Friday, November 21, 2008

Surfing on a River

Surfing (and paddling) on Waipa' River
(See the surfing video below)
Waipa' River runs placidly by Bill and Tanya's house. From their house you can look over the river and see Hanalei Bay just beyond. Bill loves that he can just hop on his paddle board and in a few moments be in one of the finest bays in the world.

Neighbors come by on their paddle boards and they visit with each other (mostly talk about the waves for surfing I think). In this photo it was pouring rain, but that doesn't stop anyone (but me I guess).
Oddly though, where the river hits the bay it is stopped by the sandy beach and looks like a lake. This is a bit uncommon, the other nearby rivers all run straight out to the sea, making beach walking sometimes river wading too.

However, as the water builds up especially after heavy rain it will eventually cut a path through the sand and outflow to the bay. And if you help it along by creating a small ditch you can predict the time. After heavy rainfall had the river overflowing the bank into the yard, Bill decided to go down and help it along.

And the young locals love to do that, because as the water begins to pour out you can actually ride the waves pouring out from the river. Just another fun activity in Hanalei.

Check out this video... sorry I put the cap on at the end and thought I'd stopped it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hawaiian Hau Fiber Nets

Fishnet from Hau Fiber

We went to Waipa' Poi pounding today (though scraping and grinding is a more accurate description). Every Thursday at Waipa' they do this gathering, and people come from all over. It’s the only cultural center like this on the island, and it’s at the foot of Bill and Tanya’s driveway. They have a library of cultural books, offices, native plant garden and nursery, a farmers market on Tuesdays, and they are restoring the whole upper valley, an ahapua’a to native. And I was encouraged to bring cedar bark and do some weaving with them, and maybe work with some of the fibers here. I became interested in hau fiber, it seemed to be an ancient fiber source but not much used today. Today I got to make a start of a net bag from the bark of the hau tree, along with some Hawaiians who were very interested in watching it unfold.

Hau is a yellow flowered hibiscus tree that grows rampantly here. It can be incredibly invasive in wetland valleys as we saw at a neighbor’s property. It also drops its yellow flowers to the ground where they land upright and turn different shades of oranges and reds, very lovely.

The bark can be pulled in strips from the tree and, as ‘uncle Sam’ told us today, can also be used to pull trucks out of the ditch, instead of calling a tow truck like people do today. Another person told me of islanders pulling strip off, and fashioning it into a figure-8 strap to climb coconut trees. In other words it is incredibly strong fiber. When the bark is removed from a 3” diameter trunk and soaked for a few days to ‘ret’ (or rot) it can be separated into very fine, almost plasticy textured layers which can be spun into cordage.

On Thursdays a man we think is called Charlie comes and works on nylon fiber nets which he sells to fisherman who commission nets from him. He’s a Portuguese man married to a Hawaiian woman. He makes the throw nets which are funnel shaped and thrown out along the shoreline and pulled back in. I could see his technique is similar to what I’ve done for dipnets so I thought that would be good project, making a hau fiber net sample.

Last week I started thigh spinning some fine twine to use and people were interested, so I made more during the week. ‘Charlie’ let me borrow a smaller net needle he had and I used my finger as a gauge (a spacer used to keep the net loops the same size). He makes his net needles from bamboo, I’d like to try that, very lightweight and strong. His gauge is just linoleum but it could be anything hard and flat (I prefer wood or bone).

So I made a little net sample from hau fiber, which I am turning into a net bag. ‘Charlie’ was clearly not interested in showing me how to do it as I struggled with the starting though he didn’t mind me looking at his as a model. Another elder was there who makes nets, and all he said as I worked on my start was that starting nets is the hardest part. He didn’t seem interested in showing me how either. But I surprised them by pulling it off. That drew in a few more people, and I got pretty far along on a little net which I decided to make into a net bag. Uncle Sam came over and was very supportive of what we were doing, and he told us many stories as we worked. He had a saying about keeping busy with your hands while sitting around, something like ‘lazy work’.

