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Lomi Lomi Salmon and the Pacific Northwest

"Lomi lomi" in Hawaiian means to massage. In the local Island recipe, salt is massaged into fresh salmon and tomato and onions are added. It's a simple dish and a favorite staple at a lu`au. But salmon isn't found anywhere in Hawai`i. So where did this dish come from? Well, it came from the Pacific Northwest of the United States, of course. Salt being the preservative to keep it from spoiling in barrels on the way back to the Islands via the trans-Pacific shipping trade.

By the 1830s, The Hudson Bay Company's exchange might include trading furs for knives and copper pans, which would be swapped for Hawaiian sandalwood or whale oil, or bartered for Cantonese silk and tea for Northwest use. Hawaiian imports included pigs, sugar cane, salt, molasses, coffee, baskets, and sweet potatoes. Fort Vancouver, in present day Washington, exported produce, wheat, flour, lumber, and salmon. Northwest timber built Hawaii’s European style homes, while Hawaiian coral supplied lime for fertilizer and whitewash, and mortar for the Fort Vancouver’s chimneys. 

By the 1840s, hundreds of Hawaiians or "Kanakas" were working for the fur trade industry and area sawmills. They were excellent watermen and fishermen and would catch salmon for themselves as rations were not enough to feed their families. They were also able to sell fish to make extra monies. Gold was also in the rivers of Eastern Oregon and the area around Jacksonville and even had a town named Kanaka Flats.

Netting Salmon

Little Ike (Yurok) fishes for salmon with a plunge net before 1898. Courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

This story is told in the print, "Keomolewa" which is one piece in the series Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest.  The artwork beckons Hawaiians to come to "Fish for Salmon" or "E Lawai`a Kamano" at Keomolewa which means the Columbia. Life was hard for these Hawaiians and they would be unable to own land, vote, buy alcohol or testify against any white man. Many of them moved out of Oregon Territory and north to British Columbia or back home to Hawai`i. By the 1860s, when Pioneers began to fill up the land, there were few Hawaiians left. 

CLICK HERE to purchase the art print Keomolewa.

"Keomolewa" Reminiscences of Old Hawaii By Sereno Edwards Bishop


Lomi Lomi Salmon Recipe

2 cups salted salmon, diced
2 cups tomatoes, diced
1 medium kula maui onion, diced
1 medium white or red onion, diced
1/2 cup green onion, thinly sliced
Optional - 1 Hawaiian chili peppers or 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes) 

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Serve well chilled.

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