A group of young Hawaiians are thatching the roof of a traditional hale in Waihe'e Valley with loulu palm fronds, while a kupuna (elder) artfully guides their efforts from his perch high atop the ridge pole.
They are in the process of building a kauhale--a cluster of houses--each constructed for a specific practice, for example, food preparation (hale kuke) and kapa making (hale ku'a).
It is ancient tableau that has repeated itself over the millennia across Polynesia, as Hawaiians and others perfected the construction of sustainable forms of housing designed for a tropical environment, utilizing local materials that could withstand the ravages of time.
Master hale-builder Francis Palani Sinenci (right) of Hana is overseeing the construction of what is being dubbed “The Hawaiian Village.”
Suddenly, a cell phone rings, and you realized that you have stumbled upon something altogether new--a Hawaiian village complete with 4G wireless!
Master hale-builder Francis Palani Sinenci of Hana is overseeing the construction of what is being dubbed "The Hawaiian Village," located on 25 acres in Waihe'e Valley. According to project visionary and landowner Joshua Chavez, there are two interconnected components--one is for-profit and the other, a nonprofit.
The Hawaiian Village will be located on 10 acres and serve as a place where residents and visitors can actively participate in a series of hands-on cultural practices, such as kapa making and cordage production. This is the for-profit side.
"We will have off-site parking and vans that will shuttle visitors to the site to reduce impact to the Waihe'e community" Chavez said.
Following the Hawaiian principle ma ka hana, ka 'ike (by doing, one learns), The Hawaiian Village will provide a form of "edutainment." Chavez said people will come to "consume" a fun experience and will walk away with a much-needed cultural education--a component woefully lacking in much of Maui's tourist-based activities.
"Visitors will get to see, touch and feel everything," Chavez enthused.
Designed as an interactive sensory experience, Chavez said, "Guests will be taught food preparation, enjoy food cooked in an imu (underground oven) and learn how to pound their own poi."
The remaining 15 acres will be the nonprofit, restoration-based side of the project that could serve as a living ahupua'a--the traditional land division that ran from ma'uka (the mountain) to ma'kai (the sea), Chavez said. Hawaiians understood that activities upstream impacted those downstream, so actions such as diverting water were kapu (forbidden).
Already much of this land has been cleared of the dense overgrowth of invasive species such as Java plum and put into traditional forms of cultivation.
Agricultural efforts at the site are being led by Alika Atay, along with other experienced farmers. So far, several canoe plants, such as the 'uala (sweet potato), mai'a (banana), ko (sugarcane) and 'awa (kawa), have been successfully reintroduced and are flourishing. Other species primarily used as construction materials, such koa, ohia, kamani, loulu and hala, are also taking root.
In addition to having respected craftsmen such as Sinenci involved, the educational curriculum is being developed by the project's Native Hawaiian staff members, some of whom are University of Hawai'i Hawaiian Studies students.
As currently envisioned, the for-profit side of the project will provide employment for a range of cultural practitioners and fund the restoration of many of the ancient cultural features on the property. Numerous abandoned lo'i kalo (taro patches) that line the Waihe'e Stream running through portions of the property are in need of restoration.
It is a grand vision. One, which if executed to its full potential, could provide a sustainable model that could be replicated in other valleys. By partnering with members of the Hawaiian community to create forms of meaningful employment, Chavez is embracing social equity. By reviving traditional Hawaiian practices, such as malama 'aina (caring for the land), the once-productive environment is being rapidly restored for the benefit of all.
So what's in it for Chavez? By creating an ahupua'a for the 21st century, he and his partners plan to generate a tidy profit by doing what is pono (doing the right thing) and by embracing the three "E's" required for true sustainability--ecology, economy and (social) equity.