KI’PU MALU’NA MOLOKA’I!
Activism is alive and well on the tiny Hawaiian island of Molokai (which brings a distinct pang of anarchic joy to this jaded old Berkeley radical’s heart)! Nearly 228 years after the ‘officially recorded’ discovery of the Sandwich Islands by Captain Cook, the local (kanaka maoli) people of Molokai have risen up once more to throw the barbarian invaders (read: land speculators, real estate developers, and other blood-sucking capitalist pariahs of that distasteful ilk) off their beaches. Given the unhappy fate of the steaming (make that ‘esteemed’) Captain Cook, modern day laissez faire capitalists would be well advised to NOT take the news that cannibalism in Hawaii never officially existed as the undisputed gospel truth!
Molokai, as the most traditional (and old timey) of the major Hawaiian Islands (excluding Niihau, the ‘Forbidden Island’, privately owned by the Robinson family of Kauai—no, not Swiss Family Robinson, either—and closed to all outsider entry), has a long history of resisting the sort of culturally devastating social terraforming that characterizes most mainland haoli (that’s 'honky' to you malihini or ‘mainland’ cats) influence on the islands. After years of lying dormant in the rich volcanic soil (mostly due to the repressive effects of the Christian missionaries’ reconstruction of traditional Hawaiian culture), the first seeds of latent modern kanaka reactionism began to sprout (again) in the 20 and 30s, with the incursion of the first pre-war mainland tourists on Molokai. When cruise lines started bringing small boatloads of these fun-seeking gawkers out from the established Oahu and Honolulu tourist centers in the post-war years, this ‘new’ and as yet not-developed area of Hawaii (Molokai) was looked at with keen interest by a number of people for a variety of reasons (not least among them agricultural groups interested in planting more acres of pineapples—at that time the chief source of economic income for all the islands). With memories of Father Damian's colony for Lepers on the island's North Shore fading (subsequent to the use of Sulfonamide antibiotics to treat Hansen's Disease), Tourism industry speculators instantly sensed a vast potential for expanded economic growth.
For their part, the locals, who had always sustained a certain low-lying antipathy about the small benefits produced from increased economic development, did not view further degradation of their traditional communal customs and cultural heritage by the intensive new ‘haolification’ with favor. Additional inwanted interest was being simultaneously stimulated among real estate investors (a group of individuals with cultural sensitivities characteristically about equal to that of a swarm of hungry Tiger Sharks loosed among schools of fat Albacore tuna) from nearby Maui and the other islands.
Although fully a third of the island was already under the private control of what is now The Molokai Ranch Properties (the private acquisition of these approximately 60,000 acres of Molokai land by the original owners, a group of Honolulu businessmen, originated in 1898 under the reign of Kamehameha), Molokai locals waxed strongly reactive for the first time to both development efforts by Molokai Ranch and those of outside private speculators who were eager to buy up Molokai property. Since most locals were at that time employed by the large (Dole) pineapple plantations near Maunaloa and Kaunakakai that controlled much of the remaining land not owned by Molokai Ranch, recurrent fear of available land buy-ups for sale to wealthy private individuals was not yet on the immediate horizon.
Over the years that have passed from the time of that early dawning of awareness by locals, decades of economic progress and massive commercial growth have changed the status quo monumentally. With the phasing out of agriculture as the principle source of Hawaiian Islands income (to be supplanted by the booming growth of tourism), land that was formerly dedicated to agriculture was no longer put to that use. Consequent to closure of the plantations (the last one folding in the late 80s), Molokai was suddenly faced with economic constraints even more severe than it had previously contended with. Ironically, it was never much more than a subsistence economy for the locals at best, since most of the former agricultural profits had gone straight into mainland investors’ pockets.
