Kipuka: The Sacred Forest

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This post was originally published in 2007. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

HHThe word Kipuka has a number of different Hawaiian meanings; the one we are most acquainted with is that of “sacred forest”. And we are blessed to have it as a very integral and important part of our lives here in Popai.

In January 1960, when lava flowed through this area and buried the former town of Kapoho, more than 100 homes, a hot springs resort, and many farms and orchards were destroyed. It was devastating to the area and ultimately redefined the landscape we see in front of us today. Kapoho in general was known to be a very special place, and many Kahunas (sacred healers) were known to reside and practice in the area.

There were a few small areas that were inexplicably saved from lava destruction; it literally parted in its flow and preserved certain pieces of land. One of these pieces of land was the lighthouse located a few miles away, and the kipuka on our property.

The kipuka is where the bulk of the property’s activity comes from. It houses three of the four chicken coops, the male goat (Coco), and pretty much all of the food that is grown. It is a dense maze of thick and confusing forest, which after more than a month here, we both can still get lost in (especially me since I don’t often find occasion to be in the kipuka for chores).

For weeks, it was all I could do to make it through the kipuka with eyes down, focusing on where to put my feet next while traversing the existent but overrun trails. Eventually, I started to look up and try to identify the flora and fauna all around me. I realized I had been walking by citrus trees, avocado trees, and various interesting plants and fruits all around. But even when I walk through the kipuka with eyes up, I still miss stuff.

The kipuka is more like a jungle or rainforest than anything you may imagine as fruit-producing land. It is claustrophobic, crowded, dense, and unidentifiable. There are creatures and sounds everywhere that keep you on edge, even if you remind yourself constantly that there is nothing that can truly harm you here.

Such I am led to believe is the world of permaculture. From what we can discern so far, one of the big differences between permacultre and agriculture is a matter of organization. A permacultural environment entails one of constant recycling. Fruit falls from the trees, and often before it can be harvested for human consumption, it is devoured by chickens, rats, and other critters, who in turn fertilize the soil in the area and help the trees continue to propagate.

Fallen trees are used to nurture new growth, and there is constant attention to recycling and the cycle of life in the forest. And although it sounds effective and practical, I haven’t yet been convinced of it.

Agriculture by contrast is much more organized which, for the slightly-obsessive-organizational-freak in me, is quite a comfort. Things are planted in neat little rows, and everything is harvested for consumption (either by humans or the property’s animals). Traditionally an agricultural environment is construed as one where a portion of the harvests are sold, but that doesn’t always have to be the case, depending on the size of the property.

What I’m not sure of but suspect, is that agricultural practices involve much more importation of foreign goods to make it all work. From fertilizer to nitrogen fixing substances, to seeds and new starts, agriculture is irrefutably an artificial environment (at least compared to permaculture).

So our kipuka is a sacred place indeed; it provides us and others on the property with food and sustenance. It is a huge maze of activity, and we can feel the pulse of nature all around us as we walk through and exist in it.

And once I start to learn more about navigating my way through what seems like a huge and overrun forest rather than a sacred food-producing packet of land, I hope to be able to appreciate it even more.

Check out my Travel Lifestyle Guides for more ways to earn money remotely, spend it wisely, and balance the two so you can travel as long as you wish, in a financially sustainable way. 

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