Pastor Eldeen Kukahiko died last October but the poi boards he started to create for the community will last a lifetime.
Before Kukahiko drowned while skin diving solo in waters off Kāne‘ohe Bay, he had recycled a monkeypod tree, which had blown over at Kahalu’u Elementary, to make poi boards for the school, local library and Key Project’s community family center. After his death, volunteers joined together to see the project come to life and make sure Kukahiko’s legacy is preserved.
Kukahiko retired from the Honolulu Police Department after 25 years of service. He was later a pastor and in 2014 ran for the state House of Representatives (District 48-Kahalu’u to Waiāhole). He was also an influential member of the community and taught children at Kahalu’u Elementary.
“(Kukahiko) taught the children how to raise and harvest taro and pound it into pa‘i‘ai, a type of poi,” said Kiha Pimental in an October 2016 Honolulu Star-Advertiser story. Pimental worked with Kukahiko at Hope Chapel Kahalu’u where Kukahiko was a pastor.
In addition to teaching children Hawaiian culture, Kukahiko also founded the Kahalu’u Elementary ‘Ukulele Band. The program kept children out of trouble, allowed them to travel while earning their own ‘ukuleles and learn about Hawaiian arts. The band is a safe and important venue for children in an area formerly known for crystal methamphetamine use in the public parks.
Kukahiko’s work creating the poi boards is being carried on by his diving partner Peter Field, Field’s son Ben and other volunteers including Kukahiko’s son, Kalae Kukahiko. The experience is allowing Kukahiko’s family, friends and other volunteers to learn about Hawaiian culture too.
“This is my first time doing this sort of thing,” said Kalae Kukahiko. “My father’s wealth wasn’t here on Earth, it was up in heaven. He was the type to give you his shirt right off his back.”
By banding together with other members of the community, the volunteers have gained access to a wood mill.
First, the boards are cut into large planks that are up to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide and weigh up to 100 pounds. Then the boards are tied together with rope and set in the He’eia fishpond to cure.
Ancient Hawaiians used to cure the wood by leaving it in mud on a river bank for up to nine months. After two months in the fishpond, the boards are then waterlogged and extremely heavy but ready to be carved into papa kui ‘ai or poi boards.
“The whole process is a learning experience,” said Sean Lomont, a volunteer and high school friend of Ben Field. “We’re using common woodworking tools in very uncommon or unorthodox ways. I don’t think I’ll ever be a full-time poi-board maker, but it’s an experience that I can share with others or my kids one day and hopefully inspire them to be part of the community and learn to help out others with the sustainable way of life.”
Thanks to family and friends, Kukahiko’s vision will continue to help the community of Kahalu’u after his death and for decades to come.
For more information about the project, visit keyproject.org.
by Darryl Kaneyuki, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter