Kahoolawe, 2

We got to the Hawaiian island of Kaho‘olawe by first taking an airplane to Maui, then a fishing boat, and then a small Zodiac. We climbed out of the Zodiac and waded over an uneven rocky beach bottom onto shore, trying to stay upright as waves broke against us.

About 70 people were there on that four-day weekend 20 years ago. In addition to college students like me, there were Boy Scouts wearing red t-shirts, and young Hawaiian immersion school kids and their families who all spoke Hawaiian. The first afternoon, I came across a young boy sitting on the beach with his ‘ukulele, picking out the theme song to the TV show The Addams Family. Our stay on Kaho‘olawe was never as ominous as that suggested, though. It was a very positive experience.

We were being hosted by the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO), a group working to restore the island that the U.S. military had been bombing for decades. After decades of protests, the Navy’s live-fire training exercises ceased in 1990, and the island was transferred to the jurisdiction of the state of Hawai‘i that same year I visited: 1994. The Hawai‘i state legislature established the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve to restore and oversee the island and its surrounding waters. Today it can only be used for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual and subsistence purposes.

There were boundaries as to where we could wander, the PKO people told us as soon as we arrived on the island. We could hike about 10 to 15 minutes in each direction, they said, but don’t go further than the green beach that way, they said, unless you’re with someone who knows it. They spoke about it casually, but you could tell they knew what they were talking about. I had no desire to go where they said not to go. Places were not off-limits for the reasons we’re used to. It’s not that they were someone else’s property; it was that they might still have live bombs on them. Sometimes bullets work their way up in the sand, they said, and don’t pick them up because some are live.

But other than that initial warning about what’s off-limits, there wasn’t much talk or worry about bombs. Hakioawa, the valley that the PKO uses for its home base, had been checked for live ordinance – “cleared” – eight or ten times, someone told me. “Though last time they did find a fire bomb in the back,” he said.

That first day, a woman named Kalei gave us a small tour of the camp area. When we got to the men’s heiau (temple), only the men went up and we women waited below, and vice versa. The women’s heiau, which was much larger but also more exposed to the wind and eroding, is across the riverbed from the men’s, and lots of baby rattles and other women’s and babies’ things have been found there, she told us. And there were burials of babies who didn’t make it. She pointed out one area and asked us not to walk on it because a burial had been found underneath. “If it were my grandmother, I know I wouldn’t want you walking there,” she said. She told us that this place, and a site being covered up by construction of O‘ahu’s H3 highway, were the only ones known to have heiau situated right across from each other like that.

We hiked up on the cliff to look at the fishing shrine of Ka‘ai‘ai, and a traditional fishpond, whose shape and function was destroyed by the military. She explained that they bombed large targets they could easily see from the air.

We saw the mo‘o that the Hawaiian goddess Hi‘iaka fought. She severed its head, which is now a prominent rock on the hill, and she threw its body, which landed directly across on Maui and became a small hill that’s easy to spot. The mo‘o’s tail landed in the channel and now we call it Molokini.

Leslie Lang, Hawaii Writer, Ghostwriter,
Molokini  (photo by Forest & Kim Starr)

The U.S. Navy, charged with clearing the island of live ordnance now, stays on the other side of the island where all the white sand beaches are, and we never saw them or had any sort of interaction. That other side is also the site of Smuggler’s Beach, where opium smugglers used to stop. But the PKO chose this valley for their site because it has the most mana: there are heiau, petroglyphs, and it’s where people used to live. It’s not the best part of the island physically, one of them said, but it is spiritually.

They asked us to sign two legal releases, one from the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, and the other from the U.S. Navy. “We’ve been known to withhold food from people until they sign,” the PKO’s Hokulani joked, or was she serious? Everybody signed.

It’s unusual, as an adult, to be completely dependent on others for your food! But it was never a problem. The kitchen, which was also the gathering place where people hung out, was outdoors and well-appointed with huge gas burners and pots and enormous woks. I helped make egg salad sandwiches for lunch that first day, and there was also peanut butter and jelly, and pretzel sticks, carrots, celery and apple and mango slices. There was always coffee on, a very nice and civilizing touch, I thought.

