Waialua lifestyle has roots in taro
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
Loosely translated: "You grow the taro, you grow the people."
That's the saying that for the past five years has guided Hui Kalo 'O Waialua, a community-based organization of taro farmers who strive to perpetuate the tradition and history of growing taro.
Taro, to this sleepy North Shore community, is part of its way of life.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think, in my retired years, I would be a farmer," Gladys Awai-Lennox said and laughed. The 71-year-old former principal now grows taro and hasu (lotus root) on her family's land in Waialua.
She makes the commute from her Hawai'i Kai home to Waialua every weekend to tend the small crops that she began planting three years ago, several years after her father's death.
Taro-farming runs in her family. She is a fifth-generation taro grower; her family was given the Waialua land during the Great Mahele, when the ali'i divided up the land in the mid-19th century.
Reminiscing about her father brings back vivid memories for Awai-Lennox, one of four siblings.
She remembers Waialua's clean streams and running trains, how her father and grandfather would take taro and fish into town on horseback, how he would always eat poi, every day, no matter what.
"He instilled in us such pride," she said, her voice a bit shaky. "You don't think about it when you're growing up. It's when you're older, you reflect back. He was always leading by example."
Her love for Waialua, deeply rooted in the perfect memories of childhood, was one of the reasons she joined the Hui Kalo 'O Waialua.
"I feel I'm at a time in my life when it's time to give back to the community," she said.
Every year, she helps with the town's annual Taro Festival, which is happening Saturday in Hale'iwa.
So much has changed, she said, and she wants the younger generations to know how vibrant the North Shore used to be and still could be.
"We need to revive this place, and the festival makes us appreciate the culture and history," she said. "We want to be bring some significance back. We have a very rich history."
The festival highlights all that makes Waialua and Hale'iwa so rich: crafts, art, food and, of course, taro.
The Hokule'a, a replica of the voyaging canoes ancient Polynesians used to settle the Pacific, also will be docked at Hale'iwa Harbor, where festival-goers can park and take a narrated trolley ride to the festival site at Lili'uokalani Protestant Church.
Kamaki & Alika, Tropical Wine, Island Heart, Red Degree with Oshen, and the Lorenzo Ohana will perform for the more than 2,000 people expected to check out the festival.
"Our mission is good," Awai-Lennox said. "To promote the revival of the town."
She said the area was a breadbasket where the ali'i would come for hunting, taro and mountains of fresh fruits.
"It was like a resort here," she said.
And while Hale'iwa has become an almost-kitschy tourist haven, the history of the small town is still alive in resident's minds. And longtime residents are passionate about sharing that with everyone.
"I still get a little emotional," said Awai-Lennox, referring to her taking over the farm in Waialua. "The land was all covered with California grass, and when I opened it up and saw the water rushing down again, I could almost smell the taro."
"As long as there is taro," she continued, translating the hui's motto, "the people will survive."