Tasting the ‘aina: wrapping up

Many of you know that “‘aina” means “land” in Hawaiian. Did you know that it also means “meal” or “nourish?” It’s interesting, but difficult for Western language speakers to grasp, because we are accustomed to having individual words have their own meaning. However, like Asian words and characters, the Hawaiian language is presented in entire concepts, which allows for some meaningful plays on words. It seems even more appropriate, then, for Kamehameha Schools to be working so hard to bring awareness to their farm-to-table initiatives, so people can see how the land is nourishing the community, not just literally with food, but with the independence that the sustainability and financial rewards can provide.

We had been visiting farmers and restaurants on this special agricultural tour in Kona, but visiting the historical and cultural experts of this Keahou ahupua’a tied it all together to show why this area is so important to Kamehameha Schools and how it influences all of Hawaii.

A visit with Ku’ulei Keakealani at Ka’ulupulehu showed us not only how the ancient Hawaiians lived off the land, but how the land, through lava flows that covered the place, changed their lives and gave them new lessons on how to live. Lily Dudoit at the Sheraton Kona also gave us a snapshot of life in the area and shared what this progression of history means for future Hawaiians. In both cases — at least, for me — they seemed to illustrate how Hawaiian history and culture was lost over time through Westernization, natural erosion, even disinterest by their own people, but now, thanks to an infusion of interest and support, the culture is experiencing a resurgence and even historical artifacts are emerging from the lava and ashes. Despite the culture being lost, it seems like modern technology has actually helped the new movement not just in reviving it, but keeping it alive and interesting for future generations.

One of the highlights was also meeting Kalani Nakoa, the executive director of the Nakoa Foundation. He sails his fishing canoe along the coastline as an extension of the Sheraton Kona’s cultural experiences. The Nakoa Foundation has connected with more than 4,000 students in the Hawaii Island community since it was formed four years ago. The Foundation’s mission is to help participants examine the Hawaiian sailing canoe from its forest origin to the ocean while inspiring a thirst for knowledge, promoting good decision making, self-reliance and sustainability, and ultimately helping participants become competent future leaders. The Foundation’s focus is to create a sense of place  through each experience to help develop skills and cultural values needed to navigate life’s challenges. Kalani initially didn’t want to be a part of the hotel’s activities, as he was afraid it would make his work more of a touristy thing. But once he saw what Lily was doing, he understood his role in sharing Hawaii’s culture to the world. Not only that, but your fee for the experience benefits the Nakoa Foundation, which in turn creates future leaders in Hawaii’s community and culture.

Here’s a brief look at what we saw. To see all of the photos from this day, click here.

Touring Big Island agriculture

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We started our day of history and culture with a special buffet breakfast at the Sheraton Kona. They always have a buffet breakfast available at Rays on the Bay, but on this day, Executive Chef Victor Schmidt created a different locavore breakfast spread.

At the end of our cultural tour at the Sheraton Kona, Lily turned to the ocean and offered a “mahalo” chant to the gods and ancestors of the area for allowing us to do it. A big bonus: Kalani Nakoa saw her chanting as he sailed past, and returned a greeting.

This whole experience was eye-opening, even for me — and I’ve lived in Hawaii all my life. I can imagine how fascinating (and overwhelming) the tour must have been for our guests from the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. What I showed you is the tip of the iceberg; during the next few months, you may see articles and videos from the other writers on what they learned and experienced, through their eyes. I’m excited to learn more about Kamehameha School’s farm-to-table initiatives and partnerships throughout the rest of Hawaii, and to get a taste of this. I hope you get a chance to taste the ‘aina, too.

Big mahalo to our guides: Kaui Burgess, Benson Medina, Les and Tracey Apoliona, and Roberts Hawaii, for this inspiring and educational tour. Big mahalo to the Sheraton Kona for the beautiful accommodations. (I meant to take in the fitness room, but didn’t have time, so I’ll have to go back!)