Letter: In perpetuation of Hawaiian gathering and imu practices

Letter to the Editor

I asked my Hawaiian speaking aunty not too long ago, “So if breadbaskets are used to describe areas of abundance by English speakers, how do Hawaiians describe areas of abundance?” She wasn’t sure. It is recorded in Hawaiian proverbs or ‘olelo no’eau that “Na ke kanaka mahi ai ka imu o nui” (“The well-filled imu belongs to the man who tills the soil”).

Imu o nui, or well-filled imu, is the Hawaiian equivalent for breadbasket. Imu, or umu, is one traditional food preparation technique utilized across the Pacific and by many indigenous peoples where staples (such as taro, sweet potato, pig) are baked or steamed in an underground oven, for nutritional or ceremonial purposes. The process of how humans gather, prepare, and consume food items defines, in many ways, their relationship with the environment and social interactions (i.e. growing and pounding your taro into poi versus buying a 1lb bag from a store). 

Please fill out this survey if you:

1) have direct lineal descent to Hawaii prior to 1778, the arrival of Captain Cook
2) have exercised your Native Hawaiian (wild/cultivated) gathering practices for subsistence purposes within Hawaii (mountain, water/stream and ocean access)
3) have ohana who are known for making imu often (more than twice a year)
4) have participated in Native Hawaiian practices with lineal descendants on multiple occasions

If you fulfill one of the four preferences above please fill out the survey to the best of your ability. There are 19 required questions (check box, multiple choice, short answer), that can be answered in as much time as you dedicate to them.

The purpose of the Imuonui Project is to record how contemporary Hawaiian practices have evolved, focusing on the diversity of plants gathered to support imu and related (ohana, hula, seafaring, medicine) celebrations/disciplines. Traditional preparation methods of imu still occur despite urbanization and the continued pressure increase in Hawaii’s population. 

Information gathered will be utilized to identify what plants are being used to support Native Hawaiian Cultural practices, to identify what plant species community members would like to gather (more of) in the future and to voice concerns of community members related to the availability of general (plant, animal, mineral) natural resources.

Choice options for survey questions were gathered from semi-structured interviews conducted on Oahu and Hawaii Island. Please use the “other” option and type in your answer if it is not provided yet.

To view or participate in the survey, click here

Thank you for your time, Mahalo nui loa.

Me ka ha’aha’a,

Katie L. Kamelamela, M.S.
University of Hawaii at Manoa, Botany Department
Imuonui Project coordinator
[email protected]