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The Roots of Healing

By Office of Communication Services    Published on 07/08/2014 More stories >>


Bright tends a flourishing crop of pohe kula (gotu kola).

Leina‘ala Bright has spent much of her life cultivating her ability to communicate with her ancestors through prayer, dreams, meditation, and connecting to her na‘au (instinctual learning). Through their inspiration she began her work with CTAHR aquaponics expert Clyde Tamaru on her unique conjunction of aquaponics and lā‘au lapa‘au, traditional Hawaiian herbal medicine.

Bright, a master’s student in the Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Studies, is also a research assistant to Dr. Tamaru in the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering. She’s collaborated with Jon-Paul Bingham and Bradley “Kai” Fox, presently and formerly of that department, and Andy Kaufman and Ted Radovich of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences.

At first Bright had never heard of CTAHR, but her kumu at Hawai‘inuiākea, Levon Ohai, encouraged her, and CTAHR collaborator ‘Ilima Ho- Lastimosa of God’s Country Waimanalo soon introduced her to Dr. Tamaru. Impressed by her dedication in volunteering with his growing systems, he offered Bright a “barrel-ponics” set-up to conduct her experiments in growing ‘ōlena, laukahi, ‘auhuhu, pōpolo, and other traditional healing plants.

Bright presenting her poster at the CTAHR Student Research Symposium.

Bright presenting her poster at the CTAHR Student Research Symposium.

Raising plants and fish together isn’t new to Hawaiians. Bright explains that the technique expresses the spirit of Hawaiian concepts of ahupua‘a and the interdependence of living things. Aquaponics has been widely embraced by her community, Waimānalo, with its focus on food sovereignty and self-sufficiency. Bright’s research emphasizes natural resource management from a Hawaiian perspective while providing a sustainable agricultural method addressing today’s challenges of pathogens, urban encroachment, and pollution.

Bright’s most extensive work is with ‘ōlena, or turmeric, valued in many cultures for its medicinal properties. She has shown that levels of curcumin, the bioactive compound that gives ‘ōlena its anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting qualities, are higher when it’s aquaponically grown. She’s excited to see the results of her current project with ‘ōlena and ‘auhuhu, the “fish-poison” plant which also has anesthetic properties, grown using three different agricultural methods: aquaponics—bell siphon and trickle—and soil.

Bright, a mother, grandmother, and practitioner of lomilomi, lā‘au lapa‘au, and mahi la‘au lapa‘au as well as a grad student, is excited by the combination of cultural knowledge and scientific research. She hopes to offer, through continued collaboration with CTAHR and Hawai‘inuiākea, preventative and complimentary care alternatives, increasing access to traditional healing plants while protecting fragile natural resources.