By: Crystalee Mandaguit, Logistics Director
Every year Pacific Quest hosts a special day for students and employees that focuses on the Makahiki celebration. This is an important season in Hawaiian culture and honors the God Lono and celebrates the abundance of the aina (land). The Makahiki celebration spans approximately four lunar months – from around October or November until February or March.
This week we will be preparing a feast of turkey, pork and a vegetarian dish called laulau, which will be cooked in an imu (underground oven). Preparing food in an imu requires patience, as the cooking time is a slow overnight process. The night before, meats will be salted and laulaus will be prepared. While this preparation is underway, the imu will be stocked with wood and rocks. Once the wood is set on fire the rocks begin heating up as the fire burns for hours. While the fire is burning, banana trees are cut down, smashed and broken into smaller pieces and ti leaf plants will be harvested.
Once the rocks are extremely hot, they’re carefully placed to make a flat surface. The rocks are then covered with pieces of banana stump which contain water and will create lots of steam. Ti leaves are added on top of the stumps to help contain heat and moisture in addition to acting as a fire barrier so the food does not burn. Next, the pans of meat are placed on the ti leaves and then covered with more ti leaves. The last step includes placing wet sheets over the pit and finally covering it with a tarp. Once the tarp is over the food the edges of the tarp will be covered with dirt to trap in heat, moisture and steam. We leave the food in the imu overnight and come back the next day to uncover the imu and pull out the meats. The students are excited to see the covering and uncovering of the imu during this special preparation for the celebration.
The day of the feast each camp will be preparing a special part of the menu which will consist of stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, gravy and salad. For dessert Kalo (taro) is harvested from the land and will be peeled, boiled, grated down, and mixed with honey and coconut milk. This mixture is then wrapped in Ti leaf and cooked. We will also prepare a special favorite – sweet potato haupia pie!
The Makahiki celebration is a special occasion where students and staff work side by side to create a meal for the entire group to enjoy. It’s a day filled with cultural lessons, including games, crafts, storytelling and chants. It’s a time when the ohana (family) gets to connect with each other and share gratitude for the abundance of the land, family, friendship and community.