Dinner that first night was turkey chili with brown rice, and a vegetarian stir fry. There was also cole slaw and fish soup, which was salty – I think they used seawater. There was plenty to eat and it was tasty, in that way that eating outside is almost always better.

After we ate, we went around in a circle and talked. A guy named Peter said he had just graduated from medical school, so he would be the doctor if anyone needed medical care, but only if it was easy. Otherwise, he said, he’d ask the nurse who was along. Someone asked him where he graduated from and he said, “UH.” Someone else joked, “So don’t ask him any hard questions.”

One man talked about growing up on Maui and how his sister used to scream in the night when their windows shook because of bombs exploding on nearby Kaho‘olawe. The circle was quiet as he spoke. Another woman, who’d grown up in Lahaina on Maui, said she never dreamed that someday she would be on Kaho‘olawe.

Tom told us that the island can tell you a lot, but you have to listen. “You’d be surprised,” he said. I slept very well that night and dreamt a lot, but could only remember the dreams being of people and things in my everyday life. I didn’t hear Kaho‘olawe speaking to me in my dreams that first night.

A few of us hung out there after dinner, drinking hot cocoa and talking some more. We got to talking about Farley Mowat’s book Never Cry Wolf, which came to mind because of all the mice on the island. It was a great group of people. Among a handle of others, there were a couple of our hosts from the PKO, including the guy in charge of the water project and reforestation/revegetation work who lives off-grid in Ha‘iku on Maui. A UH student from Moloka‘i had also grown up without electricity – both were used to going to bed and waking up with the sun. There was a professor from UH Manoa, and a neuroscientist from USC and her husband, who is with the American Friend Services. The Friends do work on peace and justice issues and have an interest in the return of Kaho‘olawe to the Hawaiian people, I learned.

The atmosphere on the island was relaxed. Breakfast the next morning – a work day – was hearty and solid: it was oatmeal, to which you could add granola, raising, peanut butter, guava jelly and or honey, and it was at 8:30 or 9, not at the crack of dawn. Things got planned and done, but at a good and relaxed pace. There was no hurry.

Some people, mostly men, hiked up after breakfast to work on the watcher catchment. I’d hiked up there the day before to look at it, and what a beautiful view from that point: Lana‘i off that way, Maui over there. You could only see the water tank, which was painted camouflage, from the beach if you knew it’s there and looked for it.

Most of the women stayed down at the camp. Tom, from the PKO, said a bunch of ‘ōhi‘a logs we’d brought on the boat needed to be moved from the beach to the thatched hale they’d constructed on the island, where they would replace some that were rotting. He said, thinking out loud, “They’re pretty heavy, though. Some of them weigh up to 200 lbs. If they don’t get moved this morning, that’s okay.”

A young college student spoke up in a strong voice. “Hey, we’re women!” she said. “We can do anything!” It was an empowering and rallying call and I think we all stood up straighter. We worked together and easily moved every one of those logs, and then a bunch of other, longer and thinner ones that needed to be moved, as well.

Afterward some of us women hiked out to the “bathing beach,” about a half mile off and kapu after 4:00 for women only. Fresh water is a precious commodity on Kaho‘olawe, and it’s not wasted on bodies.  The bathing beach is a sandy beach where you easily walk into the ocean and wash your hair and clean off red earth of Kaho‘olawe off your body. Your feet (and the rest of you) get very dirty with the island’s rich-colored red-brown dirt. They call it a Kaho‘olawe tan. I felt very clean and renewed afterward.

Read Part 1

 

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Kahoolawe, 1

In June of 1994, I was a very busy student at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, earning a master’s degree in anthropology and taking a lot of Hawaiian language classes while working full time at an airline. An opportunity came up to go to Kaho‘olawe with a group from the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana (PKO), and I jumped at it. I knew that four days on Kaho‘olawe – where there was no electricity, no houses, no roads – would be very different from the busy life I was living on O‘ahu, and I was curious to meet the island itself. It’s one you cannot visit on your own; you have to be with an authorized group.

