Nation or State: In Search of Hawaiian Identity

Mahalo and a hui hou

Professors Pugh and MVP at Kilauea

Professors Pugh and MVP at Kilauea

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Elon’s Amazing Race in Lahaina

Pugh gives the clues

Pugh gives the clues

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Some photos of the taro farm

In the taro patch

In the taro patch

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Road to Hana

On Sunday morning the Elon group got up early to head for the Hana Highway from our hotel on the west coast of Maui.

The road we drove on hugged the side of the mountains and was very slow and windy.  This was a strong contrast to the flat and populated area around Kaluhui less than 15 miles away.  Kahului is a vast expanse of roads, buildings, and farmland.  It would not be hard to argue that humans have molded the area around the city into a space mainly for their own use with little thought given to the native ecosystem.  The area we drove through was rugged and gave the sense that nature had a firm hold on the land and that humans can do little to change that.  The road reminded me of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian mountains and roads connected to it.  Both run across steep slopes and have tight turns that follow the curves of the land.  They both stir feelings of fear and excitement as the wheels of the vehicle avoid slipping off the road and tumbling down a mountain by mere feet.  However, the Hana Highway is narrower and windier than the roads on the mainland.

After several stops to look at scenery and eat, our main stop was a taro farm.  We turned off the Hana Highway onto a steep, unpaved, dirt path through the woods to get to the farm.  The untamed qualities of the path disconnected the farm from the nature-conquering feel of the paved road.  The farm felt secluded and far from many man-made influences.  When we arrived the farmers welcomed us with a deep feeling of aloha.  They greeted us with open arms and were happy to tell us all about their farm. The farmers want to be self-sustaining by growing all their food by themselves.  They do this to keep old Hawaiian traditions and culture alive.  Taro is a sacred plant and a very important food source in Hawaiian culture.   The first taro plant is believed to have grown from where the first human, who was stillborn, was buried.  Taro is a symbol for life because it provides a good source of nourishment and because all natives Hawaiians are said to be related to the first human.

In addition to taro, other food crops like bananas, coconuts, sugar cane, Tahitian apples, and passion fruit were growing on the farm.  We were given a chance to try some of them.  I tried the fruits listed above.  They were all rich in flavor and were some of the best fruit I have eaten.  They all tasted very fresh and nutritious compared to what you could find in a typical supermarket.  The methods used by ancient Hawaiian farmers are a part of their culture and identity that has been passed down for many generations.  Unfortunately, as with other aspects of Hawaiian culture, these natural farming techniques are being lost.  More commercialized agriculture is more appealing to farmers because it is cheaper and usually provides more profit.  Many modern farmers use synthetic chemicals that increase yields but also have the power to do significant damage to the surrounding ecosystem.  Hawaiian farming methods are slowly being lost but they can be preserved if more people are willing to practice them.

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Mikahala Roy

On Thursday, January 16th, 2014, our Hawaii Winter Term class had quite the experience to finish off our stay on The Big Island in Kona. We were privileged to be able to listen to the words of Mikahala Roy. For those who don’t know, she has inherited the role as Kahu, which is a spiritual guardian of the of the sacred land of Kamakahonu, the First Capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, from her father, also a preservationist, Kahu David Kahelemauna Roy Jr.

She started her talk to us with a pretty emotional greeting. We met her by a large Banyan tree in an area in which was called Kailua bay at Kamakahonu, translated from Hawaiian to mean  “eye of the turtle.” She told us that she asked her ancestors to welcome us with the “highest Aloha.” Right then and there, I felt as if we were in the presence of a very important person. As we made our way across the street, you could tell just by the way she walked and how she smiled at the sky how much she loved and embraced the land around her. As we walked up on the pier towards to ocean she gazed out into the waters and smiled. She seemed to take in every bit of the beauty that was the day. After she did the Oli chant, she began to cry and told us not to be embarrassed about crying as it is the truest form of anything, and you cant be false in tears. I don’t think anyone anticipated how much attachment she had with the area around us until that moment.

Once comfortably seated in the shade, Mikahala talked about the spiritual area we were in. The Akaka Bill was mentioned as an important factor of the preservation of the land. She said that her father worked for much of his life to preserve sacred lands. The Akaka Bill is federal legislation that would create a process for Native Hawaiians to gain federal recognition. This would mean if the Native Hawaiians were to sign this bill, as a result, the government would strip them of their sacred land. Mikahala told us that the government sent Native Americans to Hawaiian news papers to report their own stories, and were used as scare tactics to convince the people of Hawaii to agree to the bill showing that if the Hawaiians did not comply their land would be lost in a similar way the Native Americans on the mainland lost theirs and were placed in reservations. According to Mikahala, the people of Hawaii showed they did not want anything to do with the Akaka bill  & that they do not want to create a new nation; they already have an abiding true nation.  With thatMikahala spoke about the meaning of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  She said that there should respect to Hawaii and to the Hawaiian people; for the long connection Hawaiians have with their ancestral lands.

When the discussion we had with John Osorio was brought up, Mikahala agreed with everything he had to say in relation to the importance of ancestry and politics. She said that politics don’t solve problems but people and a culture can solve problems. Just as Osorio expressed, she believes that returning to the roots of the culture and learning about the meaningful history and making a move back toward those traditional practices will eventually lead Politics to follow. While in the middle of her discussion of the importance of her ancestors and of the spirits present, she paused; she smiled up at a bird in the tree behind me and said “Aloha” to it and looked back at us and said, “See? Spirit is everywhere.” In a lot of the traditional cultures, birds symbolize the gods because of their proximity to the sky. It was clear that this moment made her so happy and it was really interesting to see that connection between nature and the gods.

Following in her father’s footsteps and in relation to the article Native Hawaiian Decolonization, Mikahala said to have agreed that as a woman, her gender has made it difficult for her to be as successful in this type of endeavor as her father had been in the past. She is still remarkably successful in the work she has done even though she has felt oppressed by the western society because of her gender.

Mikahala Roy is a woman of many words and emotions. It was moving to meet such a moving and influential person. I felt like I had a better understanding of how important every aspect of the island is to her and so many other Hawaiian people.

“Go on in the way we are and do our best no to become anyone else.” –Mikahala Roy

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Mikahala Roy at Ahuʻena Heiau

class with Mikahala Roy

class with Mikahala Roy

Mikahala Roy, an inspiration

Mikahala Roy, an inspiration and longtime friend

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Waipio Valley

Waipio Valley

Waipio Valley

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Pu’uhonua o Honaunau photos

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau

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Our guide

Our guide



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Mo’okini/Pu’ukohala heiaus

As I approached the entrance of the heiau, also known as a temple, at Pu’ukohala I did not know what to expect. I, along with my classmates, was anxious to discover the history of this ancient stone structure. Initially, I looked at this temple as a cold, dark place where Hawaiians would come to pray. After talking with the park ranger I now have a better understanding of how “special” this heiau truly is.

He started off by telling our class that every heiau was built for a certain purpose. The heiau at Pu’ukohala is a human sacrifice temple built by Kamehameha I for the purpose of receiving power from Ku, the god of war. The reason Kamehameha needed this power was so he could then unite and rule all of the Hawaiian Islands. This was a large task for the King considering the islands had been at war with one another for five hundred years or more.

Looking at this enormous stone temple, I could not help but wonder how Kamehameha went about constructing it. Our park ranger then began to explain the method that was used. Workers formed a human chain for twenty-five miles from the top of Pu’ukohala to the valley where the rocks were fetched. Ten to fifteen thousand workers, Kamehameha included, passed these massive rocks for one year until the heiau was complete in 1791.

Walking through the pathways I thought about the number of Hawaiians who walked that same pathway to pay their respects and give their offerings to the gods. Not only did this happen during the time period of the construction but the ranger told us that on occasion Natives will go in to pay their respects today. Although we were not allowed inside, our class gained a great sense of the power that the Pu’ukohala heiau holds.

After visiting the Pu’ukohala heiau we then went to the temple at Mo’okini. Although they had several similarities, they were very different. Both temples were used for human sacrifice, built for Ku, and only allowed royalty inside. However, Mo’okini heiau has seen some changes recently.

Mo’okini heiau was built in 480 AD in a one-night span. It was built with the human chain method as well but it did not stretch as long as the one used at Pu’ukohala. Our class seemed interested to learn about this temple considering we had just experienced the influence of the last. The Mo’okini heiau has a priest unlike the other heiau. I found it interesting that the priest today is from the same bloodline of the first priest in 480 AD. Leimomi Mookini Lum, the current priest, has done a number of things to continue the spirit of this heiau. Each priest is given a mission and hers was to open up the temple. I received chills when we learned how she completed this mission.

In 1974, Ms. Lum opened up the temple to the children of Hawaii. This was a great start however not good enough for the priest. Therefore, in 1999, she reopened the temple to the children of the world. This shocked a lot of people but it has been a successful notion. Because of this change, our class was able to go inside of this heiau. We brought leis as our offerings. The reason the priest asks for visitors to bring lei offerings, is because of what it represents. It is a reminder of each individual child. Each flower being a different color also represents the different races of the children. I felt more of an emotional appeal to this heiau because I knew the symbolism as I placed my lei on the alter.

