Sonic Journey Five: Pili Ka Moʻo

March 13, 2024 Nia Tero Season 4 Episode 3
Sonic Journey Five: Pili Ka Moʻo
Show Notes Transcript

Close your eyes. Imagine standing on land that your family has held for generations. The waters that trickle nearby sing your family name, and your ancestors are there with you, buried deep in the earth. Now, imagine a stranger coming along and violating this land with no regard to the lineage it carries. 

This is the story at the heart of our latest Sonic Journey. We’re sharing the story of the Fukumitsu family who is protecting their land -- their ‘āina -- through the Emmy Award-winning film “Pili Ka Moʻo” by Justyn Ah Chong with Malia Akutagawa (both Kanaka Maoli.) 

“Pili Ka Moʻo” is a part of the first season of our sibling initiative Reciprocity Project. This is also the film that inspired Seedcast producer Stina Hamlin to embark on our whole Sonic Journey Series, and we understand why: this film not only includes the strong voices of the Fukumitsu family and their ancestors, but it also includes beautiful sounds from their kalo, or taro, fields and the collective voice of a community standing up for the land and their ancestors. 

Justyn’s film is part of Reciprocity Project, a collaboration between Nia Tero and Upstander Project, in association with REI Co-op Studios. 

Host and Story Editor: Jessica Ramirez. Producer: Stina Hamlin. Story Editor and Audio Mix: Ha'aheo Auwae-Dekker.  

Learn more:  

 Listen to previous Sonic Journey Episodes:  

Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.

Enjoy the Seedcast podcast on the Nia Tero website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast platforms.

Keep up with Seedcast on Instagram and use the hashtag #Seedcast.

Sonic Journey Five: Pili Ka Mo’o
Seedcast Season 4 Episode 3
March 13, 2024

[00:00:00] Jessica Ramirez: Close your eyes and imagine standing on land that your family has held for generations. Look around you. Really feel it. Really sense it. This is a land you feel closest to. The waters that trickle nearby sing your family name, and your ancestors are here with you, buried deep in the earth. Now imagine a stranger or a corporation coming along and violating this land with no regard to the lineage it carries. 

That's exactly what is happening to the Fukumitsu family in Oahu, Hawaii. Their efforts to protect their land, their āina, are at the center of the Reciprocity Project film, “Pili Ka Mo’o”. And this is the story of our latest Sonic Journey. 

[Reciprocity Project theme music begins with slow melodic singing and drumming, and plays in the background] 

I'm Jessica Ramirez, and this is Seedcast, and I'm so glad we're here together.  

With so much trauma happening in the world to witness and resist, it's important to take moments to be still; listen. It is with this deep listening and shared desire for a more just world that we enter in this new Sonic Journey from the film “Pili Ka Mo’o”. Pili Ka Mo’o loosely means the lineage and the continuum of the stories, cultures, and traditions will forever remain intact.  

[Reciprocity Project music continues, the singing crescendos and ends]

In this film, director Justyn Ah Chong and his community partner, Malia Akutagawa, bring us to the Fukumitsu family's lo'i kalo; a wetland taro root field in Oahu, Hawaii. This film was actually the inspiration for the series of Sonic Journeys, because of its immersive sound design, music, and meditative pacing. When you listen, I think you'll see why. In this Sonic Journey, you'll hear the voices of Malia, along with the Fukumitsu family, Kōlea and Summer, and the magical sounds of the Earth.  

So let's take a deep breath together [pauses to breathe in and out]. Let the humid, thick, salty breeze sweep you up the mountainside and gently drop you to the moist, rich, black soil. And don't forget to bring your ancestors along with you. 

[introspective melodic music begins, and we hear the sound of wind and chickens clucking in the background]

[00:03:00] Kōlea Fukumitsu: I grew up here in Hakipu'u. We're on the windward side of Oahu.  

[the melodic music continues and we hear people talking and laughing, the sound of running water from a hose, and chickens] 

Growing up here was a large part of my identity. We trace our genealogy back to this same place on this same ‘‘āina that our kūpuna walked on before us. This place, for us, it's the beginning, you know, it's the middle; it's where we will eventually rest in the land here. 

