Of Sea & Stone

Early Hawaiians were deeply connected to the ‘āina (land) and the natural world. With an intimate understanding of the tides, currents, moon, sun, winds and rains, Hawaiians developed one of the most sophisticated forms of aquaculture in the ancient world: coastal fishponds called loko i‘a.

Loko i‘a were models of ingenuity and sustainability. Designed to work in harmony with the sea, they reinforced a fundamental principle of ancient life in Hawai‘i: when we take care of the ‘āina, the ‘āina takes care of us.

Loko i‘a functioned as a source of food, trade and wealth. Larger ponds provided a ready supply of fresh seafood for the ali‘i (chiefs) and the royal court. Smaller ponds provided ‘ohana (families) with shrimp, fishing bait, and limu (seaweed). In areas where there was an abundance of loko i‘a, the lands were praised as ‘āina momona (fat or sweet lands).

There are six types of loko i‘a. These ponds vary in size, shape, and proximity to the ocean. Most loko i’a are distinguished by their kuapā (wall) and mākāhā (sluice gate). The kuapā formed a barrier to sea, and the mākāhā let small fish enter the pond while preventing larger ones from escaping.

Today, 488 ancient fishponds have been identified. It’s not known when the earliest were constructed, but some kuapā can be dated back to the 1400s. Most of these loko i‘a have long since disappeared. They were filled in, dismantled, or overgrown after years of neglect.

For the loko i‘a that are intact, there are communities and organizations working to mālama them. They are wahi pana (storied places), a traditional classification for sites whose beauty and importance were so widely known that no visitor could claim to have seen an island without visiting them. Mahalo to Hui Mālama Loko I‘a and those involved with restoring the integrity and productivity of Hawai‘i’s ancient “refrigerators.”

Young Brothers, Limited and Foss Hawai‘i are pleased to feature a selection of loko i‘a from six different islands in our 2017 calendar. Some are well-known, others are hidden gems, and all rely on a clean and healthy ocean. Join us as we holoholo (travel) to 12 of Hawai‘i’s most unique and important cultural resources!


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