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Hawai’i in Trouble

Heap of black stones from the Christian destruction of a temple for the worship of Hawai’ian gods. Ulupo Park, Kailua, Hawaii. Photo: Evaggelos Vallianatos 

I first visited Hawaii (Oahu and Maui) in the early 1980s. The islands retained some of the glorious beauty of their pre-American life. I remember the mountains in Oahu. They are not tall. They are smooth, green, with deep ridges. It’s like the Hawaiian goddess Pele drew her fingers over a soft matter at the moment of creation.

Wounded Hawaii

Nevertheless, the wounds of foreign occupation and forcible conversion to Christianity and American culture were everywhere. The remnants of Hawaiian life were tucked into the impenetrable Bishop Museum. Only fragments of the natural world survive.

Hawaii is now primarily a vacation destination for Japanese and mainland Americans. Indigenous Hawai’ians have been in hiding, intermarrying with Japanese and Polynesians. For the most part, they are invisible.

My second visit to Oahu took place in early April 2019.

Kailua Beach

I walked daily to the miles-long beach of Kailua. I walked without shoes on the sand at the edge of the thundering water splashing the beach and my naked feet.

That walk was a taste of heavens on Earth. The infinite grains of sand under your feet are moving with the ceaseless and countless waves from the ocean to the land. The closer to the water, the softer the sugar-like beach becomes.

The overall experience – the usually blue sky and restless blue ocean, the pleasure of walking near the waves, and the equal pleasure of swimming in the vast ocean – was perfect happiness, or the state of being Aristotle would describe as eudaimonia.

I would look at the immense blue ocean, flat, quiet and eternal. And the white clouds kept moving momentarily over the bright Sun.

The Kailua Beach was exceptionally clean. I only saw a dead black bird coming to shore. The real blight was man-made across the water: houses, telling signs of irresponsible and thoughtless urban policies.

Cars everywhere

But the evidence of modern civilization that shocked me the most was countless cars, everywhere. The number and size of these automobiles simply drove me mad. I was expecting to see Oahu as I remembered it from my first visit, but instead I saw an island parking lot. In fact, coming from California, I could not fail to see the California-like face of Oahu, but without the space and land of California.

Add this car madness to the skyscrapers of Honolulu, to houses built less than 50 meters from the ocean, to police-state gated communities, to the destruction of Hawaiian culture and the disappearance of native Hawai’ians — and you have a boiling volcano.

Fortunately, not everything is lost. The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden and the Ulupo Heiau State Park in Kailua save the day. They mirror a Hawaii that no longer exists.

Fragments of Hawai’ian past

The Botanic Garden is a former papaya farm allowed, since the 1960s, to revert to the natural world. It has. The view is that of a living museum, with ancient gigantic trees as well as modern intrusions of canals, piped water and electricity.

The Ulupo Park complements the Botanic Garden, being equally ancient and full of history. It gives us a rare view of Hawaiian life.

The first thing that strikes the visitor is a massive mount of black stones, which used to be a great temple for the worship of Hawaiian gods.

Seeing this destruction struck me on a personal basis. It reminded me the ancient Greeks were not the only victims of Christian violence and intolerance. The Christians started burying Hellas 1,600 years ago; they did the same thing to Hawaii about 150 years ago.

The Christian missionaries that smashed the Ulupo temple probably left the black stones in a gigantic heap to remind the survivors of what may happen to those among them nostalgic of the ancient Hawai’ian culture.

There are a few ancient trees around the devastated temple. They are still weeping for the loss of the ancient gods.

One leaves the heap of black stones and sees a beautiful verdant valley growing the traditional Hawai’ian rout crop taro in small plots – everywhere. Silent, small streams of water circulate throughout the land.

Taro field. Ulupo Park, Kailua, Hawaii. Photo: Evaggelos Vallianatos.

This pleasant fragment of nature, dressed up with taro and large trees, along with the regrown forest at the Botanic Garden, explain how Hawai’ians lived before the missionary tsunami: in nature and in communication with the gods of the natural world.

Museum distortions

This reality exists in the artifacts of the Bishop Museum. However, the semidarkness prevailing in the museum and the isolated exhibits isolate the Hawaiians, failing to present them as they actually lived.

In fact, in the Honolulu Museum of Art, I saw a video on a gigantic screen that socked me. The movie-like show depicted the early contact of the Hawaiians with soldiers and missionaries. What destressed me the most was seeing Hawaiians behave like dumb brutes; their bodies painted from head to toe: dancing while the conquerors were stealing their wealth and slaughtering them. One heard perpetual shootings and witnessed Hawaiians torturing Hawaiians.

This rewriting of history and brutalizing your enemy is typical of the culture of the conquerors.

However, the fragments of ancient Hawai’i in the Botanic Garden and the Ulupo fields in Kailua make Oahu the model of potential Earthly delights.

But instead of learning from the past, we continue toxic business as usual. In Oahu in 2019, I barely restrained myself from hopelessness. The cars alone pollute and deface the island and its people, all but eliminating the beauty potential of Hawai’i for living in harmony with the natural world.

Ecological civilization for Hawai’i

Oahu and the other Hawai’ian islands need a new vision: bulldoze houses close to the ocean, replace gasoline cars with electric cars and free electric trams and bicycles. Stop burning petroleum and garbage for energy and turn to the everlasting Sun. There are acres of rooftops that could be filled with solar panels.

Follow the paradigm of ancient Hawai’ians and become food self-sufficient. Bring to an end plantations and support small family farmers growing organic food. And, of course, expel pesticide companies using Kauai as a “global epicenter” for the testing of their lethal products and, especially, developing genetically engineered crops and the weed killers that go with that.

This in an age of rising global temperature threatening both humans and the natural world, especially warming and altering the chemistry of the oceans and causing the rapid extinction of species. Hawai’i has already being affected by this slow-moving calamity, being in the middle of the vast warming Pacific Ocean. In addition, wildlife in Hawai’i continues to suffer from hunting and industrialized fishing.

The changes I am proposing may not be enough to save Hawaii, but they are a beginning. They would make Hawai’i a leader in ecological civilization: the first in the United States. If and when this auspicious reawakening takes place, walking the sands and water of Kailua Beach would be real happiness.

More articles by:

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.

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