[we hear the sound of splashing water as Kōlea pulls up a taro root plant and washes it in the water of the field, and voices talking] 

The ‘iwi kūpuna on that ina is Inoino and Paku. Inoino is my fifth great-grandfather. Paku was his wahine.  

[the sounds of birds chirping and chickens plays in the background] 

‘Iwi kūpuna, it means the bones, skeletal remains of our ancestors, but it's not just that. The spiritual being of that person, their ujjaini, which is their spirit, is still in the ‘iwi in the bones. So when we bury them in the ‘‘āina, in the soil, their spirit, their mana is still there. 

[melodic introspective music plays in the background] 

[00:04:40] Summer Fukumitsu: I feel like that definitely gives that ‘āina and that place power.  

[the sound of wind blowing across taro fields plays in the background] 

And I think when we connect to that ‘āina, we're not just connecting to the ‘āina, we're connecting to the ancestors that are in that ‘āina, and the knowledge that they carried and that they've, you know, absorbed into it.  

[we hear water gently lapping around the legs of people gently placing young taro roots in the flooded field] 

The fact that many people nowadays don't really understand why ‘iwi kūpuna is important is that numbing; like we're numb to the purpose or sacredness of things anymore.  

[we hear the soft papery sound of fresh green taro leaves and crunch of stems being folded into bundles, and the crisp sound of long stems being cut as the bundles are arranged with fresh flowers and leaves] 

[00:05:30] Kōlea: When you are closely tied to ‘iwi kūpuna or burials, and you know them, you know where they are. The understanding of our responsibility to them and them to us is very real.  

[00:05:53] Malia Akutagawa: Right next door to us is Kualoa. Kualoa was seen as the seat of our ea, of our sovereignty. Whatever chief had control of Kualoa had much power. So it's very interesting, in that you have a missionary family that is now controlling Kualoa and acquiring all the lands in Ka’a’awa, Kualoa, and now lands here in Hakipu’u.  

[the sounds of birds chirping and the wind blowing plays in the background]

95% of Hakipuʻu has become part of Kualoa Ranch’s holdings, or no longer in the hands of the Native tenants. So there are just remnant kuliana lands existing here. And the Fukumitsu family are one of the few families that still have their kuliana land. 

[we hear people talking as they walk across dry leaves and investigate a property] 

[00:07:03] Kōlea: Kualoa Ranch had purchased property down the road more, and we had made them aware that the ‘iwi kūpuna, my ancestors, are buried there; and to please be aware and contact us in whatever they're doing. They did not. They went and decided to grade and grub large areas, take down large trees, uproot, you know, whatever plants were around. And the next day we went to make a stand.  

[we hear the sounds of people gathering materials, and then talking in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi then in English] 

We set our stage to make known the place is sacred, and we took a physical stand.  

[tense discordant music begins to play and we hear people talking]

I’m protecting my kids, protecting my ‘iwi kūpuna. We sat in the road and made sure that construction wouldn't happen.  

[00:08:09] Cop: Let me ask you this. If the ranch or Mr. Morgan can…[voice fades out] 

[tense discordant music continues] 

[00:08:13] Kōlea: The police tried to mediate between us, the lineal descendants, and Kualoa Ranch. 

[00:08:20] Woman behind the camera: I'm sorry, I know you guys are just doing your job, but [her voice become emotional] this is our kids' safety, and the safety of our ‘iwi kūpuna.  

[00:08:30] Kōlea: And so we were arrested. It was me and my neighbor, Ian Masterson, were arrested for protecting the ‘iwi kūpuna and historic sites.  

[we hear the cops talking to Kōlea and Ian as they handcuff them, then lift them up and carry them away from the site to the police vehicle, car doors closing, and the car driving away] 

After I was arrested and taken away, Kualoa Ranch was business as usual; had their employees down there doing what they were doing the whole time. And it was very clear that two people could be moved easily.  

[00:09:09] Woman behind the camera: We love you guys!  

[00:09:10] Kōlea’s daughter: Bye dad, love you.  

[00:09:13] Kōlea: But, you know, if you put a kāhea and you have the lāhui help… 

[we hear the sound of a Pū as a younger person holds it up and blows into it] 

…It's a lot more strength, because it's harder to move a hundred people than two.  