Concurrent with the rise of immense personal fortunes gained from the booming stock market of the 1980s by the wealthiest members of American society, the trickle-down effect also resulted in greatly increased discretionary income in the higher tiers of the American upper middle class. One direct result of that was renewed interest in Hawaiian real estate for upper middle class vacation homes (& condos). Consequently, real estate speculation (particularly evident on the other more 'haolified’ islands of Oahu, Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui) increased to the point where there really wasn’t much prime real estate left to be found outside of Molokai—grossly overpriced or not.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Molokai began to feel the pressure of this renewed speculation interest anew, generated by the new wave of island-based investors who were eager to buy up property on the island and/or purchase it for development, as the last plantations shut down permanently. This sequence of events brought the chief dilemma of the island into sharp focus: what would help support the island’s never prosperous economy, if not for development and renewed investment? With the sole primary basis of the island’s always precarious economy now at an end (pineapples and plantation based agriculture), the choice seemed to be between preserving the old ways by limiting or disallowing development (with its deleterious effects on the locals in terms of employment, etc.) or cautiously welcoming development and investment, knowing full well that once started, such activity could not easily be controlled or modulated (but with consequently better employment opportunities and substantially increased per capita income as a result).
Meanwhile, the not-quite-dormant spark of local Molokai activism was further inflamed by the US Navy’s refusal, in the mid 80s, to relinquish their exclusive use of nearby Kaho’olawe Island (an 11 x 5 mile island on the opposite side of Maui) as a weapons testing range; local Molokai activists successfully joined protestors from all across the islands to force the Navy to eventually end its activity there and return the island to its natural state in 1989. This lesson in the effective results of committed resistance was not soon to be forgotten by local islanders, least of all by Molokaiians.
The more outspoken activists among the locals (such as the ever vigilant Molokai native son and opposition leader, hapa kanaka Walter Ritte) began to promote a home-island (Molokai) policy of resisting any and all development, arguing that using the other islands as a bellwether for gauging the disastrous effects of poorly regulated outside economic investment activity in Hawaii, there was little if any likelihood that the hereditary cultural ways and the remaining vestiges of old Hawaiian tradition (that Molokai is so noted for) could be saved if the last available open land started to be sold off for private vacation homes. When island cruise lines began renewing their port-calls off Molokai’s spectacular shores in the early 90s, locals gathered yet again to protest the adverse impact on the local marine environment of these ships’ dumping of waste and fuel tanks in the littoral areas near shore, while anchored. Although the visits of tourists brought to Molokai by cruise boats would have doubtless generated a not-inconsiderable amount of additional income for the island’s residents, the forceful nature of the local resistance to these tourist visits by cruise operators eventually brought any plans by cruise lines to offer this sort of tourism to Molokai to an effective end.
As local sensitivity to off-island economic exploitation increased, the loose association of island activists, in addition to resisting private investment and real estate speculation efforts, escalated the more or less on-going contention of some 30 years or more with the current owners of the Molokai Ranch property over how they used their property. Chief among the most important issues was the matter of the island’s available water and how it was to be used. The entire Island is supplied by water run through a viaduct from the 4000 foot high east end, under its peaks, to the Ho’olehua area (augmented by several wells), where it is then piped to the very arid west end of the island (most of the Molokai Ranch property is located on this western third of the island).
In recent years, the Maui County and Molokai community advisory committees responsible for municipal utility concerns on the island have focused on the highly contentious water issue, as arguments have been hotly aired and debated relative to the perceived conflict of needs by the indigenous Hawaiian Homelands residents (a homestead land trust established for full blooded Hawaiian natives on the central area of the island, near Ho’olehua) versus the present and future needs of the ranch (with its existing tourist facilities and planned developments).
Most recently, Molokai Ranch, working closely with its Singapore parent owner organisation, and local Molokai community groups, put together its 'Community Based Master Land Use Plan', in which a specified number of acres (about 55,000 acres) would be set aside for preservation as a Hawaiian community land trust in exchange for an agreement that would allow Molokai Ranch to sell 200 two acre luxury lots at the southwest tip of the island, near La’au Point. Among the peripheral incentives for locals was be a promise to restore and renovate the old Molokai Sheraton Hotel (also known in the past as the Kaluako’i Resort and Country Club) that has seen numerous closures and reopenings over past decades—an arrangement that would provide some increased employment for locals.
