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The Reef



One end of the reef at Hā‘ena.

The reefs of Hā‘ena are known for their great productivity and abundance. While much of that pertains to fishing, the reefs also provided a range of gathered foods: octopus (he‘e), sea urchins (wana), lobster (ula), kūhonu crab, seaweeds (limu) and various small shells and limpets such as pipi‘i, hā‘uke‘uke, and ‘opihi.

Presley describes experiencing the bounty of the reef: “I don’t know, when you’re a kid, now I just wonder if that was my imagination. My uncles were fishing every day because that was part of the deal where you had the family reunion. You know you going to eat, right? And we eat fish and poi.

“One particular morning I went with my uncle and we went early in the morning out from Kē‘ē, this was like 6:00 o’clock. He used to leave his boat right at Kē‘ē, and blast on to the coast and by 8:30 in the morning, we were back on the beach at Kē‘ē before the wind came up. And we had the whole variety, just amazing what he was doing. Pounding ‘opihi. I was like eight or ten years old. I could drive the boat. My Uncle said, ‘You go over here.’ ‘Yup.’ ‘You can swim, right?’ ‘Yup.’”

“But I was getting really frightened and just in awe: he’s pounding ‘opihi and the waves are hitting him. He’d swim back to the boat, ‘Stay in the boat, watch for me...okay go over there, stay right here, stay right here,’ and he’d drop the anchor and ‘Stay on the boat, watch for me.’ He would dive and come up with lobster, throw them on board. ‘Okay, then go over here. When I tell you to throw, just come back, don’t go outside.’ He would throw his net and catch his moi, he had the whole mixed bag. They were my heroes. My Uncle Barlow in particular. Barlow Chu was a famous fisherman.”

“Rachel Mahuiki, who was the tutu of all of the current Chandlers, was quite an interesting lady,” Makaala recalls. “If you walked with her on the reef, she had two canes because she had trouble with her legs from diabetes over the years, so she was supposed to use the canes for walking. But she used them to pick sea urchins, to pick wana. And to toss them between her two sticks to take the spines off, while standing on the reef with the waves washing over her, on legs that weren’t supposed to hold her upright! It was extraordinary.

“And then at the same time she would take one of the sticks and show you ‘That’s the front door of the octopus house.’ And then she’d say ‘Go about twelve or fifteen feet over there and I’ll tell you when to stop.’ I’d go trundling across the reef. And she’d say ‘There! and that’s his back door.’ She knew not only every hole, but every front and back door.

“She was very knowledgeable about how to obtain food supply from the reef,” Samson agrees, talking about his mother. “She was cracker jack with the loli, with the wana, the pukas [holes], how to use them."


Samson explains more about his mother and catching octopus (“squidding”):
“This is the secret: the generation before, and the people that grew up with them, tell us, certain areas are safe for you. From here, from the shoreline to so many feet out, it’s safe, no more eel. And it’s been proven all where these guys live.” Knowing where to avoid the eels was important for fishing on the reef, since it often involved reaching (hāhā) into pukas (holes) in the reef where both fish and eels like to hide.

“He‘e, that’s her skill, that,” Samson continues. “See, plenty guys wanted to beat her. But if you not too good, the best thing you gonna do for anybody, if you not cannot see good, is go walk in front, go walk all over, because if the squid never move, and if you had spook ‘em, and you cannot see ‘em, you not going pick ‘em up. But because you don’t spook ‘em, any movement they made—cause it covered himself with either pebble or sand—any movement they make going get somebody attention, eh? So one trained-eye people, then the whole time, this guy picking everything up, but just because of that, they know what they looking for. You don’t have to see the squid, you look for telltale signs. So that’s the trouble with one guy who cannot tell telltale signs—jam ‘em up. You setting em up for the squid man—the next guy! So if you only can see, then your gone.”

“People didn’t know that the buggers walk around. You stir the squid here, he was going to move. They don’t know the nature of the squid. They don’t know whether the squid go in a hole and he covers his self. So that’s a telltale sign: she sees the pebbles pile up, well, that’s not regular. Somebody did them—not man, but somebody did them. The squid, that’s how they hide. So if they move, well like sand. if you move, well, they cave in. You’ll see them and stuff like that. So if you know that, well, who’s the guy in there that can make that thing cave in if somebody move inside there? So that’s why, if you don’t know all the telltale signs, and you go in front of her, you helping her. Simple stuff! So if you know that, you just tag along, more guys better. You just look at this guy: ‘Oh, this guy, he’s not that good. He doesn’t know all that,’ so everybody go and they want to see the squid. Well, you’re helping the other guy, if he makes the squid hiding.