[a feminine voice begins to sing a melodic song along to a reggae beat and melody, while a large crowd of people are talking in the background] 

It was a relief for me and my 'ohana because it helped us in our stand, because we weren't alone.  

[the talking and the music continues] 

And with all of that support, Kualoa Ranch decided that they couldn't fight the lāhui and what they were standing for, so they decided to hold off for two weeks.  

[the talking and the music continues, and we hear a speaker talking to the rest of the crowd] 

[00:10:20] Speaker: “Mahalo for heeding the kāhea, we really, really, really mālama everybody for that.” 

[the music continues to play] 

[00:10:26] Malia: Why is it that Hawaiian burials don't receive the same treatment as burials in the cemetery?  

[music continues to play in the background and then fades] 

They said, you know, “We don't want our children to inherit this struggle.” And then I could feel the sadness in the land, and I realized that they were carrying that hurt, that burden, that, that the kūpuna felt. And so I, I told them, a lot of times we pull upon the mana, you know, the power of our ancestors to guide us.  

[we hear the sound of two Pū as two people lift up the shells to blow into them, and others begin to sing] 

We walk on the land, we present ourselves with humility, and we ask for their wisdom. And we feel their presence with us.  

[we hear people singing a slow song together] 

But now the kūpuna need our help, and they're pulling upon our essence and our mana to help them to transition into pō, into eternity 'cause they're trapped by their sadness. And we need to show them that we are there for them, that we will protect their bones. 

[we hear people talking as they take the leaf and flower bundles they’re holding, and lift them up to the sky before placing them gently on the ground, and Kōlea says a prayer as they set down the offering and raise their palms up to the sky] 

And so I told Summer and Kōlea, have your son chant the genealogy of your family. 

[their son begins speaking in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi] 

And lend your mana as their mo’opuna, as their descendants, to say, “It's okay. We're gonna be okay. We are gonna bring the breath and the life back into this place, and you don't need to worry anymore.”  

[the sound of the Pū is heard again as two people blow into the shells, and then we hear people walking along the trail with their bundles and other plants] 

[emotional, melodic cinematic music begins to play in the background] 

[00:12:36] Kōlea: So you walk down.  

[00:12:37] Young boy: Is this where we cleared up? 

[00:12:38] Kōlea: Yeah, on the face, there's the springs coming out. So you're gonna put it right on the face, but a little bit above the water.  

[we hear the sound of crunching leaves and twigs as the young boy walks down to the water] 

[00:12:44] Malia: And so, that day when they walked the ‘āina, it was really about returning the gifts, you know, giving back to our kūpuna in the gifts that they have enriched us with.  

[we hear the crunch of dry leaves, branches, and twigs as Kōlea walks up a lush incline covered in low brush, ferns, and other plants; and the sound of running water pooling in the mud; then the clatter of rocks and pebbles as Kōlea brushes the muddy earth back from the spring with his hand] 

[melodic cinematic music continues] 

[00:13:00] Kōlea: It's dry. It's usually coming out here. This is our main spring that gives us the water. It gives us water down below. And so, you know, you always gotta respect what was given to you.  

[the sound of wet muddy soil and clattering rocks and pebbles from Kōlea’s hands pushing the earth back from the bubbling water of the spring continues in the background] 

[00:13:16] Malia: If you cannot protect the land, forget it. And if you cannot protect the ancestors that we have that connection to, in order to help us to return to ourselves and know what is right, know what is pono; if you cannot hold on to that mana and preserve the memory of our kūpuna—not just in our minds, but the memory that they give this land—so that they can teach us how to return to that place of pono and that place of abundance; then we lose everything.  

Many Hawaiians are homeless. Many Hawaiians have been literally evicted from their ancestral lands. You see here in Hakipu'u, 95% of the lands are lost. So that means all those families left the valley, or they perish by the epidemics. To unearth our kūpuna in the ground is like the final eviction. We cannot even have our own ancestors rest peacefully.  

