Aloha Aina

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  • Hosted by Julia Steele

Waimanu Valley, Hawaiʻi island.
Credit Photo credit: Nate Yuen.

The 13-week “Aloha ʻĀina” series explored the roots and historical endurance of the values of aloha ʻāina, commonly translated as “love of the land.” The 65 episodes asked, what does it really mean to engage, to connect, to develop an intimate kinship with the environments and ancestral knowledge that have nourished and sustained these islands for centuries?

Commentary was provided by noted Hawaiian scholars and leaders, such as PuananiBurgess, Sam ʻOhu Gon, Davianna McGregor, Jonathan Osorio, and Walter Ritte. Through these voices and many others, the series invites listeners to deepen their understanding of aloha ‘āina and hopes to inspire them to incorporate these values into their everyday lives.

The 90-second Aloha ʻĀina vignettes aired each weekday after Fresh Air (HPR-2) at 3:57 p.m.

The series was researched, written, and narrated by Julia Steele. Steele is currently an editor at Hawai‘i’s largest magazine, Hana Hou!, where she has written and edited numerous award-winning articles about Hawai‘i. She was the founding editor of Honolulu Weekly. She holds a BA in Pacific history and journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and a JD from Stanford Law School.

The theme music for the Aloha ‘Äina series is Project Kuleana’s recording of Liko Martin’s “All Hawai‘i Stand Together.” You can see and hear the song in its entirety here. Mahalo nui loa to all involved for their graciousness in allowing us to use the music for the series.

The series was a collaboration with The Kohala Center.

Welcome to the first episode of Aloha ‘Āina, a series dedicated to exploring Hawaiian kinship with the natural world. Over the next thirteen weeks, over the course of sixty-five episodes, we’ll speak with kūpuna and kumu in the Hawaiian community and explore this deep-rooted and fundamental Hawaiian philosophy.

Over the next few days we’ll hear different voices speaking to the meaning of aloha ‘āina. We begin at the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies on the UH Mānoa campus, sitting in the office of Professor Jon Osorio as the birds outside his window call to each other. “Aloha ‘āina is a relationship not just with the land but really with nature itself and in particular that part of the land and sea and streams and water that actually sustains life.

On the thin stretch of land between stark, sere cliffs and bright blue ocean Auntie Puanani Burgess sits in Wai‘anae’s Hale Na‘au Pono, talking about aloha ‘āina as the traffic passes by on Farrington Highway.

When Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln was a boy of eight living in the uplands of Kula, Maui he saved his money for several months and bought a number of rare Hawaiian plants to plant is his backyard. He was a little kid, proud and happy, but three weeks later the axis deer came through and ate every single plant but for one lone koai‘a tree. Lincoln, now an assistant professor in indigenous crops and cropping systems at UH Mānoa, tells the story as he reflects on the meaning of aloha ‘āina.

Davianna Pōmaika‘i McGregor is a professor at UH Mānoa and a long-time member of the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, the group that in the 1970s successfully fought to stop the US military’s bombing of the island. Aloha ‘āina, she notes, is not a simple term; it conveys varying things depending on time and context.

Episode 6: Arrival

Feb 5, 2016

The first navigators to reach these islands were led here by starlight. They sailed the waters of the world’s largest ocean with the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain as their companions and the heavens as their guide. They made landfall on the wide-open coastline of Ka‘ū on the southern tip of Hawai‘i Island, and then they moved out into the astonishing lands that would become their home. They found sister peaks, one of them, Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world.

The first Polynesian navigators arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in canoes laden with plants that would become the foundation of the most complex and sophisticated agricultural systems in Oceania. These “canoe plants,” as they are known today, had been cultivated by the Polynesians for millennia and sustained their societies as they moved out across the Pacific. The navigators brought some twenty-five differing canoe plants to Hawai‘i. There was noni for medicine, kukui for light, kamani for wood.

Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln will never forget the moment he first saw the Leeward Kohala Field System. The specialist in indigenous crop systems had trudged up Pu‘u Kehena in the wind and when he turned around a massive agricultural system popped out at him, he says, like a 3D picture. The ancient system, an agricultural network covering some twenty-five square miles, is today hidden in pasture grasses but from the summit of Pu‘u Kehena it all came into view—and with it, says Lincoln, came a Eureka! moment.

In the lush green hills of Kohala fierce winds blow steady and hard. Many farmers might consider those winds an enemy—but centuries ago Hawaiian farmers made them an ally. In the ancient Kohala Field System they built low, mounded walls that stood two feet off the ground, walls that succeeded in trapping moisture from that wind; and then they planted sugar cane and banana along those walls to trap even more moisture, which fed the sweet potato and kalo growing below.