Looking around the heiau during our time of meditation was very humbling. To see my peers feeling the spiritual power given by this temple was inspirational. Some crying, swaying, and bowing their heads-each individual had their own connection to this heiau.

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Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau and Greenwell Farms

2014-01-14 10.48.14On Tuesday, January 14, our Elon Winter Term group visited the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park in the morning and Greenwell Farms in the afternoon. Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau was used for hundreds of years by Hawaiians as a place of refuge for those who violated kapu, the sacred laws, or were escaping times of war. Upon arriving at the park, we heard from a man named Adam, who is currently one of the directors of research. I immediately related the park to our visit to the Imiloa Astronomy Center because of their connections of nature and culture. Adam pointed out that his job is somewhat unique to national parks because his research must integrate natural and cultural aspects that go hand in hand with the people of Hawaii. This connection adds to the many experiences I have had so far in Hawaii that have made me think deeper about our spiritual relation as humans to the sea, land and air.

As our tour guide led us through the grounds of the park, he explained that changes came to the place of refuge when Captain Cook landed in Kealakekua Bay and “found” the Hawaiians. He then followed by adding, “I didn’t know that we were lost. What did they say? ‘I discovered you’?” I observed that his tone was not necessarily one of anger or resentment, but rather one of slightly mocking the colonizers’ ignorance. This is a tone that I have picked up on a few times so far around Hawaii. Jonathan Osorio explained to us that the best hope for Hawaiians reclaiming their identity is not through sovereignty, but through reclamation of language and culture. While our tour guide only made a subtle comment, it made me stop to think about how trivial the “discovery” really was and how embracing language and culture is much more significant in the big picture.

The concept of cleansing oneself and being given a second chance by making it to Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau is one that interests me as it relates to our typical society where crimes are met with strict punishments. It would take a great deal of faith in spiritualism across the entire culture to believe that sacred lands can carry such significant meaning. I would love to live in a society where people who make mistakes are trusted to take certain measures to make amends, but this mindset would take generations to have any effect. I also found the figurative meaning of the name of the land to be interesting because part of the name related to a sacred hill. I was a little confused at first because there are not any actual hills within the grounds, but our tour guide explained that everyone was considered to be on “higher ground” within Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau.

As a regular coffee drinker, I had been looking forward to visiting Greenwell Farms to learn more about the process of growing and producing coffee. While I knew that coffee was an important factor of Kona’s local economy, I did not realize just how impactful it is and how much patience and cooperation is required. Our tour guide began by explaining how growing coffee cherries can be a great extra source of income for local farmers because Greenwell is always looking to buy more from locals. After the farmers bring bags full of coffee cherries to Greenwell, the bags are hung up to dry outside the mill to be picked up by the original farmer. Any private group is able to pay Greenwell to use any part of their production process for their own coffee. 90% of the coffee that Greenwell produces ends up being exported and rebranded under a different company label, while only 10% is sold directly by Greenwell.

I can see how many modern companies could be blinded by their own pride to not go out of their way to help support the local community and disconnect from aiding competitors. This was not the case at Greenwell. Even with all of the other products that their farms produce, including cacao, citrus, black pepper, bananas and avocados, Greenwell does not try to sell anything other than coffee and macadamia nuts because they would rather use them to support their farmers and the community. When someone asked our tour guide about this, he responded as if it was not even a question of whether or not to sell other products when it comes to giving them away. I was surprised by how such a successful organization is able to avoid losing sight of these types of goals.

When it came to originally acquiring the necessary lands to make Greenwell Farms, the Great Mahele was enacted in 1848 by Kamehameha III, which provided the opportune time for the Greenwell family to begin literally growing their company. Most of the same techniques used from the beginning are still being used today, and I could not help but wonder how someone even first thought of the process of making coffee. It seems now as if no part of the coffee cherry or bean is unused since composting is used to put back into the farm and the cherry skin is used to make a new drink high in antioxidants. Even something as simple as using an old coffee tree branch as a hook to reach taller branches and a rope to hold it down with one’s foot seems genius over the long term of hand picking coffee.

One point that affects modern coffee farming is national economic downturn. Even though federal shutdown has not completely taken away regulation and sales of coffee, the farms gradually take hits as the number of inspectors is decreased and they are forced to wait longer than necessary to finish a batch to send out. We tend to get frustrated and make fun of government officials for failing to come up with solutions, but it was impactful to hear an actual example of how these struggles are affecting businesses as far away as Kona, HI.

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