Mochi Pounding in Wailea

Taiko (Photo credit: Mapemono)

Usually a couple days before New Years many of us in Hawai’i pound mochi for good luck in the coming year. For the last ten years or so many people congregate in the town of Wailea on the Hamakua coast about 15 miles outside of Hilo. I use the term town loosely as there is only one street. When you turn off the highway, which is an adventure unto itself, you turn on the “main” street and the first thing you see are the many “back in the day” plantation homes. These are the remnants of when sugar cane was king of the island. These rather small houses with their tin roofs housed the mostly Filipino & Japanese workers who helped keep the cane thriving. Once past the homes you enter the “town”. This consists of a “incubator”  kitchen.  Different bakers use the facility for cookies, chips, etc. We bought a bag of chips, but probably unlike most chips you would buy in the Mainland. The contents of the clear bag  with ulu (breadfruit), kalo (taro), yellow sweet potato and purple sweet potato chips are so colorfulDSCN0093DSCN0096.  Across the street from the kitchen is an art center. This looks to be somewhat communal as well. It has easels for painting and different jars of glazes and clays for ceramics. Farther down the street is Akiko’s Buddhist Bed and Breakfast. It was probably once a plantation managers house as it is quite a big bigger home with two stories.  And, that is the town though it does have a very nice park with a baseball diamond. What else do you need?

In front of the B&B was the mochi pounding and Okinawan Taiko. The wonderful Taiko drummers line up in the middle of the street. Several large drums and several smaller drums, a Lion, a martial artist, all part of the group kept people entertained while others pounded the sticky rice in mochi which is sold along with Chicken Hekka and shave ice in front of Akiko’s.  My best girlfriend is part of the Taiko group as a drummer and this was the first time I had the opportunity to watch her work…and work it is! It is very physical! She was awesome!

I took videos of the Taiko and another of the actual mochi pounding, but for some reason the file type couldn’t be transferred (huh?). I will try to put it on my Sew Me Hawaii Facebook page.  But here I will describe the process. Everything starts at about 6:00am when the rice is placed into a big box which sits over a small fire.  Someone keeps an eagle on the water level, etc. As soon as the rice is cooked and sticky it is placed in a large stone bowl. A line of people forms to take a turn to pound the mochi into a smooth sticky dough-like rice substance. Each person picks a large wooden mallet. The mallet itself  is about 16-18″ long with  a long handle.  Each person takes about 10 to 15 swings of the mallet matching each swing after someone turns the rice with their hands. Timing is important to prevent mashed fingers. After the rice is done, it is formed into balls, filled with sweet black bean paste which is traditional, or a new addition of peanut butter (my personal favorite). The balls are flattened on the bottom,  boxed and sold. As the mochi making wound up,  the process was unable to keep up with the requests and was sold out by the end of the afternoon.  The weather was perfect, a balmy 80 degrees, no rain, no wind–absolutely perfect. We headed home by about 2:00 in the afternoon and went to the 5th Av. Grill which is what we call our own lanai. The meals there are far better than what can be found in a moderately priced restaurant.  So, now I’m convinced that 2013 will be even better than 2012.   Kung hei fat choi… Hau’oli makahiki hou…Happy New Year.


6 thoughts on “Mochi Pounding in Wailea

  1. Absolutely intriguing. But I am all questions!
    Is this rice dish made throughout the year in Hawaii?
    Do you know when this tradition started and why it was marked as a special day?
    Okay that will do for now.
    I do want to say how glad I was to NOT see that the plantations in Hawaii used slave labor back in the day. That is a part of our mainland history that we can have no pride in.
    Thanks for this little excursion!

  2. Mochi is made all year in Hawai’i. Here on the Island of Hawai’i we have a very tiny little shop that sells the absolutely best strawberry mochi EVER. It’s call Two Ladies Kitchen and there is always a line out the door. They put a huge Waimea (grown on the north side of the island) strawberry in the middle along with the traditional sweet black bean paste. It is sooooo ono! Many of the local stores also carry mochi ice cream. It is the regular mochi “bun” but has ice cream in the center instead of the bean paste. Usually they use local fruits to make it..guava, lilikoi, strawberry, etc. It’s very expensive so we usually save that for special occasions.

    The first mention of mochi was in a Japanese dictionary in 1050 AD. so I assume it was around quite a bit earlier than that. I think I once read that it was first made in about 500 AD. I’m not sure how the tradition of pounding it for good luck on New Years came about, but there will be mochi pounding in many towns on all the islands at this time of year. On our side of the island, Wailea is the place to be. But, I use to pound with my old hula halau at a Buddhist church.

    Regarding plantations– No, it was not slave labor. The big plantations were mostly owned by Mainlanders who had the money to buy up land during a time when land was available and many Hawaiians didn’t understand the value in ownership. To the Maoli the land belonged to everyone and they were so willing to share. The owners paid men to work, therefore many came from other countries (especially Japan and the Philippines) to try and make a better life. Many workers lived in “camps” ( usually twenty or so small houses and a manager’s house). They worked the cane fields and pineapple fields, generation after generation. It wasn’t until just recently that sugar and pine were no longer profitable because both were being grown in Mexico, Puerto Rico, etc. where labor is cheaper so most of the fields have closed. There is still one cane field in Maui. I think the last field on Kaua’i closed this past year. Many of the thousands of acres, at least on this island, were divided into 5-10 acres plots and sold to the workers who wanted to continue on the land. We now have some of the most incredible farmer’s markets here. Yesterday, I went to the farmer’s market in Kea’au. I got two big tomatoes, a pound of green beans, 6 bulbs of garlic, three Maui onions, three strawberry papaya, some carrots and something else I can’t remember and it was $10. In the store it would’ve been about $20 and wouldn’t have been nearly as fresh!