So it was another good day in paradise. We also got to talk to a ‘lau hala’ basket weaver about harvesting hala leaves for baskets, and ways to prepare them. She wants to make a ‘lau hala’ hat in the northwest coast style, which she saw at an airport, and liked in the one I brought, and may come over to work with us on that. It’s fun to share knowledge about fibers and techniques, and our deeper connections with the plants and culture while doing this work. It’s a bond we can all share.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Guests on an Outrigger Adventure

An Outrigger Adventure

On this trip to Kauai the only thing I thought I might want to do, as a tourist, was to perhaps go out on an outrigger, I had not done that the last time here. I was thinking I would go do one of those tourist guided tours I see around. Maybe see some sea turtles, maybe even whales.

On my first morning, Tanya and Bill wanted to show me the fish ponds they are reconstructing in the Waipa’ ahupua’a; places where fish were reared for food. This is located on private native lands down near the beach, and as we walked we passed a camp with a carving and a sink for preparing fish and foods, familiar to me of native fish camps along the Columbia I’ve visited, nothing fancy, but all you need. It is so nice to be seeing this part of Hanalei, it is really all I’ve seen this trip, of the native lands and the simple way of being on this island.

We came upon a group of outriggers pulled on shore and I stopped to photograph them, thinking of the Canoe Family at home. I wondered out loud if we’d see any on the bay, I’d love to take some photos. As we walked away a truck pulled up next to them, so we walked back and I asked if they were planning to take one out. The young (and handsome) man said no. I told him about the Canoe Family a bit, said I’d love to share this with them, and then he asked us if we’d like to go out with him. It was a surprise turn around in the conversation! His name is Trevor, and later he told us that he had no intention of taking the outrigger out, he thought he had pulled it ashore for the last time for the season, normal for November. But as we spoke, the wind had come up, in just the right direction, and he saw that he could. By the time we had returned at the end of our trip the wind had changed course and he would not have gone out. It was meant to be.

He said to come back in about 20 minutes, in the meantime we could go down the beach a ways and look at the wooden, traditional, outrigger the Waipa’ community had just finished carving. It was beautiful. It is carved from two types of wood, albizzia and kamani, in lieu of the native koa which was the traditional canoe wood. They are now planting hundreds of koa trees in the ahupua’a but they are still little. Someday….We came to find out that it had just been brought into the water for the first time a week or so ago, in ceremony of course. The ti leaf tied to its center is a reminder of that.

We returned to the outrigger, and a new person joined us, Amanda, who writes for the ‘Lonely Planet’ guidebooks and she asked if we minded if she took photos, she might include them in her next version. And it turns out that Trevor could not have gone out without all of us, we are ballast, and help to keep the outrigger upright. Trevor made this double outrigger himself, 12 years ago, when he was 19, over a winter. In summer he takes out visitors as his primary income.

We helped set the sail, and pushed it out to the water with some help from passers-by. And off we went. The sail was full of wind and we did not need to paddle, Trevor just steered with his oar, and guided the sail, something we learned later is somewhat difficult to do physically. He talked about coming out surfing in the full moon the night before. He talked about how he came to name his boat, ‘standing proudly upright in the open spaces’ is the literal meaning, but he was told it also means something about the wisdom and strength of gods.

Mostly we reveled in the moment. It was a beautiful day, with the wind and warm water splashing us occasionally, and we passed easily across the reef and into the ocean swells. They seemed large, swelling up 6-8 feet on each side but our canoe with its outriggers just floated over them. We really found the wind out there and Trevor guided us parallel with the swells and we just flew across the waves. It was exhilarating. (see video below).

We turned in back towards the bay and just then we saw shapes in the water and passed a small group of sea turtles, just floating on the waves, heading out to sea. Surreal really, these amazing large, primitive looking creatures, just bobbing along.

As soon as we passed the bluff of the bay the wind suddenly died, and we brought out the paddles to get us ashore. At the last moment we hit a new wind and strong waves and we raced ashore, people running towards us to watch us, it was striking.

Tanya and Bill could not believe our luck, they had never been out on an outrigger, and to be asked as a guest in this way, unbelievable. Tanya is terrified of water, but she resolved to go, it seemed too much like destiny for her to do so. Bill could not get over that later, he said that any other way, she would not have gone. Here she is getting used to the idea of it all...

