Coco: Tell us about your childhood.
My childhood was really fun. I got to grow up with all of my cousins. My family has lived on Kailua beach for 4 generations. So, my Grandma and Grandpa kind of raised us while our parents were working. My Grandpa was a bit wild. He was a renaissance man. He invented a lot of things. People called him the Mayor of Kailua. He made sure people were taking care of that place, the aina. He would get mad if people would leave their trash. He would fish and grew our food at home. He taught us to take care the earth, and each other. And to always go to the ocean to connect. We grew up swimming, surfing, and paddling in Kailua. My Grandma watched us most of the time. She taught us hula, and being close to ke akua (to recognize God). She prayed all of the time, teaching us faith and about the greater power. So that’s how we grew up, playing at Kailua beach. All of cousins are my sisters.
Coco: How did you get into what you do, your profession?
Funny thing, it all goes back to my Grandma. When I was about 10 she had this disease, Diabetes. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I didn’t like it because it had the word die in it. No one else around me understood what it was. Grandma knew I would do anything she wanted me to do. So she used to send me to McDonalds to get her a ice cream and a coke. That what she liked. Eventually I was like why can’t she have this. I didn’t understand it. She ended up being on dialysis. She wanted to stop dialysis. She was over it. She passed. The whole thing was confusing for me. I was so young. I didn’t understand why I lost my Grandma to this disease. So long story short, I went to college, I took a nutrition class and a light bulb went off. I was like, what the heck! This is what happened to Grandma. I felt like I could help so many people in learning how to eat right. I became a dietitian and came back home. I worked for awhile and then had a baby. I was at a point that I realized a lot of the products we were using on our bodies were full of junk. I had the food thing down but I was concerned about what we were putting on our bodies. How do we get that to be healthy? So I began using edible ingredients. My background in nutrition really helps. I know the science and the plants. I was learning at the same time at Ho’oulu Aina. I don’t know if you heard of it, it’s a nature preserve in Kalihi. They have a la’au, a medicinal plant garden. I was learning this at the same time. I was like ok, I have the food background, the cultural piece and now I am learning about the medicinal part of it. That’s how i started. My Aunties had breast cancer and that thing about aluminum in deodorant. So I made a deodorant. That’s basically how it all started. Ho’olauna Nature Preserve- www.hoouluaina.com/
Coco: Where do you make your products?
I make them here, I’ll show you. My family, my brother, my Dad, and brother in law built this workshop for me. Originally I was looking for a place to rent. But now that I have a baby, I would not have been able to take care of her and work. I am able to make all products here while I am with my daughter.
Coco: Do all your family members help in the production? Do you have help with marketing, or other aspects of the business?
They do. And yes, I pretty much run it all. My family definitely helps though. My Dad packages it for me. My Mom does the labeling and helps package. My daughter helps paint the caps. She will do other little things. I run the marketing and accounting. I do have help with accounting now.
Coco: Was your business being a “family affair” was influenced by your childhood?
Yeah, totally. My parents have to be involved. When I got married, I told my husband, you know you’re not just marrying me, you’re marrying my family. They will be over all the time. They will be a big part of our lives. He said, “I know. I mean, your Mom cleans your car!” I laughed. I told him “she wants to do it. That’s just the way it is.”
Coco: That’s very Hawaiian style, everyone takes care of eachother.
Totally. I would not be able to do this without the help. I probably would not have been able to keep going with the baby if I didn’t have my Dad. He does the bulk of it. And I label or do the finishing stuff. He makes the product, he does the packaging. And he has a full time job. He will be like, so what Mamalani, work tonight? He comes over in the evenings and we work. That generation, are parents generation, are hard workers. They can’t sit still. They don’t just hang out. We work together and talk while we work.
Coco: Where do you currently live?
I live in Kailua, Oahu. Where we grew up. Still down the road from my parents. My Grandparents lived across the street from Kailua beach. Then we moved to Enchanted Lakes, or Kaelepulu (the wet lands), that’s the real name of this area.
Coco: What’s the story with Kaelepulu and this area?
