Hawaiian culture

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Sometimes it seems obvious that in a place like Hawaii, incorporating traditional Hawaiian values would be perfectly compatible with conservation of native ecosystems and species. Yet it is remarkable thatrelatively few people have a clear idea of what this actually might mean. As it becomes more and moreacceptable to learn about and practice Hawaiian culture, it is good to know more about the links between that host culture and conservation efforts, and to meld traditional values into a modern conservationethic.

Such an ethic would be grounded in ancient Hawaiian traditions, but relevant to our times, responsible to Hawaiian culture as well as scientific rigor in order to protect Hawaii’s native culture and natural heritage through active stewardship, research, and education.

Reciprocal responsibility.

Hawaiian traditions establish a reciprocal relationship between people and living systems. Hawaiian culture evolved in the embrace of native ecosystems, land and sea. As a result, Hawaiians developed an intimate relationship with theirnatural setting, marked by deep love, knowledge, and respect of these places.Exploring the Hawaiian relationship to the land reveals a service relationship; not land serving people, but people serving the land.

This indicates the service relationship, with the needs of the land coming first; and once these are satisfied, the land can support the people living upon it.

Kapu and Noa.

Human use of natural resources in ancient Hawai‘i were based upon religious restrictions (kapu) that maintained proper balance (lōkahi) at multiple levels, between people and resources. Abuse of resources under kapu was punished harshly, typically by death of the violator, lest doom come to all. When balance was achieved, kapu could be lifted (noa) and used readily.

Integration of the natural world with spirituality brings stewardship into the realm of moral obligation. Reinsertion of humans into the native landscape is something that extends beyond the typical bounds of western science. Relationships that involve the spiritual side of human existence tend to be avoided by western science, but are sought and embraced by Hawaiian culture.

Inclusive relationships.

One aspect of a traditional Hawaiian approach to conservation is the central role of humans in the natural world. Instead of viewing people as the problem, it acknowledges that people are part of the living universe, with clear responsibilities to nurture the land in a reciprocal and sustainable manner.

It boils down to establishing a relationship between people and their lands. For native Hawaiians, these islands are the “one hānau” the “birth sands” and so it is a responsibility to know your lands and care for them. For most conservation biologists who work here, it is a relationship that grows out of long-term, intimate knowledge of the species and systems in which they work.

Thus, the unique biodiversity of the Hawaiian ecoregion valued greatly by evolutionary biologists worldwide also generated an equally rich cultural system in the isolated, pre-western indigenous Hawaiian society that developed within it. Native species carry great cultural significance and value that can and should be wielded as a powerful basis and justification for conservation.

Plants and animals as elders.

If apathy is the enemy of positive action, then generating a caring relationship is the key to maintaining stewardship. Hawaiian cultural elements pertinent to this include the ‘aumakua (ancestral god) relationship, holding that deified ancestors can take the form of native plants and animals, and the relatedkinolau concept, wherein living plants and animals may be a physical manifestation of a god, and thus held sacred. The foundations for this relationship can be seen in the Kumulipo, the chant of creation, thousands of lines long, in which people appear long after other living things, which themselves precede even the gods.Hawaiian tradition holds we are the direct kin with the living elements of native ecosystems. Humans are the youngest siblings in the genealogy of creation, and the youngest are charged with care of the family.

The natural world extends its kinship influence all the way up to the moral and spiritual basis for behavior; what is allowed and what is restricted.

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