Saturday, February 14, 2009

The essence of life in paradise


With a gentle curve of sand, a palmy backshore, and a protected pool of tropical water, you’d think that Salt Pond Beach Park in west Kauai has all the ingredients for fantasy living. But the real essence of life is just over the dune, in what looks like red mud flats. Here you will find the salt ponds of Hanapepe, known as Waimaka o Hi‘iaka (Tears of Hi‘iaka). The source for these ponds is a system of underground springs that provide the brackish water.

The salt ponds are cared for by kapuna (elders) of the area who are assisted by their ‘ohana (extended families) in a process of communal stewardship that is handed down from generation to generation. When the crystallization process is finally complete, the sea salt is gathered, rinsed, and then dried in the sun. Three or more salt harvests take place during the arid summer months. Some of each harvest from the Salt Ponds is imbued with stronger medicinal properties by dying it with ‘alaea, a form of volcanic red earth that is gathered from the highlands. Kaua‘i’s iron-rich earth is said to possess the mana (spiritual power) of the ‘alaea. As it ages, this red salt becomes more potent, yet mellows in flavor.

European trading ships in the 1800s on their way to the Orient stopped in to stock up and thereby avoid dire health consequences. In addition to good old Sodium and Chloride, this salt contains some 80 minerals. Salt is only surpassed by oxygen and water in being necessary for survival.