Wisdom of the Canoe and Fishpond

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend three days on the beautiful island of Maui. Early one morning, we parked out rental car at NOAA’s Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary in north Kihei. Here are some photos I took from the sanctuary looking toward the old Hawaiian Ko’ie’ie Fishpond. You can see twin-hulled canoes with twelve paddlers, like the canoes we used, only ours were painted red.

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Fish farms were important as they supplied thousands of people the fish that were raised in natural sea water. The ring of stones encompasses an area of several acres, but this one has been neglected. Kupuna Kimokea is leading the project to restore the three-foot wide wall. It is not merely an engineering project. It is cultural, it builds community, it is sacred. Rumors are that it was built by the little people of Mu, the Menehune, in one night.

We met Kimokea who was to lead our tour of the fishpond. He asked us to drive up the coast a ways to the Kihei Canoe Club. When we got there, we left all our belongings with one of the club members who would meet us later, so I have no more photos of that morning. It’s a good thing we wore our swimsuits. Our tour group consisted of about thirty high school students from France, and we assembled near the shrine next to the canoes. Kimokea instructed the students in the Hawaiian way of learning. Observe, listen, and do not talk when the teacher is speaking! (It seems it is as hard for French teenagers as it is for Americans.)

As Kimokea led us we chanted, repeating what he said, prayers to the spirits of the sea, land, and the mountain Haleakala. We asked for permission to ride our canoes in the waters and for their blessings. It is amazing that even though we did not know the Hawaiian words, the words still came out of our mouths.

Then, we pushed off, climbing into the canoes which were rapidly moving out to sea. We took up our paddles and followed the beat of the lead paddlers. We changed from outside paddling to inside paddling when commanded. The ride was swift and smooth. It was surprisingly easy to paddle with twelve of us doing it. With sun on our backs, the wind in our hair, it was a deep pleasure to skim over the green water.

All too soon, the fishpond came into view and we pulled up onto the adjacent beach. Somehow it was harder climing out of the canoe than going in.

Next, after another chant followed by instructions, we set about restoring the stone wall. There are father stones and there are mother stones. They are set alternately in the wall. Our job was to insert children stones, ‘ili, in between. The ‘ili hold the stones together. This we did as we reached into the sand and pulled up handfulls of ‘ili while the surf crashed over us.

We did not complete the wall that day. Nor will it be completed for quite some time. It will take the combined efforts of many, many pairs of hands. But slowly and surely it will be done.

What have I learned? That a community prospers when its members join together, whether to paddle a canoe or to build a fishpond. I would like to return to the time when people were more closely connected together, where they were held together in the loving arms of relationships.