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Papa Kuʻi ʻai a me Pohaku

As part of our huakaʻi last month to Papahana Kuaola and the opportunity to work in the loʻi, I wanted to continue that thought by sharing my experience of making a papa kuʻi 'ai (poi-pounding board).

In 2008 with the encouragement from me and my co-worker, Pili Wong, Earl Kawaʻa offered to teach a papa kuʻi ʻai papa to those of us that were interested in learning what our kūpuna did as a daily way of life. For our kūpuna they had loʻi in their yards and grew their own kalo, the major source of starch in their diet. They steamed it and pounded poi or kept it whole and sliced it and ate it like bread with butter or condensed milk.

Kawaʻa was very specific on our kuleana and the commitment he required of us. Our first task was to find an au koʻi (handle) for our koʻi (adze tool). I found myself suddenly looking up at every tree I saw looking for the right branch for my koʻi. My husband found mine at a jobsite from a Haole Koa tree otherwise known as the Leucaena Leucocephala tree. I sanded the branch and cut the top to fit the blade that I would eventually earn upon completion of this au koʻi. I named my koʻi "Kaalouahi", my ʻohana name which means "path of fire". I then earned my blade which was made from the metal springs used underneath cars that Kawaʻa cut into small slabs that we needed to shape and sharpen using only a hand-held file. We weren't allowed to use any electrical tools. We then learned how to secure the blade  to the au koʻi using a bicycle tire tubing. We had to show him that we could secure the blade without it coming off and seriously injuring someone before we could move onto the next step, choosing our papa.

Our first papa was held at his house in Kailua where we got to choose our papa in the order that we completed our kuleana. So me and Pili continued to be the spearheads of this hui. With the help of my son, I was 2nd to choose my papa and chose a papa that wasn't too big or too small, but just right. We then learned step-by-step how to hold the koʻi and strike the papa without gouging into it. This wasn't as easy as it seemed, it took a lot of practice and patience to get the right touch and hit the papa at the right angle or you could definitely damage the papa. Kawaʻa emphasized to us that when working on the papa we were not to have any negative and /or bad feelings inside such as anger, resentment, sadness, or the feeling of being forced to work on it, because these kinds of feelings would be transferred to the papa and the poi and to those that ate it.

Our ʻohana was encouraged to kōkua. It took us approximately 3 months to complete our papa and then we were asked to provide the poi for the blessing of the Kaiona Conference Room at Kawaiahaʻo Plaza. A privilege to be asked and a perfect opportunity for us to bless our papa. Another kuleana of ours was to name our papa and come up with a moʻolelo or mele. For most of us this was the hardest task to fulfill. On the eve of the blessing I was still pondering what I was going to share the next day. Initially I came up with a simple children's tune similar to the song Kuʻi I Ke Kalo that is taught to the students that attend the Hoʻomakaʻikaʻi each summer. I couldn't sleep with this hanging on me and finally came up with a short poem that reflected the feelings that I had of the loss of my dad 3 years earlier. You see, it wasn't important who my dad was or the lifestyle he lived as a child until he was gone and then it became almost unbearable for me not to want to learn about him and who he was, and who I am. I named my board "Ahe Lau Makani" o Halawā Valley iki ma Molokaʻi one hānau o koʻu makuakāne., after one of the many winds that blow through Halawā Valley on the island of Molokaʻi where my dad was born and raised.

Ahe Lau Makani
I can't see you, but I feel you.
I can't hear your words, but I get your message.
Ahe Lau Makani reminds me that you were here.
The aroma of lilies tell me that you're up there.
I grasp at the open air trying to hang on to when you were here, 
where you lived and who we are. I try to seek near and far.
The stories you told a thousand times, I can't recall,
Maybe one day I'll remember them all.

The next day we prepped our kalo by steaming in pressure cookers throughout the day and then after work setting up our papa in the courtyard at Kawaiahaʻo Plaza in preparation for the blessing of our papa. We introduced ourselves, shared the papa inoa and then kalo kuʻi ʻai. When we were pau we gathered inside to share our manaʻo with each other. Some offered moʻolelo while others shared mele and I shared my poem. It was very emotional for all of us to both share and hear how this project touched each one of us. I will always remember this experience and honor my dad's life with my papa kuʻi ʻai.


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