In addition to pa pohaku, the Hawaiian landscape houses kuapa, seawalls that enclose manmade fishponds known as loko i‘a. Peter Keka is too modest to come out and say it, but he must have known he was the right guy for the job when he was hired to help restore Kaloko-Honokahau National Park’s massive loko i‘a, which was originally constructed some 800 years ago at the behest of the ali‘i. Old-timers in Kona have told me that it’s highly possible Peter’s forebears were on the original crew.
In the last century, Peter’s grandfather—a skilled stone worker—assumed responsibility for maintaining the loko i‘a’s walls. Peter worked by his side until a ranching business bought the area and let the fishpond fall into disuse. Peter moved to Honolulu and parlayed all that he’d learned into a life as a union mason. He never stopped thinking about Kaloko, though, where his family not only worked and fished but also camped, played slack key guitar and talked story through the night by the fire. And he remembered his grandfather’s prediction that he would someday return to malama—care for—the fishpond kuapa.
But neither these wonderful memories nor the pleasantness of today’s rare vogless weather can offset how backbreaking the task at hand is for Keka and his men. In two years, they have rebuilt about one-third of the entire structure, which they intend to complete and make entirely functional using little more than the same bare hands used by their forebears.
Ted Garduque, an enthusiastic visitor to the Kaloko site, says he is impressed by the “stasis and dynamics” of the dry stack masonry here. Translation: This is real architecture, thoughtfully designed to be flexible enough to withstand the stress of water and wind and still retain its discreet shape. Ted points out how the puka are purposely created to absorb wave energy from outside as well as to filter and oxygenate the pond.
I can’t resist asking the wiry sixty-seven-year-old Keka what he thinks his ancestors would make of the admiring reviews directed at their building skills. He agrees they knew how to use what was at hand and they were, as many modern observers have intimated, so aware of building material in their environment that the bond could be termed spiritual. “But nowadays, we’re different. Our society is too much in a rush. We want productivity, not spirituality,” he says. I am curious to know if his grandfather left him with words of wisdom about his chosen profession. A wry smile spreads across Peter’s face as he answers: “He just always said, ‘Son, in this life you gotta work like hell, or you might starve.’”
He taps his fingers on his temple. “You just have to put mind over matter and work from in here,” he says. I point out that he’s talking about metric tons of matter piled around us in an intimidating heap. “How do you know which rock to put where?” I venture.
“Same as you, when you write,” he says breaking into a necessarily raspy laugh, evidence of the cancer he was diagnosed with some twelve years ago but managed to overcome. He continues his explanation: “When I read what you’ve written, I’m going to be asking, ‘Just how did she know which word to use and where to put it?’ But you did it, because it’s what’s inside your imagination. Same with me. This is what I imagine. This is in my blood.” HH