Malama Aina and Ho’oponopono: Reflecting on Hawai’i’s History to Look Forward

Malama Aina and Ho’oponopono: Reflecting on Hawai’i’s History to Look Forward

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. A recent event in Honolulu commemorating this anniversary was attended by thousands of people, marching from the Hawaiʻian Royal Mausoleum (Mauna Ala) to the Iolani Palace, where Queen Liliʻuokalani — the Hawaiʻian Kingdom’s last reigning monarch — was forcibly removed from the throne.

Most Americans know Hawaiʻi as one of the planet’s great vacation spots, for its surfing, volcanoes, and Pearl Harbor. I can speak from personal experience that, at least via my own public school education, the version of Hawaiʻi’s history that I received was highly romanticized and biased, and as you can imagine, not in favor of native Hawaiʻians. I can vaguely remember back to 1959 when Hawaiʻi was admitted as our country’s 50th state. For many Americans it was cause for celebration and a statement of progress and great national optimism. But for others, not so much. There has lately been a concerted nationwide effort to revisit our history (not revise), to seek and recognize unbiased and unfiltered truth and in Hawaiʻi, this recognition has never been more evident.

Current anthropology points to the original settlement of the Hawaiʻian Islands by Polynesians from the South Pacific’s Marquesas Islands between 300 and 500 AD. A second wave of settlement followed between 900 and 1000 AD, this time from the Tahitian islands. Using their knowledge of the sea and the stars, the Tahitians navigated their double-hulled canoes some 3,500 miles north, landing first on the Big Island (the island of Hawaiʻi). These settlers came in waves, bringing most everything necessary for survival, including food crops and livestock — none of which were native to the Islands.

This community grew and flourished and by the time Europeans first made contact, the population was estimated between 800,000 to 1,000,000. Hawaiʻi was a completely self-sustaining, ecologically balanced community and by some accounts, one that enjoyed the highest standard of living of any human settlement on the planet. All of that began to change when the British Captain James Cook ran into the Islands during his third voyage to the Pacific. Commanding his sailing ships Resolution and Discovery, Cook first sighted the islands of Oʻahu, then Kauaʻi and Niʻihau and on January 20, 1778, landed in Waimea on the island of Kauaʻi. There are many accounts of ‘post-contact’ Hawaiʻian history, but I found Julia Flynn Siler’s book, Lost Kingdom, to be very clear, informative and most importantly, truthful.

Unlike many of its predecessors, Siler's book eschews the bias and historical perspective of Christian missionaries and their imperial counterparts to focus on the experience of native Hawaiʻians. Siting over 275 sources, Siler explores the degradation of Hawaiʻi's people, culture, and land, culminating in the forced abdication of Queen Liliʻuokalani's throne. For a good review / synopsis of the book, please find it here

Queen Lili'uokalani

Formal annexation of sovereign territory happens and is internationally recognized through treaty, most often as a result of cessation of conflict (mostly armed). Not that all treaties are fair or are they honored — just look to many of those executed between Native American tribes and the US government — but a treaty between nations still represents an internationally recognized form of agreement and due-process. No such treaty was ever executed between Queen Liliʻuokalani, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the United States Government and thus, the status of Hawaiʻi is not entirely clear. A ruling coming out of an arbitrated case in the Hague’s International Court of Justice and its Permanent Court of explicitly recognizes the Hawaiʻian Kingdom as a State and the acting Government (the current State Government) as its representative, which is also recognition that the Hawaiʻian Kingdom was never formally annexed by the United States, but rather illegally occupied since the Spanish-American War in 1898. So what does this all mean? Well, according to this ruling and the legal minds associated with it, Hawaiʻi is an occupied territory and not really part of the United States.

The overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani and all that has transpired in Hawaiʻi since has, over time, precipitated many groups and movements that have advocated for a wide range of outcomes, from varying levels of Hawaiʻian sovereignty to outright succession from the Union. One of the current and very significant sovereignty movements is the Aloha ʻAina Party. This political party is working to assure social, economic, and environmental justice for the peoples of Hawaiʻi. Their foundational principles are expressed as follows and note, I’ve condensed and summarized:

  • Aloha ke Akua: acknowledgment of the existence of a higher, spiritual power, and the freedom for all to worship and seek guidance as their conscience moves them;

  • Aloha Kānaka: love for all the people, regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin;

  • Mālama ʻĀina: respect for the land and recognition that the relationship between the well-being of the land and the well-being of the people are inextricably linked;

  • Government Accountability and Transparency: strong belief that the government must truly be of the People, by the People, and for the People and must be transparent and accountable;

  • Hoʻoponopono: To make right what is wrong, specifically as related to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1893 – something that must be addressed and rectified.

The principle of Mālama ʻĀina is perhaps the one that most resonates with those of us at WRNS as we celebrate our five year anniversary in the State.  One would think that by virtue of its geography, cultural history, and unique physical environment, Hawaiʻi would still — as it once was — be on the forefront when it comes to creating an environmentally sustainable community. Nothing, unfortunately, could be further from the truth.