We invited Trevor to the house to see Tanya’s paintings, he had told us about the owls that ride the wind over their valley, so I knew he’d like to see her bird paintings. We had food from the night before and he brought his girlfriend. Bill brought out his guitars and they played music and visited. He has built himself a simple house in the forest across the valley, so they are neighbors. It was a good way to connect.

It was a wonderful moment.

This is Waipa foundation website... perhaps the Canoe Family can come and visit the Waipa people and share knowledge about ocean going travel, navigation by the stars and more.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Poi making at Waipa'a

I am visiting my friends Bill and Tanya Hill in Hawaii on the island of Kauai at the bay of Hanalei. They live down a small driveway next to the Waipa stream, passing through Hawaiian native lands, held in trust by the Waipa Foundation.

Each week on Thursdays the native community comes together at this Waipa' ahupua'a to make poi from taro they grow on their traditional lands. Poi is a traditional food that is rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and nutrients and helps combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The poi made on Thursdays is carefully weighed out, bagged and distributed by the Waipa'a around the island of Kauai to people who have ordered it ahead of time, native and non native alike.

Volunteers from the community, native and non native are invited to help out each week. Elders show up, people catch up on family stories and share knowledge. Weavers bring out their weavings, net makers their nets, and food is prepared for a lunch for all who helped out.

The taro is brought in the day before, sorted and placed into 50 gallon drums, then covered with water. Fires are made from pine to give just the right flavor, and used to heat the drums to boiling. They are left overnight on the coals and in the morning the taro is cooked through, ready for Thursday mornings 'poi pounding'.

When the taro is removed from the drums the skin slips off and the roots put in large buckets filled with water. The skin is brought back to the fields and used to grow the taro (just how was not clear).

Most of the volunteers arrive after 8AM (you are respected if you arrive early, some as early as 5:30) and we each grab a butter knife and begin to scrape the taro, removing the black and brown spots and any diseased or damaged portions of the root. This is closely observed if you are new, elders come over and tell you to scrape away from you, to clean off the rim of the bucket where you scrape the knife clean, or to not scrape away too much or don't cut out big portions. It is all precious you can tell.

The time around the buckets of purple taro is spent laughing, and talking about families, and for those of us who are new, about the taro itself, how it is made, where it will go, how it will be used .

It is like a potato in texture and size, and we carefully remove the black or brown surface, and look for hard and pithy areas which we cut out. They tell us that the people can tell if this isn't done well, it affects the flavor, and you can see the spots in the finished taro, so you feel all the more cautious.

The buckets of cut taro are brought to a machine they have devised, with a large grinder on tip and smaller below. This replaces the large taro pounder, and large stone pestle used to mash the taro in the far past. The young man tells me 'we are an adaptable people, so we use new technology', a familiar explanation intended for those who believe that native people should only do things as they did 300 years ago, as though nothing ever changes. I told him I understood...

And the poi becomes a paste, like taffy, and a designated person is given the job to weigh out the portions, while a team of people bundle it in bags, and place it in buckets to distribute. A clipboard full of names is evident as they plan their deliveries. They charge a price per pound, I never heard how much ($3/pound? or was it each bag weighed three pounds?). I tried to buy some but the elder woman, Auntie, said no, it was free to the volunteers who stayed and helped.

We stayed for lunch, which included fresh poi, purple and delicious, very much like mashed potato really, sweet and bland, mealy and smooth, all at once. Lunch also included fresh salad, green beans with sesame oil, rice noodles with chicken, and slices of avocado, all fresh and delicious.

We took our bags of poi home, and are eating it still, with every meal. It gets harder as time goes, you can break off pieces now. I can imagine making a 'potato pancake' from it, with sauted onions and chives; or perhaps use it as thickener in soup; maybe a sauce of some kind. It would be good to find more recipes for it.

It was a great pleasure to be part of something that is so in keeping with what we are trying to do in the northwest, the return to traditional foods, the understanding that local foods are the best.

Proceeds from the sale of the poi goes to the Waipa Foundation which is dedicated to keeping their ahupua'a alive and well; the people and the land.