View from the Pew
Everyone pitches in to help Liliuokalani church put on the island's best luau
At the back of Liliuokalani Protestant Church, across from the portrait of its namesake monarch, there is a list posted that could be set to music.
Not some famous hymn. More like the "12 Days of Christmas," Hawaiian style.
500 pounds poi.
200 pounds sweet potato.
200 pounds squid.
400 pounds luau leaf.
200 pounds white crab.
100 pounds salt salmon.
400 pounds tomato.
100 pounds round onion.
50 pounds limu.
16 20-pound bags rice.
I forget how many chickens.
And six big fat pigs.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pam Kilmer and her daughter, Evangeline, peel taro for kulolo as Liliuokalani Protestant Church members spent the week preparing food for their annual luau today.
The list seeking donors was the long-range plan. But by this week, the short-term push was under way. Since Monday, volunteers, mostly kupuna, came early and stayed late at the Haleiwa church hall to clean, grind, mash, chop, shred, bake and boil to turn the ingredients into the classic dishes for the Hawaiian feast being served today. Yesterday and Thursday, the younger generation took off work for the heavy jobs, preparing the imu, hauling pigs, erecting tents and tables.
It's the 30th annual luau for the country congregation that has the reputation of putting on the best church luau on the island -- with all the special raw seafood treats besides the basic cooked menu. The banquet under a tent will be served until 4 p.m., and takeout meals are available until 2 p.m.
"The recipe is for 2,000," said Kuulei Kaio, the church moderator, as she reviewed the resources. The white crab was caught off the North Shore by church members and friends, but the squid catchers didn't have luck this year, so they relied on Haleiwa IGA, a key supporter. The pigs are from Waianae hog farmers, the taro from Kahaluu farmers, the sweet potatoes and limu from Molokai.
"It's a lot of work, and it's a lot of fun to (do) it," said Kaio. Her grandson Tyler, 11, was with her, the fourth generation of family to work on the church fundraiser. "It's fellowship. You catch up on what you didn't know when everyone talks story."
Kaio's brother, John Hirota, has been the chairman for years, taking over from his uncle Robert "Sonny" Napalapalai, who is buried in the churchyard. Hirota had no time to chat, spinning through multiple tasks such as the still-pending question of whether opihi could be supplied.
"In the country, everybody does everything," said the Rev. Kekapa Lee, in his second year as kahu -- and therefore as a luau volunteer. He grew up in Hilo, and "the adults in my family worked on a Puna church luau. It's in the blood, but I never did it until here."
Lee said, "People have been doing this for generations. It's a long-term commitment. There's no planning needed, in a sense -- everyone just knows what to do."
Each day this week, the kupuna force showed up, each with her own cutting board and knife. On Tuesday a gang on the lanai tackled kukui nuts to make inamona, a condiment of finely chopped nuts, chili pepper and Hawaiian salt. The nuts are from trees on the church grounds. It takes hours to pry nut bits from the roasted, hard-shelled kukui, and that's why inamona is hard to find and a special treat on the luau table.
Used on poke and raw crab, "it's good on steak, too," said Kuualoha Callanan. The easygoing assembly line was making more than luau supply. She said they'll sell small jars of inamona at the church Harvest Festival in October. Like most other volunteers, her family history is entwined with the church; her father and brother, the late Rev. Samuel Saffery and Sam Saffery Jr., were its pastors.
"You can't make inamona too hot, or the kids can't eat it," said Rachel Kawahakui, who has attended the church her whole life. "I came as a child with my tutu." One of the 30-year veterans, she recalled her earlier service in the kitchen preparing meals for the workers. "Friday was the big day, when the menfolk kalua the pigs. I'd have dinner ready for all of them," said Kawahakui, who seemed apologetic that elder status allows her to sit and work.
Inside the church hall, Carol Custino and Gloria Banes fed raw Chinese taro into electric blenders. It's not for poi -- that's brought in from a commercial producer. They mixed the taro with honey and coconut milk and pressed the thick paste into metal cracker tins. It would be baked into kulolo, a firm pudding to be cut into bite-size strips, a truly old-fashioned Hawaiian dessert.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Ron Kawamura used a long wooden paddle to stir vats of luau leaf, five 25-pound bags at a time. As with spinach, boiling reduces the taro leaves to half their volume. Kawamura, not a member of the church, is one of dozens of people from the neighborhood who help with the luau.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Liliuokalani Protestant Church in Haleiwa is framed by its distinctive rock entrance. The 174-year-old church is putting on its 30th annual luau today, reputed to be the island's best, with some 2,000 people expected.
The old-timers passed the time of tedious work with storytelling and singing Hawaiian songs. The modern machines that ease the hard work of doing a luau make a popular topic.
Before food processors the taro had to be grated by hand, and if it was Hawaiian taro, it made your hands itchy. Before the big kitchen with commercial-size stoves, the raw nuts, sweet potatoes, kulolo all were baked in the imu. Coconuts had to be grated, too, but "coconuts are hard to come by now," said Kaio. Commercial coconut milk is used in the luau and kulolo, and if any fresh coconut is found, it's saved for the haupia, coconut pudding.
Digging the pit for an imu and lining it with rocks is still heavy-duty work, but the men use a backhoe. But food processors be darned -- the knife-and-cutting-board brigade chopped the lomilomi salmon ingredients by hand to ensure the proper texture, and early this morning they cubed aku fillets for fresh poke.
Food wasn't the only subject, as the volunteers caught up on their life stories -- whose kids have had kids or got jobs or moved, who has traveled or got sick or knows other news.
Vanderlyn Anana told the story that was my favorite. More than 100 years ago, Queen Liliuokalani would attend the church when she was in Haleiwa to stay at her summer home on the bank of the Anahulu River. Anana's grandmother would tell her stories about those visits. "My great-grandparents were hosts when the queen came. She would send a relay of messengers from Honolulu to say she was coming. They prepared food for her and cleaned the high-ceiling house, starching and ironing the bedding." Her grandparents Horace and Esther Mahaula helped in the work, and a great-uncle was food taster for the queen, Anana said.
The queen was fond of the congregation -- which once numbered in the thousands, according to church records -- and donated hymnals, cut-glass chandeliers and a seven-dial, universal-calendar clock still on display. The church was renamed for Liliuokalani in 1975. It will celebrate its 175th anniversary next year.
The talk-story -- in trendy Christian church talk, that's called fellowshipping -- will only get better today, as people who've moved away, or remember their family ties to the church, members of the community and the volunteers finally get time to sit down together and catch up on old times and new times.