Located almost in the center of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaiʻi is one of the most geographically isolated places on earth. Within 30 miles on the big island of Hawaiʻi alone, ecosystems range from marine coral reefs to snow-capped mountains. The world's wettest spot, Mt. Waialeale on the island of Kauai, receives over 430 inches of rain per year. Hundreds of different soil types are spread across the islands’ 6,400 square miles and the islands possess a combined 750-mile coastline — one almost as long as that of California. While this isolation has supported the evolution of diverse environments for flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, it has also enabled a multitude of serious local environmental issues.

The most critical of these concern Hawaiʻi's unique biodiversity and the associated threats caused by introduced, invasive species. While Miconia weed, the coqui frog, and dengue fever spread by mosquitoes have received publicity most recently (and btw, mosquitos are not native to Hawaiʻi), they represent just a few of the thousands of species of animals, insects, plants, and organisms that have been introduced on the islands — many of which have turned invasive, wreaking environmental havoc. Unchecked and poorly planned development has caused the contamination of ground water with organic chemicals, and pollution of coastal waters with sediments and pathogens from both urban and agricultural runoff. The presence of numerous chemicals in active and former military sites represent an additional set of serious environmental challenges. The result of all this is Hawaiʻi’s dubious title as the "extinction capital of the world", with almost 40% of the endangered species in the United States being Hawai`ian species and nearly 75% of all U.S. extinctions occurring in Hawaiʻi. It is within this context that the Aloha ‘Aina Party is advancing the principle of Mālama ʻĀina as one of its key tenets. Mālama ʻĀina — respect for the land — has encouraged a wave of new thinking and activism as related to conservation, energy generation, energy consumption, waste and water management, and agricultural practice. All of it inspired by native Hawaiʻian tradition.

As WRNS celebrates our fifth year in Hawaiʻi, we draw inspiration from Mālama ʻĀina. One of the catalysts for opening a practice here, in addition to personal histories and connections, was our understanding of the State’s critical need for a higher level of sustainability-driven planning and design. We have witnessed in many of Hawaiʻi's residents, both native and local, a great desire to help redirect the state from a continued trajectory that could result, once again, in peril. Of course architecture is only one piece of the puzzle, but crafting buildings and environments that help solve contemporary problems — in ways that are respectful and authentic to the islands’ environment and cultural history — is fundamental to our approach. And we’ve found great need for more of it. 

We arrived on-island at an interesting time, as the political will of the people and institutions were beginning to mount a serious campaign to create a place that can be an inspiration and example to the rest of the world. By virtue of its unique geography and cultural history, Hawaiʻi is, in a sense, the ‘canary in the coal mine’ as it relates to the rest of the planet (that is, how Hawaiʻi goes, so goes the planet). Based on our relationships, our point-of-view and our experience, Hawaiʻi represented a natural opportunity in which to participate in the discussions shaping Hawaiʻi's future. 

We have been honored to be a part of the following projects:

  • Planning for cultural gardens at Kamehameha Schools;

  • Sustainability Advisors to the State Department of Education (DOE); 

  • Development of an Infrastructure Master Plan for the University of Hawaiʻi’s Manoa Campus (a framework to meet net-zero energy and water goals and a plan for resiliency); 

  • Designers for the conversion of a historic UH Manoa gymnasium into one of the campus’ first net-zero buildings;

  • Developing a master plan for the Kuhio Park public housing community (creating a place of dignity for Pacific Islanders displaced by the US Governments atomic testing in Micronesia); 

  • Designers for a green, high-rise urban school (Pohukaina) that will help create community in a new high-density urban development; 

  • Designers for a high-rise, senior housing and community center project to help fill the acute need for affordable housing for a poorly served population.

In various ways, these projects strive to support the precepts of Mālama ʻĀina as well as Hoʻoponopono — to help right what is wrong. We didn’t come to Hawaiʻi to design buildings that could be anywhere. We came to apply the best of our thinking to help right the ways in which Hawai’I has been wronged — at least as related to planning and design. While the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi represented the end of what was — at one time — a self-sufficient, self-reliant, sustainable community, the event’s 125th anniversary represents somewhat of a re-birth of the notion that Hawaiʻi can and should get back on the path leading to what it once was. WRNS, by virtue of our point-of-view, experience, and deep relationship with Hawaiʻi, hopes to humbly assist.

As Hawaiʻi goes, so goes the Earth: The Hawaiʻian islands as seen from the International Space Station on January 18, 2014; source

Sources and links:

  • A concise summary of the Hawaiʻian Sovereignty movement can be found through this Wikipedia link,`ian_sovereignty_movement;

  • Please refer to the link for the full text of the principles set forth by the Aloha ‘Aina Party;

  • Please refer to the link for a list of Official Hawaiʻi Invasive Species. Note that there is a distinction between "introduced" and "invasive." There are many more species than listed here that have been "introduced" in Hawaiʻi (e.g. the pineapple), but left to their own devices they won't become environmentally "invasive." That is, they cannot exist untended in the wild and thus, present minimum environmental risk. However — and specifically in the case of the pineapple — it could be argued that its introduction as a major agricultural crop was highly invasive and destructive from an environmental, social, and cultural perspective.