- Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides by Mehana Blaich Vaughan
Mehana Vaughan's Kaiāulu: Gathering Tides is a riveting lei of stories collected over more than twenty years, dexterously woven together by the author and gifted to her readers. This lei, whose fragrance is her beloved home community nestled on the northern coast of Kaua'i, is an invitation to ponder the meaning and the making of place and the sociocultural ties that link individuals with their environments and ultimately with one another. Armed with heartwarming mo'olelo (stories) and mele (songs), Vaughan distills the essence of what makes the communities of Ko'olau and Halele'a unique and re-places the landscape and its faithful caretakers within ancestral pathways of an encompassing 'ōiwi (native) environmentalism.
Each chapter of the book is articulated around a salient concept that defines a singular 'ōiwi worldview. The first chapter begins with the 'āina (land, or "that which feeds" ), and Vaughan explains how she uses "narratives to bind this research together and illustrate the beauty, complexities, and resilience of this place" (8). As the reader embarks on this journey, they are asked to join with Vaughan in considering the significance of the way "the sun lifts over the ridge of Hanalei, igniting the ocean and bringing texture to the reef" (3). Her spellbinding pen brings into crisp view the enduring synergic balance among long-standing Halele'a families, their environment, and local efforts to engage in collaborative governance, in which environmental management encapsulates a scientific approach combined with a respect for Indigenous cultural knowledge. Chapter two helps us understand that a healthy community is premised on its ability to "maintain respectful, reciprocal relationships between people and resources" (17). Chapter three focuses on the meaning of kahu (guardian), and Vaughan explains that the care and cultivation of a place "extends to caring for the natural resources" and that one's "kuleana grows from reciprocity" (47, 48). The fourth chapter considers the roles of the konohiki, who were local-level chiefs and chiefesses in ancient times. Although this social position changed over time, its basic role remains and in Halele'a now consists mostly of "regulating fishing… and sharing the catch" (146, 58). It is quickly evident that every chapter is dedicated to the different forms of kuleana (rights and responsibilities) held by community members. Chapter five emphasizes in particular the kuleana of community members to land and the difficulties in maintaining those responsibilities when access is lost (91). With Vaughan's aid, the reader comes to understand how "fishing provides the foundation for caretaking" (42), and through an 'ōiwi worldview emphasizing balance, she helps us realize that although loss is deeply felt, it does not dictate the life or the future of her community—hope does. As such, we ultimately marvel at the strength with which this community carries its kuleana forward, one generation after [End Page 280] another—or, rather, one with another. She therefore succeeds in honoring those families who endure.
And yet Vaughan does more than that, persuasively arguing that if the consuming effects of capitalism are effectively wrenching and deeply felt, voices emerge and merge in concert to combat these forces and slow their effects. Chapter six constitutes an instructive turning point in the book; 'ōiwi biocultural tenets articulated in previous chapters fuse to meet the challenges that come with teaming up with formal management authorities in order to advocate for legislation classifying Hā'ena as a community-based subsistence fishing area (140). We navigate alongside community leaders through the frustrating bureaucratic delays "within a system that did not formally recognize their role, expertise, or commitment" (151), and we become acquainted with the gearwheels of state agencies, in which sometimes "agency expectations of unified community agreement were unrealistic" (148). We learn how strikingly hard it is to carry through when compromises have to be made because of "state agencies' lack of flexibility to adapt rules or craft them to reflect change and complexity in ecosystems...