Henry Chang Wo Jr. learned the Hawaiian cultural practice of limu gathering from his grandmother, mother and aunt. Their primary limu harvest area encompassed the entire Ewa Beach shoreline, from the mouth of the Pearl Harbor channel to Barbers Point.

Young Henry was a reluctant participant in his family’s limu gathering practice when he was recruited (forced?) to be their “bag boy.” He described tedious hours spent collecting, cleaning and preparing limu for their family parties.

It was from all of this hard work that he learned the names of many of our native limu as well as their uses as medicine and uses in Hawaiian cultural and religious practices. It wasn’t until much later in his life did he realize the value of that knowledge.

Wally Ito and Henry Chang Wo Jr. searching for limu.

Kuaaina Ulu Auamo

As his three limu mentors became older and started to slow down, the limu responsibilities fell on his shoulders. Having no one in his family to pass on this important cultural practice, he decided to share his knowledge with anyone and everyone.

Henry Chang Wo Jr. became affectionately known as Uncle Henry. He hosted community groups, school groups as well as individuals to shoreline walks along his beloved limu grounds and inspired an entire generation of limu gatherers, practitioners and researchers.

Uncle Henry started to notice that limu was becoming less and less abundant. The limu along the Ewa Beach shoreline was dying and the decrease in limu abundance correlated with the transition of the Ewa plains from agriculture to urbanization.

Housing development, shopping centers, golf courses and other construction projects were causing the collapse of an important ecosystem that provided food for us, for fish and provided the ability for Uncle Henry and other limu practitioners the ability to continue their traditional Hawaiian practice of limu gathering. Uncle Henry stepped up and stood between his precious limu and the corporate polluters.

Protecting The Ecosystem

Uncle Henry taught us that the story about limu was not confined to the shoreline. He always talked about the importance to malama that “first raindrop on the top of the mountain until that water reaches the ocean.” Limu depends on that freshwater. Urban development prevents the recharging of the underground aquifer and contributes to surface runoff which carries so many pollutants detrimental to limu.

Wally Ito and limu. Kuaaina Ulu Auamo has picked up where Uncle Henry left of in preserving limu.

Kuaaina Ulu Auamo

Uncle Henry filed a lawsuit to protect and preserve the fragile ecosystem of Hau Bush (Oneula Beach Park) so limu can once again thrive in that area. Unfortunately, Uncle Henry passed away after battling cancer. He was a selfless champion of bringing back limu to that area and he fought for this literally until his last breath.

Just days before his passing, Uncle requested that the nonprofit organization Kuaaina Ulu Auamo substitute where he left off. This request underscored his abiding commitment, how meaningful this work was to him, and the legacy he hoped others would carry forward. That kuleana is not his alone to fulfill but everyone’s and not just during his lifetime, but for all time.

Uncle Henry’s ashes were spread out at Ewa Beach on Sept. 4. Some of the parties involved in the contested case hearing that Henry took on to protect the Ewa limu patches are now challenging KUA’s standing as a substitute to carry his case forward.

The essence of their argument is that because Henry was a human (and not an institution) who passed away, his claim was personal and died with him. The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation argues that Henry’s case was for our communities’ interests and for the rights of all Hawaiians to gather from and malama their place.

Uncle Henry’s fight to protect limu and the Ewa shore from the effects of development continues in the Circuit Court through the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. In 2012 the Board of Land and Natural Resources granted a permit to Haseko Development to lower a berm that would allow increased runoff from development to enter the ocean. Uncle Henry passed away while the BLNR was deciding whether to require a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project as the original EIS was conducted over a decade ago in 2005.

On Sept. 20, the Court will hear argument as to whether KUA can continue to stand in Uncle Henry’s shoes. If successful, the Court will hear argument on the entire appeal on Sept. 29.

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