Serving Hawaiian culture as a tool for understanding...everything.
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Ambassador of Culture for The Council of Native Hawaiian language, history, and culture is dressed in a flowing orange dress printed with Polynesian tribal patterns trailing down to the floor. Her midnight black hair is pulled up into a magnificent bun finished with a tropical flower. She seems 10 feet tall. Not just in stature, but demeanor too.
When she opens for a panel of Indigenous chefs at the 2023 Hawaii Food & Wine Festival with a traditional chant, the room vibrates with the power of her voice and the incantation of ancestors.
At the previous night’s festival, under the orange sherbet sunsets at Mauna Kea beach on Hawaii’s breathtaking Big Island, her brother, Alan Wong, a renowned Hawaiian chef and restaurateur, had joined chef Kealoha Domingo in pounding poi – at a long wooden board where two people sit end-to-end pounding the root vegetable taro (kalo) with a heavy stone to make poi– one of Hawaii’s sacred staple dishes.
Wong-Kalu reported that she sat below her brother, as a sign of traditional respect for her elder, at the board.
“In Hawaii, if the land is our mother, then food is our elder sibling.” When her brother offered her a taste of poi from the board, lowering it to her sitting position, she called the symbolism “profound.” Tears threatened to spill from her eyes, and the eyes of chef Kealoha who sat next to her on the panel.
Poi, like the Hawaiian language and hula (once a sacred dance now secularized) was outlawed by white colonizers in the early 1900’s, claiming it to be unsafe. But Polynesians brought the taro plant to Hawaii as long ago as 450 A.D., and it’s one of the oldest cultivated crops throughout the islands, keeping tens of thousands of people nourished for centuries. Taro and poi feature prominently on all of chef Domingo’s tables.
“I’d be a liar to my children if I didn’t do these things,” Kealoha explains.
Like much of Native America, the story of Hawaiian culture is too often about what has been lost than what remains. Kealoha and his wife Claire Ann Kalaunuola Domingo have decided to raise their four sons as culturally Hawaiian as possible, in a crucial effort to pass living traditions via generation.....