An Afternoon with Daniel Anthony
Daniel Anthony has a vision. He believes in food sovereignty for Hawaii and puts every energetic cell in his body towards making this a reality. However, in his earlier days, it was a very different story for Daniel as he went through a rebellious phase, disowning his family’s cultural values. Luckily, a special gift came into his life and completely turned his perspective around, leading to the creation of his business, Mana Ai and later the non-profit Hui Aloha 'Aina Momona, which both exist to educate and promote food sovereignty in Hawaii through the tradition of sharing poi. For this blog post, we join Daniel Anthony for a papa ku’i’ai (poi board) making workshop in North Kohala on the Big Island of Hawai’i, where he proves to us that a deep connection with the 'aina will provide abundance for future generations.
It’s a sunny day in Kohala as the Hawaiian Ola team drives north. Arriving at a lush, green property in Halawa, Kohala, we are greeted by 150-year-old mango trees as we drive down a dirt road. The breeze blows through our open windows and chills run up our spines as we recall stories of King Kamahameha the Great being raised on these exact lands. Today we are joining Hui Aloha 'Aina Momona and The Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture for a papa ku’i’ai (poi board) making workshop. We first met Daniel a few years ago on Oʻahu, and his story has continued to inspire our team and our mission at Hawaiian Ola. As we arrive, we are welcomed by Danielʻs gracious smile, and we can immediately feel his energy. Daniel is one of those guys that you can see his intensity in his eyes as he works towards his dream, which is why we are excited to work and learn alongside him today.
Hui Aloha 'Aina Momona is Daniel Anthony’s non-profit, operating out of the ahupua’a of Kahaluʻu, in the district of Koʻolaupoko, on the windward side of Oʻahu. Hui Aloha 'Aina Momona believes in the mana of our 'aina and its ability to continue to feed us and our keiki. Mana Ai, Danielʻs business, provides a healthy, sustainable alternative to gluten, soy, dairy, or GMO products, called pa’i’ai. Pa’i’ai is taro, pounded using the least amount of water that can then be mixed into poi. Hui Aloha 'Aina Momona teaches people how to make their own poi and paʻiʻai, and it supports local and Hawaiian farmers practicing sustainable agriculture. They also fund community and educational kuʻi clubs and are stewards in maintaining several dry-land taro patches in Koʻolaupoko. Today’s workshop is part of their educational outreach efforts. In collaboration with Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture they are teaching the craft of making papa ku’i’ai, poi boards to Kohala’s local community.
To better understand Daniel’s vision, one really has to dive into his journey, experience his up bringing, where life took him, and the abrupt path that has led him to where he is now, in order to fully visualize the future that he sees. Daniel was born in Waianae, where his family has a long history in this Native Hawaiian community.
Daniel: “My dad’s dad was the first resident physician in Waianae and he was the doctor for the whole town. I grew up in the hospital calling all of the nurses ‘Auntie’. The entire community relied on his care, and through this, he became my role model in how to care for others. When I was 2, my dad married into the last remaining kuleana taro family in Waianae. My dad was an opelu fishermen, and when he married into Taro, our daily life centered around malama 'aina. We knew first hand that by caring for and respecting the land, that it would continue to provide nourishment and support for our ‘ohana. But as I grew up with these beliefs, I began to realize that these ideas were foreign to the rest of the world surrounding us. Our farm was given water rights by King Kamehameha the fourth, but Papa was never able to exercise these rights, and when he died, we couldn’t afford to pay the water bills so our taro patch dried up. Through the years, these social injustices caused so much pain in our family, and that’s when I started to rebel. I became so furious with their way of life that I decided to disown everything that my family valued.”
Hawaiian Ola: “So you went from living off of the land, providing for your community, to then completely disowning that way of life!?”
Daniel: “Yea, I no longer wanted anything to do with our indigenous ways, and instead wanted to become a red blooded American. I backlashed from my family’s roots and saw that way of life as old and outdated, I did all I could to work against that. I worked hard and landed an ‘important’ job with a corporation and I started making a ton of money. With my backlash against tradition, I was eating spam musubi and drinking soda every day because my life was scheduled around making more money, always on the go, and I knew this drove my family crazy! This new life I created was focused on exploiting others in order for me to gain more myself, which was the exact opposite of how I was raised.”
Food Sovereignty is defined as the belief that the people who produce, distribute, and consume food should control the mechanisms and policies of that foodʻs production and distribution, rather than the corporations and market institutions they believe have come to dominate the global food system as it is today. Some believe that the indigenous approach to managing our resources is fundamentally different from the western colonial approach, emphasizing balance, reciprocity and sustainability as opposed to domination, exploitation and exhaustion. Daniel reminded us of this as he showed us how to work with the tools. We are lucky to be using power tools today to make our papa ku’i’ai.
Hawaiian Ola: “So what happened, you were living the American dream, then what changed?”
Daniel: “It happened when my daughter was born. One day while I was holding her, she looked into my soul. Her eyes said, ‘Daddy, I’ll never do what you say, I’ll only do what you do.’ At that exact moment, I looked at my life and said, holy shit, do I want my daughter doing what I am doing? Was I really happy with all of this ‘success’? I had always known that I was living against my culture, my heritage, and my family’s way of life, but I bottled that up inside and justified it somehow in order to chased the wrong dream for so long.”
