Niu Ola Hiki – Life giving Coconut

One of the ancient stories of Hawaii tells of a young Hawaiian boy, Kahanaiakeakua, son of Hina and Ku. The father has gone to Kahiki (Tahiti) and the boy longs to meet up with his father who he has not seen for some time.  

The boy asks his mother Hina for help. Hina then chants to their ancestor, the coconut tree. She sings, "niu ola hiki”, oh life giving coconut "niu loa hiki”, oh far traveling coconut. Suddenly a coconut sprouts in front of her. 

She wakes her son and tells him to climb the tree and hold on, while she continues chanting. The coconut sways and bends, it stretches and grows over the ocean until its crown comes down. At last the strong leaves rest on Kahiki where the boy is reunited with the father. 

There are many versions of this mo’olelo but always the coconut tree is pictured as a stretching tree with great mana, bearing the image of Ku, the ancestor of the Hawaiian people. 

The coconut tree offers a pathway to another world, and serves as the bridge between man and God, earth and heaven, child and ancestors. This tree is a path to the sacred land and therefore the staff of life. 

“After 111 years bearing the name of Molokai Ranch, no mahalos and no aloha ’oe” wrote Napua Leong in a recent letter to the editor.  Instead, on April 9th at 6:30 in the morning, residents of Kepuhi were awakened to the sound of chainsaws cutting down the West End’s largest and only stand of coconut trees. Almost thirty healthy and mature trees cut in two days.  

I spoke to residents on the West End over the course of a couple of days. Through those events my eyes were opened as I came to understand the connection which most of these folks have for these majestic trees.  

For most, the senseless removal of something so beautiful was more than they could bear. Just as it is with the loss of a loved one, it was a sense of permanent absence etched in the hearts of the people.  

Suddenly after so many years these trees were no more. Why? 

This intentional reckless act by Molokai Ranch wasn’t only about cutting trees; it was about going after the heart and soul of the people. Similar to the firing of Ranch employees, the intent was to take something valuable away from the people. The intent was to break the spirit of our people.   

No effort was ever put out to communicate with the community as to how to deal with what the Ranch claimed as “liabiity issues.” The intent, as one resident stated, was about intimidation, retribution, and getting a pound of flesh from an island that did not support MPL’s overreaching plan. What’s worse, many of those who supported Molokai Ranch were the ones most victimized. 

On April 9, I think most of us had hoped that the Ranch employees working that day would have walked off. But the real blame lies with Peter Nicholas who ordered workers to do his dirty work. Ranch employees were faced with the possibility of their finances being reduced even further should they have refused to cooperate.  

Large offshore businesses controlling the conscience and will of their employees is a curse. Can you imagine the Kanemitsu or Egusa family ever assuming this kind of immoral authority? Of course not! They, their children and their grandchildren are a part of this community.  

We must learn from the mistakes of the past and in looking forward, we as a community, are the one’s responsible for molding our future. We can no longer rely on those with deep pockets to some how take care of us or assume that they have our interest at heart. It is essential that our children are educated and understand the values of our culture.  

These values must be embedded in their na’au so that when the really difficult decisions must be made, they will know which way to go. 

Despite the tragedies of the last couple of weeks, Peter Nicholas, John Sabas and the other executives of Molokai Ranch are absolutely wrong. We may be deeply saddened but they will never break our spirit. We are Molokai and despite our differences, We are ‘ohana.  

I mua! 

Steve  Morgan/ Hui Ho’opakele ‘Aina


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