Na Mahi `Ai - The Farmers
farming is a long-standing tradition on the slopes of Kona's Mt.
Hualalai. Before Jeeps became the pack animal of choice, most farm
families kept "Kona Nightingales," named for their
"sweet" singing at dusk. This engaging pair is from Leilehua
Yuen's line of "Historic Hawai`i" hand silkscreened greeting
cards. For more information contact Yuen Media Services: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hawaiian agriculture impressed the early European explorers with its
quantity and quality. Breadfruit orchards, taro fields, and other crops
lay in well ordered plantings extending up the slopes of the islands.
Regulated by their religious calendar, the Hawaiians kept to a strict
schedule of planting and harvesting. Kapu and custom were followed to
insure a fruitful harvest. The entire process was accompanied by prayer.
Some of the agricultural plants, such as breadfruit and taro, were
considered forms of a god or ancestor. These beings had transformed
themselves during times of famine, providing their followers with food
at the expense of ending their own earthly lives. Thus, the growing and
eating of food must be done with respect for their sacrifice. The
mahi`ai, or farmer, had to be knowledgable in both the ways of growing
plants and the ways of the gods.
With the loss of the old religion, enforcement of the agricultural kapu
also ended. When Hawai`i moved from the traditional diversified
agriculture of the Hawaiians to a plantation economy, many of the
ancient practices were lost. Without nurturing and propagation, many
unique varieties of valuable food plants died out, leaving a dietary
vacuum which was filled with foreign foods.
Today, Hawai`i is moving from the single crop plantation economy back to
diversified agriculture. Old management practices, updated for new crop
varieties and marketing needs, are coming back into use.
The University of Hawai`i Agriculture department is continually
developing new strains of crops adapted for growth in the tropics. The
results of this research can be found in the farmers' markets and
roadside stands scattered about rural Hawai`i. The tightly sheathed ears
of Manoa Supersweet corn are an example of a temperate crop which has
been selectively bred to produce a tropical strain. Taro, at one time
the most honored of Hawaii's crops, fell into disfavor over the years.
Its paddies were termed "swamps" and filled for condominiums
and other development. The ancient staple is enjoying a comeback. Whole
families are returning to taro cultivation, and production has even
reached the point where Hawai`i is exporting a limited amount.
The modern mahi`ai may use computers instead of priests to determine
planting schedules, but they are again teaching their children the value
of aloha `aina, love for the land.