From Beyond Paradise: Encounters in Hawaii Where the Tour Bus Never Runs, Peter S. Adler, Ox Bow Press, 1993.
Wake up! Our islands are slipping away. While you sleep, we are standing on the edge of darkness.
- Uncle Luther Makekau
The Hawaiian archipelago reaches up from the ocean floor and spreads out like a necklace of emeralds, 132 pinnacles, reefs, and shoals stretching 1,500 miles across the central Pacific basin. Of these landfalls, eight islands make up 99 percent of the land area. Seven are permanently inhabited: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Hawaii. The eighth is Kahoolawe, a 45-square-mile island situated eight miles off the coast of Maui. By most measures, Kahoolawe is the driest, windiest, and least habitable of the major islands. It has also been one of the most conflicted and controversial pieces of real estate in the United States.
To understand the saga of Kahoolawe, what it means to different local people, and what it may come to mean in the near future to everyone, requires a bit of patience. It is not just one story but many stories that cascade into each other, mingle, fold, mix, and finally amalgamate into something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Some of these accounts center on events that happened centuries ago. Others are still occurring.
To begin with, the island is small -- eleven miles long by six-and-a-half wide -- and off the main tourist path. Casual visitors are not allowed and few would want to go there if they could. There are no rain forests, waterfalls, or quaint plantation towns. Most often it is described as a wasteland, a barren and forgotten landscape made up of eroding hills, crumbling sea cliffs, grass, cactus and mesquite. On windy days, clouds of red dust rise up from the island, shrouding it from view. Centuries ago, geologists tell us, Kahoolawe was fully forested, but today fifteen feet of its topsoil has been lost to erosion and 85 percent of its fringing reefs are drowned in silt. Nonetheless, there are some folks who live on Maui who claim that Kahoolawe offers the best off-shore fishing in Hawai’i. Then again, there are some life-long residents of the state who could not tell you precisely where Kahoolawe is.
Kahoolawe's cultural and political history is also complex. Some chants remembered by the Hawaiian people refer to the Island as a landmark on the old Polynesian voyaging route to Tahiti and as the mother-island that gave birth to all the other islands in the chain. Its earliest, most ancient name means "the shining vagina of the sea."
At various later times, records show Kahoolawe to have been a fishing station, a prison colony, a sheep farm, a cattle ranch, and the proposed site for a thermonuclear power plant. From the early 1950s to 1990 the island was used as a U.S. Navy bombing and gunnery range, a large target for combined air, sea and land assaults. Today, it is still controlled by the Federal government and the military but the bombing has been stopped, at least temporarily. Moreover, the people of the State of Hawaii are expecting to see the island returned to local control sometime in the very near future. The Navy -- a formidable economic and social presence in Hawaii -- is not pleased with this.
Baked ocher by the sun, swept low by wind and age, Kahoolawe was bombed and shelled continuously for nearly fifty years. The Navy's justification for its use of the Island was -- and still is -- based on national defense. "There really is no other place in the Pacific where shore bombardment can be done simultaneously with ground fire," explained ex-Third Fleet Kahoolawe Project Officer Charles Crockett. "The roughly 8,000 acres that are used as an impact area provide a valuable variety of realistic targets including airfields, actual truck convoys and pin-point targets."
Training needs aside, the Navy's preemptive use of Kahoolawe has not gone unchallenged. Since 1976 a group of young Hawaiian activists calling themselves the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana have sought to halt the bombing and return the Island to the Hawaiian people. In its short lifetime, the PKO -- or simply the Ohana (lit., "family") -- has become the Navy's nemesis by turning the target island into a rallying point and the spearhead of a much broader cultural clash.
The issue of Kahoolawe is fraught with contradictions. Owned by the state, leased to the military, and governed by a 1953 Presidential Executive Order, the island was, for several years, the subject of a massive lawsuit. The litigation, Aluli v. Brown, charged the Department of Defense with violations of (1) Federal standards for water, noise and air pollution; (2) the First Amendment Rights of Hawaiians; (3) laws that guarantee marine mammal and endangered species protection; (4) laws designed to protect historic places; and (5) the rights of religious access promised under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
Arguments over Kahoolawe have also not been restricted to the courtroom. Depending on whom one listens to in the 50th state, the issue can be viewed either as a minor, regional controversy instigated by a few late-blooming student radicals or as one of the major front lines of the new Hawaiian revolution. Abandoned and forbidden to most people, Kahoolawe has elicited a steady chorus of rumblings from the Ohana, the Navy, local archaeologists, politicians, judges, reporters, and the larger Hawaiian community, which remains divided over the issue. Kahoolawe is the center of one of the most rancorous controversies in the Islands and because of this, it attracts rhetoric the way a picnic draws ants.
Charles Kenn, an elderly part-Hawaiian denying Kahoolawe's religious significance at a 1977 trial: "There is no such thing as Hawaiian religion today." An exhortation from an Ohana brochure: "Kahoolawe will become the model of an alternative value structure for the Hawaiian people of today, as well as for the U.S. and the rest of the world." And a West Coast correspondent for a syndicated chain of newspapers: "In my opinion, these Hawaiians are going to shove that island, rock by rock, up the Navy's ass."
Or take Elmer Cravalho, former mayor of Maui County, which includes the Island of Kahoolawe: "My position is that the bombing should stop immediately and the Island be turned over to the state at which time we can decide its future use." Or U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye in 1978: "Without wanting to be the Navy's apologist, I think they have been very cooperative." Or former Rear Admiral Thomas B. Hayward: "I am disturbed by the absence of appreciation for the Navy's need for Kahoolawe." And a poetry class at the Kamehameha III Primary School in Lahaina, Maui:
Kahoolawe, I love you
Kahoolawe say you love me too
I've only seen you from a distance
I wish I could see you up close.
-Robin Bodinus, Grade 5
poor island of Hawai’i
it must be painful
when all those big bombs hit.
Unfortunately they don't miss.
-Keith Karlo, Grade 5
If geography, as is sometimes asserted, is a prime determinant of destiny, then the fate of Hawai’i is inextricably linked with its isolation. Island life is life in an echo chamber, a self-contained universe in which cultural traditions, politics, and public opinion reverberate back and forth in barely predictable ways. Sometimes the reverberations come as peals of thunder. More often, vested interests are obscured by the murmurs of hearsay, gossip, equivocation, obliquity, and purposeful indecision. In many ways that is what has happened to Kahoolawe and all of the people whose lives have been touched by it.
* * *
Each Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. in a conference room at the Legal Aid Society, the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana comes together to plan strategy. The sessions begin with a four-way conference call to Ohana supporters on the neighbor islands. If the press of Kahoolawe business is light, the meeting is likely to turn into a party with music, food and story. If more serious affairs need attending to, a fierce, eloquent and slightly unruly tactics session will ensue, inevitably lasting late into the night.
Because the Ohana is a coalition that defines itself in both spiritual and political terms, it attracts an unusual assortment of people. Nearly all are Hawaiians or Asians. Most are Christians but there are also Buddhists, Pele worshippers, and other native traditionalists who follow aumakua, their family gods. There is David Kaiwi, the leader of a Judeo-Hawaiian cult, who occasionally stops in from Kauai. There are Secessionists, Socialists, Democratic Monarchists, Maoists, Democrats, and -- once in a great while and seemingly by sheer accident -- some tortured version of a Republican.
There are the kupuna, the elders, like Peggy Ha’o Ross, an articulate, full-blooded Hawaiian who considers herself to be the Queen Pro Tem of the Sovereign Nation of Native Hawaiians. In 1990, she would run for Governor, and Willie Nelson would give a benefit concert to raise funds for her candidacy. Many other Ohana members are students or blue-collar workers. There are also babes in arms. Old and young alike, no constitution binds them together. There is no formal roster of membership and no set of by-laws. The Ohana is "family," a kinship of people descended from the first taro stalk planted in the mythic past and bound together by blood. Grounded in cultural history and adapted to the present, Ohana is a living concept with its own rules and its own built-in mechanisms for resolving disputes. Older Hawaiians are addressed with great honor as "Aunty" or "Uncle." Each person, of whatever age or status, is given time to speak. Every meeting begins and ends standing in a circle holding hands, with a prayer spoken in Hawaiian.
One of the meetings I attend is a debriefing of the fifth "access." Two dozen men and women crowd into the conference room, half of them sitting on the floor. Someone has a jar of homemade pickled mango slices, thick red chunks of sour fruit that get gobbled down as fast as they are passed around. Aunty Mallaca, the oldest kupuna present and a woman much loved for her sincerity and wit, gives the opening prayer. The meeting begins. There is considerable tension. The most recent landing on Kahoolawe has gone badly and a rift has developed between the Oahu and Moloka’i Hawaiians.
Monthly access to Kahoolawe is a concession wrung from the Navy under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, but each trip must be separately negotiated and coordinated with the Navy's official Third Fleet spokesman and Project Officer for Kahoolawe. During an access, the Ohana typically sets up a base camp and spends three to ten days clearing trails, searching for historic sites, and seeking blessings for the desecrated Island through dance, chant, and prayer. The amateur archaeological work is important for cultural reasons and also strategically. The Ohana hopes one day to qualify Kahoolawe for the National Register of Historic Places, a move that potentially would curtail the Navy's use of the Island.
On the fifth access, however, something has gone wrong. A contingent from Moloka’i has overstayed its time on the Island, forcing the Navy to postpone a day of training and evacuate 26 Ohana members by Coast Guard cutter. It is a diplomatic and public relations blunder for the Hawaiians, who -- according to the agreements they have forced the Navy into making -- must scrupulously abide by the terms for lengths of stay.
This access appears to have been a victim of poor planning and disorganized leadership. Richard Kinney, one of the designated co-leaders for the trip, reads a written report explaining why he found it necessary to abdicate his role because of a personal religious crisis. Aunty Peggy Ha_o Ross, proud, poised, and iron-willed, defends the Moloka’i contingent from accusations by the Oahu people. After 45 minutes of angry and impassioned remarks, the dialogue ends in tears and mutual apologies. Bo Kahui, chairman for the meeting, moves on to new business.
There are several small items, each of which generates debate. An accounting for revenues from the sale of "Stop the Bombing" T-shirts is given. A resolution of support for another group of activists is passed. Then come the plans for the next access. Among those invited are several local botanists who will search for rare and endangered plants, an archaeologist from the Bishop Museum, a marine mammal specialist who will document the offshore migrations of humpback whales, and an ordnance disposal expert who will try -- unofficially -- to estimate the cost of clearing the Island. Distrusting the Navy's opinions on this subject, the Ohana is bringing in its own consultant from Arizona.
Late in the meeting, Emmett Aluli arrives, his plane delayed by bad weather. Leadership in the Ohana is shared by many people, but Aluli, a young physician from Moloka’i, is the group's foremost strategist, spokesman, and visionary. Aluli inherited his chief organizer role in 1977 from George Helm, the Ohana's founder. Under other circumstances it would be Helm's name appearing as plaintiff in the lawsuit against the Navy. Instead, it is Emmett's. Calmly, quietly, he reports on a mainland meeting with Indian tribal leaders fighting issues similar to those of Kahoolawe: the misuse of, and denial of access to, traditionally sacred lands. After more discussion, the four and one-half hour meeting comes to an end. Aunty Mallaca says the final blessing and prays for the health of the Ohana and the renewal of Kahoolawe.
* * *
Although the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana is one of many groups advocating for Hawaiian rights, it has often been recognized as one of the most clearly focused, the most vocal, and the most blatantly confrontive. Many apolitical Hawaiians who might strongly disagree with the Ohana's tactics are also in strong sympathy with the Ohana's purposes. They may quarrel about what the future of the people of Hawai’i should be but they share a common and passionate view of past injustices. Hawaiian history, they argue, is nothing less than a series of betrayals by the English, the French, the Russians, the Americans, and the Japanese. Hawaiians will also acknowledge the greed and short-sightedness of some of their own chiefs who traded away precious land for whiskey and silk. The result of all this, they point out, is a culture and homeland that has been steamrollered by explorers, missionaries, carpetbaggers, sugar and pineapple planters, and, most recently, by investors from foreign countries.
Today most Hawaiians seek some form of redress. Influenced by the movements of other native peoples and the civil rights struggles of Blacks and Hispanics, aware of their own disenfranchisement, many are demanding direct compensation like the billion dollars and forty million acres of land that have been awarded to native Alaskans. Hawaiians stand to collect an enormous inheritance. Reparations and sovereignty measures for Hawaiians continue to be introduced in Congress and are gaining momentum.
For many Hawaiians, however, a strategic cultural victory is just as important as compensatory dollars. And the place to begin, says the Ohana, is Kahoolawe, the most abused Island in the Hawaiian archipelago and the most obvious visible symbol of U.S. domination. More than any other piece of land, the rescue and restoration of Kahoolawe should serve as the beginning of a formal apology to the Hawaiian people. Those Ohana members who have actually spent time on the little Island during legal and illegal accesses speak of it in reverent terms. "Kahoolawe," says a Hawaiian professor from the University "is the vanguard of our renaissance. We're working our way back to our artistic, agricultural, and ocean-oriented roots. The next step is to reclaim what every other immigrant group has sought to acquire and keep for its own descendants -- the land."
Within the Ohana, Kahoolawe represents many things. For some, it is simply a means toward other ends they find more important. For others, it is a maximum assertion of ethnicity. In the dreams and visions of the most mystical Hawaiians, Kahoolawe is not a piece of inanimate real estate to be haggled over with the Navy. It is an evocation of deep racial memories, a way of life in which the heart-blood of an entire culture can be renewed. Even for the pragmatists, land has crucial cultural meanings because it is understood to be "alive."
Kahoolawe represents all of these traditional and contemporaneous thoughts brought together. It is a vision based on hunting, fishing, farming, and living on the land in the manner of one's ancestors. Precisely where politics and mysticism intersect, the Ohana has developed a strategy that speaks to these most fundamental beliefs of all Hawaiians: that the land and the people of the taro are intrinsically connected, and that they flourish or perish in mutual proportion. As they always have. As they always will.
* * *
"Without question," a political science professor at the University of Hawaii once remarked, "the Ohana is the most persistent, articulate and successful group of activists operating in the Hawaiian Islands today." Although such a statement might generate debate from other groups, few observers would deny the Ohana its triumphs. In just a few short years the Ohana has scored key political, legal and media victories. It has gained legal access to Kahoolawe, forced the Navy to file and comply with an Environmental Impact Statement, discovered numerous archaeological sites, and halted -- at least for the time being -- the Navy's bombing. Yet success for Hawaiians in their homeland never comes easy. The Ohana has paid dearly, and no price was more painful than the deaths of George Helm and Kimo Mitchell.
In 1975, the bombing of Kahoolawe was a routine event in the Islands, publicly unquestioned but for a few grumblers living on Maui's south shore who were upset by the thumps and thuds of daily bombing runs. The Protect Kahoolawe Ohana did not exist. Instead, a few scattered residents on the island of Moloka’i (some seventy miles away) were engrossed in issues of their own. Led by Emmett Aluli and Walter Ritte, then students at the University, the Moloka’i people sought to open up public rights-of-way to beaches traditionally used by Hawaiians for foraging and fishing but closed off in recent times by developers. The right of "access" seemed pertinent to other lands as well, and someone -- nobody quite remembers who -- suggested Kahoolawe, which had been off-limits to local people since 1941. "I don't remember whose idea it was," says Charlie Warrington, an early Ohana leader. "We just became aware of what was happening and decided to make it a symbol of misuse of the land."
Early in 1976, George Helm, an up-and-coming musician from Moloka’i, joined the fledgling group and helped instigate a series of illegal landings on the target island. The first -- not yet called an "access" -- was more a Bicentennial stunt than a serious intrusion. Of the nine people landed on the Island, seven were picked up and hauled off by the military as soon as they arrived. "You know the only reason we didn't get caught immediately?" Walter Ritte said rhetorically, describing the 48 hours he and Emmett Aluli spent on the island. "I had to go to the bathroom, I took the toilet paper and we started walking and we didn't stop until we got to the other side of the Island."
After discovering what looked to be ancient temple sites, Ritte and Aluli, powerfully moved by their experiences, gave themselves up two days later. Realizing that Kahoolawe was an exceptional "access" issue because of the potential confrontation with the military, the Moloka’i group began to organize more earnestly and the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana was formed. Small supporting chapters were founded on each of the major Islands. It was a youthful movement; most older Hawaiians refused to join, arguing that Kahoolawe was worthless.
As the Ohana began to gather momentum, most of the fund-raising and political effort shifted from Moloka’i to Honolulu. From the first access on, however, and until his death in the waters off Kahoolawe in 1977, Moloka’i-based George Helm served as chief strategist. Aluli, Ritte, Warrington, and others recognized his dedicated and energetic leadership. According to those who knew him well, Helm was a charismatic man with a brooding and passionate intellect. He was also known for his lilting voice and his ability as a slack-key guitarist. Brought up on a Moloka’i farm, he was sent off to school in Honolulu where he was duly dubbed a "country boy" and teased for his homemade clothes and pidgin English.
In the 1960s, he became a college dropout ("I couldn't see much sense in anything they were teaching"). Talented and driven by forces he couldn't fully articulate, Helm drifted deeper into his music and, through it, into a search for his spiritual and cultural roots. He was also a voracious reader. At his death, his extensive library included volumes on politics, philosophy, Hawaiian language and history, art, Zen, Jungian psychology, and world religion. As the Kahoolawe issue came into focus, so did Helm. He began to view the troubled Island's destiny as inextricably entwined with the fate of the Hawaiian people. He pursued the issue relentlessly.
Jackie Leilani, an announcer known as the "Honolulu Skylark" on KCCN, the only all-Hawaiian radio station at the time, and an outspoken leader in the Ohana of the 1980s, remembers George with sadness and admiration. "It was as if the Island possessed him. Once when we were talking he told me he thought he would die for it -- and I said, please George, don't do that. We need you." From his reading and his talks with k_puna, the elders he revered so much, Helm sought to distill his knowledge and reconcile the sometimes conflicting forces working within him. Eventually, the strands of his thinking -- some mystical, some political -- fused in the concept of aloha __ina: the enormous love Hawaiians feel for land and the historical and cultural imperative they have to protect it. Aloha aina became the Ohana's guiding philosophical principle.
A pragmatist as well as a visionary, Helm also pushed the Ohana into big-time politics. For a time it appeared Helm had won over the State legislature and Hawai’i's Congressional delegation. Senior Senator Daniel Inouye led efforts to halt the bombing from Washington, but the Ohana's trust in Inouye evaporated when he proposed compromises unacceptable to them. Then, in 1976, Helm and other PKO spokespeople flew to Washington to seek new allies in the Departments of Justice, Defense, and the Interior; in the Council of Historic Places; and in what was then the Federal American Indian Program. They found no tangible support but returned to Hawai’i armed with new information.
A two-pronged strategy evolved. Claiming that Kahoolawe was of enormous religious and historic importance, the Ohana filed its fourteen-point lawsuit against the Navy. Then, to call attention to the suit, they decided to stage a well-publicized but clearly illegal "access" onto the Island as an act of civil disobedience.
In January, Helm, Ritte, Richard Sawyer, and several others landed on Kahoolawe covertly. Ritte and Sawyer carried enough food and water for a two-week stay. The others, lightly provisioned, returned to Honolulu after two days to call a press conference. Richard Sawyer and Walter Ritte intended to stay on Kahoolawe until the bombing was stopped once and for all, announced Helm. During the first two weeks of their access, Ritte and Sawyer hid out in the high brush and scrub on Kahoolawe's northeast slope, moving down to the ocean at night to fish and bathe. Three weeks into their "occupation," the Navy dispatched 100 Marines and a fleet of helicopters to track them down. Playing a constant game of hide-and-go-seek, Ritte and Sawyer easily evaded the marines. The weeks turned into a month. On the thirty-fifth day, with food and water low and bombing runs having recommenced, they decided to give themselves up. The point, they believed, had been made. Walter Ritte would later remember those moments of irony. "For two days, with jets shrieking over us, we tried to get off the Island, lighting bonfires, sending smoke signals, flashing mirrors. Nobody saw us."
Even as Ritte and Sawyer were making every effort to get captured, George Helm was preparing to go find them; he had dreamed that they were in trouble. Others had dreams as well. Emma de Fries, known, respected and even feared by some for her powers of vision and foresight, warned Helm of danger, rough waters, and a failure to heed the signs. Worn out from months of frenzied organizing, Helm disregarded her advice and went ahead.
On March 5, Helm, Billy Mitchell, and Kimo Mitchell (one of the best watermen in the Islands) landed on Kahoolawe in a small powerboat driven by Sluggo Hahn of Maui. They carried with them four canteens of fresh water, swim fins, an inner tube, a transistor radio, spare clothing, and two seven-foot surfboards. Hahn returned to Maui with an agreed-upon pick-up time -- but because of boat problems, the pick-up never occurred. For two days, Helm and the Mitchells combed Kahoolawe's underbrush unsuccessfully searching hiding places known to the Ohana. On March 7, they made their decision to return to Maui by surfboard.
About the time Sawyer and Ritte finally were being picked up by the military, George, Kimo, and Billy were putting their boards in the water at the opposite end of Kahoolawe. The events of the following hours remain mysterious. According to Billy Mitchell, Helm -- injured by a rock while entering the water -- seemed to be wracked by spirits but was still capable of paddling. With Billy on one board and Kimo and George on the other, they headed southwest across the eight-mile Alalakeiki Channel. The literal meaning of Alalkeiki is "child's wail." Three miles short of Maui they encountered high winds, rough waves, and a strong offshore current. Somewhere in that turbulence, George and Kimo disappeared. Realizing the futility of pushing on to Maui, Billy turned back to Kahoolawe, landed, found a squadron of Marines, and reported that George and Kimo were in trouble.
The search started immediately. The Coast Guard, the Navy and a flotilla of local fishing boats hastily organized by the Ohana scoured the waters off Kahoolawe for days. When George's surfboard turned up 13 miles southeast of Lana_i the search area was expanded. Twenty-one days and 7,500 square miles later, the Coast Guard called it off. George Helm and Kimo Mitchell were listed as "missing at sea" and presumed drowned or killed by sharks off the coast of Maui. Those tense twenty-one days were marked by an ironic and bittersweet alliance between the Ohana and the military. Uncle Harry Mitchell, a 60-year-old farmer, carpenter, and fisherman, worked closely with them. "When I was searching for my son and George on Kahoolawe, I was sitting down and two Marines looked at me. I say, you guys no more cigarettes? No, they say, two days now. Here, I say, take this full pack and look good at my face. Some day you gonna hunt me down on this Island too. When you catch me that day, I like my cigarettes back."
In the wake of George's death, the Ohana floundered and almost dissolved. Accusations that his death was engineered by a local "godfather" were leveled at a part-Hawaiian politician. The charges generated a libel suit which would later be dismissed. Daniel Inouye again offered proposals that would allow, temporarily, joint uses of Kahoolawe. The proposals were rejected by the Ohana. Tensions boiled to the surface and two factions within the Ohana fought for leadership. The losers -- Walter Ritte and Richard Sawyer -- moved their families to remote Pelekunu Valley on Moloka’i "to live like our ancestors."
Exhausted from grieving and in-fighting, the Ohana reorganized and Emmett Aluli assumed the leadership role left vacant by the untimely death of George Helm. The PKO then turned its attention to the lawsuit issues -- but with a new strategy: prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Kahoolawe is archaeologically and historically important. With this in mind, the days of illegal trespass came to an end.
* * *
Very few things seem to happen at the right time and of their own accord. The rest, suggested Herodotus in 400 B.C., never happen at all. He went on to argue that it is the job of the historian to correct the defects inherent in understanding the past and make sensible what is otherwise nonsensical. Most historians fill such voids with thoughtful theories and speculations. Archaeologists, on the other hand, are the pathologists of history, and they proceed more directly to the evidence. To them falls the task of exhuming bodies.
One hundred miles northwest of Kahoolawe, about thirty minutes' flying time, is the island of Oahu and the city of Honolulu, the State's nerve center. When a final resolution of the Kahoolawe dispute emerges -- and such a resolution is now in sight -- negotiations will be concluded, not from the embattled Island itself, but in Washington, on Maui, and on Oahu. The critical decision involves, among other things, an ultimate determination of Kahoolawe's historical worth.
It is on Oahu that the Kahoolawe debate erupts in its most acerbic forms. In a steady stream of press releases, the Navy studiously downplays Kahoolawe's possible historic value, pleading its case for future military training needs. The Ohana, for its part, routinely lambastes the Navy for dropping bombs on valuable Hawaiian artifacts. The Navy likes to think of itself as the defender of the Ohana's right to dissent. The Ohana, inur tn, seems to revel in the image of disenfranchised natives pitted against professional (but inept) soldiers and of local browns versus newcomer whites. Beneath this morass of images, at a deeper and more complex level, lies the truly soft ground: the multiple and often conflicting interpretations of patriotism, Hawaiian history, and Hawaiian history's potential meaning for the future. For most of us, the clash of arguments is a bit like walking through quicksand.
Like its future, Kahoolawe's past is mired in speculation and controversy. During the 1977 trespass trials that sent Walter Ritte and Richard Sawyer to jail for six months, the Ohana repeatedly claimed that Kahoolawe was a historically valuable island, a place of worship and pilgrimage to which Hawaiians came from other Islands to pray, make offerings, and bury their troubles. Not so, argued others. The distinguished "dean of Hawaiian anthropology," Kenneth Emory, was quoted as saying that Kahoolawe was, at best, of marginal importance. The part-Hawaiian Charles Kenn, a life-long amateur student of archaeology, stated unequivocally that Kahoolawe was never more than a temporary shelter for fishermen. The standard texts on Hawaiian history -- Malo, Kamakau, and Fornander -- offered little more.
Swept into the issue more recently (and gingerly trying to pick their way through the Navy's intransigence and the Ohana's exhortations) are a group of scientists from Hawaii Marine Research, Inc. (HMR), a private consulting firm contracted by the Navy and headed by Dr. Maury Morgenstein. Morgenstein's six-figure contract calls for an intensive archaeological survey of Kahoolawe culminating in three written end products: individual site forms submitted by the Navy to the National Register of Historic Places; a summary of all findings; and a set of management recommendations for preserving and protecting whatever archaeological sites are deemed valuable.
