Four print-ready projects

II. Kanu Kahoʻolawe: Healing the Past, Planting the Future

Kohemālamalama O Kanaloa is another name for Kahoʻolawe: Shining Womb of Kanaloa, god of voyagers. Forty years ago a group of nine Hawaiians embarked from Maui Island on a voyage of occupation, cultural reclamation and rebirth. Prior to the use of Kahoʻolawe as a naval bombing range, goats and cattle had stripped vegetation from vast areas, leaving precious topsoil to blow away or wash into the ocean when heavy rains fell. In some places, the elevation has dropped 15 feet in the past 20 years. When the bombs stopped falling, in 1990 Kahoʻolawe was a severely devastated landscape, on many levels.

Kanu in Hawaiian language is the verb for plant. Since 2004, kanu has been a major activity on Kahoʻolawe. Inspired by the original Hawaiian occupiers and reclaimers of the island, volunteers now visit, hundreds a year, bringing with them seeds and seedlings of the native Hawaiian vegetation that once covered the island. The activity of kanu, of replanting, helps to hold remaining soil, and to build new topsoil. It is literally bringing the island back to life.

The island carries a deep significance in Hawaiian culture; its other name is a reference to the god of the deep ocean, Kanaloa: Kohemalamalama O Kanaloa. A cultural site on one peak, Moaʻula iki, is connected with navigation, and another site, a point of land, is a departure place for ancient voyages to the south. Other cultural sites ring the island’s shores. The island has become a center for the practice of Hawaiian cultural ceremonies, especially the Makahiki, the yearly tribute to the god Lono, marking the first appearance each year of the constellation Makaliʻi (Pleiades). When the ala loa (long trail) is completed, it is anticipated that the image of Lono will be carried in procession entirely around the island’s circumference – as it was on other islands in ancient times.

This series, then is an acknowledgement of luku, of ecological, cultural and spiritual devastation, but also a tribute to the dedication of so many to kanu and to hoʻohānau hou (create rebirth), both physical and spiritual. It is also a tribute to those whose sacrifices made possible the rebirth of Kahoʻolawe.

The ʻoli komo (entrance chant) for those landing on Kahoʻolawe:

He haki nu‘anu‘a nei kai
‘O ‘awa ana i uka
Pehea e hiki aku aku ai
‘O ka leo
Mai pa‘a i ka leo
Indeed a rough and echoing into the uplands
How is it that the one lands
It is the voice
Please don’t hold back the voice

Additional images from this series

The 2016 exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle with Carl Pao

Closely related images from Mākua Valley on Oʻahu – also appropriated after Pearl Harbor for military war games and ordnance testing, also heavily contaminated by UXO