“Got so bad where she go down there with broke stick—you know, if you like tease the squid for come out, eh?—she don’t take nothing, spear like that, like everybody do, because somebody else see, ‘Eh, must be good time, because she going, eh?’ I mean, the good guys, they not going unless its guaranteed, or ideal conditions. So this way you gotta know how to read sign, or watch the other guy! So she never did take anything when she go down the beach, so nobody know where she going. And that’s the trouble about fishing, eh? If you watching the other guy, you jam him up. You gotta go make the rounds so you know, not after the guy who catch everything.”

“Lae Koholā, inside that ‘āpapa, we used to go look over there,” Uncle Tom adds,
“and we used to just go walk around. And when the he‘e see you, he’s going to squirt the water. That’s how you can find ‘em.”

“One time this old guy came and picked everything up,” Samson continues, “because they know what they’re looking for. You don’t have to see the squid, you look for telltale signs. So that’s the trouble with one guy who cannot tell telltale signs—jam them up.”

“All you need is one stick that you can tease. If the squid in the hole, you got to play with him. You gotta tease em out. You tease them, play with them, don’t hurt them. Maybe ‘charming’ is the word, how to bring them out. She’d grab them with her hand, because the teeth is underneath the tentacles. Then she just take them, grab them, bite the eye, kill them and all the tentacles...If you don’t do nothing, don’t kill him, whatever, he might poke you in your ear and stuff like that. But she know what to do, don’t worry about that. Go to the eye, kill them. You got to know the in-between. You got to know all of that. Don't worry, just bite his eye.”

“I see her pounding them. I like them boiled, I eat them with the poi. Then after that you can do anything you like. Some guys don’t like squid taste. Well, slice them off. You can fry them, put seasoning. For me I always love the leaf on there with on anything I eat, so you can chop the onion too, just for make whatever gravy taste you want. Boil them if you want. You can make squid luau with coconut milk and taro leaf. You put that, but then you just want to eat, eat, eat! But it’s all kind of ways. When you love them, there is all kind of way. But that is the right coconut mix. Ah, there’s no end.”

“My Grandma Rachel, she was very known for fishing,” Lahela agrees. “And squiding: incredible squider. My momma, I used to go with her but I not grab the squid. I see all that coming and I say ‘I’ll hold the bag.’ I was the bag woman a lot. ‘You just catch em.’ And I love to eat them. My favorite way of eating: just boiling. And that’s only old timers. Some make like sauce, and make the squid they would make like shoyu sauce, or teriyaki and onions. But I love my just salt in the water and I boil until tender. And eat the whooooooole thing! and I love that. Grandma Rachel was known for that.”


“The wana, I liked going to gather that,” Nalani says, “but I don’t eat that. I can’t grasp the taste, no matter what they say. You’re supposed to be able to get the hang of it if you eat it right at the ocean. But it’s too strong. I would rather eat the ha‘uke‘uke. It’s sweeter. The wana is just too strong. I see people eat it like it’s candy.

“We have two different ones kinds of wana. There is the purple, and there’s a green. The one that they eat is usually the one that has the purple spine. You can tell the difference in the water, which one is the one that they eat.”


“We eat the green ones,” Kelii adds. “The green one you can tell, because there is like a ring, little bit white around them. The spine that comes out, there’s a little white around them. You can eat them.”

For get the wana,” Uncle Tom relates, “we go cut the wire. Might be about four or five feet. So get a long handle, bend them in half then put them in one pipe and twist that thing, and then the ends, you get a fork. And you make one claw at that end. You go get the wana with that, so you no get poked. All improvise.

“I learned how to make the wana kind thing, to go box all the thorns off. Chicken wire. You can roll the wana inside there, back and forth, so the thorns get all bust off. Then you go get the wana.”

