Diane Amaral Preza recalled a particular Lā Hana or work day at Waia‘ōpae Loko I‘a on Lāna‘i when a little boy came to help with rebuilding the stone wall of the ancient fish pond whose name translates to “freshwater shrimp.”
“He picked up a pōhaku and he found a baby ‘ōpae,” says Preza, director of Culture and Historic Preservation with Pūlama Lāna‘i and 1981 graduate of Kamehameha Schools Kapālama. “He was so thrilled. He held the pōhaku and he was showing everybody. He was so happy with himself that he was helping to make the pond healthy again. So, I told him, ‘This is your kuleana so take care.’”
Bringing life back to long-lost cultural treasures on Lāna‘i through stewardship and hands-on learning opportunities is at the heart of E ‘ike Hou Iā Lāna‘i Cultural Literacy Summer Program – a collaboration between the community non-profit Lāna‘i Culture & Heritage Center and Pūlama Lāna‘i that receives community investment funding through KS’ Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i Region.
“Supporting the Cultural Literacy Summer Program enables Kamehameha Schools to embrace a program that not only provides a path toward academic success but also promotes Hawaiian cultural identity. In a place where KS does not have a physical presence, this community collaboration establishes a solid foundation toward lifting the lāhui,” says Venus Rosete-Medeiros, regional director of KS’ Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i Region.
“The summer literacy program is quite intense. We want kids to become more knowledgeable about this place and to be good stewards of the land,” says Preza, a Lāna‘i native and former kindergarten teacher.
Since the summer of 2013, E ‘ike Hou Iā Lāna‘i has engaged students in ‘āina-based cultural and natural resource stewardship. The program includes visits to cultural sites such as Keahiakawelo, Maunalei, and Waiaʻōpae Fishpond and immerses students in project-based learning and stewardship opportunities.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t even know there were fishponds on Lāna‘i,” says Shelly Preza, Diane’s daughter and a management trainee with Pūlama Lāna‘i’s Culture and Historic Preservation Department. “Now, these 4- or 5-year-old kids can say, ‘When I was growing up, I worked on the fishpond wall.’”
Waia‘ōpae is a kuapā or walled-style fish pond on the island’s east shore and is the largest of five loko i‘a on Lāna‘i that had fallen into disrepair over time. The island’s history included the introduction of goats, sheep and deer that led to overgrazing and the resulting erosion and runoff that impacted the water. When residents moved from the east side of the island to work for the pineapple plantation so went the fishpond caretakers.
The restoration of Waia‘ōpae began in 2015 after aerial images revealed the underwater outline of the fishpond and indicated that the walls had fallen in. Under the direction of Lāna‘i Culture & Heritage Center Executive Director Kepā Maly and other cultural experts, the decision was made to rebuild the fish pond with original material.
“This side of the island is well suited for fishponds because it’s much shallower than the other side of the island and the reef break is further out so you can imagine why Hawaiians decided to make loko on this side,” says Shelly Preza, who returned to work on Lāna‘i after attending Harvard College following her graduation from KS Kapālama in 2013. “We understand that it’s a good educational tool for our students and not just about rebuilding the wall – it’s also about restoring the upland, trying to bring native species back and thinning out the invasive kiawe.”
That’s the reason Diane Preza says she shares the story of the little boy who found the baby shrimp because it represents the future of Lāna‘i: “For the children especially it’s so important that the land and the ocean stay healthy for them.”