Preserving the Salt Ponds of Hanapēpē

Preserving the Salt Ponds of Hanapēpē


Kuuleialoha Gaisoa determines whether or not an individual is worthy of receiving her Hawaiian pa‘akai, or salt, primarily based on whether or not they’ll assist her shield the salt ponds of Hanapēpē on Kaua‘i.

Just like the kūpuna, or ancestors, earlier than her, “I create a product that I simply give away,” says Gaisoa, 49. So, “I count on you to face on the entrance line when I’ve to battle for this.”

Gaisoa belongs to one among 22 Kānaka ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) ʻohana, or households, tasked with farming salt for hundreds of years. Custom dictates that their salt can’t be purchased or offered—solely traded or given. However within the twenty first century, the flats grapple with trendy issues, equivalent to air pollution and erosion. And opposite to Indigenous customs, a Hawaiian salt-farming business has developed, with companies advertising the product across the globe. 

Nonetheless, Gaisoa isn’t threatened by the company farms as a result of they’re typically motivated by revenue, not cultural preservation, she says. “There’s nothing to check.”

The Hanapēpē salt ponds are a spot of legend. In accordance with Gaisoa, they had been found sooner or later after a neighborhood girl went fishing and caught too many. As a result of Hawaiians hunt and collect sparsely, she walked the shoreline, attempting to provide her additional fish away. When she couldn’t, she began to cry. On the similar time, Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fireside and volcanoes, was visiting her brother, Kāmohoaliʻi, the shark god. Showing from the bushes, Pele led the upset girl to the flats to show her the artwork of creating salt.

Salt kinds within the salt ponds of Hanapēpē on Kaua‘i. (Picture courtesy of Kuuleialoha Gaisoa)

When Gaisoa first visited the salt patch together with her father Frank Santos in her youth, she hated the exercise. However as soon as her two youngsters, Waileia Tafiti and Piilani Kali, had been born, she wouldn’t allow them to miss a day on the flats.   

There, every ʻohana maintains its personal part. Situated on the island’s south shore, the realm floods throughout the winter, and solely as soon as it dries do the salt makers start cultivating. Salt season is weather-dependent, nevertheless it normally takes place from Could to August. 

Salt water travels underground into close by wells, which might vary from 10 to fifteen ft deep. Each summer time, the practitioners use buckets to take away the water, then scrape the wells’ inside partitions to advertise water move.   

“You actually have salt crystals in your pores and skin—that’s how salty the water is,” says Gaisoa. Brine shrimp additionally assist clear the wells and sweeten the salt’s style.

The kiaʻi, or stewards, dig for black clay, then use rocks to mould it into salt beds, which measure between three and 4 ft large and eight and 10 ft lengthy. Afterward, they bake within the solar. Your complete course of takes between 4 and 6 hours. After effectively water is poured into the mattress, it crystallizes, forming layers of salt flakes. 

The contemporary white salt sits on the prime and is used as seasoning. The pink salt within the center is given away, and the purple salt on the backside serves spiritual and medicinal functions. 

Salt makers stand in entrance of buckets of harvested salt made within the salt ponds of Hanapēpē on Kaua‘i. (Picture courtesy of Kuuleialoha Gaisoa)

Within the days of yesteryear, salt makers would give five-gallon buckets to those that requested, however, right this moment, it’s sometimes restricted to at least one gallon. They nonetheless barter with salt, they usually have even auctioned it for noble causes. Nonetheless, Gaisoa doesn’t choose the few who promote their items.

“It’s costly to stay in Hawai‘i,” she says. “If somebody is promoting it on the sidelines, effectively, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

And 2023 counted as a nasty 12 months for salt makers. “I’m not giving out any extra as a result of I don’t have any,” says Gaisoa. “There’s solely been one other time in my lifetime the place there was a salt scarcity.”