[emotional cinematic music continues in the background] 

I could feel that part of the work that Kōlea and Summer does, is they nurture and nourish this land and they take that poison out. If we are to restore that ea and that pono, you know, back to Hawaii, it's imperative that Kanaka begin to come back to this place and breathe life back into this ‘āina. And the way that we can connect to that glorious past, where the chiefs walk proudly and where the kahuna guided us with wisdom, is we have to preserve their iwi.  

[melodic introspective music plays, and fades out] 

[00:15:28] Jessica: What a powerful story of descendants fiercely loving and protecting their ancestors. To make “Pili Ka Mo’o”, filmmaker Justyn teamed up with Malia Akutagawa, who is a law professor with deep knowledge about the history and importance of protecting ‘iwi kūpuna, or Native ancestral burials. I really like what Malia shares here about making this film with Justyn.  

[00:15:56] Malia: For us, as Indigenous People, the 'ohana also includes our ancestors very deeply, you know, and so it felt like a kāhea; a call from ancestors that brought us together to make this film. I feel like they were the ones orchestrating everything, even down to the breeze that blows at the right time or, you know, the breadfruit that just falls from the tree. And so, yeah, it was just something that I think was already scripted for me and Justyn to work on.  

[00:16:37] Jessica: In the creation of this episode, we were excited to be able to get an update from the family, from director Justyn Ah Chong.  

[00:16:44] Justyn: It seems that with the release of the film and other media, gaining traction and allowing more people to become aware of the story and sort of put a pressure on Kualoa ranch, and ultimately they agreed to let the Fukumitsu family act as cultural monitors on the site while the ranch did their renovation work to the property. Though the family has seen these small victories since the release of the film, the ranch does continue to do detrimental things in other areas of Hakipu'u—including the closure of springs and the diversion of water, which has resulted in a lack of water and stream flow to the lower parts of the valley where taro farming families, including the Fukumitsus, operate.  

Because of all of these things, the Fukumitsu family, among others, continue to stay vigilant and present; attending regular neighborhood board meetings, and continuing to stand up against activities that would further desecrate historical and cultural sites, as well as the ability to sustain themselves on their lands.  

[00:17:49] Jessica: I wonder what the film and this Sonic Journey might bring up for you, shining a light on what you care about, what your ancestors valued; and what you can do to ensure a better future for our shared planet.  

[a feminine voice begins to sing a melodic song along to a reggae beat and melody, and fades to play in the background] 

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Fukumitsu family; and to filmmaker Justyn Ah Chong and professor Malia Akutagawa for bringing it to the world. To hear more about Justyn Ah Chong, check out his previous Seedcast episode from last year called, “Celestial Wayfinding, and Pili Ka Mo’o with Justyn Ah Chong”.  

Director of photography, sound recordist, and editor, Justyn Ah Chong. Writer, Ka'olonanalapa'a Ah Chong. Field producer, Malia Akutagawa. Editor, Nick Stone. Assistant editor, Jacob Bearchum. Original music credits are listed in the show notes.  

[the song concludes and the Seedcast theme music, “Rooted” by Mia Kami, begins and plays in the background] 

Thank you to Upstander Project and REI Co-op Studios who partnered with Nia Tero to create all the films in the Reciprocity Project. Watch this film and more at To learn more about Nia Tero, visit us at And please, if you don't already, check out Seedcast on Instagram at @niatero_seedcast.  

This episode was produced and edited by Stina Hamlin. The story editor is me, Jessica Ramirez. Story editing, support, and audio mix by Ha’aheo Auwae-Dekker. The executive producer of Seedcast is Tracy Rector. The senior producer is Jenny Asarnow. Seedcast producers are Ha’aheo Auwae-Dekker, Stina Hamlin, Julie Keck, and me, Jessica Ramirez. 

Nia Tero social media by Nancy Kelsey. Transcripts by Sharon Arnold. Fact checker, Romin Lee Johnson. Seedcast Graphics by Cindy Chischilly. Seedcast theme song is “Rooted”, by Mia Kami. I'm Jessica Ramirez, and in two weeks we will bring you a new original episode of Seedcast. See you then! 

Theme song “Rooted” by Mia Kami:Like the wind we still move, like the waves we rise high, like the sun we never die. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can’t tear us down. We’re here to stay…