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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Restoring a He'eia ahupua'a

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer

It's no accident that the Heeia Historical Society, a family affair, dreams big because families over in He'eia are expandable.

The society is not just one family but a whole community of them that started with a family reunion of the entire ahupua'a, the valley that stretches from mountains to the sea.

Now the dream has expanded to become a lesson for everybody in Hawai'i, and an invitation to be part of the family.

It's a powerful dream to reinvent an old Hawaiian ahupua'a in modern terms, like building an ancient voyaging canoe with modern materials.

Quite a few idealists, Hawaiian and otherwise, have dreamed this dream.

What adds tantalizing reality to this one is that by a long chain of circumstances the essential elements are still in place.

Only a fraction of the land is developed. He'eia stream still flows from the mountains to the sea. In the mountains, taro terraces remain, the irrigation system and the broad wetlands below. In the ocean, a fish pond is still there, enriched by the stream and the offshore reef.

People are the biggest concern of the chief dreamers: Donna Ono, president of the society, and Mary Brook, a marine biologist who operates the fish pond.

They agreed that "our biggest challenge is getting people in today's challenging times to see the value of working together on something bigger than themselves that has no immediate benefit to them personally but will increase the quality of the community."

Ono lives up the valley on the family plot where the late kahuna Sam Lono inspired his acolytes. She operates a janitorial service for a living and has planted several acres of taro on the old lo'i. She has taken over for her mother, Anita Kahanu Paoa Gouveia Heen, who launched the society.

Brook has lived at the fish pond for 12 years. She sells limu to subsist. Their dream of restoring the ahupua'a was born about two years ago when they met and realized that the mountains and the sea are incomplete without each other.

Brook's Ahupua'a Restoration Council of Heeia, open to all, joined forces with the Heeia Historical Society, a family affair. A wide assortment of people from government, education, business and the local community sit on the board.

Their first goal for the ahupua'a is a community-driven restoration plan with professional input, something that works and that people want. They see this as a life's work.

In the short term, they're appealing for volunteers to clean He'eia Stream. The number to call is 247-3027.

Said Brook: "When you go out on the pond at night and open up the gate, the mullet rush in, still responding to the tide as they did for the ancestors."

Ono added, "When you go up into the mountains and you chant, asking permission to enter, you speak to your 'aumakua and kupuna, and they answer."