Hidden away from the busy city and hailed as the birthplace of Oahu is Wai'anae. Many describe it in many different ways, through oli (chant), mo'olelo (myth), and mele (song). This is a place once defined by the balance between its people and the land.
The terraces in Waianae Valley represent only a glimpse into the amount of Kalo that once spread throughout the area, and at the sea Poka'i bay provided the rest. It was a truly self-sustaining Ahupua'a.
"What they did was apply that thinking of how to make this environment take care of us, how we take care of that environment, so that is how the culture evolved," said Eric Enos, Ka’ala Farm.
But all of that changed when the land was stripped of its life giving source. As sugar plantations arrived, water was diverted from the valley to feed development. The balance was disrupted, Waianae was re-shaped, and in many ways remains so to this day.
"There was a vacuum and a void. It's like where you no longer have the will to survive, then you end up with alcoholism, domestic violence and abuse. The whole story repeats itself,” said Enos.
"Most everybody in our community depends on EBT, food stamps,” said Julie Ioane, Ma’o Farm.
Which leads to the Wai'anae we often hear about, challenged by drugs, crime and poverty.
"You see a lot of homeless people. Well that's a sign that the community understands the disconnection people have with their families,” said Enos.
But behind these images lies a movement. One that's gaining momentum with the younger generation. For them, it seems to come so naturally.
"It's in our blood, it's in our history, it's in everything behind me in front of me, above and below me. I am this Aina,” said Kamanukea Kekoa, Ma’o Farm.
Historically, Hawaiians were story tellers and cultivators. Ma'o far is doing more than just growing food here, it's weeding out barriers and cultivating future leaders to put responsibility back in their hands. The entire farm's run by interns.
In exchange for their year round hard work, the program pays for these students to go to college. A benefit that can be life-changing.
"If it wasn't for Ma'o I wouldn't have my AA degree, my liberals, and I wouldn't have my bachelors,” said Ioane.
Getting to Ma'o means graduating first which is a trend that Waianae High School's Searider productions is starting to master. Eighty to 90-percent of the programs graduates go on to college. That’s well above the school's average and it all goes back to story-telling. This animation took top honors in a national film competition and this is just one part of the Seariders program. Journalism's another, where these kids focus on gathering stories from the community.
"There's a lot of stories in waianae i think there's a lot of stories on this island we'd be happy to tell,” said Crystal Cebedo, Waianae High School student.
Which brings us back to where we started, deep in Wai'anae Valley at Ka'ala Farm. Remember, these lo'i sit where the water was once removed, but with a lot of perseverance, some has been recovered. The goal now is getting people back on the land to farm food and support families in the process.
"All you need is one good person who cares about that child so that's important so we're just trying to change that paradigm,” said Enos.
There's still work to be done in restoring the balance in Waianae but the signs are there. It's tipping back in the right direction.
Resting in the hands of it's people.
Restoring the land.
…and resounding in the stories yet to be told.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 60-percent of Waianae's population is Native Hawaiian. That's the second highest concentration of Hawaiians in any Oahu community. Nanakuli is the first, In fact, the top five communities are all along the Waianae Coast.
To learn more about Wai'anae High School's Searider Productions, Ma'o Farm and Ka'ala Farm click the links below: