Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Kahoolawe’s past
gets exhibit at the

The display highlights the
island's ancient culture and
spans centuries of history

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> The Hawaiian island that once helped train native navigators and was a military target for nearly half a century will be the subject of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., from June 5 through Sept. 2.

The exhibit "Ke Aloha Kupa'a I Ka 'Aina" -- Steadfast Love for the Land -- provides a journey through Hawaiian history from pre-Western contact until today on Kahoolawe.

"It's an opportunity to get Kahoolawe on a national stage and create an awareness in D.C., where the decisions are made," said Keoni Fairbanks, executive director of the state Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to clear ordnance from the 28,600-acre island located several miles across the ocean southwest of Maui.

Fairbanks said the exhibit shows the importance of the island in native culture.

A portion of the exhibit was displayed in 1996 at the Bishop Museum as "Kahoolawe: Rebirth of a Sacred Hawaiian Island" and went on tour to neighbor islands.

In the current exhibit created by the Bishop Museum, there are additional displays describing Hawaiian history and looking at the future of the island as a cultural preserve.

Wayne Castro, exhibits manager for the Bishop Museum, said the exhibit also shows Kahoolawe is much more than a place once used for military target practice and native protests against the bombing.

Castro said Kahoolawe was a religious place with numerous heiau or temples of worship and a ridge at Pu'u Moa'ulaiki where native Hawaiians trained to be navigators and studied the stars and ocean currents.

At night the natives could see the North Star and Southern Cross and use their celestial knowledge as they traveled across the channel leading to Tahiti.

"It was a learning place, a sacred place," he said. "It's important to the native community because it represents to them their heritage."

In native chants describing the origin of the Hawaiian Islands, Kahoolawe is the severed tail of the lizard goddess Pu'uinaina, who lost a fight with the goddess of fire, Pele, over a male lover.

According to legend, Pu'uinaina's head is now the cinder cone Pu'u Olai in South Maui, and her spine rests under the waters linking the Valley Isle to Kahoolawe.

After Western contact, sheep, goats and cattle were raised on the island.

The U.S. Navy seized the island in 1941 for bombing and military maneuvers.

Various ordnance has been exploded on the island, including ship-to-shore shells, rockets, grenades, guided missiles, flares and bombs.

Hawaiians protested the military use of Kahoolawe in the mid-1970s. Kahoolawe was listed in 1987 on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Navy halted the bombing in 1990, and the island was turned over to the state in 1994, with the understanding that the Navy would be in charge of the $400 million cleanup.

The cleanup, the largest ordnance-clearing project within the U.S. Department of Defense, is scheduled to end on or before Nov. 11, 2003.

Under a state law, the island has been designated as a cultural reserve, and the management is expected to pass to a native Hawaiian sovereign entity once one is established and recognized by the state and federal government.

The exhibit, located at the Smithsonian's Art & Industries Building, cost about $185,000, with a $100,000 donation from the commission and the remainder from several nonprofit groups and Maui County.

Spanning centuries, the exhibit portrays the island's transition from Polynesian occupation through today and looks at its future as a cultural preserve.

The pre-Western contact displays include sites where natives learned celestial navigation, a fishing heiau at the eastern end of the island, and a display of flotsam and jetsam to the northeast at Kanopou Bay.

Davianna McGregor, a member of the activist group Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, said the display of ocean debris reveals part of the challenge facing Kahoolawe, where rubbish from as far as Chile and Japan washes upon its shores.

"It's a lesson in geography and conservation," McGregor said.

With more than 1,000 acres of cliffs and gullies, the cleanup has been slow, and an estimated 35 percent of the island is expected to remain uncleared of ordnance.

Parts of exploded ordnance and defused ordnance removed from Kahoolawe are included in the exhibit.

Fairbanks said the exhibit also contains a view of the island's future as a cultural preserve.

The commission plans to restore a dry-land native forest and establish several campsites as cultural education centers.

Visitors to the Smithsonian will also be able to obtain a glimpse of Hawaii in the 1970s, when native Hawaiians occupied the island to stop the bombing.

In the exhibit, a visitor can pick up a telephone receiver and listen to a recording of Kahoolawe activist George Helm talking about the importance of stopping the bombing on the island.

Helm, a musician and singer, and another activist, Kimo Mitchell, perished in an ocean crossing while protesting the military use of Kahoolawe in 1977.

Dr. Emmett Aluli, who also occupied the island to protest the bombing in 1976, said the exhibition at the Smithsonian is the culmination of efforts by many native Hawaiians and supporters.

Aluli said Helm was an advocate of the idea of "Aloha Aina," or love for the land, and the concept remains an important part of their effort on Kahoolawe.

"For me, the exhibition really focuses on the Hawaiian value 'Aloha Aina,' which George revitalized and died for," Aluli said.

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