Friday, July 3, 2009

Waipi'o Valley: Taro and the Mock Chews

I experienced  a magical weekend in June. We were participants in a fund raiser for Slow Food Hawaii 's Terra Madre representatives. There were 41 of us Slow Foodies participating in a variety of ways. Some of us stayed for the whole weekend camping out at the Mock Chew's beautiful Taro Farm/Bird Sanctuary and others drove down for the Saturday afternoon & evening events and then made the steep drive back up the face of the cliff in the dark after dinner.

I elected for the "full monty" and camped out, well sort of, sleping on a feather bed in the back of our SUV and had a battery operated fan to keep us cool.

I got there early so Valentine (my dog) and I just hung out waiting for others to arrive.  It was ever so peaceful sitting there with my little dog and a book. Jayson Mock Chew came and talked story with me for a while, showing me many trees that had been planted by various groups of people who stayed there on the property over the years. The Mock Chews open their home and their hearts to many groups in order to pass on the ancient Hawaiian traditions & culture that are still practiced today in the pristine valley where King Kamehameha the Great was proclaimed the future ruler of the islands Hawaiian Islands.

A brief history lesson:

Waipi'o means "curved water" and it is often called Valley of the Kings because it was once home to many significant rulers of Hawaii. It remains one of the most significant spiritual places in the islands. Many Hawaiian alii were buried in the valley where a section of the beach is named "Lua o Mili"; Doorway to the Land of the Dead. According to some oral histories, there may have once been as many as 10,000 people living in the six mile deep valley before the arrival of Captian Cook in 1778. By 1820 there were as few as 1300 people residing there and even less in proceeding years. By 1920 there were only about 150 residents.

In the late 1800's many Chinese immigrants settled in the valley. There were churches, schools, a hotel, restaurants, a post office and a jail in the valley. On April Fool's Day 1946 all of that changed when Hawaii experienced the most powerful Tsunami in it's history. The giant waves made their way all the way to the far end of the valley, destroying everything in their path. There were no deaths in Waipi'o, though there were many in Hilo and Laupahoehoe.

Not many people returned to the valley, but those that did experienced yet another devistation in 1979 when a flood filled the entire valley with four feet of water. Today around 50 people call the valley home. The 2000 foot high cliffs surrounding the valley are peppered with ancient burial caves where many of Hawaii's Kings were buried. It is said that their mana (holy power) is what protects the people of the valley.

Today the tradition of cultivating wet taro continues by a handful of families who go back many generations. The Mock Chew's are among those (five generations so far) and even their adult Children have become involved in the family business of growing and processing taro into a premium (some say the best in Hawaii) Poi. There are some families which still own plots in the valley, though they remain fallow as they live in cities such as Hilo. The Bishop Estate was deeded the land adjacent to the beach and it remains in trust for the Kamehameha schools.

For the most part, the residents of Waipi'o are very private and prefer visitors to stay away. The Mock Chews have a very different attitude. They believe in sharing the land and it's history with others.

End of history lesson. On to the very special weekend we spent there:

Around noon the other participants (41 of us) started arriving. Alberta, Jayson, Kalae and Kanai Mock Chew took us on a tour of their farm and we learned a lot about taro cultivation and harvesting, as well as about pests that have presented challenges for them on their organic crops, specifically a snail which decimates the taro unless kept in check by hand removal. Ducks also have been introduced to aid in controlling the snails, but they are not the perfect solution, just the best one. Many of the larvae need to be hand picked and there is also a lot of hand weeding involved in the process. The Mock Chew's use traditional flooding to raise their wet taro, which is a labor intense process and even by buying taro from surrounding farmers they have a difficult time keeping up with the demand for their very fresh and premium poi. You can find the Mock Chew family selling their poi at the Waimea Farmer's Market and you can also find it in Costco if you get there fast enough.
One of the Taro Fields

We were offered the opportunity to learn Lauhala weaving from a master weaver and to harvest coconuts and learn about the many uses of the coconut.

By evening, the moon began to rise above the 2,000' cliffs and it was one day short of being a full Strawberry Moon in June. We had clear skies and sparkling stars as the Mock Chew's presented us with the dinner that they had prepared for us.

Platters were made for us by cutting down a banana tree and separating the rings of the tree. We were served Poi (my first!), Lomi Lomi Salmon,

Taro Salad (one of my favorites), Purple Okinawan Sweet Potatoes, fern salad, Pickled Onions, Vegetable and Tofu Soup, a huge Green Salad, delicious Lau Lau ( click for description and recipe) Rice and sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves. We had lots of lovely wine and best of all a convivial dining experience beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

The Mock Chew's shared teary eyed stories of how they are so thankful to Slow Food for sending their son and daughter in law to the last Terra Madre in Italy, an experience so far from the Valley that it was almost unimaginable, it was an eye opening and unforgettable time for the young Mock Chew's who met many other small family farmers from around the world. And this was the reason we were all assembled in the nook of the ancient Valley of Kings, to raise money to send the next couple to Italy. What an absolute pleasure it was to do so.

In the morning we made our own breakfasts and also had some leftovers from the night before and sat around the campsite savoring our surroundings, new friends and most of all the hospitality of the people who gave us the opportunity to be in this most incredible of places.

We then set off on a hike through the rainforest to the beautiful black sand beach.

We were about a mile inland from the beach and had to cross rivers, go through gates and swat mosquitos to get to the North end of the secluded beach.

Valentine romped in the water and some people ventured out to the surf. We talked story and had a pleasant afternoon on Hawaii's Eastern Shore. When it was time to say good bye there were lots of hugs and "mahalos" and promises to return to this very special place at Alberta's constant request to do so. I for one will never forget those 36 hours in Waipi'o.

I don't think Valentine will either!


Dave Corrigan said...

Hey, great article!

I wish I had known this was you, I would have said hello.

I'll have a video up later today about this. I'll put a link back to this site "for more info" since I did not stay for the food (which looked great!)

Keep an eye out for a certain little doggie in the footage...

Devany said...

Thanks Dave. I added the link to the video here.

Katherine said...

Nice Devany. Brought a tear and chicken skin...That's pretty awesome. Thank you for sharing this.

Devany said...

Katerine... if you think reading it gave chicken skin... imagine being there. ;-) We are doing it again this summer. I will get you an invite.

ferng said...

Great story Devany-Perhaps we can go next year and bring the Pea.

Buy Kamagra said...

I've eaten different kind of dishes but I had never eaten an excellent food, I had the opportunity to stay in Hawaii and I can say that's the best food in the world.

Kate Hickey said...

Hi! I know this post is very old, but I would LOVE to include it on the "blog" section of the Slow Food Hawaii website. We just overhauled the website and this post is exactly the type of content I would like for our page. I will also email you, but yeah, if you give me permission, I will just copy this post and credit it back to your blog. Let me know! Thanks!!!

- Kate Hickey
Slow Food Hawaii Webmaster

BlakemoreBaylor said...

Wonderful destination, I really don't know about this,Shared a lot of information.