STRENGTHENING TIES, EMBRACING CULTURE: FEATURING LOKO PA'AIAU FISHPOND

30 March 2022

From Anna Marie G. General, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - From restoring ancient Hawaiian fishponds to participating in traditional Hawaiian festivals, there is an abundance of projects that allow U.S. Navy service members and their families to connect with their civilian neighbors across Hawaii to work together to improve the community as a whole.
A prime example is an ongoing cultural restoration project between the U.S. Navy, the Ali’i Pau'ahi Civic Club and the Aiea Community Association. Since the program began in 2014, volunteers have consistently come together to take part in preserving the historic Loko Pa’aiau fishpond located at McGrew Point Navy housing in the Pearl Harbor area.

“The purpose of the restoration is to preserve and protect native Hawaiian sites. This fishpond is one of three remaining fishponds at Pearl Harbor that is still relatively intact,” said Jeff Pantaleo, archaeologist and cultural resource manager with Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii. “There used to be 22 fishponds, but they all have been filled in, destroyed or are no longer existing.”

According to historical and archaeological studies, more than 20 ancient Hawaiian fishponds once lined the shores of Pearl Harbor. The Loko Pa’aiau fishpond was previously hidden from view beneath a mangrove. The removal of the mangrove reveals the coral walls of the fishpond which remain intact. As far back as the 1400s, fishponds like Loko Pa’aiau were considered to be a highly-effective food production invention that sustained the native Hawaiians. With the walls revealed, the U.S. Navy began work with the native Hawaiian community to coordinate the restoration of this significant site.

Kehaulani “Aunty Kehau” Lum, president of the Ali’i Pau’ahi Hawaiian Civic Club shares the importance of ancient Hawaiian fishponds and how it benefits the community.

“At one time, Pearl Harbor used to hold about 23 or more fishponds. It was because of this that our ancestors could survive here,” said Lum. “They came here and landed in this area, saw the abundance of water and the spring fishery and realized that they can extend the agriculture from the kalo (taro plant) into the ocean into creating these beautiful ponds from which they were able to receive fish, crabs and oysters, and other kinds of sea life.”

“We’re really grateful to the Navy for identifying Loko Pa’aiau as a historic site and an important natural resource site. It is the last remaining fishpond that the community is able to access and it’s the last royal fishpond,” added Lum. “It benefits the community and the military to work together to heal the land, the waters, have the birds and the fish return as well as the native plants. It is also to heal ourselves individually from all the anxieties and stress of our daily lives, and our own reciprocal relationship between the community and the military.”

Ongoing relationships between the U.S. Navy and the people of Hawaii help to preserve Hawaiian habitats like the Loko Pa’aiau fishpond but it also brings the military and their neighbors together as one ohana (family). It builds a continuing partnership and educates the community to have a better understanding of Hawaiian culture, and its rich heritage.

“We’ve been working with schools, churches and local communities who participate in this cleanup,” said Pantaleo. “With the pandemic, cleanup efforts seemed to have slowed it down a bit but we’re picking it back up. For instance, we had Aiea High school students come out to volunteer on March 24, and also a Prince Kuhio Day cleanup event involving the U.S. Navy and the local community on March 25, and Kamehameha School students on March 26.”

In honor of Prince Kuhio Day, the U.S. Navy continued to improve the relationship by inviting Hawaiian civic clubs and the local community for a cleanup event at the fishpond to celebrate the legacy of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole, last prince of Hawaii and first Hawaiian to be elected to the U.S. Congress, who is known for his effort to preserve and strengthen the people of Hawaii.

Benton Keali’i Pang, president, Oahu Council for the Association of Hawaiian civic clubs shares the significance of Prince Kuhio and the Loko Pa’aiau fishpond.

“Being out at the fishpond in honor of Kuhio is significant because it was Kuhio’s vision when he was a delegate at congress to establish Pearl Harbor and he fought for many years to receive funding to dredge Pearl Harbor and establish a naval base out here,” said Benton Keali’i Pang, president for Oahu Council for the Association of Hawaiian civic clubs. “He went as far as to bring people (senators, representatives and their families) to Hawaii. He wanted to do everything he could to help his Hawaiian people, to encourage them to practice their culture and their language. He also helped establish the Hawaiian civic clubs.”

