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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  1. Posted January 15, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Great job, Nick. Very informative and detailed. I thought what our tour guide at the coffee farm DIDN’T say spoke volumes, particularly about what a “great opportunity” the Great Mahele (aka land grab) was for the Greenwells and other non-Hawaiians to buy up huge parcels of land. Very profitable for them indeed. I can’t imagine they lose any $ at all on the fruit that they allow the workers to have. Check out the price of Kona coffee!

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