“Wai o ke ola! Wai, waiwai nui! Wai, nā mea a pau, ka wai, waiwai no kēlā!” (Water is life! Water is of great value! Water, the water is that which is of value for all things!) (Joe Rosa, in Maly)
If you are going to tell a story about Keanae, in Koʻolau on the coast of Maui, the story starts with water, and with it, the life of the land.
From ancient times, the abundant rains, supported the development of rich forests; the rains and forests have in turn led to the formation of hundreds of streams (kahawai) that have molded the landscape of Maui into one with many large valleys (awāwa) and smaller gulches (kahawai). (Maly)
These watered valleys and gulches, and their associated flat lands (kula), have been home to and have sustained native Hawaiian families for centuries.
Handy, Handy & Pukui report that there were several major population centers on the Island of Maui: Kahakuloa (West Maui) region; the deep watered valleys of Nā Wai ‘Ehā (Waihe‘e, Wai‘ehu, Wailuku and Waikapū); the ‘Olowalu to Honokōhau region of Lāhainā; the Kula – ‘Ulupalakua region and the Koʻolau – Hana region.
They note the importance of the Ko‘olau region in this discussion: “On the northeast flank of the great volcanic dome of Haleakala…the two adjacent areas of Ke‘anae and Wailua-nui comprise the fourth of the main Maui centers and the chief center on this rugged eastern coast.”
“It supported intensive and extensive wet-taro cultivation. Further eastward and southward along this windward coast line is the district of Hana… [Handy, Handy and Pukui.]” (Maly)
Settlement in the watered valleys along the Koʻolau coast consisted primarily of permanent residences near the shore and spread along the valley floors. Residences also extended inland on flat lands and plateaus, with temporary shelters in the upper valleys.
Two primary forms of agricultural sites occur in these river valleys: lo‘i kalo (irrigated and drainage taro farming field systems) on the valley floors and slopes; and the kula and kīhāpai dry land farming plots where crops such as ‘uala (sweet potatoes), kō (sugar canes), kalo (taro), mai‘a (bananas and plantains) and wauke (paper mulberry.)
Handy, Handy and Pukui further that “…Ke‘anae lies just beyond Honomanu Valley. This is a unique wet-taro growing ahupua‘a… It was here that the early inhabitants settled, planting upland rain-watered taro far up into the forested area. In the lower part of the valley, which is covered mostly by grass now, an area of irrigated taro was developed on the east side.”
“A much larger area in the remainder of the valley could have been so developed. However, we could find no evidence of terracing there. This probably was due to the fact that the energies of the people were diverted to create the lo‘i complex which now covers the peninsula.” (Maly)
Anciently, the peninsula was barren lava. But a chief, whose name is not remembered, was constantly at war with the people of neighboring Wailua and was determined that he must have more good land under cultivation, more food, and more people.
So he set all his people to work (they were then living within the valley and going down to the peninsula only for fishing,) carrying soil in baskets from the valley down to the lava point. (Maly)
The soil and the banks enclosing the patches were thus, in the course of many years, all transported and packed into place. Thus did the watered flats of Keʻanae originate.
A small lo‘i near the western side of the land formerly belonged to the chief of Keʻanae and has the name Ke-‘anae (the Big Mullet); it is said that the entire locality took its name from this small sacred lo‘i. Here, as at Kahakuloa, the taro that grew in the sacred patch of the aliʻi was reputed to be of great size. (Maly)
This area was nearly completely destroyed by a tsunami in 1946 (April 1.) Reportedly, the only building said to have been left standing was the Lanakila ʻIhiʻihi O Iehova o na Kaua (now called the Keʻanae Congressional Church.)
In 2005, the DOE announced the closure of the last one-room school in the state of Hawaiʻi (in Keʻanae,) just a few weeks before the school year began. The village of Keʻanae had its own school for 96 years.
Since then, Keʻanae students have made the 16-mile, one-way trek to Hana School. Reportedly, a Keʻanae Charter School has been proposed by community members. Last year, the non -profit group Ka Waianu o Hāloa launched a fund-raising effort in support of the establishment of a charter school in Keʻanae.
Today, Keʻanae continues to be a relatively isolated, but significant taro-growing community; it is one of the major commercial wetland taro farming regions in the state.
Keʻanae residents reportedly use the terms “inside” and “outside” to express the difference between life in their rural heartland and the new world of towns and cities where most Hawaiians live today.
Keʻanae lies on the windward coast of Maui, about a two-hour drive over the narrow, winding Hana Highway. Heading toward Hana leads you further to the “inside,” heading towards Kahului is taking you “outside.”
While at DLNR, I was involved through the Land Board and the Water Commission (both of which I chaired) on several issues related to Keʻanae – all focused on historic stream diversions and the impacts to downstream users, particularly the taro farmers there.
We authorized the release of an additional 6-million gallons per day for downstream uses, as well as appointment of a monitor to determine that this amount will meet the needs of the downstream farmers, as well as monitor other aspects of the decision.