Self-Reliance Runs Deep on Kauaʻi’s North Shore

Apr 23, 2018

One week after historic rains swamped the north shore of Kauaʻi, communities at the end of the road remain isolated. While geographic isolation raises unique challenges in disaster recovery, it always strengthens this community’s self-reliance. HPR’s Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi has this story.

Self-reliance is nothing new to the flood-devastated communities on Kauaʻi’s North Shore. Hanalei resident Makaʻala Kaʻaumoana says when Hurricane ‘Iniki hit in 1992, community members turned away much of the external aid. Mostly because they already took action.

“This is not a community that has ever sat still and waited,” says Kaʻaumoana, “We have never been on the curb with a cup yeah? And we have that reputation.”

Over the last week, community members and organizations from Hanalei to Hāʻena mobilized one of the community’s most responsive, grassroots disaster relief efforts to date.

“We’re doing the cooking at Waipā, the feeding at the courthouse. Two local restaurants stepped up and fed everybody,” says Kaʻaumoana, “So weʻve got a steady stream of volunteers coming to the courthouse to be coordinated. So right now we’re using the courthouse for that. The County finally let us in.”

Daily boat transportation is available with online reservations to the isolated communities of Wainiha and Hāʻena. Clean-up crews are being deployed on the daily. And specific supply requests from community members are being fulfilled by the boat load.

“We got boots on the ground, guys are working. Guys are spending their own money unfortunately. But you know it is what it is,” says Kaʻaumoana, “These guys have not left one kupuna uncared for, one keiki unfed, not one leaf unturned. It is unbelievable.”

In the last century, generations of families from  Waiʻoli to Waipā, Waikoko to Lumahaʻi have survived tsunamis, hurricanes, landslides, and flooding. A community mindset runs strong on this coast.

“We teach our children to take care of our kūpuna, to take care of our keiki. Those are the values that come into play right now and they are real! They’re absolutely real,” says Kaʻaumoana, “‘Where is aunty? I haven’t seen aunty? Has anybody been to her house? You know, what’s going on?’ These young people who have been raised in this community with that kind of history just figured thatʻs how it is, thatʻs how itʻs done. They donʻt know the difference.”

These values come from a long history of geographic isolation. And every disaster, says Kaʻaumoana, is a reminder of the community’s deep connection to the land.

“You know for Hawaiians, we don’t see ourselves as above the land. We see ourselves ‘of’ the land and stewards of the land. We don’t see ourselves as having dominion over it, right?’ says Kaʻaumoana, “So this is when that really comes into play because if you saw yourself as having dominion over the land, you just got kurflunked.”

Looking toward the future, she sees opportunity.

“This is the time. After we get passed this emergency piece…this is the time to do some planning,” says Kaʻaumoana, “Coastal areas where people have been building where maybe they shouldn’t be. This is the time to put the North Shore shuttle in place so we don’t have cars running to the end of the road all day long. This is the time when we can back up, take a good look and take a deep breath and plan these things correctly.”