As always, the arguments on both sides are highly divisive and quite polarised, but there is little doubt that the central issue invariably reduces to development and investment versus preservation of the old Hawaiian culture and its historic traditions. Hawaii's Governor Linda Lingle has recently weighed in on the side of the Molokai Ranch, stating that in its most recent modification, the Molokai Ranch Community Based Master Use Plan is the “best and most realistic compromise” between the harsh economic realities the island faces and the admirable ideals of preserving Molokai’s important cultural heritage that activists rally around. [It should be noted here that Governor Lingle first came to the islands in the late 70s, staying with a Filipino couple in Kaunakakai’s Ranch Camp residence (Felix and Cresencia Beifitel, who happen to be friends of mine). Their detached spare room was once Lingle’s first home in the islands when she arrived in 1978 and I have myself availed their hospitality on occasion, by staying in the same room]. Lingle therefore has strong emotional ties to Molokai, yet she sees more economic sense in working with the Molokai Ranch’s compromise plan to maximize the overall benefits for all. Clearly, the challenges posed by this as yet complex and somewhat thorny problem are neither simple nor easily resolved.
Understandably, Walter Ritte and his fellow activists have broken with the Ranch’s proposal and are now actively resisting its offer by ‘occupying’ the La’au Point in the finest traditions of Native American tribes who similarly occupied the Federal Penitentiary on San Francisco Bay’s Alcatraz Island in 1969 (claiming it was surplus to Federal needs and should therefore be declared ‘Native American Land’). Ritte’s group of Hawaiian blooded locals call themselves ‘Hui Ho’opakele’Aina’ and have organised a beachhead on the La’au Point, where they have erected a traditional Hawaiian hale (hut) constructed of mangrove logs and palm fronds, and are now residing there as a high-profile protest cadre to thwart any efforts to implement the Molokai Ranch Master Plan.
As the Hawaiian state flag currently waves on a mangrove pole over this scenically striking stretch of wild Molokai coastline, with its spectacular ocean and natural splendor, Ritte and his people have to be admired for their tenacity and idealism in the face of pressure to accommodate economic dictates of compromise. Principle is often the first thing to be sacrificed these days in the name of economic expediency—most often in association with disputed development of natural resources for private or corporate gain. The La’au Point area of still largely pristine Molokai is a very interesting final test case within which to determine the fate of this last of the remaining traditional refuges of old Hawaiian Island culture. Adoption of the Molokai Ranch plan, while sorely needed from an economic standpoint, almost assures that this old fashioned, sleepy island we all care about so much shall stumble unwillingly onto the same grim path the other islands did in negligently allowing ruinous economic exploitation to destroy any resemblance their culture once had to traditional old Hawaii.
In regarding the courageous significance of Walter Ritte’s protests against the implacable advancement of commercial exploitation that the La’au Point occupation represents on Molokai, I am yet again reminded of two of my favorite ancient Hawaiian sayings:
“Ukuli’I ka pua, onaona I ka mau’u” (“Tiny is the flower, yet it scents the grasses all around!”)
“I ulu no ka lala I ke kumu, ke ewe hanau o ka ‘aina!”! ("We are here because of our ancestors, the lineage born of the land!”)
MALA’MA A’NA: Care for the Earth! (Part 1)
Kuleana a Wakea a me Hina
Revered story teller Makuahine Harriert Ne, as recorded in her oral tradition stories of Molokaiian folklore (titled ‘Tales of Harriet Ne’), reaches out to everyone who reads her wonderful passages. Seldom have the treasured traditional stories and legends of this island been captured in print as beautifully and as eloquently as in the 1992 version of her original 1981 book, 'Legends of Molokai', that was released a year after her death.
It goes without saying that those who still fluently read and speak the old language benefit tremendously from their ability to get significantly closer to the original meaning found in the legends and stories of old Moloka’i, but even for those of us who are not Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian blooded locals), the messages found in her tales come across plainly and evocatively. [In support of the former ability, I can only commend those enrolled in the Moloka’i total Hawaiian immersion program, especially as the old ways and language are continuously assaulted by each daily draught of mainland pop culture dreck.]
