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‘Ualapu‘e, Moloka‘i: Oral Histories from the East End

aerial view of fishpond
‘Ualapu‘e Fishpond, Moloka‘i, 1988. (Photo courtesy Marine Option Program, University of Hawai‘i. Photo by Keith Bigelow.)

‘Ualapu‘e, Moloka‘i, was home to fishermen, farmers, county workers, homemakers, and others, mostly native Hawaiians, who grew up on kuleana (mountain to the sea) lands owned by their ancestors for generations. Many gathered clams and limu (seaweed) and fished for awa (milkfish), ‘o‘io (bonefish), mullet,‘opae (shrimp), and crab in the East End fishponds.

“The kids nowadays, they’re so easily bored. But we went hiking, we went swimming, we went tree climbing. . . . And, of course, we went crabbing in the pond.” —Anna Goodhue

‘Ualapu‘e Fishpond is one of the larger and, historically, one of the most productive of about fifty-eight shore ponds once utilized on the southern coast of the island. Like the majority of Moloka‘i’s ponds, ‘Ualapu‘e Fishpond is a loko kuapa, or walled pond, built in ancient times by commoners for the benefit of the ali‘i, or royalty. The wall of basalt rock and coral forms a semicircular enclosure from the shoreline. Built into the wall are makaha, or sluice gates, which regulate water circulation and serve as areas to stock and harvest fish. Mullet and awa, which feed primarily on algae thriving in brackish water, benefit from streams leading into the pond.

“It seems the stream was running all the time at ‘Ualapu‘e. . . . I loved to go up to the mountain to wash my clothes. . . . Then I used to dry my clothes on the branches on the side, and maybe take my cracker and condensed milk, mixed it up with the stream water, and drink it up there.” —Katherine Akutagawa

‘Ualapu‘e Fishpond has suffered from many years of neglect and exposure to the elements, such as the 1960 tidal wave which damaged part of the wall and makaha. The encroachment of bulrushes and mangrove, introduced to Moloka‘i from New Zealand, has become so severe that the pond’s useable acreage has decreased significantly.

“They never have shrubberies like now, yeah. All cover up. Before, was real nice. This is real nice fishpond. The sand nice. You no see rubbish kind tree grow around.” —Lani Kapuni

Fishponds after the mahele (land division) of 1850 became private property. The concept which encouraged communities of Hawaiians to share resources and take care of the land and water from the mountains to the sea was abandoned in favor of a system emphasizing individual land and water rights.

‘Ualapu‘e Fishpond, owned by the state, was maintained and cultivated by individual lessees, who often hired caretakers to oversee day-to-day duties. Edward Kekuhi Duvauchelle, a prominent Puko‘o resident, leased ‘Ualapu‘e Fishpond in the 1920s.

“Well, he (father) had the pond to do as he pleases, because there was no definite things to do, no restrictions whatsoever. . . . But he tried to stock the pond and tried to get the thing so that he could have perpetual fish when he wanted it. . . . In fact, that’s the old Hawaiian way of doing it.” —Henry Duvauchelle

The pond’s lease was later taken over by another Moloka‘i resident, Harry Apo, who managed the pond up until the 1960s.

As a state-owned pond, ‘Ualapu‘e was selected by the state to be a model aquaculture project. While profit and economic development utilizing modern aquaculture techniques are major long-term goals, equally important goals are the revitalization of traditional Hawaiian fishpond practices and the preservation of the history, culture, and values associated with ‘Ualapu‘e.

“Well, fishponds are living cultural treasures. I see them as important springboards for education, because they give us the opportunity to explore the way Hawaiians used the land and water.” —Carol Wyban


Link to audioWilliam Kalipi, Sr. talks about building a fishpond wall (.au sound file, 182K).






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