Many of today’s environmental problems can be attributed to a history of poor resource management, often following western attitudes that regard resources as bottomless and separate from people. This very short-sighted view has led to the practice of using up resources very quickly in great waste without much thought for future use or environmental casualties. New Zealand, Canada, and the United States are a few countries now turning to their respective indigenous peoples for guidance on environmental issues. Traditional practices provide valuable ecological insight, holistic management, and sustainable methods. Using “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” with today’s technologies is a growing interest.
The Native Hawaiians of old provide an excellent model of resource management. Like many indigenous peoples, Native Hawaiians were linked to the land through their religion and culture. A great example of Native Hawaiians’ careful management is the ahupua`a; a wedge-shaped land division from the mountain tops to the edge of the reefs. This type of “ecological unit” recognized that even though there were divisions in land or water use, everything was still connected—water that came from the mountain springs flowed through taro patches that carried nutrients to fishes down by the sea.
Although today the ahupua`a system and its fragile links are disrupted, there are efforts to bring back the complete “ecological unit” of management. He`eia, an ahupua`a on the windward side of O`ahu, has two organizations bringing back traditional methods with new technologies and scientific research backing contributing to their management.
Kāko`o `ōiwi are the current lease holders of 405-acres of wetlands. The organization is clearing invasive plant species as well as replanting natives. Kāko`o `ōiwi also began reestablishing taro (kalo) patches, a staple Hawaiian food. These wetlands prevent flooding during heavy rains, filter water flowing to the sea, and traditionally provided nutritious food.
Paepae O He`eia are the current caretakers of He`eia fishpond, an 88-acre fishpond. They have removed invasive mangrove and rebuilt much of the fishpond wall. The fishpond is an enclosed, brackish water area used to cultivate herbivorous fish (such as moi) that traditionally provided enough fish for the ahupua`a of He`eia.
Both of these organizations are non-profit organizations that began with a community desire for change. They both are interested in restoring health to the land and sea as well as to perpetuate Hawaiian practices and spirit through community involvement. Furthermore, both organizations are open to scientific research that can help in management of the individual areas and the ahupua`a as a whole. It’s understood that the area cannot be restored 100% back to old Hawai`i, but the act of preservation and cultivation may lead to sustainable food sources and prevent further damage to the land and sea.
The traditional practices of Native Hawaiians are just one ocean of knowledge out there in the world. If countries and communities continue integrating new and old methods of resource management together across cultures, the future looks bright for more than just our environment.
Hey guys! If anyone is interested about the organizations I mentioned, visit their sites and maybe even sign-up for a volunteer community work day.
Kāko`o `ōiwi (2012): http://kakoooiwi.org
Paepae O He`eia: Friends of He`eia Fishpond [Paepae](2012): http://paepaeoheeia.org/
by Kyleena Lamadrid