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40 years ago, Hawaiians reconnected with Kahoʻolawe through spirituality and ceremony

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Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission
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Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission

Ties are strong in Hawaiʻi between spiritual practice and sense of place. Forty years ago, ceremonies on Kahoʻolawe were revived after decades of the islandʻs use by the U.S. military for bombing practice.

As part of an ongoing project with the Center for Oral History at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, HPR and professor Ty Kāwika Tengan bring you voices from Hawaiʻi’s past.

We hear from activists Dr. Kaliko Baker and Hōkūlani Holt, two members of the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana. They shared the deep spiritual reconnections on the island that helped redefine the future of Hawaiian movements.

Dr. Kaliko Baker is an associate professor of Hawaiian Language and a mo‘o Lono practitioner of Makahiki ceremonies. He reflects on Kaho‘olawe’s role in centering spirituality as foundational for being Hawaiian today.

Baker: One of the most significant contributions that the PKO and the Kahoʻolawe movement has contributed to modern Kanaka, the way we are today, is our wholehearted effort in engaging in ceremony and ceremony as a means of reestablishing the mauli, and the life, the ea o ka ʻāina. And that's not fighting for who we are in a courtroom. That's fighting for who we are barefooted in a malo, or in a kīkepa, praying, trying to find ourselves through our own spirituality and religious connections to ʻāina and thus learning again how to aloha ʻāina through those practices. Other people will say, "Oh, the political side, fighting the Navy, getting the bombs stopped." Of course, that's huge. And the politicking that went into that, Kahoʻolawe is a part that built the consciousness of the people on the Mauna. How did they lead out this second part, this second occupation of the 2019 occupation of Maunakea? They lead out with ceremony. How come? Because we know that works. Because we know we got to get into the minds of our people and get our people believing that we are our people.

Hōkūlani Holt, esteemed kumu hula and former commissioner of the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, describes the return of akua — elemental forms honored as Hawaiian gods — to the island and people.

Holt: Over the course of time, we created a pā hula Kaʻieʻie and it was dedicated there. It was to welcome Laka to the island and various of our ceremonies were to bring the akua there to be on Kahoʻolawe once again. The beginning of Makahiki to welcome Lono back to Kahoʻolawe, the ceremonies for Kanaloa that helped in the dispersing of the military from the island. We welcomed Kāne onto the island with the rain koʻa that are up at the top of the island. So it was once again to welcome the akua to Kahoʻolawe and to say that you are welcome here and we are here to provide that for you as humans, and I think that was incredibly important, but it made being Hawaiian an important part of being on Kahoʻolawe. We really always said it doesn't matter what you were or what you did across that ocean of water. What only mattered is what you're going to do and contribute to Kahoʻolawe while you are here. And so welcoming the akua back to Kahoʻolawe gave us an opportunity to welcome truly Hawaiian cultural outlook and belief system back to the island as well.

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This collaboration is supported by the SHARP Initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Council of Learned Societies.

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