The Salt Beds in Hanapepe

Established on the lush, and volcanic western slopes of the Big Island, Coffee Times owner, Les Drent, roasted, and sold his first pound of Kona coffee in 1993. Five years later, Les moved his Coffee Times roasting operation to the beautiful island of Kauai, and established the Blair Estate shade grown, organic coffee farm in 2001. While his passion for farming is now deeply rooted in the Kauai soil, he continues to be a strong proponent for the preservation of 100% Kona coffee.

The Salt Beds in Hanapepe
By: Lois Ann Ell

November 21, 2011

Pouring water from the waiku into the bed.

With clouds dotting the sky on a calm morning in October, over thirty young children and their caregivers tromped through red clay mud to the salt beds in Hanapepe. Mothers stepped carefully as they held their babies in their arms, four year olds happily squished their toes in the earth, and grandparents flung their slippers aside and walked hand in hand with toddlers. Today was a special excursion. The short term goal was to learn the ancient alchemy of harvesting Hawaiian salt. The long term goal is preserving Hawaiian culture.

Aunty Momi, a member of one of the select families who are Pa’akai (salt) farmers at the unique spot on the Westside of Kaua’i, invited the group in this day with a chant, signifying the sacredness of the area we were about to enter.

The group was Tutu & Me, a preschool program designed for children ages birth to age five and their caregivers. The core belief and motto of Tutu & Me is “Aia ke ola I na Kupuna” which translates to “There is life giving substance from the elders.” The program, which has over twenty sites across the islands with teams of teachers, provides education for children and support for their caregivers, whether they are parents, grandparents (Tutu), aunties, uncles, or other adult role. Hawaiian culture—language, music, activities, stories—plays an integral role in the curriculum.

Belief in the wisdom of elders and importance of family is a central reason as to why the salt beds still exist today, tucked just off the coastline near Salt Pond Beach Park. At the salt beds, the families who tend to the beds have been farming salt for many generations. The elders teach the cultural practice to their children from a very young age, integrating the cultural and sustainable practice into their life and what they will then eventually pass on to their children. Each family has their own section that contains a well, a waiku (separate holding well for the water to heat in), and a bed, where the heated water is then transferred to and where the salt is harvested.

Removing rocks and debris from the gathered salt.

The first task at the salt beds for children and caregivers to learn this day was to work on maintaining the salt beds. Kids took turns smoothing wet mud over the walls of the beds, filling cracks and reinforcing the structure of these holding beds, which have been in place for many generations.

Children took turns helping pour the warm water from the waiku into the beds. Aunty Momi demonstrated how to harvest the salt by slowly and carefully raking the large, flat crystalline flakes of salt from the base of the bed, and transferring them to a basket. The salt is then dipped in buckets of fresh water to rinse off the mud, and remove rocks, chunks of dirt and other debris. With each immersion into the water, the salt flakes change shape, beginning to resemble large grains of what one would recognize as table salt.

After a generous amount of salt was harvested from one bed, the children and adults relocated to Salt Pond Beach Park to rinse off the mud and eat lunch. The salt was spread across a picnic table to dry in the sun. About an hour later, children and their families left with a small sample of salt, which is never sold in stores, only given as a sacred gift.

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Categories: History & Culture |

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