Column: Master plan protects health of Kawainui-Hamakua wetlands
Since the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, kanaka maoli caretakers no longer possess the Kawainui-Hamakua wetlands, or any other lands in the Kailua ahupua’a.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Kanaka maoli settled on the shoreline of Kailua and in the valleys of the Kailua ahupua‘a some 1,500 years ago, and erected a temple of worship at Ulupo Heiau. Dedicated to agriculture and the flourishing waters and fertile soils of Kawainui, food crops were grown in lo‘i kalo (ponded terraces) and fish were farmed in the loko i‘a (fish ponds). The people sought guidance and spiritual comfort from their ancestral gods, and strived to be pono with the aina as they assumed their kuleana (kinship responsibilities).
Since the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, kanaka maoli caretakers no longer possess the Kawainui-Hamakua wetlands, or any other lands in the Kailua ahupua’a. We have had to adjust to the Western concept of landownership by private and governmental landlords and collaborate with them to ensure that our natural and cultural resources are protected, conserved and restored as a sustainable environmental/cultural ecosystem.
Today, kanaka maoli of the Kailua Native Hawaiian organizations are the protectors and guardians of Kawainui, lands that are sacred to us. We continue to assume our kuleana and honor our ancestors, malama the aina and work to perpetuate native Hawaiian cultural practices at, what is now called, the Kawainui-Hamakua Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance.
As the first environmentalists in these islands, Native Hawaiians continue to lead the effort to restore the health of Kawainui so it can be returned to its role as an important cultural, natural and sustainable agricultural resource. We have done this through curatorship agreements with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR)’s Division of State Parks, and Division of Forestry and Wildlife. For decades, we have been the primary educators and caretakers at several sacred sites on the edges of Kawainui, bringing thousands of community members and school children there to teach about the traditional and scientific knowledge encompassed within the Kailua wetlands.
We have actively restored damaged lands in and around Kawainui since the 1990s. Where once koa haole and java plum dominated the landscape, they have been replaced by the kinolau of the akua deities. Where once the area below Ulupo was filled with invasive shrubbery, today it is filled with thriving, spring-fed lo‘i and mala (garden) where field taro is grown.
The Kawainui-Hamakua Master Plan recognizes the crucial importance of supporting a Native Hawaiian presence at Kawainui and bolstering the work carried out by Kanaka Maoli there, for free, for decades. Cultural and educational hale, plant nurseries, tool sheds, secured parking lots and restrooms are vital components that ensure perpetuation of native culture practices at Kawainui and are in accordance with the recommendations of the Ramsar Convention Resolutions.
We aim for all structures achieving low-impact, nonpolluting, LEED-certified green building standards. These will be architecturally modest, Hawaiian traditional-looking kauhale that will blend into the landscape.
Cultural centers are for teaching local children Hawaiian arts and crafts, native practices, Hawaiian language, to grow and prepare native foods, for halau to practice and learn. Absurd, baseless rumors have circulated claiming those involved in educational programs and cultural practices at Kawainui are secretly planning to make money from tourists by offering for-profit luau and hula shows there. But DLNR doesn’t allow for-profit hula shows for tourists at Kawainui, and entertaining tourists is not the purpose of a cultural center.
The master plan is not about tourists: visitors will have very limited parking; there is no tour bus parking. We in the Hawaiian organizations are just as concerned as others about tourist impact and influx.
Learn about the Kawainui-Hamakua Marsh Master Plan and how it protects and supports native culture, stewardship, wetland bird pond restoration and education. The plan ensures survival and perpetuation of the kanaka maoli at Kawainui who are teaching mo‘olelo (native traditions) at Kawainui Marsh, restoring its wetland ecosystem as well as the health of this wahi pana (storied place), now and for future generations.
Charles K. Burrows, Mapuana de Silva and Charles Lehuakona Isaacs Jr. are kanaka maoli of the Kailua Hawaiian organizations.