Legalize Pa'i 'Ai

Posted by at Mar 22, 2011 06:30 PM |
Today, a new generation of cultural practitioners, farmers and entrepreneurs are working to change laws forbidding the sale of pai ‘ai--laws which say this sacred food is "unsafe for public consumption." Read an update on these efforts from Aunty Penny Levin.
Legalize Pa'i 'Ai

Legalizing Pa'i 'Ai

UPDATE 5/6/2011 SB101 unanimously passed by the House and the Senate, now headed to the Governor for signature! Read more about this victory for pa'i 'ai >

UPDATE 4/26/2011 SB101 passes out of committee! Read the update from Uncle Earl Kawa'a >

UPDATE 3/28/2011 SB101 was passed today thanks to over 150 pieces of testimony in support of the measure and none opposed! The bill, unfortunately, was also gutted--removing all of the specific suggestions from practitioners for rules and exemptions. The amended version of the bill tasks the Dept. of Health to create the rules--which without a due date tends to drag its feet!  Not an ideal amendment, but for now supporters are grateful the bill is still alive! Next it goes to the House floor and then on to conference committee. Mahalo to all who submitted testimony. :)

UPDATE 3/26/11: This bill will be heard by Representative Robert Herkes and the Consumer Affairs Committee on Monday the 28th of March in room 325 at 2:00PM. Mahalo to all who contacted Rep Herkes and expressed their support! You can submit your testimony today at:

Many of you have been following the movement to "legalize pa'i 'ai," supporting the ability of todays practitioners, families and communities to pound, share and sell pa'i 'ai (hand-pounded taro). Today, a new generation of cultural practitioners, farmers and entrepreneurs are working to change laws forbidding the sale of pai ‘ai--laws which say this sacred food is "unsafe for public consumption."

You can read more about the movement to "legalize pa'i 'ai" at Daniel Anthony's website at and in the March 9 issue of the Honolulu Weekly.

Here's an update from Aunty Penny Levin on the progress of the "Legalize Pa'i 'Ai" bills:

Things are finally moving for the Pa'i'ai Bill SB101.  The sister bill HB1344 was killed by Rep Herkes but SB101 which passed through the Senate already is in Herkes hands for scheduling.  Last week Friday, Rep Hanohano passed the bill out of the Hawaiian Affairs Committee and Rep Yamane waived the need for a hearing in the Health Committee.  DOH is in support of the amended bill.   This latest version as it passed out of the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee is now SB101 SD1 HD1.

Rep Herkes is the last hurdle before it goes to conference and the floor.  He has finally said he WILL hear the bill but hasn't put a date on it yet.  We need it out of his Consumer Protection and Commerce (CPC) Committee by the end of the month to give the conference committee time to finalize the bill for a full floor vote.  Herkes has suggested he will include all roadside stand foods, chinatown market foods and cultural foods from all over in the bill which would effectively kill it (DOH would be unable to support or enforce it).  Our goal is to keep it focused on hand pounded pa'i'ai and poi.

Please take a few minutest to review the changes to the bill, which both DOH and the Legalize Pa'i'ai 'Ohana, guided by Uncle Earl Kawaa, Amy Brinker, and others have worked on and are in support of.

However you come to this issue, please be aware that under current DOH law, the distribution and not just the sale of hand pounded poi is technically illegal because of the way the law is written.  This includes when we ku'i for demonstrations, festivals or school events and share the taste of this important food with others.  The current law also requires, although rarely enforced, all poi to be refrigerated at the mill, roadside stand, and in the store even though that three day old sour poi may be most ono to some!  SB101 SD1 HD1 corrects both those issues.

There are several scenarios in discussion by legislators:

1.  The bill would cover all counties.

2.  The bill would leave out Hawaii County where there is small amount of disagreement with a bill.

3.  The bill would make Oahu island a pilot project and the other islands would be phased in at a later date, through future legislation.

My own mana'o is that this bill should benefit all counties at once.  While not everyone may want or need to have access to hand pounded pa'i'ai or poi, everyone deserves to enjoy and have access to it should they desire to.  So many have yet to experienced the wonderful fragrance and taste of pa'i'ai.

I know it's not always easy to think of what was once a traditional practice as an income generator.  As a taro farmer who grows only for subsistence and to increase the presence and availability of traditional Hawaiian taro varieties, I feel that the legalization of hand pounded pa'i'ai and poi provides an incentive for more young people to return to the growing of kalo and the pounding of poi (whether for subsistence or commercial production) at a time when jobs, especially in rural Maui are hard to come by.  The physical challenge of hand pounding is a gateway to better physical, mental and spiritual health.  It is also an incentive for farmers to better care for the soils that feed Haloa; to learn more about the timing of harvests to improve the quality of taro that comes from our fields.

Not everyone can afford to grow kalo only for love or to sustain their cultural connection to the aina; most grow to feed their families either direct from lo'i to table, or through the income the kalo generates.  Without commercial growers and poi/pa'i'ai makers, people in urban centers wouldn't have access to this important food.  What many do not know is that current farmgate price for taro is around $0.60-0.72/lb at the mills, making it very hard for a full time taro farmer to support their family.  Quality taro used in hand pounding earns $2/lb.

The making and sale of hand pounded pa'i'ai for cash began before the turn of the century as people left their farms (and lost their water and lands) to live in town but still craved the food of the land.  In historic times, tributes to the chiefs at makahiki, and in the poalima lo'i were a form of payment to the chiefs for which the farmer received protection, resources and support in return; the poi made from such patches benefited many.  Today, that protection and resource support comes from within the extended 'ohana that connects us all through the kalo but rarely from the state agencies and legislators tasked with helping us be more food self-sufficient or to maintain cultural traditions.  More often, the rules make it harder for us survive.  SB101 represents a vehicle for our young kane and wahine to make a dignified livelihood by a means that also celebrates cultural practice; and an opportunity for more choices for taro farmers and consumers of poi.

On a practical level, as taro farmers we have so many important issues on our plates (access to water and land, controlling apple snails, protecting ancient lo'i lands, etc) that the energy and time it would take us to come back to our county council or the legislature to phase in the other islands from an Oahu-only pilot project would be better spent elsewhere.  This is a good bill and it is in all of our hands to make its application pono.

How you can kokua:

  • Call or email Rep Herkes and let him know you support SB101 and ask him to schedule the bill asap.  Ph.(808)586-8400 or email
  • If you know Hawaii Island folks who can or should weigh in, in support of this bill, please urge them to email or call Rep Herkes.  The more big island people he hears from the harder it will be for him to stall.
  • Let Senator Maile Shimabukuro, Uncle Earl Kawaa and Amy Brinker, who have championed the bill for us, know if you wish SB101 SD1 HD1 to cover all counties, all counties except Hawaii, or only Oahu as a pilot project.
  • Please take time if you haven’t already done so to visit Amy's to track the progress of the bill and see the history behind it.  There is a downloadable pa‘i ‘ai petition there.
  • Prepare testimony so it's ready to submit by web, email, fax or in person when the bill is scheduled.  They may only give us 48hr notice.
  • Call your own Reps, Senators, and friends and ask them to support SB101 SD1 HD1 in preparation for the full floor vote.
Document Actions
Elizabeth Tyrrell says:
Jun 05, 2015 09:40 PM
This is our culture and the should allow us that right!
Add comment

You can add a comment by filling out the form below. Plain text formatting. Web and email addresses are transformed into clickable links. Comments are moderated.


Empower grassroots efforts to protect Hawaiʻi with your donation today.

E-mail Sign-up
Follow Us