December 14th, 2008

O'ahu, Hawai'i: Memories of Waimea Valley

It is currently 18 degrees below zero here in Helena. On days like these, my thoughts often drift back to warmer days in Hawai'i, where I lived for several years, until I moved back to Montana in 2006. During one of those years, I lived in Pupukea on O'ahu's North Shore, and a five minute walk to Waimea Bay. My wife's Native Hawaiian ancestors owned the valley hundreds of years ago. Here is a video about Waimea and its history. The fellow in this picture is Butch Helemano, who has been faithful in his care of Waimea for many decades.

As I posted on Oct. 19, 2008, in the Honolulu Advertiser's story "Hawaiian agency draws critics over Waimea Valley stewardship":

I feel the best thing I ever did during my time at OHA was help the efforts to buy Waimea. Before I got the job at OHA, my wife's mom had just died; they are descendants of Hewahewa as well. We had rented a room to live in Pupukea for the last couple of weeks of mom's life. When we first moved there, the motion detector lights would go on and off all night, as the kupuna came by. Things were pretty bad, and I got pretty ill from a crazy life, but Waimea saved me. I can say that for sure. Waimea, mauka to makai, saved my life. I swam almost every day during the calm months in the Bay, under the water hearing the fish nibble the coral, flat on my back floating, suspended between sea and sky, ocean holding me up and the Waimea rains blessing me. I then heard about the OHA job, and applied, not really thinking I would have a chance. I promised the valley and its kupuna, I swore I would do something to repay the aloha, the HA it gave me. I thank Ke Akua I was given that chance...

And so when I heard the Valley was being sold, probably to be carved up for rich men's houses, I worked to prevent that. I knew many of the Trustees had worked to save it before, especially Trustee Waihe'e. I remember Trustees Akana and Carpenter also took a special interest, and it grew from there. There were those at OHA that didn't want to do it, spend that kind of money, deal with the issues that would surely come. But there was no other way to ensure the perpetual protection of that sacred place. I was so happy that things finally all came together, the City/County, the Army, and all the agencies and descendants came together, and Waimea was once more in Hawaiian hands.

Waimea is NOT about money. For God's sake, can't there be SOMETHING in this life that ISN'T about freaking money?! There is the ancient vision of Waimea as a sacred place, a wahi pana, a wahi kapu. One place, at least, in these troubled times for the Hawaiian people to be truly Kanaka Maoli...

A few thoughts to offer...Waimea should not be a tourist destination. No smilin' Hawaiians. Enough of that scene. Go to Waikiki or Polynesian Cultural Center for shows. Hula and cultural events at Waimea should just be a matter of living, offerings, and prayer as in the old days, for the life of the land.

It needs to be foremost seen as a sacred place. Respectful visitors should be welcome through protocol; if they can't act right, they can't come in or stay. But also, no charge for admission for anyone; you have to laulima in some way if you enter: cook, clean, pick trash, remove invasive plants, work the land-- that is the admission charge.

There should be a place, humble places, for people to stay, camp and reconnect. There should be plans for any Hawaiian who wants to totally live there old style, but ONLY if you are that serious, no phones, no power, etc. Maka'ainana. A living ahupua'a, at least the front part of the valley. The back should be Wao Akua...wahi kapu nui.

Glossary of Hawaiian Terms

Waimea= reddish water (there are several places named this on the various islands)

Pupukea= white shell

Hewahewa= the name of the Kahuna Nui (Great Kahuna) under Kamehameha I; kahuna comes from "kahu" -keeper or caretaker, and "huna" a secret...a kahuna was/is a specialist or a master in a branch of knowledge and ability, a person knowledgeable about the mysteries of a given specialty. Usually this is taken to mean a religious specialist who was in charge of worship and the temples (heiau) but there were also kahuna of healing and medicines, of sailing and fishing, etc. You don't hear this term used much anymore, usually people use the term kahu instead.

mauka= towards the uplands and mountains

makai= towards the sea

kupuna= elders; also "the ancestors"

aloha= to join the breath; to be joined in that profound relationship of life

HA= the breath; the breath of life

Ke Akua= God the Creator; in the old days there were many gods, hundreds even thousands; the four major ones recognized were Kane, Kanaloa, Ku and Lono

wahi pana= place of reknown; significant storied cultural site considered sacred; every island has hundreds of wahi pana

wahi kapu= place under kapu; kapu is a religious restriction prohibiting or enforcing an action or behavior; no, the kapu system wasn't really overthrown the way people think, not by the Hawaiians who still believed and followed the old ways

Kanaka Maoli= kanaka is a human being; maoli means "ordinary, average" but also has a nuance of being "the real kind"...this term is used to denote a person of Hawaiian blood, especially used by Hawaiians to denote a real Hawaiian

hula= prayer in movement, worship and storytelling through stylized movements, dance, and chant/song; originally very sacred and still considered so by its traditional practitioners of hula kahiko, "ancient hula" forms

laulima= lend a hand, work together

Maka'ainana= the commoner class of old Hawai'i, the "common people," those who work and eat off their labors on land and sea

ahupua'a= the old land division of Hawai'i that generally (but not always) corresponded to a watershed/valley system; a pie-slice-shaped segment running from the mountains to the sea (mauka to makai); most people were residents of specific ahupua'a, thus affording access to resources from both sea (fish, etc.) and land (kalo (taro), etc.)

Wao Akua= the upper uninhabited zone of the forest called the Forest of the Gods (wao=forest; akua=god(s)); the average Hawaiian never went there, only hunters, birdcatchers, herbalists, and other specialists temporarily going there to collect needed resources, such as the big koa logs for image (ki'i) carving. The Wao Akua was thought of by average Hawaiians the way villagers thought about the "Woods" in medieval Europe-- a dangerous and intimidating supernatural place where you only went if you had a very good reason and knew what you were doing

wahi kapu nui= place with major kapu to regulate access and use