Monday, April 14, 2008

Aloha 'aina - as above so below

Aloha 'aina is an ancient Hawaiian value - the love of the 'aina, the land, the sea, everything around us that sustains and nourishes us. Practicing aloha 'aina means recognizing its intrinsic value and taking care of it. It goes deeper than that actually - Hawaiians felt that the 'aina has sacred qualities beyond just the practical value of the food it provides.

Captain Cook, upon visiting Hawai'i, called the Hawaiians the "worlds greatest ecologists." The ahapua'a system of ancient Hawai'i recognized the connection between what happens on the land, from the top of the highest mountain, and the reef and ocean world below. There were strict rules, kapu, to protect the entire ecosystem. Taro, kalo, the main staple of the Hawaiian diet, was grown in wet shallow ponds, lo'i, fed by mountain streams. These lo'i kalo also created a percolation effect that replenished the delicate aquifer that provides sustainable fresh water. They also filtered the water and created nourishment that created a healthy environment in the ocean reef ecosystem. Careful observation of nature over time allowed refinement of this system. Watch Calvin Hoe speak about this beautiful system of caring for the land while nourishing people.

Things are out of balance today, and we as a world society are not paying careful attention to what we do above or below the ocean. This CNN video shows how this is affecting the world's oceans, and in turn affecting our physical health and well being as human beings.

Getting back to Hawaiian values, it is pretty clear to me that there is tremendous wisdom that could be applied to making life on this planet not only livable and sustainable, but practicing aloha 'aina. But are we listening? Or are Hawaiian voices like the voices of the whales and natural world, difficult to hear above the roar of modern civilization and progress? One would think that their voices would be heard here in Hawai'i.

An article in Sunday's Maui News, Crying for Water, highlights the plight of East Maui's kalo farmers. Their water has been taken away to support sugar cane farming and development elsewhere on Maui by Alexander Baldwin and Company. They struggle to adapt and their way of life has been threatened. They call it cultural genocide. They have been waiting for a hearing on their problem for seven years. A member of Alexander Baldwin Company is on the water board. The Honolulu Advertiser Sunday edition reports the CEO of Alexander Baldwin was paid over $15 million dollars while the Hawaiian farmers struggle. The photos in these stories say a lot. He is smiling, they are not. Is this aloha? Is this aloha 'aina? I don't think so.

And I have to ask myself what am I doing to perpetuate aloha, aloha 'aina? I drive a car, I use electricity, I'm living on land that used to belong to Hawaiians. How can I honor this culture and malama (take care of) the 'aina in better ways each day?  Can I remember to take reusable bags to the store, send less plastic to the land fill, put solar panels on my house?

Hawai'i has much wisdom to offer the world if we listen and practice aloha, whether it is to the 'aina, the oceans, or just daily kindness to other human beings. Aloha kakou! Take care.

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