While Daniel continued to tell more about his journey, our workshop began. Large slabs of wood were cut out of a giant mango tree from the property and were set up and ready for our sculpting. Our goal today is to make 4 papa ku’i’ai poi boards that will then be donated to the surrounding communities in Kohala in order to perpetuate the culture and education of traditional poi making. Since its inception, Hui Aloha 'Aina Momona has created more than 1500 papa ku’i’ai for the local communities in Hawaii, helping Daniel and his team push the tradition forward. This was impossible to imagine as we continued to hear of his life 10 years ago.
Daniel: “Here I was, 28 years old, making big bucks for the man, importing mainland goods while exploiting our sacred land, and all of a sudden my new born daughter pulled me back into my family’s foundational values. I immediately jumped off the deep end of that life, quit my career and decided to make a push back towards my family’s indigenous ways of living.”
Hawaiian OLA: “Thank goodness! So what did that transition look like?”
Daniel: “Well, I actually started with art, trying to help sell Hawaiian Cultural art. But then the market fell out in 2008 and it completely dried up. I was spinning my wheels, questioning my decision of turning my life around. Then in 2009 I decided to really challenge myself. I have been pounding kalo since I was 12 years old, so I determined that if I was serious about getting back to my roots, I set a goal to pound 10,000 pounds of kalo that year. It took me from January to September to reach that goal, and when I did, I felt confident to create a business out of it.”
Kalo (taro) was brought to Hawaii with the first Polynesian settlers in their canoes. Kalo became the primary staple for the people of Hawai’i and in the old days, a person might consume up to 5 pounds per day. It became known as a ceremony of life that brought people together and supported relationship of ‘ohana and appreciation with the ‘aumakua. Kalo can grow in both wet and dry lands, and can grow from sea level up to 4,000 foot elevations. In 1778, it has been said that there were over 20,000 acres of organic taro growing in Hawaii. Today, there are less than 50 acres grown organically across the islands.
Daniel: “By October of 2009 we officially started Mana Ai, our business, to create and serve pa’i’ai. But then a month later, the business made it to the front page of the newspaper, and that was when the department of health first came knocking. In 2010 we decided to go the educational route since we weren’t allowed to sell our hand made products. For the first half of that year, we hosted 3,000 people in our poi making workshops and knew that we were on to something. At the end of 2010, we were at a taro festival, when again the health department showed up and shut us down. The issue they had was that our indigenous process of using our hands, stone and wood boards didn’t meet their health requirements. We had hit a wall, and weren’t sure what to do, but knew we had to continue down this righteous path. So we pulled together a community meeting and ended up starting a lobbying group to make legislation in January of 2011. With a solid team effort, we were able to get a bill passed in July of 2011, allowing us to become the first official distributor and producer of pa’i’ai prepared the traditional way. Now, we make poi once a week to service our restaurant partners, and then rest of our time as a business is focused on educating and passing this knowledge to others. In that same year, we got incredible help from some people in our community and were able to start our non-proft, Hui Aloha 'Aina Momona, allowing us to channel all of our educational activities through this organization.”
As we work with the mango slabs, our boards start to take shape. With sawdust flying everywhere, we could see the beautiful grains and colors of the wood start to shine through. Through this hands-on process, we knew we were putting our energy into something powerful.
Daniel: “I believe that I have a responsibility to my children to take care of the 'aina and celebrate its abundance, so that way we can continue to control our wealth. The starch from kalo lets us become more independent in our meals as a family. Before we can become a sovereign nation, we’ll first need to become sovereign with our food. And as we look back into the teachings of our ancestors, they did this with love, care, and respect for the 'aina. And what’s blowing my mind now, is that the more I practice this, the more I see the abundance every single day!”
Hawaiian OLA: “Really!? How so?”
Daniel: “My family and I have become imu-tarians. We host a neighborhood imu every single week. We started doing this because we needed the imu char to work into our soil in order to revitalize our land after it was stripped of its nutrients by the previous land owners farming practices. When we moved onto this land, nothing would grow. Now, the imu char is one of the active ingredients in the soil, and through our weekly imu, we have made 3,000 gallons of char that has healed our soil, allowing us to grow kalo again. With our imu, we have been able to build 1 inch of top soil per month, and we now have 20 inches of healthy top soil. You see, the thing is, I’m not making an imu because I want to live in the past, I imu for the future. I imu to mālama 'aina. It just so happens that eating this way decreases the chemicals in our soil, decreases the invasive species on our land, and puts the nutrients back in to our land.”
At this point in the workshop, our boards have taken shape. We smoothed them out with fine grained sandpaper. Now it is time to polish and let it dry out.
Hawaiian OLA: “So as you return to your roots, you’re progressing and moving forward?”
Daniel: “Absolutely. When we practice the indigenous culture wherever we are at in the world, not only do we make it a better place, but we ensure its sustainability for the multitude of generations to come. And businesses have a large role to play in this as well. As I reflect, I think it is a blessing that I went through those rebellious years. It taught me how to organize and build momentum. Now, pairing those skills with my cultural values has helped us get to where we are with Hui Aloha 'Aina Momona, but ultimately it really comes down to the community that we have surrounded ourselves with. Good people, good businesses, and at the end of the day, together we are working to provide something that gives back to everyone, whether itʻs a product, a belief, a smile, support, love, and care for our 'aina and ‘ohana.”
As we wrap up for the day, Daniel tells us about his next project for Hui Aloha 'Aina Momona. He and an entire team are setting a goal to make 400 papa ku’i’ai for the island of Kauai, in just 10 days. Seems impossible, but Daniel ensures us that this is how we create sovereignty, “when we put our bygones down and work side by side towards our common dream, that is when we will accomplish greatness together.”