In the human history of the Hawaiian Islands, no plant has had greater significance than kalo. It sustained kingdoms for centuries and enabled the initial population of Polynesian explorers to grow to by some estimates as many as a million people. Kalo was farmed across the Islands in numerous ways, says enthobotanist Dr. Kāwika Winter.

Ethnobotanist Dr. Kāwika Winter tells of an ‘ōlelo no‘eau about kalo, the most important plant in Hawaiian agriculture. “It says ‘Ola ke kalo, ola ke kānaka; ola ke kānaka, ola ke kalo,’ which means if the taro lives, the Hawaiians live; if Hawaiians live, the taro lives.”

The proverb was more than metaphor, says Winter—it was reflected in reality. At the height of Hawaiian civilization more than four hundred varieties of kalo were cultivated. Then things changed.

Episode 12: ‘Ulu

Feb 5, 2016

It was a time of drought and starvation. To feed his wife and children, Kū, one of the most powerful gods in the Hawaiian pantheon, transformed himself into an ‘ulu tree. Such is the legend of the creation of ‘ulu or breadfruit, another essential crop in early Hawaiian agriculture. The largest grove of ‘ulu trees grew in an agroforest in the Kona Field System—half a mile wide and eighteen miles long, the forest contained thousands of ‘ulu trees and according to estimates by Dr. Diane Ragone of the Breadfruit Institute, those trees produced five tons of ‘ulu fruit an acre every year.

Traveling through the Kona district centuries ago, you would have seen a flourishing landscape. Starting at the sea you would have first found the kula, or lowland dry plains. Moving up the mountain you found the kala ‘ulu, an agroforest with a canopy of ‘ulu and kukui. Farther up was the apa‘a zone, where kalo and ‘uala were cultivated. Finally came the ‘ama‘u, where plants were planted in the understory of native forest. This was the Kona Field System and it was a perfect example of aloha ‘āina in action, says Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln.

The great abundance in ancient Hawai‘i did not come easy: it was the hard-won product of a society that very consciously sought to create it. Nineteenth-century Hawaiian historian David Malo likened the whole of ancient Hawaiian society to the human body. The head was the mō‘ī or supreme chief; the chest was nā ali‘i, the lower chiefs, and the konohiki; the right arm was the kāhuna nui, the religious leaders; the left arm, the kālaimoku, or administrators.  The fingers were the people; the right leg, the farmers and fishermen; the left leg, the warriors. It’s a metaphor that geographer Dr.

The incredibly complex and productive agricultural systems that the Hawaiians developed necessitated a highly sophisticated system of land management. And that’s exactly what the ahupua‘a system was. Here is geographer Dr. Kamana Beamer explaining just what an ahupua‘a is.

“An ahupua‘a is a division of resources that makes best use of an ecosystem and really is aligned to the social system and structures of that place. So an ahupua‘a is not just a division, it’s not just a boundary, it really is this system that allows humans and the natural world to thrive.”

One of the master architects of the ahupua‘a system is also celebrated as the first great chief of O‘ahu. His name was Mā‘ilikūkahi and he was born at the sacred birthing stones of Kūkaniloko in central O‘ahu. Mā‘ilikūkahi ruled at the beginning of the sixteenth century during a time that came to be known as the Islands' golden age, says Dr. Sam Gon of The Nature Conservancy.

Yesterday we focused on the great chief Ma‘ilikūkahi who forged the ahupua‘a system on O‘ahu. Today we look at his younger cousin, Manōkalanipō of Kaua‘i, who introduced the ahupua‘a system on his island some twenty years later, around 1500 AD. UH Mānoa Professor Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa notes that the ahupua‘a system was created in a time when Hawai‘i’s population was thriving and growing. The system, she believes, was designed to create the most food possible, specifically wetland kalo, which was the only crop for which water was actively diverted.

As Hawaiian society grew and evolved, so too did complex systems that were designed to achieve maximum harmony and abundance. The land was sorted into divisions that included ahupua‘a and ‘ili ‘āina and the people, too, had their roles to play, whether they were ali‘i or mahi‘ai, chiefs or farmers. One of the most important roles was that of the konohiki, the individuals selected by the ali‘i to manage resources and people. The konohiki were called on to have a wide set of skills, says geographer Dr. Kamana Beamer.