Bill Barrera is HMR's part-time Field Director. His job is to supervise the actual site work. Dropped off by Marine helicopters and accompanied by Explosives Ordnance Disposal escorts, Barrera and his team single out a particular area on a grid and start walking. When a potential site is discovered, the team converges to map, photograph, and describe the specific archaeological features. Wherever possible the sites are left undisturbed. There are two exceptions. If an artifact is endangered by erosion, the material is removed for safekeeping in such a way that it can be returned to within centimeters of its original position. And if samples of basaltic glass (obsidian) are available, they too are removed for hydration-rind analysis, a dating process more accurate than the use of carbon-14 that has been adapted and calibrated for Pacific materials by Maury Morgenstein.
"What we are doing," says Barrera, "is the data-gathering that comes prior to study and classification -- a basic mapping of surface locations." Barrera -- bearded, portly, and professorial -- maintains his own cluttered and dusty laboratory a few blocks away from HMR's main office in Honolulu. His company is called CHINIAGO, Inc., a Navajo word which means "It's time to eat!"
Barrera likes to talk about food. "In the last two years I've eaten a total of 100 cases of Navy C-rations while on Kahoolawe. I figure 95 of those have gone right through me without being digested." Barrera plucks at his beard and talks about Kahoolawe in short, scolding bursts of conversation. "Everyone wants to know how many sites there are on the Island but `site' is a geographical designation that may not have any real scientific interest." More important to Barrera are the three to four "features" that make up a site: charcoal remnants from some ancient fire, bird bones, intentionally constructed mounds of stone and coral, or chips and flakes from a piece of rock destined to become an adze. "I can't tell you with absolute certainty, but I'd say we've already described 600 sites and at least 2,000 features. The work isn't done yet."
Like all of the scientists associated with Kahoolawe, Barrera is cautious when it comes to statements that might reveal personal feelings about the Navy and the Ohana. I want to know about the dangers of working on an Island full of unexploded ordnance. "If you want to poke into that kind of stuff, you better go see Morgenstein." So Barrera talks about the weather. He shows me a photograph of his tent being washed away by flood waters on what is reputedly the driest major island in the chain. "Most of the time our biggest problems are sunburn, heat stroke, and mosquitoes. Kahoolawe only gets thirty inches of rain a year but last February we were camped up near the center of the Island near Luamakika and it started to pour. I called Third Fleet headquarters in Honolulu for a forecast and some joker asked me how long I could tread water."
Down the street at HMR, Maury Morgenstein can be found immersed in the details of several complex projects; Kahoolawe is his biggest. HMR is a consulting firm that provides technical assistance on environmental impact statements, excavations, geological surveys, and undersea mining. Morgenstein is founder and president. Like Barrera, he bristles with nervous energy. Born and raised in New York, he holds a Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from the University of Hawaii. Morgenstein's particular niche is sedimentology. His office is wallpapered with maps of Kahoolawe that show the Island's soils, drainages, and bombing zones. Hawaii Marine Research employs a dozen people, including several well-known local archaeologists and the now-retired Captain Charles "Davy" Crockett, former Third Fleet Kahoolawe Project Officer. Crockett is HMR's administrative vice-president.
Morgenstein, his hair kinky and bleached from months in the field, chain-smokes Marlboros as he talks. His carefully chosen words are delivered in staccato bursts and a monotone voice as if he has said it all before. His manner is precise and technical. Working under contract to the Navy and within the climate of anticipation generated by the Ohana, he says, makes HMR's findings political and not just scientific. Morgenstein does not want to be misquoted.
"Above and beyond the reports, our major concern is not to lose -- and in fact to protect -- valuable information." Kahoolawe is the first real chance archaeologists have had to study the pattern and impact of early Hawaiian life on an entire island over time. The major problem with archaeology in Hawai’i, he goes on, is that most sites have been indiscriminately covered by concrete and glass or have simply been lost in thick, impenetrable vegetation. In effect, the Navy protected Kahoolawe from the shovels and bulldozers of developers. "That makes Kahoolawe one of the most unique and discrete research sites in the world," he says. "The real irony is that the high quality of archaeological work is being made possible by Kahoolawe's dramatically eroded condition."
That erosion, explains Morgenstein, is the result of a series of successive environmental insults. First, Kahoolawe is naturally dry because it is situated in the rain shadow and wind funnel of Maui. Second is the fire. Morgenstein has found evidence of a major burn horizon over a stable set of soils. "We know that there was a massive fire, or series of fires, sometime around A.D. 1450. We can't tell whether what happened was due to war, slash-and-burn agriculture, or lightning, but we can say that, whatever happened, it covered most of the Island and was uncontrollable." A third factor, says Morgenstein, was the disappearance of vegetation and subsequent salt-water encroachment into the water table. "The entire system was probably weakened even more by the widespread planting of mesquite in the late 1800s." The final and most drastic insult, in his view, was the introduction of thousands of goats and sheep, which effectively eliminated most of the endemic and indigenous plants.
Despite these problems, or perhaps because of them, HMR's archaeological work has been exciting and fruitful. "What we've found on Kahoolawe," says Morgenstein, "is a pattern of prehistoric occupation similar to that of the other major Islands. The earliest dated remains come in at A.D. 900 plus or minus 50 years - about the time of the major migrations from Tahiti." After A.D. 1300 there is evidence of a heavier utilization of the Island's interior, probably for agriculture, bird hunting, and tool making. The findings include adze quarries, basaltic glass mines, fishing shrines, housing complexes, burial sites, petroglyphs, storage caves, dancing platforms, interred bodies, several kinds of heiau or temples (at least one of which was sacrificial), and untold numbers of obsidian chips, which, according to Bill Barrera, were Hawaiian "all-purpose pocket knives." At one site Morgenstein's crews uncovered the remains of probable cannibalism.
Based on this kind of evidence, it is possible to make some reasonable guesses about what life on Kahoolawe was like six centuries ago. Before the fires of 1450, the Island was probably covered with grass and thin strands of dryland forest. Gentle, sloping valleys, now eroded into jagged gulches, sheltered small settlements of pole, thatch and stone structures. Larger settlements developed along the coast, but sugarcane and sweet potatoes were intensively cultivated inland. Endemic birds, many now extinct, probably roamed the hills and forests. It is likely that fishermen and bird catchers from other Islands came to Kahoolawe, and that the people of Kahoolawe went to Maui or Lana’i to gather plants, hunt, fish, and trade.
Along the sea on prominent points and near beaches that in pre-erosion times were made of white sand, temples and altars were erected. Some were for the worship of major deities, others for individual fishing and family gods. Some may have been designed to house visiting chiefs and priests. There is at least one site that knowledgeable Hawaiians recognize as an important navigational landmark. The shrine, containing four perfectly matched compass points correlating with similar structures on Maui and Moloka’i, is at the western tip of the island, at the channel called Kealaikahiki, "the road to Tahiti."
Like any new research, HMR's work poses new questions even as it answers others. Why, for example, are so many sea shells found inland? Why are there so few sites dated after A.D. 1500 along the coast? And why did Kahoolawe's population and, in fact, the population of all the major Islands, take a nosedive around 1600? I ask Morgenstein if HMR's work is conclusive enough to corroborate any of the Ohana's claims. "The sheer number of sites," he says, "indicates a wide range of activities and confirms its historic importance. It dispels the notion that Kahoolawe was uninhabited." Morgenstein, however, is also quick to dissociate himself from any inference that he might somehow side with the Ohana. "The evidence we've uncovered does not necessarily justify what many contemporary Hawaiians would like to do with the Island."
Morgenstein's (and by extension, HMR's) relationship with the Ohana is at best tenuous and occasionally openly antagonistic. Maury is skeptical of the Ohana's emotionalism and leery of the tendency of some of the younger Hawaiians to revise their culture as they see fit. He views the Ohana as a kind of cultural revitalization movement; like the cargo cults that occurred on some South Pacific islands after World War II, he sees them as trying to recreate a certain type of cultural identity that may never have existed in fact.
The Ohana, for its part, is equally suspicious of HMR. They are critical of Morgenstein for not using more Hawaiians as archaeologists, as cultural informants, and as technical assistants. The cultural informant issue is particularly thorny because Hawaiian history, genealogy, and mythology come down through an oral tradition that most Western scientists will accept only as tertiary or, at the very best, secondary evidence.
The Ohana also dislikes Morgenstein for hiring ex-Third Fleet Project Officer Davy Crockett, who they think is a Navy plant. Crockett denies any conflict of interest. "I do HMR's administrative work," he says. "My only connection with the Navy is my monthly retirement check."
Adding to the complexity are several older, educated Hawaiians who, while sympathetic to the Ohana's overall goals, refuse to be a part of their efforts. Loyalties divide in unpredictable ways. Rudy Mitchell, for example, is a Hawaiian who has visited Kahoolawe twice, once with the Navy as an ordnance disposal expert and once as a guest of the Ohana. Mitchell is an archaeologist who has worked on Oahu's north shore. As a Hawaiian elder, he has befriended many younger Hawaiians but, like Morgenstein, he is skeptical of the ends he hears so many of them espousing. "Basically, they want to recreate a golden past without really knowing what it is they want to go back to." He is equally skeptical of Morgenstein and HMR.
Sitting under a shade tree at Waimea Falls Park on Oahu, Mitchell shows me photographs of artifacts found in areas HMR had already swept through and missed. One is of a mortar and pestle, perfectly preserved, found sitting in the dirt. Then, discoursing on the origins of the Hawaiians, he draws me a diagram of what he believes to be a pre-Polynesian shrine. Mitchell himself located the shrine on Kahoolawe through instinct and educated cultural guesswork. That kind of intuition, he suggests, is something only a Hawaiian can understand. Mitchell is convinced Kahoolawe's prehistory can never be fully appreciated by white scientists trained exclusively in Western methods.
In a gentle rain under a canopy of dripping vegetation, Mitchell and Kimo, his young Hawaiian assistant, walk me through the sites they have excavated in what was, in ancient times, a heavily populated village. Today, it is a tourist attraction with an entrance fee of fifteen dollars.
Though repeatedly invited, Rudy Mitchell declines to work on Kahoolawe. "It's such a beautiful island but, my god, everything about it -- everyone who touches it -- gets sucked into the politics and fighting. The truth can't help but suffer." Mitchell also says he is getting too old. "I just don't have the same stamina I used to. My job now is to pass on what I know to the young so they can carry on the work themselves." Kimo, Mitchell's young apprentice, is an anthropology student at the University of Hawaii. Hair matted down by the rain and eyes riveted on Mitchell, he nods in agreement.
* * *
For more than a century, the United States has used the Hawaiian archipelago as a staging ground for its Pacific forces. Hawai’i is part of North America's strategic eastern perimeter, a first line of defense, and a toehold and jumping-off point for treaty involvements in the much larger theater of Asia. As a result, the U.S. military has constituted a major presence in Islands life for more than a hundred years. It pours a yearly billion dollars and more into the local economy, is the second largest employer, and one of the largest landholders in the State. Thirty percent of Oahu alone is under military control.
The social and political impacts of having major air and sea commands located in one of North America's smallest and most land-scarce states are enormous. "You better believe that the military is a serious power broker out here," says a well-decorated and well-known naval Captain who prefers not to be named. "And I can also tell you that the Ohana has shaken things up. Some of the people who could make decisions on this are starting to think that Island is an albatross around our necks." If this is true, the military would not be the first group of white men to be jinxed by Kahoolawe.
In the half century that followed the Western discovery of Hawai’i by Captain Cook in 1778, Kahoolawe remained a bleak, little-known, and isolated snippet of land, uninhabited by any permanent population and apparently of no appreciable interest to anyone. In 1830, however, the Hawaiian monarchy began to see possibilities for it. Queen Ka’ahumanu, a Protestant convert filled with anti-Papist indignation, thought about banishing Catholics to Kahoolawe, but the mass exile never came to pass. Instead, the Island became a penal colony for thieves and adulterers.
As prisons go, Kahoolawe seems to have been an easy-going affair. Led by a banished chief from Maui named Kinimaka, several dozen exiles maintained eight huts and an adobe church, raised melons, pumpkins, and livestock, and periodically conducted foraging raids on neighboring islands for potatoes, taro, and women. The disinterest of the government meant no reprisals.
In 1843 the law banishing criminals to Kahoolawe was rescinded. Four years later, the last prisoner, a haole shoemaker convicted of stealing, was removed from the Island in poor health.
From 1858 on, the Hawaiian monarchy -- and, later the Territory of Hawaii -- issued a succession of leases to groups interested in establishing farms and ranches. The various enterprises, run mostly by politicians rather than farmers, tried and failed. By 1909 Kahoolawe's population consisted of 40 head of cattle, 40 horses, 3,200 sheep, 5,000 goats, and no humans. A year later, Governor Frear proclaimed Kahoolawe a Territorial Forest Reserve. A research expedition in 1913 catalogued sixteen native and fifteen introduced plant species and noted the proliferation of Nicotiana glauca, a tobacco tree that even the goats found inedible. In an effort to retain some of the Island's ever-eroding topsoil, the Forestry Department planted hundreds of trees. Like most early State conservation efforts on Kahoolawe, the project failed.
In 1918, Kahoolawe's destiny took a new turn. The Territorial reclamation project came to an end and Angus McPhee, an ex-Wyoming cowboy, secured a lease on the Island for $200 a year. McPhee, the most determined and energetic of Kahoolawe's would-be ranchers, invested $300,000 and the better part of twenty years in his attempt to make the Island productive. Working with a dozen Hawaiian cowboys, he exterminated every goat he could find; built cisterns, watertanks, fences, corrals, boat landings, and a house; planted 5,000 trees, hundreds of pounds of Australian salt-bush and grass seed; and developed a modestly successful herd of 600 cattle. In a remembrance filled with old photographs, Inez Ashdown, McPhee's daughter, recalls her years on the Island.
We worked like mad on Kahoolawe... I shaded a vegetable garden with coconut palms and papaya seedlings. I started the first watermelons from seeds strewn under the 10,000 gallon redwood tank by the house. My carrots, beets, cabbage, eggplant, string beans, sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes were bountiful.
The beginning of the end for the McPhees came with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Eight days after the Japanese attack, their fishing sampan, the Mazie C, was commandeered by the Army and the McPhees were removed from the Island. Ironically, McPhee had turned his first profits from Kahoolawe just a few years before. Considering it his patriotic duty, he subleased the Island to the military and waited for the end of the war to reclaim his property and receive compensation for lost holdings. He got neither. In 1953, Eisenhower signed a Presidential Executive Order giving complete and permanent control of Kahoolawe to the Navy -- with provisions, however, that assured soil conservation, limitation of "cloven-hoofed animals," the transfer of Kahoolawe back to the State once the Island was no longer needed by the military, and the removal of all undetonated explosives upon its return. Kahoolawe quickly became one of the most shot-at places in the world.
In the heady, prosperous days that followed the war, Hawai’i experienced its first surges of tourism. A strong military presence in the Islands lent weight to those who favored statehood. With an expanding economy and an influx of immigrants, local people took little cognizance of the bombing.
In 1968, however, the Navy encountered its first organized resistance. Maui's feisty mayor, Elmer Cravalho, motivated in part by a 500-pound bomb found in one of his cow pastures, spearheaded an attack aimed at opening the waters off Kahoolawe to Maui fishermen. Cravalho's other concern was to protect the developing tourist trade on Maui's south shore, a scant eight miles from the daily bombing runs. Cravalho got nowhere. Rear Admiral Thomas Hayward and Secretary of the Navy John Chafee made separate trips to the Islands to lobby on the Navy's behalf. In a speech to the Maui Chamber of Commerce, Hayward strongly hinted that withdrawal from Kahoolawe might force drastic cutbacks in military spending in the Islands.
In 1970, Kahoolawe again made front-page news. Kaare Gundersen, a professor at the University of Hawaii, proposed a comprehensive plan for the construction of a thermonuclear power plant on the target island. The plant, he wrote, could meet all energy needs plus desalinate sea water for agricultural irrigation. Had Gundersen made the same proposal ten years later, during the gas shortages, it might have been given more consideration. As it was, he ran into the same arguments the Ohana would inevitably encounter: too much unexploded ordnance and the Navy's continuing need for a training area. His ideas received a brief flurry of attention and then faded away. Round one (Mayor Cravalho) and round two (Professor Gundersen) were decisive knockouts for the military. Round three -- the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana -- would prove a different story.
* * *
Beginning in 1941 and continuing on into the litigation brought by the Ohana decades later, the Department of Defense and the Navy pinned their use of Kahoolawe to four basic arguments. First, military planners consider the Island indispensable because it is the only mid-Pacific site they deem suitable and available for joint training by ships, planes and land forces. Because of its strategic location, argues the Navy, it is the only place where such exercises can be done safely, economically, and in combination with each other. Second, the Navy considers Kahoolawe a death trap, so riddled with unexploded ordnance that it is virtually impossible to restore to a safe, usable condition. Third, the loss of such a major training area would result in a consequent withdrawal of troop strength and an economic loss to the State. And finally, says the Navy, the military has served as a steward and custodian for Kahoolawe by providing demolition-trained escorts for visitors, by monitoring and abating noise levels, by opening the Island's waters to fishing and boating, by maintaining anti-erosion and goat eradication programs, by exploring the feasibility of clearing unexploded ordnance, and by initiating archaeological preservation work. The Navy maintains that it has tried to minimize unnecessary negative impacts, accommodate local interests, and -- in general -- to be a good neighbor.
One of the men responsible for defending these positions to the public is Captain Leo Profilet, Third Fleet Spokesman and Kahoolawe Project Officer, a former professor of naval science at the University of New Mexico and a veteran of 100 missions in Korea and five years in a Vietnamese POW camp. Profilet assumed Davy Crockett's old job in 1978, at which time a Maui newspaper headlined the story with "Navy Appoints New Flak-Catcher." "When the Navy was filling this post," chuckles Profilet, "they specifically wanted an ex-POW on the theory that such a person would have learned how to be patient."
Profilet's office at Third Fleet headquarters sits on historic Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by destroyers, frigates, light cruisers, and their attendant docks and shipyards, Profilet can look out his window and see the nerve center of one of the largest unified military commands in the world. CINCPAC -- Commander in Chief of the Pacific -- takes in the Third and Seventh Fleets, parts of which have stood duty in the waters of the Persian Gulf and other places far from Honolulu. In the foyer outside Profilet's office stands a polished wood and glass trophy case enclosing a bronze ship model emblazoned with the Third Fleet's mott "Readiness."
Leo Profilet and his assistant, Lieutenant Jamie Davidson, are more than eager to talk. They are convinced that Kahoolawe is basically a public relations problem. "Our given," says Profilet, "is that we need strong conventional forces and we need them in Hawai’i. Hawai’i is pivotal to the Pacific basin and continuous training is absolutely essential." As he launches into the conversation, Profilet begins to reveal the depth of his own emotions. "What most people don't realize is that sentiments about Kahoolawe run high in the military as well, especially among troop commanders who've been in combat. They are the ones who really understand the need for training. In Korea, we just didn't have it, and because we didn't, we suffered terribly."
While Profilet and his staff coordinate what happens on Kahoolawe during training exercises, the actual use of the Island is spread out across five service branches. The heaviest users (85% of the time) are the marines, who conduct artillery practice, small arms training, amphibious landings, and aerial attacks by planes and helicopters. The Navy's use is generally confined to ocean gunfire and air cover. The army sends ships over for shore bombardment. Once a year, joint training exercises are held with American allies in the Pacific. Other countries are occasionally invited to use the Island as well.
Profilet and Davidson readily acknowledge that the Navy comes off poorly in the public debate over Kahoolawe. Profilet explains it this way: "In Hawai’i, we are always made out to be the villains. Part of this stems from a long history of social antagonisms with local people and the military's inclination to stick to its own community. There is also the shadow of Vietnam and a core of outright militants in the Ohana." The locals, says Profilet, want things both ways. "They want us here because we pump a lot of money into their pockets but at the same time they tell us we are destroying their land." Ironically, for Profilet as for many Hawaiians, Kahoolawe is a symbolic issue, a microcosm of other tensions and strains that have been building for a long time. "There are no fast and easy answers," he says with a sigh.
Although the loudest and shrillest critics of the Navy have been the PKO, the most compelling arguments against the military have not come from the Ohana, but from the local chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker pacifist group. Ian Lind, one-time head of the Committee and author of a paper on Kahoolawe, believes the Navy vastly exaggerates the Island's importance as a training site and has failed to conduct a meaningful search for alternatives. To begin with, says Lind, the Navy claims to have "considered" and then rejected sites in California and on Kaua_i as alternatives but is unable to produce any data for either place. Those "considerations" are complicated by the fact that the Department of Defense has no specific criteria for evaluating the type and amount of land needed for training.
More damaging still is the fact that use of Kahoolawe as a military training facility was declining steadily between 1969 and 1977 but increased more than 300% after the Ohana began its protests. The increase, Lind believes, was a clear response to local political pressures rather than an accurate representation of training needs. Sitting in his former office at the Honolulu Quaker House, trade winds blowing through the patio, I ask Lind why he thinks the Navy is so vehement about the Island. Why do they hang onto it in the face of so much pressure? "Vested interest and rampant careerism," he says. "The Pacific Command has traditionally been the launching pad for big promotions. No commander wants to be the first to give up land in Hawai’i."
Profilet, of course, disagrees. The expansion of training, he maintains, was a result of pulling back American forces from Okinawa at the end of the Vietnam war. As for alternatives to Kahoolawe, he says, there simply aren't any. Profilet hands me a seventy-page report on the target Island that includes evaluations of other sites. Because Kahoolawe is used as the standard for comparison, the alternatives are dismissed as too costly, inadequate, or simply not feasible. Since the Navy's argument for retaining the Island is based largely on the claim that Kahoolawe is the only place where combined land, sea, and air operations can be conducted simultaneously, I ask Profilet what percentage of the training time is actually used for combined arms operations. Off-hand, he says, he really doesn't know.
The conflict between the Ohana and the Navy is, on the bottom line, a clash of American subcultures. Between the two lies a gulf of misunderstanding, a reflection of fifty years of local military pride, and a newly discovered ethnic vitality among young Hawaiians. Leo Profilet is an intelligent, decorated, and dedicated military administrator nearing the end of a distinguished career. But like some of the hotbloods in the Ohana, he can be curiously naive. "Why is the military's training on Kahoolawe a desecration?" he asks, genuinely puzzled. As much as that question rankles many Hawaiians, it may be central to the entire dispute.
Cynthia Thielen, the Ohana's former lawyer, believes the bombing will ultimately be stopped on a permanent basis. "The issue won't die and it won't be swept under the rug... when the Navy was forced to grant religious access to Kahoolawe, it was the beginning of the end. For the first time they had to surrender some of their control." Profilet disagrees. "Stopping the bombing is an oversimplification. Any solution will have to take account of the military's on-going need for training in the Pacific."
Whatever the resolution, Captain Leo Profilet won't be a part of it. He retired from the Navy and returned to civilian life a few months after our conversation. When I asked him whether there was any outside possibility he might end up working with Hawaii Marine Research like his predecessor, Davy Crockett, Profilet shook his head and waved his pipe at me. "Of course not," he said with a laugh.
* * *
Kahoolawe rears up on the horizon like a gray-green whale, not radically different in shape and color from the real humpbacks that are breaching and sounding off our starboard side. One whale slides directly beneath the boat, raises its flukes and dives. The sixth (official and legal) access of the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana begins aboard The Charger, a fishing sampan out of Lahaina skippered by Uncle Harry Mitchell, father of Kimo Mitchell, who died in the waters off Kahoolawe along with George Helm. On board The Charger are some forty Ohana members headed for the tiny island.
Under a rain-splattered canoe shed the night before departure, there is a briefing. "Prepare yourself for your first visit," says Uncle Harry. "Kahoolawe will capture you. She has plenty mana, she does. The ancientness is there, buried in the rocks, the temples, the walls of the old houses."
Under that same canoe shed, Dr. Emmett Aluli shows slides and talks about the history of the Ohana. Over dinner, I talk with him and begin to get a sense of the man. Aluli is three-quarters Hawaiian, short, tanned, and muscled like a surfer. For a medical man, his credentials are unusual; for a leader in the Ohana they are probably normal. Noa Emmett Aluli is originally from Moloka’i but was raised much of the time on Oahu. He spent sixteen years in Catholic schools in Honolulu, then four years at Marquette University studying biology and philosophy. Another nine years (off and on) went into completing an M.D. at the University of Hawaii. Along the way to being a doctor, he spent time teaching school, doing kidney research, working with Navajo and Hopi Indians, and serving regular stints in the Coast Guard Reserve. Why, a reporter once asked him, haven't you settled your medical practice in Honolulu, where you logically could be making $250,000 a year? "Because," answered Aluli, "I choose not to."
At the moment, nothing is more important to Aluli than insuring that this sixth access, made up of young and old Hawaiians from every island, comes off without a hitch. Already on Kahoolawe are Rick Jackson and Mark "Monty" Montgomery, the Navy's explosive ordnance disposal team. Every step taken on the Island, every rock turned over or tree planted must be with their permission. It is part of the deal. In exchange for the several bomb-free days that are allowed each month for religious purposes, the Ohana agrees to be accompanied and supervised by the "EODs."
Because of strong currents and a full load, the trip across the cobalt waters separating Moloka’i and Kahoolawe takes eight hours. It is a gentle journey, with light swells and foam, trade winds, whales, and an eagerness to "touch the land," a phrase much used by the Ohana. "On these trips," says Jackie Leilani as we near the Island, "we give and receive in equal proportions. You can't help but be touched by the experience."
Kahoolawe is a surprise, a victim of years of bad press. It is neither waterless nor barren -- descriptions which have been used by many people, but especially by the Navy's spokespersons who would like the bombing to seem inconsequential. Access base camp -- a small village of tents and tarps -- is pitched at Hakioawa Bay, a sheltered valley on the northeast side. From the wind-swept cliffs above it, one sees three other Islands and the outline of 10,000-foot Haleakal_ looming over Maui. Above the bay the valley steepens into grass-covered hills that become, on the top of Kahoolawe, a plateau. This flat highland is crisscrossed by rain-worn trenches and gulleys eroded down to the clay hard-pan. Punctuating this red and ravaged desert are islands of grass four feet high, bristling like little tufts of hair on an old man's head.
Hakioawa Valley itself is a thick green forest of mesquite, with ancient wells and waterholes slowly being restored by the Ohana. A little more work is done on each access. Everyone pitches in. It is part of the reason for being there.
Trails connecting different archaeological sites in the valley are cleared. Small mounds of stones, possibly fishing shrines, are restored rock by rock. Trees and shrubs are slashed out of ancient house sites. Hale o Papa, "the forbidden temple" on the northern slope of the valley, is cleaned of debris. Someone finds a half-worked adze blank under a large boulder. It is photographed and noted in a journal and left alone. Mealtimes, everyone gathers to discuss the day, to hear stories from the k_puna, to sing songs, dance hula, share feelings, and argue about Kahoolawe's future.
The weather over the five days of access is exceptional: misty dawns, occasional showers, bright hot afternoons, and star-spangled nights. Although the Navy views this as a "religious" visit, it seems to be simultaneously a cultural, educational, and archaeological pilgrimage. It provides for both the data-gathering of amateur archaeologists and a classroom for the older Hawaiians to offer their knowledge and remembrances. One such elder is Charlie Ke_au, a Maui fisherman and self-taught archaeologist with nine years of field experience on Maui and Kahoolawe. Charlie guides twenty of us around Hakioawa Valley, pointing out the remains of shrines and temples, picking up bits of shell and bone, detailing their ancient uses and explaining, with infinite patience, the critical ecological balance between humans and the rest of nature in old Hawai’i.
Later, in the pink afterglow of sunset, Charlie walks on the beach with me and talks politics. Like so many other older Hawaiians, Charlie's views on Kahoolawe differ from the Ohana's:
Couple years ago, after I been to the Island a few times, the military asks me, Charlie, what's your idea? You have any notions on what should be done? Remember now, I spent plenty years in the Army. So I say to the Colonel, here's my management plan. I don't want to have to choose between my Hawaiian heritage and our national defense. I say, leave 'em like it is. We need the Navy and I like it that they are protecting me. Just let us Hawaiians come to this Island so we can learn more and pass it on to the next generation.
Like the waves of Hawaiians who have come before, most people on this trip have brought seeds and shoots to plant on various parts of the Island. Near the large well that is slowly being restored in the valley, the Ohana has fenced off a quarter acre of land to sprout coconuts, ti plants, and young kukui trees. On a hike to the top of the Island, Keoki Kaa’lau carries a bag of wiliwili seeds that will, in thirty years, be magnificent, red-berried trees providing shade and helping to restore Kahoolawe's parched water table. If, that is, they survive the heat and the goats. Keoki -- lean, tanned and bearded -- hikes all day in the sun without drinking water. He is a taro farmer on Oahu by trade and used to the heat. To quench his thirst he chews the mildly narcotic root of the awa plant. He offers the awa around and, mouths tingling, we dig small holes in the tough, red hard-pan soil, drop in a few seeds, and sing the planting chant Keoki has taught us:
E lalo la wiliwili
E luna la
The words mean: "Go down into the ground wiliwili, come up and grow and preserve and support Kahoolawe."
The planting expedition with Keoki takes us to the top of the Island and on to Kahoolawe's dust-bowl plateau. Everywhere we go there are the remains of bombs, shells, and bullets. Kahoolawe is a military junkyard, with 50-calibre machine gun shells strewn across the Island like pebbles. Hiking all day, we are escorted by Monty Montgomery, one of the Navy EODs. Montgomery has been on several of these accesses. He is 28 years old, a former Idaho logger and ex-Colorado Outward Bound instructor who is half Nez Perce' Indian. Montgomery has strong and conflicting feelings about the Ohana. "I'm caught in the middle on these trips. I can sense the way the Hawaiians look at me as a symbol of what they are against, and a part of me -- maybe the Indian part -- can understand how they feel. But this is my job. I'm good at it and I like it. I'm here to make this place safe for them and to keep them from being blown all to shit." Montgomery knows the Island intimately. "Two Marines died not far from where we are now," he says perfunctorily as we walk through the brush. "Stepped on a live grenade."
The planting trek takes us up and across some of Kahoolawe's most bombed and eroded slopes. Rounding a small rise we see what looks to be a lone tree sticking up on the horizon. It is, on closer inspection, an eight-foot bomb stuck point down in the hard-pan. Montgomery says it is an undetonated two-thousand pounder. Emmett Aluli says it is a nuclear simulator. The ordnance is everywhere: half-exploded parachute flares, pieces of fragmentation bombs, chunks of large mortars and rockets, and twisted slivers of corroded metal that are impossible to identify. Whole bombs, mostly five hundred and thousand pounders, lie rusting in the harsh sunlight. I ask Montgomery how all this could possibly be cleaned. It can't, he says. "We could clear the surface but no one knows how much live stuff lies underground. Some of it may be fifteen feet down. It would take millions of dollars and many years. The Ohana doesn't really believe this. They think the Navy uses this as an excuse to keep the Island to themselves."
Trudging across Kahoolawe's upland plateau planting trees and staring at bombs, we head south toward Luamakika, the Island's highest point. It's a three-hour walk in the heat. Luamakika is an adze quarry, an ancient tool-makers' workshop where Hawaiians pried out top-grade basalt blanks for adzes, bowling rocks, hammer stones, and small chips to be used for knives. A large shrine sits on the highest knob of land. Two triangular rocks have been set so that they form an arrow pointing directly at Maui. Keoki Ka_a_lau says the shrine was probably used only by the men who came to make tools, but no one is quite sure what the stones really signify.
Shrines like the one at Luamakika abound on Kahoolawe. Some are nothing more than a few rocks stacked on top of each other. Others are more elaborate constructions of bleached coral stones set amongst dark, volcanic boulders. The ones at Kealaikahiki on Kahoolawe's west end are the best known. From here, in the tenth and eleventh centuries, Hawaiian navigators made their long journeys back and forth to Tahiti in double-hulled sailing canoes, crossing the Pacific at a time when most Europeans were afraid of being gobbled up by sea monsters or falling off the edge of the world where their maps ended.
Theoreticians of old-time navigation believe the Hawaiians sailed along a visible demarcation of the sea extending 2,500 miles from Tahiti to Hawai’i. Trained from childhood, these navigators -- perhaps the best the world has ever known -- would tack their way north or south along this "K_ne-Kanaloa Line" fixing their positions by the taste of the water, by star paths, and by dead reckoning. Kealaikahiki -- "the road to Tahiti" -- was the known jump-off point for the southbound journey.
Other evidence of Kahoolawe's history can be found on the hard-pan as well. There are rotting fence posts from Angus McPhee's cattle-ranching efforts in the 1940s. The tobacco plants Nicotiana glauca, reported by the 1913 Territorial research expedition, are still thriving. Here and there, sitting on the hard-pan or half buried in the dust, are bleached cowrie, cone, and oyster shells, the mysterious shore materials that logically don't belong there. All the archaeologists, amateur and professional alike, have puzzled over these shells but no one has offered a conclusive explanation.
Part of the time we hike along a two-tracked convoy road that follows the general contours of Kahoolawe's high, central section. Off to the side are occasional plots of tamarisk and ironwood trees hanging limply in the heat. The trees, stunted but surviving, are part of a joint Navy-State conservation effort aimed at halting the incessant erosion. "The top of the Island is simply weathering off," says Monty Montgomery, "and the only thing that will stop it is to rebuild some kind of watershed." The trees chosen for this effort are not native to Hawai’i but they have a strong tolerance for heat and salt. On their twice-a-year planting trips, Montgomery and other EODs fly over from Oahu by helicopter, plant shaped charges in the ground, and then blow out about five hundred holes at a time. Seedling trees are removed from plastic vials, watered, and left. Less than half survive. Keoki, most of his red and yellow wiliwili seeds now planted, is disgusted by this. Exploding holes for planting, he believes, is an insult to both the trees and the Island.
In the evening, back at Hakioawa Valley, we find our numbers increased. A chartered helicopter has landed on the beach, bringing over lawyer Thielen, Bishop Museum archaeologist Patrick Kirch, and a brawny Arizonan named Dennis Marketic, who has been hired by the Ohana to give a private and independent estimate on how much it would cost to clear the bombs off Kahoolawe.
Dinner is ready. The EODs, camped down the beach, are invited over. Tired of C-rations, they gladly accept. Grace is said in Hawaiian and dinner is served: pots of stew, rice, and roast pork; three kinds of steamed fish; sweet potatoes, bananas and fresh coconut; spinach (taro leaves); poi (taro root); chopped octopus in seaweed; water, coffee, and juice. Seven large bags of potato chips disappear as fast as everything else. We sleep early, tired by the day's activity.
In the days that follow, different people are engaged in different activities, all of which are central to Ohana aims and purposes. Jim Hudnull, a whale specialist from Maui, spends his days perched on top of a ridge with a high-powered telescope tracking and recording the migrations of the humpback whales. Dorothy Tau, a librarian from Kaua’i with an encyclopedic knowledge of Pacific botany, searches for rare or endangered plants -- which she finds, in the form of a fragile white ‘ilima blossom. Charlie Ke’au, Pat Kirch, and several archaeology students from the University of Hawaii scour Hakioawa Valley itself trying to piece together a sense of what was obviously a major village. Warren Onishi and Mike Teruya, fastidious recorders of nearly everything, drag around seventy pounds of cameras and tape recorders. They are making a documentary to be shown to high school students across the state.
Everyone, regardless of specific interests and background, is caught up in "stone fever." This is the result of Charlie Ke’au's demonstrations and talks on archaeology and Hawaiian history. "You can look at them all," he says. "Pick them up, feel them, taste them if you want, but just put them back exactly like they were!" Under Charlie's practiced eye, random rocks take on new meanings. They are the remains of old campfires, house foundations, fishing shrines, and cairns. Most everyone walking around Hakioawa Valley, even on the way to the one-hole outhouse set back in the bushes, walks head down, looking at the stones. People are constantly asking Charlie to "check this one." Most of the time, it is nothing. Once in a while, a broad smile cracks across his brown face. If someone is nearby, Charlie will say, "Come look over here at what this brother has found for us!"
A dozen of us beat our way back up the hard-pan and then turn south to Kanapou Bay. Kanapou is a steep, boulder-strewn cut on Kahoolawe's east end, a precipitous descent that only five of us make. Emmett Aluli wants to go back to a spot he remembers from one of the first, illegal accesses. Pat Kirch is searching the valley's stratified walls for fossil land snails. "If we can find the shells buried there, it will tell us what the original forest was like on Kahoolawe. We know the kinds of trees the different land snails lived on." Kanaina Smyth, a forest ranger from Kaua_i, wants to go for a swim. I'm going because I want to see everything and I can't sit still. Monty Montgomery has to accompany us because no one other than a trained EOD is supposed to hike alone.
On the way down, I ask Aluli what the Ohana would do with Kahoolawe if the Navy gave it to them tomorrow. "We want to be the permanent stewards of this Island," he says. "The Hawaiian word for this is kahu -- the guardians and custodians of the land." Aluli's vision for Kahoolawe is a cross between a religious sanctuary for Hawaiians and a National Park. "Kahoolawe is a living treasure, full of history, full of meaning. I want Hawaiian kids -- in fact, all kids -- to be able to come here and see how the old people lived. No one will ever be denied access, as we have been, but it is especially important for Hawaiians."
Aluli is a soft-spoken yet intensely passionate speaker who can make the simplest and lightest conversation crucially important. There is humor and gentleness but no frivolity. He is direct and clear in everything he does. On this access, he is either in constant motion -- talking with people, coordinating with the EODs, organizing logistics -- or he is flat on his back in a hammock, exhausted, asleep. "When we finally do stop this ridiculous bombing, when that finally happens, you are going to see an incredible celebration in the Hawaiian Islands. It will mark a transition for us: full access to our past and new certainty about our future."
At the bottom of Kanapou, we swim, rest, talk further and then climb back up to the waiting group. Pat has found no land snails. Emmett points out one of the places Walter Ritte and Richard Sawyer hid during their month on the Island in 1977. "If you look around, you can see that this was a temple." It was a refuge for the Ohana as well. Keoki Ka’a’lau asks if he might say a special prayer. We gather in a circle holding hands. Monty and Rick Jackson, the other EOD, join us. "Bless this place, bless the spirit of this place. And bless all of us for the work we are doing. It will last as long as there is wind and sea and land."
Back at base camp on our last evening together we eat dinner in small, huddled groups. Once again, there is a mammoth spread of food. I join a group that includes whale watcher Jim Hudnull and the red-nosed Arizona demolition man who has brought along a fifth of bourbon which he nips at over his meal. He has spent the day surveying Kahoolawe by helicopter and on foot. "This Island could be made guaranteed safe if you bulldozed the heavy impact areas down about eight feet. You can see what the problem is. We can get rid of the hardware but we are also going to get rid of a lot of archaeology. It would be a hell of a trade-off." The conversation wanders off onto bomb clearance, whales, and land snails. The bourbon is excellent.
After dinner, everyone gathers around a blazing bonfire. The tinder-dry mesquite sizzles and snaps, sending a shower of sparks up into the night. It is cloudy and cool. Forty people sit around the fire shoulder to shoulder. Emmett Aluli asks if we could all, on this last night together, share a few words or ideas on what this trip has meant. There is a long silence and then the thoughts begin to pour out. It is a propitious moment, a time for summing up. Tamara Wong, an Ohana organizer from Kaua’i:
This Island has been hurt for so long and I've never felt it more than this trip. When we first landed, I almost drowned in the surf and then I cut my foot on the coral. I thought maybe Kahoolawe didn't want me here but now I know what it means. We have to put back into the Island. Everyone else has taken from it. We have to give back to it, our work, our aloha, and even our blood.
Others speak. There are tears and half-choked sobs. The depth of feeling is profound. Eric Cato, an electrician from Kaua’i:
What I've learned is that Kahoolawe is a living being and when it gets killed, we are killed. Our purpose as an Ohana, as a giant family of people, is reaffirmed. It is to live!
And Jackie Leilani:
How fortunate we are! How wonderful and important! Think of it -- all of us from the other Islands gathered here on this one. It is good to find things and good that we can help give life back to the land. My friends, we are Hawai’i!
And Emmett Aluli:
It's a sweet moment to be here listening to you. I thank you for making it special for me as well. When we first came here in 1976 we didn't know what all this meant. All we had was this deep feeling that it was important. Now we know about the stones. Thank you for that, Charlie Ke_au! For myself, I've been thinking about George Helm and Kimo Mitchell and thinking how Uncle Harry over there and I and so many others have carried on because of them. I think they would appreciate the change that has taken place in the Ohana since 1977. It is no longer just aloha __ina, loving the land. Now it's m_lama __ina, helping it revive, nourishing it, bringing the people back so they too can be nourished and revived by it.
Late into the night there is music and dance, loud at first, but later, soft songs and gentle hula that praise the Island for its magic. There are chants and stories and then, finally, most everyone drifts off to their tents. In a few hours we will pack our gear, haul it out through the surf, load it back into The Charger, and return to Maui. Before sleep, I walk down to the beach and look out across the flat cool sand. The weather has cleared. Stars are out. Trade winds are blowing out of the north, cleansing the sky, settling the bittersweet passions of the evening. A lone figure comes over and stands with me, digging bare feet into the sand. "You know," says Emmett, "we don't really have to retake this Island at all. It has always been ours and it always will be anyway." Tired and relaxed, it is Emmett Aluli.
The next morning, all of us -- Ohana, guests, Navy -- depart from Kahoolawe in calm seas.
* * *
In March, 1981, after a month of last-minute maneuvering by the Ohana and the Navy, the entire Island of Kahoolawe, containing more than 500 designated archaeological sites, was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. At a press conference in Honolulu, Emmett Aluli announced that eligibility for the Register would ultimately lead to a cessation of all bombing on the target Island. Lieutenant Jamie Davidson, in his own press release, suggested otherwise. Military operations, he said, would not be affected if a part of the Island or even the Island in its entirety was named to the Register.
A few months later, after one of their survey trips to Kahoolawe, Hawaii Marine Research reported the discovery of what may be the largest known petroglyph field in the state of Hawai’i. Soon after, Congress approved legislation providing for a demonstration program to clear some of the unexploded ordnance. Then, in October 1990 -- under mounting pressure from Hawai’i's Congressional delegation, the Congress, the Governor, the State Legislature, and the County of Maui -- the President declared a two-year bombing moratorium. Congress then established a high-level entity called the Kahoolawe Conveyance Commission and mandated it to recommend the terms and conditions of the Island's return to the State of Hawaii. Emmett Aluli is a member of that Commission.
Barring serendipitous circumstances and the vagaries of politics, permanent cessation of the bombing, the return of Kahoolawe to Hawai’i, and the creation of a special cultural and natural status now seems inevitable. That status may also be linked to the assertions for sovereignty that are starting to unify the Hawaiian community and the rising tide of sentiment among non-Hawaiians who also want to see some of those demands granted. "For a nation," said a high-ranking state official recently, "there needs to be a `corpus' of land -- beginning, in my opinion, with Kahoolawe -- managed and controlled by a Hawaiian government."
On Kahoolawe itself, under the court-ordered Consent Decree with the Navy, the Ohana continues to mount monthly visits for "scientific, archaeological, educational and religious" purposes. When the Island is finally reclaimed by the State, the Ohana seems destined to play a major role in running it. Meanwhile, on a recent trip to the wounded Island the Ohana discovered a number of new archaeological sites and planted several dozen coconut trees on Kahoolawe's northeast side.
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