By Léo Azambuja

Young coconut trees at Kapuāiwa, Molokai are replacing trees that have lived for more than 150 years, half-century past their average lifespan. This historic grove was planted for King Kamehameha V in the 1960s.

Young coconut trees at Kapuāiwa, Molokai are replacing trees that have lived for more than 150 years, half-century past their average lifespan. This historic grove was planted for King Kamehameha V in the 1860s.

How much do we love and wish to honor and preserve Kaua‘i’s Royal Coconut Coast? Before you answer, let me take you on a virtual trip to Molokai.

In mid-August, I had a chance and the privilege to go back to Molokai, one of my favorite places in the world. The laidback, simple lifestyle of this beautiful island, plus the friendships I forged while I spent a year working there are what bring me back to the Friendly Island.

Back in 2008, I recorded a few news clips for The Molokai Dispatch newspaper that were shown at Akaku TV, Maui County’s version of Kaua‘i’s Ho‘ike TV. I admit I have no inclination at all to be a TV news anchor or reporter. But we did have a lot of fun. One of my fondest memories while recording those clips — besides sharing embarrassing laughs with my co-workers — was sitting among skyscraping coconut trees at Kapuāiwa, a historic coconut grove planted for Kamehameha V more than 150 years ago.

Once 10-acres large, this grove was one of Kamehameha V’s favorite places. The people of Molokai still brag the king had a beach house nearby and spent a lot of time on Molokai.

Coconut trees have an average lifespan of 100 years. After that, they have a hard time bringing water all the way up to their crowns, and soon die. But many of those trees at Kapuāiwa are beyond 150 years old, and still going.

To be sure, government officials concerned with safety have roped off the grove at Kapuāiwa. One of my friends said he was out there with his kids recently, when a tree taller than 100 feet fell to the ground. Additionally, many trees have lost their crowns and it’s just a matter of time for them to crash down.

Still, Kapuāiwa is a magical and powerful place. It’s a reminder of a time when Molokai was the favorite island of the last Hawaiian king of the House of Kamehameha.

While on Molokai, I didn’t dare go inside the grove. I didn’t want to get in trouble for trespassing a kapu area; but most importantly, I wasn’t about to get a coconut — or a tree — on my head. But I stood just outside the grove, and just to be there and feel the mana, the energy, of this peaceful yet powerful place is an awesome experience.

At that moment, I imagined how special this place is to Molokai residents. This contemplation brought me right back home and made me imagine how special our own coconut groves on Kaua‘i’s Eastside are to us.

A few years ago, I was sad to see the Kaua‘i Planning Commmission approve Longs Drugs to build a new store in the middle of a centenary coconut grove in Waipouli. The arborist report to the commissioners said most trees had reached 100 years old and would soon die. Despite my skepticism that store owners would replant trees to try to stay true to the groveʻs original looks, I now commend them for doing the right thing. We lost some centenary trees that were about to die, but we gained new trees that will keep the legacy of the Royal Coconut Coast alive.

In a conversation last month with Kenny Ishii, owner of Ono Family Restaurant in Kapa‘a, I asked him how important to us is the history and legacy of the Royal Coconut Coast. His answer was, “It’s as important as we want to keep it.”

I realize Kenny was simply telling me we should to take action if we want to preserve it. Taking an active stance to promote the culture is the best way to keep it alive. And for this, I really admire Kenny, the folks at Kapa‘a Business Association, the Courtyard Kauaʻi at Coconut Beach by Marriott and so many unsung heroes who have organized and kept a successful Annual Coconut Festival going for the last two decades.

The 20th Annual Coconut Festival kicks off with a special dinner at the Courtyard by Marriott Sept. 30, then continues Oct. 1 and 2 at Kapa‘a Beach Park with many fun attractions for the whole family.

I’m looking forward to see our island residents and visitors celebrating and being proud of our Royal Coconut Coast heritage, just like Molokai is proud of Kapuāiwa. See you there!

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