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I Ka Wā Ma Mua, I Ka Wā Ma Hope

-The future is in the past

When I step into the nahele, an immense appreciation washes over me like a gentle mist. The rustling of leaves blends with the songs of our manu and the pattering of raindrops on lush hāpu‘u ferns. The cool temperatures, earthy scent of moss, and damp soil fill the senses, evoking a deep connection to the land. Every step deeper into the nahele reveals hidden treasures left untouched for centuries. A profound appreciation for the delicate balance of the ecosystem, the resilience of nature, and the preservation of such awe-inspiring beauty takes hold. 

The land in Hawaiʻi holds the ancestral lineage of Native Hawaiians. It is a repository of their history, traditions, and knowledge passed down through generations. The land is a tangible representation of our kupuna’s wisdom, guiding principles, and sustainable practices. Our kupuna was responsible for preserving and perpetuating this heritage through their interactions with the land.  Historically, kupuna was highly self-sufficient, relying on the ‘āina for sustenance and livelihood. This relationship fostered a profound understanding of the land’s resources and the need for responsible stewardship.

Suppose I try to imagine myself today as a kia manu in old Hawai‘i. In that case, I feel a sense of nostalgia for an era deeply connected to nature and cultural heritage. Such contemplation/reflection is bittersweet because the rich traditions and practices that once thrived in harmony with the unique Hawaiian birds no longer exist in their original form. However, Hawaiian birds are still significant, and their conservation remains vital today. With the ongoing efforts to protect and restore native bird populations, being a bird catcher today would require a deep sense of responsibility and a driving commitment to preserving manu and protecting their ecological contributions for future generations to cherish and learn from. Many of us are doing this work; one such person is Noah Gomes.  

  I had the pleasure of meeting and kūkākūkā with Noah Gomes, who has a lifelong passion for native Hawaiian birds and whose thesis research focused on kia manu. Noah’s most recent project has been bringing attention to pilina and the people of Hawai‘i. During our conversation, Noah’s words about building pilina today to benefit our future made a mark on me. Noah and I understand that we need to have keiki learn more about the need to protect and care for manu in Hawai‘i and all the efforts underway today. We need to continue to provide access for keiki into the forests so they can hear and see our manu and to allow the keiki to participate in habitat restoration projects so the seeds they plant today will become trees. Let's give them a reason to start caring now while they are keiki rather than wait. 

We all have a kuleana and can help with the survival of our manu and culture. My kuleana to the nahele is my aloha for the ‘āina. When I enter the nahele, I must enter with good intentions and purpose: I maha ke kino (settle my body). The elements of the forest, ua, makani, or kani, are the hō‘ailona that welcome me into the nahele.  This interaction between me, a kanaka, and the nahele brings a feeling deep in my na‘au that I am where I belong.

An ‘ōlelo noʻeau from Mary Kawena Pukui shares this knowledge. “He ali‘i ka ‘āina; he kauwā ke kanaka.” This proverb states that the “land does not need man; man needs the land and works it for a livelihood.” It tells us to mālama our ‘āina as you would to your own ‘ohana, as nothing is more significant than the place we call home. This pilina between the ‘āina and kanaka is a part of our Hawaiian identity. We look to the ‘āina for guidance, and it will provide what is needed as it always has for us. 

I encourage people to learn more from our kia manu and apply their kia and knowledge to what we do today. We should reconnect our past practices to our present-day efforts to reconnect our pilina between manu and kanaka.

Photo credit: Jim Denny


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