CONNECTION TO THE LAND, responsibility, stewardship.
These are the common threads that wove through my time with Mapuana, Ian, and Isaac. Each of these three Maui locals independently described for my camera the feeling of connection that engendered not only a love for Maui but also kuleana — a sense of deep personal responsibility. A responsibility to the land, the history, and people that came before and those that will follow.
I learned from these three that being an awesome local is more than being a friendly guide or a helpful hand, it means acting with kuleana in whatever way you can using your passions and talents. Locals with kuleana exude respect and extend themselves to make the island better for locals and visitors alike.
Is it cheesy to say that I left Maui feeling a new sense of kuleana in my own life? Well, if it is, I don’t care.
1. MAPUANA KALANIOPIO-COOK
Adventure Guide, Travaasa Hana
My wife Bridget and I met Mapuana as she was arriving at the Travaasa Hana activities center where she coordinates experiences for guests as varied as outrigger canoe excursions, ukulele lessons, and lei making. Mapuana takes a stick with a small hook fashioned on the end and leads us through the garden-like grounds of Travaasa. She stands on her tippy toes and the shiny hook finds white and yellow blossoms caught in the morning light and one by one they flutter to the ground and are carefully retrieved for the lei she will make as we sit under a bird-filled tree and talk story.
Mapuana is a local’s local. Her people are from Hana, her parent’s parent’s parent’s on back until the word ‘ancestors’ is the only way to describe the depth of her family line that has lived in the tiny Hawaiian hamlet of Hana. It is Mapuana who introduces me to the word kuleana, describing her feeling of responsibility to Hana, to her ancestors and to tourists from the mainland like you and me. She says that in Hana, we all need to live with malama — a sense of compassionate stewardship.
As she talks she threads the blossoms with a long lei needle and strings them until a lei is born.
She says, “When we make a lei,we are always making it for someone else.”
She holds up the lei for my camera, a perfect thing, slips it over Bridget’s head, kisses her on the cheek, and smiles.
2. IAN COLE
Curator and Collections Manager, Kahanu Garden, National Breadfruit Institute
I would be lying if I said that before I met Ian Cole I had heard of breadfruit. But after spending a few hours wandering through Kahanu Garden with him and becoming acquainted with a few of the 120 varieties of the tropical trees, I had a belly full of the delicious, culturally-important and culinarily-versatile fruit, and a much better understanding of what breadfruit means to the Hawaiian people.
Unlike Mapuana, Ian does not come from a long lineage of Hawaiians, he’s a transplant from the mainland, but he shines with the same keen sense of kuleana and malama. Between describing the uses and benefits of cultivating and conserving the historic staple crop of breadfruit, we talk about the practical side of moving to Hana, Maui and becoming a local. He says that when you live in a community so small (and Hana is tiny and isolated, a 2-hour drive to the closest bank) and if you are the type of person that is inclined to give of your time, you find that you are in demand. The same people who coach the kids sports teams end up organizing community events, directing plays, forming committees etc. If you have a lot to give, there’s a lot to do.
I like Ian. For one he doesn’t want to bullshit the camera — no cheese and no insincerity here. He’s whip smart, funny, and I can tell that he cares deeply about the big, bumpy, bulbous green fruit and the ancient culture that brought them here in canoes and cultivated them for generations. He is animated as he speaks affectionately of his girlfriend’s breadfruit tortilla recipe that can hold all the meat and fixings you can stuff inside without going to pieces. Can a corn tortilla do that? Nope.
He reaches up and pulls a ripe ulu from the branches with a snip of his gardening shears and the branch, deprived of the weight of the big fruit, whips up in a rustle of broad shiny leaves.
We walk back to the work shed that today also serves as a eating station and get to work enjoying with our teeth and tastebuds what we have been exploring intellectually the last few hours — big bowls of yummy breadfruit, steamed, drizzled in honey and cut thin, fried to a crisp.
How many people get to enjoy their work on such a visceral, practical level? A lucky few, I think.
3. ISAAC BANCACO
Chef de Cuisine Ka’ana Kitchen and 2014 Maui Chef of the Year
I’ve worked in my fair share of restaurants, so I know that chefs come in all flavors from jokingly jovial to junkyard dog. So naturally I didn’t know what to expect from the Maui 2014 Chef of the Year, but as Isaac jumped out of his truck in flip flops and a t-shirt, I was reasonably sure I was going to be more than OK. Isaac is a local boy from Kula, first and foremost. So it is was to Kula — that green swath of meadows and farmland on the slopes of Mt. Haleakala — that Isaac pointed his pickup towards.
With a basket slung over his arm, giving a persimmon a gentle squeeze, Isaac could have been any other patron of the popular produce stand at Kula Country Farms. Only Isaac is sourcing ingredients from one of his favorite farmers and childhood friend, Chauncy Monden, for a dish to be created at his highly regarded restaurant, Ka’ana Kitchen. Isaac grabs the best of what’s fresh — asparagus, kale, Kula onions, persimmons, and more — to whip up a harvest salad later that evening.
Off the farm and in his giant gleaming kitchen at Ka’ana Kitchen (at Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort) Isaac has transformed from tee and sandals to his chef’s whites and the signature black and grey the staff at Ka’ana wear. I’m seeing the chill local guy I’ve hung out with all day in a whole new light — he’s still cracking jokes but he is now in his element and at the helm of a staff and restaurant that is known as one of Maui’s very best.
I dance around Isaac, doing my best to film and stay out of the way as he slices and tears and whisks and drizzles and turns veggies on the grill. I realized then that I love filming food, maybe more than anything else. The colors, textures, and alchemical wizardry suggest more stories than I have powers to convey. We set the camera aside and settle into our seats, fours hours and five courses later we reluctantly leave.
Joshua’s trip to Maui was sponsored by Maui Visitors Bureau, Travaasa Hana, and Maui Coast Hotel.