We agree that the ponds are really incredible – and they’re not new. They actually played an integral part in historical Hawaiian culture. In Hawaiian, the general term for any kind of pond or enclosed water is “loko”. The Hawaiians recognized five types of loko and at least 449 of them had been constructed before 1830 – and the earliest known ponds were developed in the 14th century.
Of the 5 main types of loko, the ali’I (royalty) most likely controlled 3 types. The loko kuapa was the most important type of shore pond. It was enclosed by a curved seawall and had a sluice gate at one end called a “makaha” – like the pond you can see near the Ocean Sports beach hut. The ali’I also controlled the loko pu’uone, which were shoreline ponds containing brackish water, and the loko wai (inland freshwater ponds). The ponds were used not just to trap fish as in other Polynesian cultures, but to raise them for later consumption as needed. The ancient Hawaiians were the first culture to actually develop a system to manage water levels regardless of tides.
Although many species were raised in ponds, the main species were milkfish (called awa) and mullet (‘ama’ama also called ‘anae during its adult stage). One of the translations for “Anaeho’omalu” is “Bay of the Protected Mullet”.
It is thought that the ponds at Anaeho’omalu were used to raise fish for the ali’I and their families. Each pond had one male caretaker whose job it was to guard the fish from pigs and dogs, and also to clean and maintain the ponds. Because the fish raised in the ponds ate various kinds of algae, the caretaker also fertilized the ponds with sweet potatoes, taro, breadfruit and seaweed.
The ali’I put strong kapus (laws or taboos) on the ponds – which probably were reason enough to prevent poaching. But the Hawaiians were also a deeply religious people, and believed that guardian spirits (called ‘aumuaka mo’o) inhabited the ponds. The people regularly gave offerings to these spirits at shrines near the walls.
The ‘aumakua mo’o were female guardians that usually appeared as lizards, turtles, or as a woman sitting beside the pool, combing her long black hair.
Common people did manage many of their own “loko”. Some of them were inland freshwater ponds, and some were part of the wetland taro fields. Of course the fish and shrimp and other animals inhabiting these ponds were different species than those inhabiting the brackish water ponds of the ali’i. It is also thought that by maintaining abundant food sources for passing royalty and their entourage in ponds, the near-shore reef fish were left for the use of the rest of the population.
Two of the ponds, Ku’uali’I, and Kahapapa, are thought to be part of what used to be a much larger complex of ponds. When the resort area was originally slated for development in 1973, the landowner (Boise-Cascade) hired Chuck Dewitt to dredge the ponds. The wall, which separated the pond from the beach at Anaeho’omalu till the March 11, 2011 tsunami destroyed a large portion of it, was constructed in 1985. The next phase of its reconstruction is taking place in August and September of 2016.