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Step back in time nearly 800 years, when Waikiki Beach was a rocky shoreline and the surrounding areas were a marshy wetland ideal for growing crops, especially the Hawaiian staple: taro. At the edge of the present day University of Hawaii at Manoa campus, a productive loi (taro field) known as Ka Papa Loi o Kanewai was cultivated.
Currently operated as part of the University’s Hawaiian Studies program, the loi offers locals and visitors alike a unique experience and insight into the Hawaii of centuries ago. Explore tranquil Manoa Stream, complete with small waterfalls and native plants, and learn how Hawaiians constructed complex irrigation systems.
On our recent trip, we heard the legend of Kane and his brother Kanaloa, who created the islands’ major streams, and for whom the loi was named. After a short hike touring the irrigation system, we collected leaves from the ground and the waterways. Once our buckets were filled, we were invited to dump them into the fallow loi to add nutrients to the soil. Then came the fun part- rolling up our pants and jumping in!
Our next project was helping to strengthen the mud walls of the loi to keep the water flowing properly. Finally, we entered a field with growing kalo (taro) plants to weed and keep water flowing properly between the plants. Taro plants grow in water, to a height of but it must circulate in the field and the plants can drown if they are submerged. Keeping the soil level high so the stems and leaves rise above the water level is crucial.
This Saturday, March 5, is a community work day at the loi, and the public is welcome to attend. Volunteers assist in the loi and learn traditional farming methods, as well as hear the stories and legends of old Hawaii. Kupuna (elders) and native speakers share their knowledge, so it’s a great way to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture and explore a side of Hawaii most tourists rarely see. Do bring sunscreen and a hat as the fields are sunny, and mosquito repellent as well as your camera and a willingness to get a hands, and feet-on experience.