This area was the most well fished fish ponds. There was also this famous stick called the makale. The makale was a stick that drew the fish to it. The Hawaiian story was that the makale was here in Kailua. Also there was one of the biggest fish ponds in Kawainui. And a lot of stories of King Kamehameha would bring his warriors here to eat the fish pond dirt. The lepo ‘ai ‘ia. The fish were so healthy that the dirt was super nutrient rich and editable. We have all kinds of fish. My brother, lives in Kailua, and is still a fisherman. He catches akule, mullet, awa. He learned from my Grandpa how to fish. We still eat that way. We eat a lot of fish from Kailua. Kailua is well known for our fish, and kalo. Taro. They say that Queen Liliuokalani would send her dogs here for the kalo. We had the best kalo in Maunawili. Kailua is fertile land. Development and changes over time has changed things but there are still some awesome families in Kailua that are taking care of the land. The Wilhelm family, they have about 8 acres of lo’i in Maunawili. You can pick up poi from them every 2 weeks. Then there is the Ulupo Heiau in Kailua where a lot of medicinal plants grow. And then I have some friends that are restoring. So there are now 8 functional lo’i and they are expanding. Kawainui Lepo ‘ai’ia– https://apps.ksbe.edu/kaiwakiloumoku/node/594 The Wilhelm Family- http://archives.midweek.com/content/zones/windward_coverstory_article/The_Wilhelm_family/ Ulupo Heiau State Historic Site – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulupo_Heiau_State_Historic_Site
Yeah, slowly but surely we are bring back our traditional ways and food.
Coco: So, who is an inspiration for you?
My Grandma, who I named my company after. Because she was so kind. Our Kupuna would say, don’t put bad things out there. I would see my Grandma with people on the street, who we knew had said pretty terrible things about her. But she never put that negativity out there. She was always aloha. That is what we saw in her. She taught us that. She helped us write this oli of aloha. If you see my Uncles or Aunties at any function they are talking about Aloha and doing the family chant. It’s kind of our legacy to continue that. To serve others. That was her thing. She would say, “It’s not about me, it’s about helping someone” or serving the people. She would tell us that is what true Ali’i, a true King and Queen, would be doing. They would do their best to help everyone.
Coco: Do you think that is perpetuated in Mamalani, and what you are doing?
I think so. I try to create things that are needed and wanted. Try to help others.
Coco: What’s your favorite thing about the Hawaiian culture?
The Aloha spirit. As hard as it can be, from say, land being taken, or things that are infiltrating into who we are and affecting how we live. I still would say that the foundation of how we live is this aloha spirit. It keeps us resilient.
Coco: Where would you like to see your business go and grow? Where do you see Mamalani in the near future?
Personally, it has been awesome to be able to work and stay home with my baby and my family. To be able to pursue Mamalani and be with my family. I don’t really need much more than that. I am good. I don’t need to go big, I don’t really know what that means. I would just like to continue to make quality products that people can use and find healing. Give them the choice of a health deodorant so they don’t have to use an unhealthy deodorant. Meeting a need that people can rely on. And being a local supplier of that. But I would say that the biggest goal would be to farm a lot of our ingredients. And have most of it from Hawaii because that’s the challenge. One awesome thing is that my parents just bought a farm on the Big Island. A mac nut farm. So I am going to be experimenting with mac nut oils. And it was something that just happened. We hadn’t talked about it. They were just like hey, there is land for sale, and I was like ok, that sounds good.
Coco: If you had a life message of others you wanted to share, what would that be?
I always go back to Aloha ke kahi I kahi, to love one another. To serve others is to bring aloha to yourself. Staying connected, to God, or what ever that is for people. For my Grandma that was her straight line, direct line. Staying connected with the creator, the land, working the land, getting in the ocean and connecting with people. That is the trinity. So staying connected and serving others. Coco: Mahalo Mele for your time, your heart, your knowledge and sharing it with us though Mamalani. A hui hou. Mele Kalama-Kingma Interview || Her Kailua Home|| March 28, 2017