“I wasn’t a big wana eater, Lahela admits. “But we used to get when we have to go maybe get some for eat, if we catch lobster. It’s a delicacy—the raw lobster and the meat you mix with the wana. My family loved that, but I wasn’t big on it. I’d eat some, I eat more fish than that, but I know how to go and gather. Right in front where Chipper guys, Paliaka, as you’re coming here there’s that reef come all the way out, you can actually walk outside, that’s where the wana is, and you can get some. I used to, when I ono, I just go up and go walk out with the kids and take them and then clean one outside there. I think that’s what they’re trying to also bring back right now. I think there’s so much you only can get maybe four or something like that, per person.”

Ula and Kūhonu:

We did lobster catching, Lahela continues. “My brother guys was incredible, they taught us how to get lobster. I wasn’t the one to grab it. They used to dive in the holes and I used to hold the bag open. I didn’t eat them raw until I was a little older, not in my high school, even when I came out of school.


Several spiny lobsters and one slipper lobster, back left. Guy Holt photo.

“My father used to make it, and I’m like 'What is this?' Maybe before, even maybe it was 1989, I had learned how for eat that. And it’s just by salting: the amount of salt that you put on top and you let it sit. You got to cut in half with a knife and open, butterfly that thing, and you put all in the head and all in the tail, and you let them sit for a couple of days inside the fridge, can even stay in a week—the longer the better. And you can see it will end up turning kind of black, black inky on top. That’s when you want to eat them.

“I learned from my father. Without him I would have never eaten raw like that. When us was young, they used to mix it with the wana. I never eat it like that, but raw. So there is only a few, my oldest daughter loves it like that, when we can catch. It’s been a long time we haven’t eaten, maybe at least a year or so. But more common when we were young. We would see my father making it.”

“And we set crab nets,” Nalani points out. “The kuhono crab.”

Limu kohu

Limu kohu. Nalani Kaneakua photo.


“We also got limu kohu,” Kelii says. “We get limu kala, we have limu epe‘e—it’s small, you got to really look good for that seaweed. It looks like a little coral, and it’s only certain places that have it here. But very good eating.”

We get limu kohu, get all kine limu over here, get plenty stuff, “Uncle Tom confirms. “We put them in the soup. Like the limu, you can put them in your stew. Or you can put them in your raw fish, like lomi. Most time like akule.”

Shell Fish:

“We also get haukeuke, pipi‘i, kupe‘e, all the shell fish,” Kelii adds. “Pipi‘i, you boil them. My grandmother boiled them. She would put garlic inside and then boil them. Then you see, it’s like a little hi‘iwae. But hi‘iwae has a shell—it’s a halfway shell. When you boil it, it pops open. So when this opens up, you know it’s cooked. When you get a little needle and you go inside and you poke it out with the needle. And you eat it. We used to love that as kids growing up. We eat them all the time. My grandmother go get pipi‘i for me."

“‘Opihi, my brothers used to always take us and when we were young,” Lahela says. We’re older now, we cannot be as sturdy on the rocks as we used to. But family still goes when we can. We were raised on opihi too. When I had my first child I was so hungry for that. ‘Opihi Kepuhi, right here at the point where the river is, where you cross along the iron bridge. As you come this way you see that small beach. Right down below is the black rocks. I just go down, pregnant, sit on the rock and I tell me husband 'Go. Get me some. Just for me to eat some.' I would sit down, eat. 'Oh, I feel good now.' Then we go home. It is funny when I think about it. But oh my gosh, I was craving it."

Some people think, ‘the bigger the ‘opihi, the better’,” Presley explains. “But you’re better off leaving the big ones alone. You’re better off taking the smaller ones than you are picking the really big ones. The big ones produce way more eggs, I mean thousands of times more than immature. Same thing with some of the fish: everything is geared for the bigger the fish. But you’re better off letting the bigger moi go, it produces way more eggs. Hundreds times more than an immature female. So you’re better off catching the smaller ones, which I’d rather catch anyway and I’d rather eat the smaller ‘opihi than taking the big ones.”


Fishing on and beyond the reef was an essential part of life at Hā‘ena. More about fishing is discussed in the next page.



Sustenance Food  |  Water  |  Planting  |  Gathering  |  The Reef  |  Fishing  |  Language |  Sources & Links
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