Thanksgiving dinner from the imu

Steam fills the chilly morning air on the grounds of the Pukalani Community Church of the Nazarene on Thursday as the first layer of tarps and burlap bags is removed by volunteers Kaeo DeCoite (left, first photo) and Tom Chuieimai from the group’s annual Thanksgiving imu. More than 435 turkeys were brought in by individuals and tagged for cooking, according to Lori Gudmunson, wife of Pastor Mark Gudmunson, along with dozens that were donated for free community dinners, to take to the homes of families in need or to feed the homeless. “We do it as a ministry to the community,” said the pastor, and with a congregation made up of mostly Pacific Islanders, it is a way to celebrate both the culture and to perpetuate a traditional cooking method, he said.

Pua Kanealii (right, second photo) hands off a turkey fresh from the imu to Tom Chuieimai as the congregation employs human chains to move the birds from pit to pickup area. The huge in-ground imu is lined with banana stumps, then filled with kiawe wood and rock before adding the individually packaged turkeys. “Then you light ’em up,” according to Ryanshain Kanealii, “that’s where the fire comes from.” The turkeys are then left to cook about 13 hours with heat and steam, “but you cannot really overcook ’em,” he added.

The Maui News / TERRIE ELIKER photos