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  • Nā Kua'āina: Living Hawaiian Culture
  • Phyllis Turnbull
Nā Kua'āina: Living Hawaiian Culture, by Davianna Pōmaika'i McGregor. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0 8248-3212-4, xi + 372 pages, maps, photographs, appendixes, notes, bibliography, index. Paper, US$24.00.

This work by Davianna Pōmaika'i McGregor is a beautiful and recuperative act of love consummated over the last several decades by her study of four cultural kīpuka, or "center[s] of spiritual power" (8), on three Hawaiian islands. The kua'āina (people of the land) living there understood themselves to be part of the natural order. The first child conceived by Wākea, the Sky Father, and his daughter was a deformed fetus that, after burial, sprouted as kalo (taro). The second child of the couple was the progenitor of the Hawaiian people. Significantly, kalo, the principal food of the Hawaiian people, was an ancestor, requiring respectful treatment. The Hawaiian people's knowledge of their natural world and their respect for it was reflected in their farming, fishing, and gathering practices; they could read ocean currents, waves, and depths; they knew what could be found and when in different areas of reef; which and where inshore fish could be taken; when it was right to take them and when not to. Similarly, with the plant kingdom they knew when and how to plant, harvest, gather, and preserve. They honored and cared for the land as a companion.

This centuries-long way of life for Hawaiians was abruptly altered by the intrusion of the West, disastrously marked by its microbes and the more insidious concepts and practices of its capitalism, including private property and large-scale, mono-crop agriculture. In 1804, for instance, the death toll among Hawaiians from infectious diseases was estimated at as high as 50 percent (30). While property ownership became possible for Hawaiians as well as the foreigners among them, along with landownership came taxation. Many of the people on the land could not afford to buy the land, might not know how to register a claim awarded under the 1848 Māhele (land redistribution), or could [End Page 399] not thereafter afford the taxes. The people drifted away from the land to the ports and to wage labor when they could find it.

Under widespread cultivation of sugarcane and pineapples, much of the land's contours were regularized through clearing and grading, and its waters were captured by immensely long tunnels and deep wells. Foreign workers provided the physical labor on the plantations. The long, strong bond between the Hawaiian people and their land and way of caring for it became increasingly weakened. But here and there, like the natural kīpuka (islands of vegetation) remaining in the midst of the rough, hot flow of lava, some cultural kīpuka escaped the scalding energies of capitalism.

McGregor writes of four cultural kīpuka that were singed but have survived with their intimate ties with the land and gods still strong. The first, Waipi'o Mano Wai, on the island of Hawai'i, was historically one of the best wetland taro growing areas in all of Hawai'i. The area is a lush, steep valley on the Hamakua coast, fed by five streams. During several droughts in earlier centuries, this valley grew enough taro to feed the people from Maui as well as from the island of Hawai'i. It has now become a unique model for the management of ahupua'a (a customary Hawaiian land division extending from the mountain to the sea). Various kuleana (traditional jurisdiction or estate) owners—the Bishop Museum, the Kanu o ka 'āina charter school, and the Edith Kanaka'ole cultural foundation—teach students the protocols and chants that guided earlier kua'āina. There are few residents in the valley now; new farmers include people from nearby communities who are learning to work the land and raise taro in the traditional way.

Whereas Waipi'o was steep and relatively small, the second kīpuka described, Hana, is large, making up nearly a third of the island of Maui, with a long coastline. Its size and location meant that many kinds...


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