In addition to the restoration of the ancient Hawaiian fishpond stands a hale (open shelter or house) which was constructed in November 2020 with a groundbreaking ceremony that took place in March 2021 as part of the preservation and burial treatment plan of Loko Pa’aiau.

The hale is used as a place for healing and education for the local community, and is also intended for military members who may be adjusting to life in the service or those facing challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The hale is also used as a place for meetings and even provides shade for those who want to have lunch,” said Pantaleo. “We were able to get funds from a National Public Lands Day legacy grant and we were able to hire a native Hawaiian who is an expert at building hales.”

During every restoration and cleanup project, it begins with a traditional Hawaiian blessing officiated by a native Hawaiian practitioner followed by a history lesson to welcome participants into the vicinity of the historic fishpond. Then the cleanup begins.

John VanderWyst, a U.S. Air Force Academy cadet visiting Hawaii during spring break, spoke about his first experience as a volunteer during the fishpond cleanup.

“I got my hands dirty, it was good. I learned about the fishpond itself and all the efforts that are going into it, it’s just really a special place,” said VanderWyst. "I just wanted to find a way to give back to the islands because I’m here on vacation experiencing everything they have to offer and wanted to give something back.”

Aaron Terry, a middle school teacher and student of Auntie Kehau also shares his experience as a regular volunteer.

“I’ve really seen how this place has touched people’s hearts and really brings healing and peace to them which is our goal,” Terry said. "The best part of the experience is the relationships that we make and the different people that we get to meet that we may not otherwise come into contact with and the stories we can share, especially the stories about the fishpond and its history, and the many other things that can be brought up and connect people together. The connection is not only with the aina (land) but with the people.”

While restoration and cleanups play a big role in preserving the native Hawaiian sites, learning about the culture provides the military community an insight on how native Hawaiians once lived.

“It’s not just about our Navy to our community, it’s about teaching our Navy community about Hawaii’s cultural values and people, and to bring the Navy closer. The partnership between the Navy and our community is so important, it’s personal to me because Hawaii is my home,” said Capt. Darren Guenther, chief of staff, Navy Region Hawaii. “Working on events like the Loko Pa’aiau fishpond cleanup is so important to me because we bring our Navy Sailors and teach them about the history, culture and values. It really is one of the best ways our Navy can relate and understand our local community, and Hawaii itself, which is why this is so important.”

Each year, Makahiki, an ancient Hawaiian Thanksgiving festival dedicated to Lono, the guardian of agriculture, rain, health and peace, is celebrated on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. This festival consists of a reenactment of the arrival of Lono traversing by canoe with his cohort, involving command leadership as the canoe paddlers, across the sea to the shoreline and welcomed with an oli (welcoming chant).

This festival allows military commands and the local Hawaiian community to come together to go back in time to experience Hawaii’s past and heritage for the entire family to enjoy, learn and observe the native Hawaiian culture, educational programs and traditional games.

“The annual Makahiki is another big event which is usually celebrated during the winter months. We are going to try to start it up again later this year in late October or November at Rainbow Bay Marina,” said Pantaleo. “With the celebration of Makahiki, the community gets an opportunity to experience and play native Hawaiian games.”

The goal of the restoration and native Hawaiian celebrations is to educate the military families about the traditions and cultures, to preserve the ancient Hawaiian history for future generations and to improve relations between the U.S. Navy and the community in our beautiful Hawaii-nei (beloved Hawaii).

(Editor's note: During the Loko Pa’aiau fishpond cleanup on March 25, more than 40 participants consisting of service members, civilians, families and the local Hawaiian community helped clean up and restore the beauty of the historic fishpond in celebration of Prince Kuhio’s 151st birthday, where participants also learned about Hawaiian culture, building newfound friendships and working together as a community.)

Commander, Navy Region Hawaii   |   850 Ticonderoga St   |   Pearl Harbor, HI 96860-5101
Official U.S. Navy Website