When the Polynesians arrived in these islands they found a wonderland where virtually every ecosystem on earth was present. Wet or dry, hot or cold, lush or barren. Whatever one sought one could find. It was inevitable that the newcomers would have an impact on this pristine environment as their numbers grew. Dr. Sam Gon of The Nature Conservancy has plotted the early human footprint on the islands.

As Hawai‘i’s human population grew and the need for resources increased, the importance of managing those resources wisely became ever more apparent—and that, says Dr. Sam Gon of The Nature Conservancy, is what drove the kapu system.

“Human beings, especially those that are paying attention to the resources, would enter into a phase in which if a resource is becoming more rare.  Essentially the kapu system existed in order to put restrictions on behavior until those resources were able to rebound.”

Umialīloa was one of the greatest chiefs of ancient Hawai‘i. Umi’s father was Līloa, the mo‘i, or ruler, of Hawai‘i Island, a fact Umi didn’t learn until he was a boy of nine or ten. When he did learn the truth, Umi set out on a pilgrimage to introduce himself to his father, passing through numerous villages and taking many young boys under his wing as he traveled. When Umi finally met his father in Waipi‘o valley, he introduced his hānai sons, the boys he had adopted along the way, and Liloa recognized the characteristics of a true leader.

When it came to food production, Hawaiian ingenuity was not limited to the land—it was on full display in the sea too. In ancient Hawai‘i there were six different types of fishponds, says Hi‘ilei Kawelo, the executive director of Paepae o He‘eia.

“The most recently evolved style is the loko i‘a kuapā, which is your typical coastal pond that makes use of the mākāhā, or the sluice gate and the weir for its operation. This type of fishpond is what is unique to Hawai‘i.”

Today we look at freshwater fishponds and the goddess who cared for them, Haumea—the earth mother, born on O‘ahu, says UH Mānoa Professor Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa.

The ideals of reciprocity that were inherent in aloha ‘āina were not restricted to land—they extended to everything in the natural world, including the ocean. Puanani Burgess remembers learning about aloha ‘āina from Walter Paulo and ‘Anakala Eddie Ka‘anā‘anā, two traditional fisherman from Miloli‘i.

Thus far in our series we have looked at three great rulers in ancient Hawai‘i: Ma‘ilikūkahi, Manōkalanipō and ‘Umialīloa. Today we turn to Pi‘ilani of Maui, a leader who remains famous to this day for his goodness, his fairness and for the peace that existed during his reign in the 1500s. Here is UH Mānoa Professor Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa.

How was aloha ‘āina expressed in the cultural arts of ancient Hawai‘i? Kekuhi Keali‘ikanaka‘oleohaililani tells the story of the goddess Hi‘iaka’s first hula—a great image, she says, to answer that question.

Yesterday Kekuhi Keali‘ikanaka‘oleohaililani told the story of the goddess Hi‘iaka’s first hula—and when Kekuhi herself is in the forest, she says, her own experience hasn’t changed much from what Hi‘iaka expressed. Kekuhi describes the way the natural world awakens the senses—how the coming of the mist or the play of the ‘apapane birds or the loftiness of the trees can spark a state of awe so powerful that it is instinctively expressed in the movement of the body through hula and the power of the voice through oli.

The arts in ancient Hawai‘i were deeply connected with the rituals of daily life, says Hawai‘i ecologist Kekuhi Keali‘ikanaka‘oleohaililani, and whatever the art, there was a constant recognition that it was the ‘āina that had provided the resource to create it, whether that was a tree for a canoe or flowers for a lei or bark for kapa. Aloha ‘āina infused the constant exchange between artists and the natural world and artists honored their kuleana of reciprocity.

For Kekuhi Keali‘ikanaka‘oleohaililani the place where aloha ‘āina has profound longevity is the place where all separation is dissolved and we realize that we are not just protectors of the natural world, we are the natural world. In our molecules, says Kekuhi, are all of the substances that make up the ‘āina and when we are truly moving with what our molecules are designed to do, we cannot not have aloha ‘āina. Where does she believe that connection with the natural world is coming from?

The 1500s to the 1800s witnessed the zenith of the Hawaiian population and the flourishing of society, says Dr. Sam Gon.

“That’s when the more sophisticated rituals, the more sophisticated kapu, the ahupua‘a system were perfected—all of these mechanisms for dealing with lots of people on the land in a limited island system.”

Farmers lived near their fields, fishermen near the sea. Ideas were shared between islands, the arts blossomed, and even warfare, says Gon, was highly managed, accountable to the gods, and ceased during the Makahiki season.