They’ve confronted different issues in recent times. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, county officers moved a bunch of unhoused folks to the adjoining Salt Pond Seashore Park, and their excrement contaminated the salt flats. Immediately, partiers who collect of their car parking zone go away trash behind. Vehicles driving on the seashore contribute to sand erosion. A Nineteen Sixties-era highway constructed by the federal government by way of the patch is now corroding, and the salt makers are engaged on a plan to handle it. 

When the plane of a helicopter tour company, Maverick Helicopters, flies overhead, they blow mud into the salt. Since 2019, Hui Hana Pa‘akai o Hanapēpē—a Kānaka ʻŌiwi nonprofit that represents the salt-farming ʻohana—has fought the corporate’s growth efforts as a result of the potential for noise, chemical runoff and air pollution threatens the harvest. 

“My objective earlier than I die is to eliminate the helicopter touchdown pad,” says Gaisoa. “On the finish of the day, folks simply should be respectful of the realm.”

Malia Nobrega-Olivera, 52, additionally belongs to a salt-making ‘ohana in Hanapēpē. She highlighted a number of large-scale motion factors to higher help them, together with correctly citing Indigenous elders and establishing prior and knowledgeable neighborhood consent.

At Keāhole Level on Hawai‘i, Kona Sea Salt Farm additionally offers with exterior challenges, equivalent to robust winds and storms. Through the winter, the group struggles to maintain up with demand as a result of climate slows its manufacturing. 

“Mom Nature all the time has the final phrase,” says Melanie Kelekolio, operations normal supervisor and chief salt maker. Though the enterprise sells its salt on the islands, the continental US and Japan, it nonetheless makes use of hands-on strategies below Kelekolio’s management.

Melanie Kelekolio stands on the shoreline exterior Kona Sea Salt Farm. Management at Sea Salts of Hawai’i considers Kelekolio to be the steward of their leased land. (Picture credit score: Ijfke Ridgley)

In 1999, she began on the close by Pure Power Laboratory, first rising microalgae earlier than exploring salt manufacturing as a aspect undertaking in 2004. Intrigued on the concept of creating salt out of deep sea water, Kelekolio and a upkeep employee dug holes by hand to create their first scorching home. 

Since then, trial and error has fine-tuned the oceanfront salt farm’s methodology. Now, a 40-foot pipe extending 2,200 ft deep into the ocean sends water into the operation’s photo voltaic evaporation beds. These tunnels are coated, letting moisture evaporate below the daylight earlier than the salt is harvested.

“We will’t be completely conventional” and make salt in open ponds, says Kelekolio, 56. “It’s not as clear as it might have been 100 years in the past.” 

And in an effort to promote their salt as meals, the farm—owned by Sea Salts of Hawai‘i – additionally has to observe Meals and Drug Administration laws, which wouldn’t permit for the customary course of.

The enterprise is attempting to maneuver away from utilizing plastic supplies, though “the problem is discovering surfaces that may face up to the warmth and the scope—the corrosiveness of sea salt,” says Kelekolio.

Her group has expanded to incorporate seven full-time staff, a number of part-time staff and occasion workers—principally kamaʻāina, or born in Hawai‘i. That side means “they completely respect the truth that we’re nonetheless persevering with one thing that’s nonetheless an vital a part of the Hawaiian tradition,” says Kelekolio.

Kona Sea Salt Farm sits alongside the shoreline and its salt harvesting space. (Picture credit score: Absence Studio)

She acknowledges that they aren’t following native customized by promoting their salt. However Kelekolio sees merchandise mislabeled as Hawaiian salt at grocery shops, and he or she’s proud that she and others with Kānaka ʻŌiwi lineage are those behind their product made in Hawai‘i.

“We are literally situated in a spot the place salt was historically harvested 100 years in the past,” says Kelekolio stated. “It actually is useful that you’ve got Kānaka to hold it on.”

Editor’s be aware: Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton identifies as part-Kanaka ʻŌiwi. 


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