Hawai'i conservation alliance

2011 Best Student Poster Presentation

Imu o nui mai mauka i makai: Contemporary Native Hawaiian Gathering Practices in Culturally Vibrant Communities

Katie Kamelamela 
University of Hawaii at Manoa, Botany Department, Honolulu, HI, United States


Communities around the world depend on plants for subsistence and cultural perpetuation. There is limited data available on contemporary gathering practices in indigenous communities worldwide.  Factors affecting current gathering practices in Hawaii include ungulates, disease, invasive species, water diversion, urbanization, climate change and national security.  This research addresses 1) what (42) plants Hawaiians commonly gathered and cultivated historically, 2) plants currently gathered in culturally vibrant communities, and 3) plants currently wanted or sold in Hawaii.  In an ahupua’a case study it was observed that 60% of plants gathered were in support of imu practices.  Imu, or umu, is a traditional food preparation technique utilized across Oceania for over 4,000 years, where staples are baked or steamed in an underground oven, for nutritional or ceremonial purposes. A comparison of gathering practices was conducted utilizing 2 years of participant observations, (20) semi-structured interviews, (130) national surveys and online market tracking methodology. The gathering of native species for timber is a historical preference on Hawaii Island for imu and is possible because of continued land clearing in areas such as Puna and Hilo, but invasive species are heavily harvested in comparison.  Practitioners would rather see timber, native and invasive, be put to use rather than rot or used for mulch.   Native Hawaiians still depend on plants for subsistence and cultural perpetuation.  Understanding what plants are commonly gathered and what species the community would like to gather more of can provide insight for conservation efforts and place based partnerships in Hawaii.