Kaho‘olawe, near Maui, is one of the major Hawaiian islands but it has no permanent residents. For decades it was used for live-fire bombing exercises by the Army. Now a dedicated group of people was working to restore the previously heavily bombed and barren island. They occasionally took small groups to the island, both to educate them and to get some help with the work.

Kahoolawe, Hawaii, Leslie Lang, Writer, Ghostwriter

From Wikipedia:

Kahoʻolawe (/kəˌh.əˈlɑːw/; Hawaiian: [kəˈhoʔoˈlɐve]) is the smallest of the eight main volcanic islands in theHawaiian Islands. Kahoʻolawe is located about seven miles (11.2 km) southwest of Maui and also southeast of Lanai, and it is 11 miles (18 km) long by 6.0 miles (9.7 km) wide, with a total land area of 44.97 square miles (116.5 km2). The highest point on Kahoʻolawe is the crater of Lua Makika at the summit of Puʻu Moaulanui, which is about 1,477 feet (450 m) above sea level. Kahoʻolawe is relatively dry (average annual rainfall is less than 65 cm or 26 in) because the island’s low elevation fails to generate much orographic precipitation from the northeastern trade winds, and Kahoolawe is located in the rain shadow of eastern Maui’s 10,023 feet (3,055 m) high volcano, Haleakalā. More than one quarter of Kahoʻolawe has been eroded down to saprolitic hardpan soil.

Kahoʻolawe has always been sparsely populated, due to its lack of fresh water. During World War II, Kahoʻolawe was used as a training ground and bombing range by the Armed Forces of the United States. After decades of protests, the U.S. Navy ended live-fire training exercises on Kahoolawe in 1990, and the whole island was transferred to the jurisdiction of the State of Hawaii in 1994. The Hawaii State Legislature established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve to restore and to oversee the island and its surrounding waters. Today Kahoolawe can be used only for native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes.

My friend and I arrived at the Honolulu airport with our duffel bags and looked around for other people equipped like us, with water jugs and their belongings packed in plastic bags (there are no direct flights to Kaho‘olawe, and you have to have some contact with the ocean to get there). It occurred to me that it sure took a lot of planning and packing and stuff to prepare to get away from civilization, at least the way we were doing it. But anything you need on the island, you have to haul in. There are definitely no Safeways or 7-11s on Kaho‘olawe.

We spotted a couple others and together we flew to Maui, where more Kaho‘olawe-bound people had gathered. We all jumped into various pickups and station wagons belonging to Maui members of the PKO. The Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana is the group that forced the end of the bombing of the island – at, it turned out, great personal cost.

In 1976, a group of individuals calling themselves the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana (PKO) filed suit in U.S. Federal Court to stop the Navy’s use of Kahoolawe for bombardment training, to require compliance with a number of new environmental laws and to ensure protection of cultural resources on the island. In 1977, the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii allowed the Navy’s use of this island to continue, but the Court directed the Navy to prepare an environmental impact statement and to complete an inventory of historic sites on the island. On March 9, 1977, two PKO leaders, George Helm and Kimo Mitchell, were lost at sea during an attempt to occupy Kahoolawe in symbolic protest. In 1980, the Navy and the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana promulgated a consent decree that allowed continued naval training on the island, monthly access to the island for the PKO, surface clearance of part of the island (10,000 acres), soil conservation, the eradication of feral goats and an archaeological survey. – Wikipedia

They dropped us off at Maui’s Ma‘alaea Boat Harbor, where we stacked our belongings on the dock in front of the Pualele, the boat we would take in the morning. Someone told us, “This is where you’ll be sleeping, and we’ll be back later.” We spread our sleeping bags out along a grassy slope between two roads, right there in the middle of the boat harbor, and I thought 3:30 a.m. would come fast, but it didn’t because I lay awake for a long time. My friend and I saw some tourists come out of a nearby steak house and ogle us; we heard them say, “Look at the homeless people!” That gave us the giggles.