Subtly interwoven into and throughout Harriet Ne’s stories is a wonderful sense of Kuleana, or responsibility, for few knew more about the importance of maintaining the age-old ties of ‘ohana (family) in their broadest sense than did Harriet Ne in her time. Today, sadly, as the old Hawaiian culture languishes in our societal rush to embrace mainstream US culture (with its obsessive self-preoccupation, tawdry sensationalism, and tasteless egocentricity), it is worth reevaluating that connection between the Island of Molokai and its people that Auntie Harriet highlighted so successfully.
Just as the Island of Moloka’i was, according to legend, the offspring of Hina and Wakea (legendary Hawaiian deities), so too are the present inhabitants of the island its keiki (children). In this figurative role, many wisely recognize and accept the responsibility that is incumbent upon them to honor and respect the island and its traditions, but sadly, a number do not. One sees evidence of this more and more frequently in the form of cast-off garbage carelessly left on the beach, needless destruction of plants, trees, and growing things, failure to honor the sanctity of old religious sites, a lessening of respect for elders outside the immediate ‘ohana, and in its broadest sense a failure to recognize the fact that this responsibility extends in fact beyond the island, to the very planet we all share. This sort of disregard also runs against the very oldest traditions of the ancient Hawaiian sense of responsbility for the 'aina (or home land).
Although the battle against the blatantly small-minded lack of awareness of American Malihini (generally, white mainlanders, recently arrived) pop culture represents is always a hard conflict to wage, there are other ways in which a sense of kuleana (responsibility) to the Island of Moloka’i may be maintained. Happily, they are perfectly congruent with the natural movement for world-wide conservation, for in treating the island’s physical environment with respect, we demonstrate resonant regard for all things, living and otherwise, that inhabit the Earth. Thus, the strong logic of doing so extends well beyond the indigenous care for the traditional 'aina to a broad-based sense of modern communal well-being
I have two wonderful dogs, both big healthy Northern working dogs, that are an important part of my personal Moloka’i ‘ohana. Through careful and persistent training, dispensed equally with great sloppy, big-dog doses of affection, I have managed to gain the natural respect of these normally very independent family members. So too, I like to feel, it should be with keiki (children) to a similar extent. In house-training the dogs, I made it very clear that taking a dump in the hale is not acceptable behavior. Analogously to keiki, polluting the environment, dumping trash and garbage carelessly, road-racing recklessly on streets, showing disrespect for elders, and treating the island disrespectfully is not demonstrating proper kuleana ho’opono (respectful care), either.
Harriet Ne’s wonderful stories are a joy to read for many reasons, but not least for the fact that the importance of the many small moralities that form the foundations of larger moralities are also glimpsed recurrently within them. Of course, I cannot say I would expect to find anything less in any Auntie’s traditional stories of the past, but seeing the obvious importance they bear in her words is both gratifying and inspiring. One of the chief factors in gaining true understanding of any body of legends, stories, and/or tales of the ‘old ways’ is to be found, I feel, in discovering that the same universal principles of honor, respect, and responsible action apply equally to the infinitely greater world that lies beyond the shores of lovely Moloka’i. Thus, in maintaining responsibility to all—our family, our friends, our community, and our island, we also embrace our duty to preserve, respect, and maintain our world.
Interestingly, this simple truth was highlighted in a space shuttle flight in 1991 (the year of Harriet’s passing) some 350 miles above Moloka’i, when astronauts viewed beautiful Moloka’i Nui a Hina (“Molokai, Beloved of Hina”) on one of its Earth orbits. It is too bad that the beauty of Mother Island and Mother Earth could not have been communicated by the astronauts at that time directly to Molokaiians, but I am sure that if Harriet Ne had been up there and able to look down upon the Earth in a similar manner, she would surely not have failed to find just the right descriptive words.
MALA’MA A’NA: Care for the Earth! (Part 2)
Global Warming and Moloka’i
It is hard to imagine any part of the present modern world that does not have concerns about the world-wide phenomenon that is 'Global Warming'. Regardless of your political, religious, or economic outlook, this is problem that has already had and shall continue to have profound effects on all of us, like it or not. It is therefore something that everyone should recognize and be concerned about.
