Fixing the Hut
Traditional Filipino Bahay Kubo in Kepaniwai Park in need of repair after storm, vandalism; fundraiser set for Aug. 19 at UH-MC
For The Maui News
Filipino residents and groups are rallying to restore a traditional Filipino country hut honoring immigrant sugar cane workers at Kepaniwai Park after it was nearly destroyed by September’s torrential downpour and floodwaters in Iao Valley.
The Bahay Kubo Heritage Foundation is leading efforts to restore the hut, known as the Bahay Kubo, following the Sept. 13 flood. The hut was nearly swept away in the floodwaters that washed away part of the park’s parking lot, and the foundation plans to host a fundraiser Aug. 19 featuring award-winning chefs to fund restoration work.
“When it opened, I got off work and drove directly to the park to check it out,” fundraiser organizer Jake Belmonte said last month. “There was a big hole in the roof; barely any walls. A big cause was the big storm and flood.”
The hut, built in 1952 according to the foundation’s Facebook page, also has been victimized by vandals through the years. Zaldy Ugalino, president of the foundation, said there were efforts to refurbish the hut around 2010. They would put up bamboo walls only to have thieves make off with them, he recalled.
Ugalino, who immigrated to Maui when he was 9 years old in the 1970s, said he used to play in the hut when there were walls and a sliding door made out of nipa leaves from the Philippines. It remained that way until the 1980s, when the thefts and vandalism took its toll.
The Bahay Kubo in Kepaniwai was built to honor the sakadas, or contract laborers, who first were brought to Hawaii from the Philippines in 1906 by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association.
Kepaniwai is home to several ethnic displays memorializing cultures that have played a role in Hawaii’s history. The Bahay Kubo, also known as a nipa hut, is located on the uphill side at the entrance to the county park and is the only such replica in Hawaii.
The hut originally was constructed with materials from the Philippines down to the nails, said Ugalino. The posts and beams are made of narra hardwood, the Philippines national tree, and have resisted the termites.
“I noticed that,” he said of the first time he saw the structure. “I got really emotional.”
The roof is the first priority, which will cost $17,000 to replace, said Ugalino.
“We are trying to raise money to fix the roofing. That had the worst impact,” Belmonte said.
The plan is to build a tin roof rather than one from nipa leaves, said Ugalino. It will last longer and require less maintenance. Moreover, nipa leaves would have had to come from the Philippines.
The walls may be replaced with bamboo rather than nipa, though the wall project remains in the early stages, Ugalino said.
In 2013, Ugalino began restoration work and was joined in 2015 by Rick Nava, Tante Urban, Victor Campos and other volunteers who make up the Bahay Kubo Heritage Foundation.
The foundation regularly cleans the fishponds and takes care of the plants around the hut. The foundation built and painted a new fence, added stairs, replaced the roof of the bridge walkway and replaced the dangerous sidewalk.
“I want to commend this group of individuals (who work) out of their own time and their own pocket to perpetuate history and pass on the culture,” Belmonte said of the foundation’s efforts.
In addition to restoration efforts, The Field and The Harvest Fundraiser will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the University of Hawaii Maui College Pa’ina Building.
“This is something I’m doing outside of my scope of responsibility to the college, something for the community,” said Belmonte, who is a chef instructor at UH-Maui College.
The event will be in remembrance of the sakadas and will include food from the island’s top chefs, music, art and entertainment. Scholarships will be presented to UH-MC culinary students.
Tickets are $75 each and a table of eight is $1,000. Contact Ugalino at 276-8489 for tickets.
Belmonte also is trying to host a community workday at Kepaniwai and encourages entire families to help with the effort, especially children.
“It’s a cultural knowledge that they need to know,” Belmonte said. “It’s what we want to pass on.”
* Managing Editor Lee Imada contributed to this story.