The Binding of Past and Present

Aunty Vanda Hanakahi believes the ahupua`a of Pala`au will be the first on Molokai to re-implement the ancient management system of `aha kiole.

Molokai’s ancient resource management system is reborn.

By Brandon Roberts

Molokai’s historic bounty is sleeping, awaiting its awakening. Once the fertile land, (Molokai he `aina momona no), groves were planted to hold the soil and summon the rains and vegetation was not forced to survive where it was not happy. Each ahupua`a (traditional land division) had its own resources that inhabitants took responsibility of. Thus the `Aha Kiole, a people’s council founded on resource management, was born in the Eighth Century by Paepaeko`a Kuhuna `Umoumou.

The Hawaiians of old understood their kuleana to the `aina, which requires both the physical and the spiritual. The late Kumu John Ka`imikaua said pono was a spiritual balance in all things, it is lived – it is seen not in words, but in actions, in results. Molokai was said to have thrived as a result of pono.

Many of today’s island residents believe the Western system of governance is depleting and destroying what is left of Molokai’s resources. However, the `Aha Kiole was formed to act as a consultant to the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), blending native Hawaiian knowledge and protocol into resource management.

The chain of `ike (knowledge) has not been broken – Aunty Vanda Hanakahi is a Molokai kupuna whose roots hold firm in the mo`olelo of Molokai. She was chosen to represent the “Last Hawaiian Island”, and is the chair woman of the `Aha Kiole formed by Act 212, which was introduced by Molokai’s Representative Mele Carroll.

The DLNR is looking to turn the tide by implementing Hawaiian tradition into Western bureaucracy.

There is deep symbolic meaning to the `Aha Kiole, like much of the Hawaiian language and culture. In a community meeting held at Kulana `Oiwi on June 5, Kumu Ka`imikaua explained on video the birth of the `Aha Kiole on Molokai.

An aho is a single strand of material, and many aho are woven together to form one strong chord. Each aho represents a specialist: for example, a lawai`a (fisherman), a mahi`ai (farmer), a konohiki (caretaker of the land). It is this type of binding that is called `aha.

The second part of the term, kiole, refers to the schools of fish hatchlings that used to darken the waters on Molokai’s southern shores. The kiole became a symbol for the island’s dense population, and from these symbolic references, the `Aha Kiole was born.

Kumu Ka`imikaua said one purpose of the `Aha Kiole was to prepare the land spiritually so it could thrive physically.

Aunty Vanda said the traditional governance is an inclusive effort to malama Molokai resources. She said the ancient chants “tell us what was here”, and that is the starting point to return the land to pono.

Mac Poepoe has rejuvenated Mo`omomi in accordance to the ancient `ike, which is now a model for rehabilitation and best practices according to Aunty Vanda.

Poepoe said that teaching begins in the `ohana, and that actions will speak. “If you let someone take care, you need to teach them. The `opio have to be taught to be a part of the group to malama.” He recommends setting priorities and working them out one by one.

Impending Change

DLNR biologist Bill Puleloa said the agency often “fails to recognize the human element.” He told meeting attendees the community needs to organize quickly as the `Aha Kiole will sunset in June 2009, and the DLNR is making management decisions without their input. He warned Molokai of an impending fishing regulation that will limit bag size as well as minimum fish size.

Puleloa said the DLNR is looking to incorporate and accommodate the community and the `Aha Kiole is the vehicle to do so. “We will not make rules and regulations that the people don’t want.”

Homesteader Walter Ritte said now is the time to take back the management of our resources. “Take this opportunity, we may not have another. The harder we work to get people involved, the more control we will have.”

The `Aha Kiole timeline states a draft report for the next legislative session will be up for public review and comment by August. The revised report will then be submitted in December, 20 days prior to the 2009 legislature. Aunty Vanda said Pala`au may be the area where the `Aha Kiole can malama Molokai.

Aunty Vanda concluded the meeting by introducing members of Kumu Ka`imikaua’s Halau Hula O Kukunaokala who shared the prophecy of the Lepo Popolo given at the Paku`i Heiau in Mana`e. She explained that the people shall rise up like the crest of a wave. “We are here to stay; we will build our `Aha Ki`ole.”

For further information, contact Aunty Vanda here on Molokai at (808) 560-6203 or email her at hanakahi@sandwichisles.net.


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