So often it is hard to accept the fact that beautiful Moloka’i, our island paradise situated 2,500 miles from the US mainland, may experience serious problems that are in large part the product of corporate economic activity centered on the American continent (or perhaps on other parts of the developed world). Yet nearly every day another of these powerful, but not readily perceived effects of modern civilisation hits the island as if Moloka’i were being deliberately targeted. The scarcity of petroleum fuel resources is probably the most readily recognized of these economic and environmental forces presently effecting us; most of us have had that experience of standing there at the gas pump, cringing at the high cost of a gallon of fuel as we fill the tank.
‘Global Warming’ is another such concern and although the impact of world-wide global warming is not as immediate and painful as the energy (petroleum) crisis represented by escalating oil prices, it is even bigger and ultimately more threatening to the planet and even to the survival of humanity.
The term ‘Global Warming’ refers to the atmospheric phenomenon in which average seasonal temperatures ranging across the planet are rising. Although relatively slight, this small increase in temperatures is principally caused by growing levels of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide, a 'greenhouse gas' is the product of a breakdown (both natural and artificial) of complex hydrocarbon compounds. Much of it is presently released by human industrial activity (such as manufacturing processes and vehicular exhaust emissions) although a substantial amount of it is also created biologically by animal life—the quaint term horse exhaust is not without its undeniably factual basis--and by flora.
Regardless of how it originates, the effects of rising carbon dioxide levels are having a profound impact on our Earth. Among these are polar ice cap melting, disruption of seasonal weather patterns (with resulting severe storms, droughts, etc.), severely hot weather, rising of the sea level, threatened loss of entire animal and bird species, and changing sea currents, just to name a very few.
With their powerful consumer economies and ever increasing consumption of domestic goods, the United States and Europe are presently most to blame in the man-caused global warming effects category. It was recently pointed out that more than 75% of the world’s entire oil resources have been consumed by America (and a few other highly developed nations) in the last 100 years alone!
And yet many individuals persist in denying these facts, refusing to face them squarely (including the Bush Administration). Clearly, this is not just unwise, but also unproductive. Although it is critical to accept the seriousness of the problem and start taking action, some scientists offer evidence that the effects of global warming all already too far advanced to turn them around completely. More sobering still is the fact that as large nations like India and China continue to develop their economies after the American model of disproportionate consumption of resources, the present global warming process will increase logarithmically. If that is in fact the eventual case, who knows whether or not a few thousand years hence if the presently beautiful green and blue Earth we all regard as home will more closely resemble the dessicated red wastes of barren, lifeless Mars.
For these reasons, everyone needs to start thinking about what they may do to help arrest (or at least retard) the process of global warming. Actions we can all take on a local level on the island of Moloka’i include trying to conserve energy (reduce gasoline consumption and explore alternate means of personal transportation, especially healthy, human-powered bicycles), install solar heating and wind driven electrical generators whenever possible, conserve water use and waste, recycle paper, metal, and plastic products, and in general develop a sensitivity to these issues that will help stem unnecessary consumption. On a larger and higher level, steps need to be taken by consensual political process to assure maximum influence is brought to bear on the problem.
If we continue to do nothing at all and refuse to recognize the wisdom of taking positive measures now (no matter how small), we will continue to see the level of the oceans rise, perhaps covering some of those beautiful beaches we all take for granted. Destructive storms may threaten our islands more frequently, rainfall patterns may change adversely (severe drought is a major calamity for Pacific islands dependent upon regular rainfall like Moloka’i), and vegetation may continue to diminish remarkably (with desert-like effects).
All of these positive actions (and many more) must begin with each of us now doing whatever we can, if we are going to succeed in helping protect beautiful Moloka’i Nui a Hina from the very real and undeniably dire effects of global warming!
Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono! ('The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness’, motto of the State of Hawaii).
Aloha kakou! ('Loving greetings to all of us!')