Life of the Land
Part 6 of 7
By G.T. Larson
The single, most important event in the history of Molokai has been the arrival of humans. Not the first coconut that floated ashore and sprouted, nor the first bird that took wing from some distant shore and alighted upon a local lava ledge. Not the first plant seed attached by some means to the aforementioned bird, which fell off and took root – none of these affected the life of this land as much as that first sailing canoe that appeared off Molokai’s shoreline.
As best as can be determined with no written historical records, Polynesians probably arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in the sixth or seventh centuries A.D. Halawa Valley was most likely the first permanent settlement on Molokai and possibly in all of Hawaii. At first, these early pioneers partook of the sea’s bounty, but the land offered very little in the way of food for humans. These early explorers came prepared for just this possible scenario. Fruit and vegetable plants were planted and chickens and pigs were introduced into the environment to supplement seafood. Along with the intended cargo were undoubtedly some unintended stowaways, such as the Polynesian Roof Rat.
When a forest bird builds its nest to raise its young, it changes the forest environment. These changes, if kept in balance, at the least, have a neutral effect on the natural world; at best, a positive effect. Nature has an inherent balance that allows flora and fauna to flourish. The early Hawaiians affected their new home by their “nest building,” but humans have a tendency to build larger and more complicated nests. The extensive taro walls and stream diversion ditches in Halawa Valley and the many fish ponds along Molokai’s south shore show a remarkable level of engineering, but all this comes at a cost. The flora and fauna of Halawa?s valley floor has been permanently altered.
To some extent this is the way it has to be, for humans are a part of the circle of the life of the land and we need nourishment just like the birds and the bees. The early Hawaiians knew that the `aina would provide for them as long as they preserved the `aina. This was not a perfect protection, for not all those feathers on the feather capes of the ali`is were collected by catch and release. Thousands of forest birds, including many not found today, died for man’s pride. It’s one thing to eat a bird for dinner, and quite another to wear birds to dinner.
For the most part, the early Hawaiians interaction with the natural world can probably be summed up best by a quote by Hawaiian Charlie Keau: “We knew about pollution, we knew about preservation, we knew about the environment long before the Westerners forgot about it, because we had to live with what we had here. If we disturb any of the environment, we have no place to run and hide. This is our home.” May we all take care of our home. Aloha.
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