The 2007 Star-Bulletin review



Mākua is actually three valleys. The largest and deepest is Mākua, but to its east lies Ko‘iahi, and to its west, Kahanahāiki. Together they open up to form the broad plain at the shore. Driving past on the way to Keawa‘ula, past the chain link fence and military observation tower, past acres of grassland enclosed by steep cliffs and ridges, we admire its beauty. Like everywhere else in Hawai‘i, though, the surface both reveals and conceals multiple realities.

In ancient times, Mākua used to be a large fishing and farming community; we are just beginning to realize how large. Beneath the grass even now are remnants of a vast dry land field system, interrupted by small family or craft ahu (shrines), heiau (temples) and other structures. At the beach was a fishing heiau. Cattle ranching earlier this century trampled the agricultural terraces and grazed away much of the remaining native forest on the valley floor, opening the valley to colonization by the same foreign grasses that in the rainy season now look so green from the road. Goats probably destroyed much of the famed maile lauli‘i (small-leafed maile vine) of Ko‘iahi. The Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) community remained, though, working on the McCandless Ranch, fishing, farming, gathering on Sundays at the church near the ocean, bringing ho‘okupu (offerings) to the heiau at the beach and to at least one inland heiau and also bringing piko (afterbirth, umbilical cord) to a small ahu in the middle of the valley.

The Army took over the valley in 1942, evicting those who lived there and using their church for target practice. Live fire training is more controlled now, but in those early years, pilots dropped hundreds, perhaps thousands of 500 lb. bombs at will, keeping no records of locations or unexploded duds. Artillery rounds and mortars fired throughout the entire valley now work their way to the surface after heavy rains. Cluster bombs were exploded above ground, scattering hundreds of shiny little bomblets that can explode decades later if slightly moved. To make the valley safe for training, the Army conducts “controlled burns” of the vegetation on the floor, so that it is possible to see unexploded ordnance before stepping on it. The burns, however, regularly escape control, killing off precious remnants of indigenous vegetation on the valley walls, just as one did in 2003. Marion Kelly tells of hiking to an area decades ago after such a burn and seeing hundreds of endangered Hawaiian tree snail shells on the ground below a blackened native forest. Once gone, the native forest, its snails and its birds never return.

Fortunately, kūpuna (elders) whose genealogy connects them with the valley have passed on cultural knowledge to their descendants, even after the diaspora. Because of them, we know that Mākua is the parent, a place where Papahānaumoku and Wakea, the sky father and the earth mother, mate to give birth to the Hawaiian people. Kamapua‘a still meets people there at night, according to local hunters, in the form of a huge pig that leaves no hoof prints. Hi‘iaka passed by there on her way back to Hawai‘i island, bringing back to life a young girl who had just died and destroying the evil creature that had killed her. Nearby, she opened a new water source for the local people. The rich tapestry of land and sky and ocean is reflected in the mo‘olelo (stories) of those whose ‘ohana (family) lived there for so many generations and who now assert their kinship with Mākua. As for the rest of us, those same mo’olelo serve as markers on the journey towards our own kinship with this place, towards a less exploitative relationship with Mākua, with Hawai’i and with the rest of the Earth. Given the impending environmental crisis, it is a journey we must all sooner or later make.

Now, we pass by on the highway, seeing what is and what was: a double vision of past and present. It is the same wherever we look below the surface in Hawai‘i, but at Mākua, the contrast is sharper, the present reality more full of pain and of hope.

Mākua: Photoquai 2009, Paris