‘Home we can call our own’ to break ground in 2019

Kumu hula, singer Reichel discusses facility in Piiholo

Kumu hula and singer/songwriter Keali‘i Reichel discusses plans for a permanent home for his halau in Piiholo during a Rotary Club of Kahului meeting on Monday afternoon at Tante’s Island Cuisine. Reichel hopes to break ground on the 6,000-square-foot, two-story building next year. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

KAHULUI — Keali’i Reichel hopes to break ground on his halau’s permanent home in Piiholo next year, the kumu hula said Monday.

The Na Hoku-winning singer and songwriter said he is still fundraising and waiting on building permits from the county for the 6,000-square-foot, two-story building that he’s long envisioned for Halau Ke’alaokamaile.

“Most of us halaus are kind of nomadic,” Reichel said Monday during a talk with the Rotary Club of Kahului at Tante’s Island Cuisine. “We utilize gyms, we utilize garages, we utilize pole-dancing studios. . . . Thanks to Hokunui, for the first time a halau on this island will be able to plug into the earth and have a space that we can call our own.”

Hokunui Maui is a land management group that is working to develop 258 acres in Piiholo above Makawao into a regenerative farming community. Part of that land has been set aside for reforestation efforts and for Reichel’s halau, which has captured top honors at the Merrie Monarch Festival.

About 20 years ago, Reichel purchased 1,200 square feet of ohia wood flooring from Hawaii island, hoping to one day build a future home for the halau. The materials have sat in storage since then. But with Hokunui’s donation of 4 acres in Piiholo and a $240,000 grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the halau has moved closer to having its own permanent venue.

Koa Hewahewa, director of forestry operations for Hokunui Maui, talks about the planting and reforestation efforts on Hokunui’s property in Piiholo. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Reichel’s husband, Puna Krauss, who oversees the project’s grants, said that according to the contractor, “we could break ground in early spring.” The goal is to raise $2.5 million for the halau’s new home. They’ve already brought in about $400,000.

The bottom level of the halau’s new building would be open to the public, with a resource center, classroom and kitchen for processing harvested plants. The upper level would be a sacred dance floor that could be entered only using a special protocol and chant, Reichel said.

On the land surrounding the building, halau students would work with reforestation experts to grow “cultural practitioner crops,” such as wauke, a plant used for making kapa; ipu, the gourd used as a hula instrument; pili grass to provide roofing materials for a traditional hale; and a variety of plants for dyes. The origins of hula, Reichel said, “are in the forest.”

“Every song, every chant that we do is poetically inclined towards the natural elements,” he said. “So it’s natural for halau or students to reconnect with the land, to reconnect with the plants, to make it a full and more well-rounded cultural education. . . . And when you do it in an all-encompassing way — get your hands dirty, you go into the forest, you plant everything, you chant to those things and then you hula about it — then the connectivity becomes almost holistic.”

Reichel said students would learn how to cultivate the plants as well as how to find them in the wild, which is required of certain protocols. He added that the goal is to grow the plants in bulk so they wouldn’t just be for his halau. They could be open to people in the community who want to package and market plants for dyes, for example, or to other halau that want to harvest some of the plants in exchange for other services, such as weeding.

A 3D rendering of the proposed permanent home for Keali‘i Reichel’s Halau Ke‘alaokamaile is pictured. Reichel has been dreaming of a permanent space for his halau for decades; most halau have to rent gyms or garages or share spaces with other dance groups, he said. Rendering courtesy of Keali‘i Reichel

“The other thought process is when you are able to grow certain kinds of practitioner crops in bulk, then you don’t tax the forest,” Reichel said.

Working with Reichel and overseeing the reforestation efforts on Hokunui’s land is the Hewahewa family — Koa, Kepa, Ka’awa and Kahaku, all native reforestation experts. Koa Hewahewa, director of forestry operations for Hokunui, said Monday that the OHA grant helps to cover 6 acres of replanting, including the 4 acres of land for Reichel’s halau.

Hewahewa said Hokunui is following a technique called “polyforestry,” a modern take on an ancient method of building up the canopy necessary for a native forest. Since native trees “take forever to grow,” Hewahewa said they’re planting canoe crops first, such as banana trees, sugar cane and kalo, which “come up fast and create protection, pest management, pest trapping” and can also be harvested to feed the community.

Hewahewa said the oldest field of crops is 11 months old, and he’s already seen promising results. For example, an 8-inch koa tree planted “by itself, with herbicide” would typically grow up to 2 feet a year, Hewahewa said. An 8-inch koa tree planted on Hokunui’s property alongside other native plants for protection grew 8 feet in six months.

All told, 813 volunteers have helped plant 3,591 plants. The reforestation efforts cover nearly 20 acres of the 258-acre property, which was purchased in 2012 by Karin and Erik Frost.

Hokunui’s main project calls for subdividing the land into 21 lots, each with a main house and a cottage. Joshua Chavez, chief operating officer of construction and development for Hokunui, said that the group hopes to start building the first few homes in October.

“We’re going to be building out a couple more slowly next year,” he said. “By year three, four, five, we’ll be building out the majority of these homes.”

The entire project will be off the grid, with houses powered by solar and battery storage, and a private well providing potable water. Hokunui also plans to build six surface water catchment ponds.

Homes will be a mix of affordable and market rates, though Chavez said he’s not yet sure how many will be sold in each category and what the prices will be. The plan is to “put them on the market as they’re built,” he said. Lots would range in size from 5 to 60 acres.

Hokunui currently has about 20 head of cattle, with plans to expand to a herd of 50 to 75. Operations also include more than 100 head of sheep. Chavez said Hokunui’s farm stand has been closed temporarily while they rebuild the area. In the meantime, products from the farm make their way onto the menu at the Makawao Steakhouse, which Hokunui owns.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.


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