekoko Fishpond was one of these that rated a place on the National Register, and was slated for restoration, but until today no action has been taken toward restoring this cultural site to use and manage it as a food resource, for economic viability, or as an educational site for cultural preservation. The idea of restoring this historical site could be revisited by the Government of Kaua'i and the issue proposed to the people to decide by a referendum.
Cultural and Education Connections to Hawaiian Fishpond Restoration
The way that a fishpond restoration project can get off the ground is by following the model of other such projects going on around the state of Hawai'i. By no means an easy or short term enterprise. However, this type of restoration project offers a wonderful opportunity for an educational site to be developed where cultural preservation and community rehabilitation is possible.
By networking with cultural, educational, and community organizations and establishing curriculum and service learning, the entire island community stands to benefit. There are a number of organizations who have already taken leadership to develop project oriented learning sites that are based on cultural practice and these have shown positive impacts on youth and community at large, as well as restoring dignity to the Native Hawaiian Community in particular. Perpetuating culture through practicing culture transfers knowledge to the younger generation.
Useful Resources Related to Fishpond Restoration
The Pacific American Foundation, Educational Curriculum Emphasizing Values of Aloha 'Aina
Kahea Loko (The Call of the Pond), Educational Integrated Curriculum on Fishpond Theme
Many Ponds, (Recommendations and Notes on Fishpond Restoration)
Gate or Makaha to Fishpond Overgrown with Mangrove Fishpond Walls covered with Mangrove
Challenges and Future Possibilities
Mounting the restoration project at the 'Alekoko Fishpond will require extensive work. It will be necessary to remove invasive mangrove plants from the wall that encloses the pond. This will have to be done carefully with chainsaws and other equipment. Then the wall will need to be rebuilt according to the traditional manner of stone masonry. It is a work that will take years to accomplish. But it is a significant work and one that can be translated as an act of social justice. It could be considered as restitution to the community for the loss of customary lands during events of the GreatMahele, when a land commission was formed and lands were divided and lost due to new and unfamiliar policies about land ownership.
Of all the challenges, the biggest one facing this particular restoration project are the costs involved. The costs entail both a financial commitment for funding the project as well as factoring the cost of labor intensive removal of invasive mangrove plants, rebuilding (kuapa) rock wall, and managing the site once the fishpond is ready to be stocked with fish. A lot of volunteer hours would no doubt go into the project, but according to Graydon "Buddy" Keala, a leading authority on fishpond restoration, the first thing to do is to apply for permits... and the starting costs for this process is estimated at about $50,000.00!
Permits are expensive and time consuming to apply for. The government permit process includes the Federal United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Hawai'i State Department of Land and Natural Resources, and at the County level, Grading and Land Management Permits are needed. Procuring an Environmental Impact Assessment, and planning for the project's educational and commercial components must also be included in the proposal. It is not an impossible mission, but it will take the help of many experts and many hands to make the work light.
Everything in the ecosystem should be treated in such a way that order, harmony, and balance is restored and maintained. As young people get involved with the restoration project in a beyond the classroom experience like this, there are opportunities for understanding this kind of balance as integrated learning effectively combines studies in science, language arts, social studies, math, and fine arts in an experiential, authentic context where inquiry and mentored learning is put to the test.
Wetlands that surround the Menehune Fishpond are also treasures to be protected and cared for.
Unobstructed kuapa and makaha
(stone wall and wooden sluice gate)
Sheri Majewski, Loko I'a, 2009
Pastel on Paper