    My significant other’s family use to own a sugar cane plantation. He has a picture of the workers, about fifteen, and they were all nationalities…Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese, and haole (Caucasian). It’s a neat photo.

    1. Thank you for that, Kiihele. It was fascinating. Have you thought or doing a little Blog series on the history of Hawaii? You seem so knowledgeable.
      I have 2 more questions –
      how did the influx of workers affect the language and culture of the islands, if at all?
      and, the natives on the mainland, of course, did not understand owning the land, either. Did Hawaiian natives suffer any of the ill sour own mainland natives did bythe influx of land owners?

      1. Oh, my yes, the influx of workers did indeed change the face of Hawai’i as well as the influx of Big Business(men) did. Because the haole didn’t speak Hawaiian, the Japanese didn’t speak English nor the Filipino in order to work a sort of a hodge-podge of a combination called Pidgin was a good compromise. It is the main “language” of Hawai’i to this day. This has been very difficult for students who are forced to learn standard English in order to become job ready or get into college etc. But, at home, it’s still mostly the language of the family or when with friends. It’s a short-cut–doesn’t follow the rules of either English or Hawaiian. For Example. Where we would say, “let’s go fishing”. In pidgin it might be “e brah, we go holoholo”. I remember when I came to Hawai’i at age 17, I was hanai (adopted) with a Hawaiian family for the summer. It took me about two weeks before I could understand anything they were saying. I recognized the English words, but the syntax and all the Hawaiian thrown in threw me. Now, I’m like them, I write many of my words in Hawaiian without even thinking about it. Sometimes I catch myself on my proof read, but not always because they are so familiar.

        Other changes were made by the missionaries. Hawaiians were no longer free to speak there own language, or dance hula and it went underground. It wasn’t until King Kalakaua (The Merrie Monarch) brought the hula back. And, the language was on the brink of being lost when in the 1970’s a resurgence of olelo Hawai’i, the Hawaiian language began. Schools are now taught solely in the language. You hear Moms talking to their children in the store in Hawaiian. We have a huge Hawaiian language department at the University of Hawaii in Hilo. I belong to a Hawaiian church where most of the prayers, songs, bible readings, etc. are in Hawaiian. The sermon is still in English.

        As to the changes regarding land ownership. Whew, those were huge changes that still have repercussions today. Hawai’i was always a kingdom and although land was fought for, it was not considered ownership. So, when the haole businessmen came over they started paying for land, I’m sure pennies as opposed to dollars, but I don’t know. Having land, turning acres and acres into production rather than family plots. They became extremely powerful. In the late 1700’s our Queen Lili’uokalani was overthrown which even today the Hawaiian feel was illegal. There was no “Trail of Tears” or killings. Queen Lili’uokalani was imprisoned in Iolani Palace. She wrote some of her more famous songs during this time. Until recently, our senior statesmen in the US Senate, Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye both fought for the sovereignty of the Hawaiian people–the right to form their own government, similar to the Native Americans in the Mainland. But, Daniel Inouye died a couple of weeks ago and Senator Akaka retired a week later. Now, we begin the fight again with freshmen senators.

        With the influx of Americans (myself included), the population of Hawaiian keeps dwindling. And, with such a diverse population, mixed marriages are the norm which “dilutes” the blood. Many are afraid that the Hawaiian culture will someday be lost and along with it the aloha. However, I think a lot of other cultures are adopting the Hawaiian ways to help keep it alive. One thing that amazes me is how the Japanese, in Japan, have adopted hula. There are something like 10,000 hula halau in Japan and probably about 2,000 in Hawai’i. They LOVE hula. Last year when we danced on Easter Sunday for the opening of Merrie Monarch Week, our class of 30 were joined by 75 from Japan making our 105 dancers one of the biggest groups ever. My kumu hula (teacher) travels to Japan several times a year to teach the kumu hula there. It’s quite amazing.

        And, lastly, no, I don’t want to do a blog on the history. I really don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface.

      2. I am amused by your last line: “I don’t want to do a blog on the history”
        I think you just did (at least a most intriguing account of a part of it) and I am much obliged for that. You have already a wonderful understanding of the island and its culture, and your love for the same definitely comes through in what you write.
        Thanks for all you have shared so far, but I cannot promise that I will have no further questions. *smiles*

  3. I guess I did get a little carried away, didn’t I? I do love the culture. It’s so special. We still honor our past kings, in hula, in celebrations, etc. We have Kamehameha Day on June 11th, and the Lili’uokalani Festival. Merrie Monarch Hula Festival is in honor of King Kalakaua. We do a lot of royal court enactments. And, we do a lot of cultural enactments, especially for hula. I will get to all that one of these days. I welcome your questions as it gives me a “jumpin’ off place”. *(^^)/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s