It was a beautiful night. The full moon in the very pale blue-gray sky was making the ocean shimmer with silver. Straight ahead of where I lay on the dock, a tall, majestic-looking mast and a coconut tree waved back and forth in the breeze, the coconut tree making the bright moon peek in and out. I saw a shooting star.

We could tell when it was getting close to 3:30 a.m. because there started being some activity. In the bathroom I put on my bathing suit, shorts, a t-shirt and sweatshirt, we sealed our bags as tightly as we could with duct tape and then we formed a human chain from the line of plastic bags to the boat and passed it all onboard, holding it up out of the ocean. Then we got aboard ourselves.

The early morning boat ride from Ma‘alaea and Maui, which took us along the Alalakeiki Channel, was glorious. We went along the Kihei side of the island and eventually passed the small, beautiful, crescent-shaped islet of Molokini. The air was so clear that I could see the Big Island beyond Makena. As the sun rose, it looked as though it exploded out of the top of the Maui volcano Haleakalā: an intense ball of light in the dawn sky, outlined and glowing.

We watched Kaho‘olawe getting bigger and more defined, and then when we were close, a small Zodiac ferried us and the gear most of the rest of the way, in several trips. When it was my turn, I saw that they took us in close, and then we got out into the waist-deep ocean. Again, we formed a line from the boat to the shore and passed all the plastic-bagged goods, water bottles and food supplies to shore, hand-to-hand. A huge sack of cabbages was passed through the ocean, and I wondered if it would taste salty when we ate it. We stepped onto Kaho‘olawe, and carried all the water and food up the marked stone trail to the well-established outdoor kitchen.

Then we went and found our campsite. We hung the tarp we’d brought above where we would sleep, to protect us from rain, and raked away keawe thorns with a rake from the tool shed there. We put down some of our large plastic garbage bags and spread out our sleeping bags atop them. There were tiny bold mice everywhere on that island, so we hung our snacks in a backpack from a tree.

Every time the Zodiac dropped off some more people from the Pualele, someone sounded a pū summoning us to the beach and again we went into the water to pass their things onto shore. It got easier each time, because all the kitchen stuff had come in on that first boat, and also because there were more people to help each time.

When we’d been approaching the island by sea, all I could see was a small dark rocky beach surrounded by keawe that looked dead and lifeless. But when we went ashore and got busy, I realized there were signs of life everywhere. Vegetation, and tiny but carefully marked cartons of “dry water,” which was time-released water, I learned later, for the reforesting. Carefully laid paths. A nice kitchen area, with coffee, and an old Navy locker set up a smoker. There was fish in there, ulua, that first day.

In 1993, the Hawaiian State Legislature established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve, consisting of “the entire island and its surrounding ocean waters in a two mile (three km) radius from the shore.” By State Law, Kahoolawe and its waters can only be used for Native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes; fishing; environmental restoration; historic preservation; and education. All commercial uses are prohibited.

The Legislature also created the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission to manage the Reserve while it is held in trust for a future Native Hawaiian Sovereignty entity. The restoration of Kahoolawe will require a strategy to control erosion, re-establish vegetation, recharge the water table, and gradually replace alien plants with native species. Plans will include methods for damming gullies and reducing rainwater runoff. In some areas, non-native plants will temporarily stabilize soils before planting of permanent native species. Species used for revegetation include ʻaʻaliʻi (Dodonaea viscosa), ʻāheahea (Chenopodium oahuense),kuluʻī (Nototrichium sandwicense), Achyranthes splendens, ʻūlei (Osteomeles anthyllidifolia), kāmanomano (Cenchrus agrimonioides var. agrimonioides), koaiʻa(Acacia koaia), and alaheʻe (Psydrax odorata). – Wikipedia

When everybody was there, we stood in a circle near the shore and people from the PKO thanked us for coming. They said how important it is for people to see what they are doing there, and what it’s like on the island, and why they keep coming back. We went around the circle and when I introduced myself, Tom, one of the people in charge, said, “We’re very happy to have you here.” I told him, very sincerely, that I was very happy to be there, too.

(to be continued)

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