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Indigenous Hawaiians are the descendants of the original Polynesian inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands. Polynesian peoples have lived on the Hawaiian Islands for thousands of years. Over the course of their settlement in the region, Native Hawaiians, locally known as kua'hina, developed various unique social, environmental and health links to their local environments. In particular, the way they view their health and the environment is vastly different from their mainland American counterparts.
Health, in a Hawaiian sense, is an intricate relationship with the environment and one's mind and body. For many Native Hawaiians, health and what it means to achieve it are statements of Hawaiian identity and the ability to maintain Hawaiian culture (McMullin, 2005). In a Western context, health is typically seen as the absence of disease and restoration of the body to the normal state of functioning. Health is defined in the negative sense, we do not think about the meaning of health except when we do not have it.
An important aspect of Hawaiian health is diet. For Hawaiians, food, ideologies and life are intimately tied. Therefore, what they eat is important to their culture and is tied to their local environment. For example, taro, a key food in the Hawaiian diet, is also a symbol of family. In the Hawaiian origin story, taro is considered an older sibling. It is the responsibility of the older sibling to provide food for their younger in part by providing taro (food). The origin story provides guidelines for the importance of taro and for respecting and caring for the land that the taro comes from (Kamahele, 2000). In consuming a Hawaiian diet, you are not only eating healthy foods, but are also creating positive links with your ancestral family and those Hawaiians who occupied the land before you. Essentially, the goal to being a healthy Hawaiian is to be like the Healthy Ancestor. The Healthy Ancestor is the image of a Hawaiian who lived in a time of easy access to the land and ocean from which he or she could obtain healthy food and little disease (McMullin, 2005). What is essential is that food has to be obtained directly from the land, river or ocean in order to be considered healthy.
Another component of Hawaiian health includes lokahi. It is comparable to a Buddhist's search of Enlightenment and is defined as achieving unity and oneness. To achieve lokahi, a Hawaiian must be able to feel a connection with the land or sea to give oneself a sense of unity through it (McGregor, 2007). Consequently, they have to be intimately conscious of their aina - the lands and natural resources where they live. For example, fishing in the sea will allow the body to recognize where the person is and creates a link with Hawaiians who occupied the land beforehand. Therefore, it is vital that Hawaiians pass on information to future generations so the younger generation can also obtain lokahi. If they do not know how to work the taro patches or obtain food in a traditional manner, they cannot have a good relationship with the environment and they will not be healthy (McMullan, 2005). These traditions are passed down by myths and legends to remember the dynamic patterns of the seasonal change they observed. In a contemporary context, many taro patches are being restored and traditional fishing techniques are practiced so the way of the Healthy Ancestor is affluent in the Hawaiian society.
The principal link to the environment that Native Hawaiians have is maintaining respectful practices in the use of the land, streams, ponds, and ocean. These lands are treated with love and respect to acknowledge the presence of their spiritual ancestors in the surrounding land. Kua'hina will regularly travel the various ili or sections of traditional cultural practices region to continuously stay alert to the condition of the resources. If a resource is declining, they will observe a kapu or restriction on its use until it recovers (McGregor, 2007). By doing so, Native Hawaiians also renew their understanding of the landscape, historical cultural sites, and the location of various native plants and animals. The inherent reason for these practices is to conserve the availability of natural resources for future and present generations (Kamahele, 2000). It should be noted that the methods and techniques of acquiring or utilizing traditional natural resources may have changed over time, yet, the purpose of the activities remains the same and are still guided by traditional Native Hawaiian kapu associated with established subsistence and cultural practices (McMullan, 2005). These customs that guide subsistence activities are models of the practice of lokahi in modern Hawaii. It is important to only take what you need as wasting natural resources is strongly condemned (McGregor, 2007). Moreover, it is important to protect the ability of living resources to reproduce and therefore, different fish are caught during different seasons of the year to allow the animals to reproduce.
These subsistence activities have added benefits related to family cohesion, health and community wellbeing. They help create a sense of family belonging or ohana. Emphasis is placed on social stability rather than on individual efforts aimed at income-generating activities (McMullan, 2005). By sharing and gift giving of abundant resources, community ties strengthen. Moreover, subsistence requires more physical work so it is a valuable form of exercise and stress reduction. This, ultimately, contributes to good physical and mental health.
Without question, the relationship between the aina and kua'hina has shaped the Hawaiian culture. Every cultural or spiritual activity is thought to be important to the health of an individual or a community. Through the knowledge gained over generations, a strong and deep relationship has been developed between the people and the land. This relationship is essential for Native Hawaiians in obtaining optimal Health. If their subsistence lifestyle were hindered or destroyed, they would lose their way of life and their health would suffer as a consequence.
Yet, direct and indirect environmental dispossession has had major impacts on the Native Hawaiian communities and can help explain how health would suffer. Directly, the physical development of the tourism industry has reshaped the native landscaped, endangered native species, and slowly destroyed traditional native culture. In effect, the Native Hawaiian community has struggled to find personal well-being and social-cultural satisfaction. As well, the communities have been impacted through indirect environment dispossession. This includes the negative effects of acid rain, traditional eco-systems, change in migration patterns and change in plant and animal species. All these factors ultimately lead to a serious revision in the traditional way of life.
Direct Environmental Dispossession
Moreover, Hawaii offers warm climates, beautiful scenery, a cultural experience, and extended leisure activities. With an increase of technology and transportation in the last half century, the ease and availability of travel has spurred the tourism industry. Over six million visitors a year visit Hawaii alone, bringing in over ten billion dollars (Lukasz, 2006). While this tremendous growth has led to a prosperous economy, the impact it has had on the environment and native inhabitants has proven staggering. Over the years, tourism has reshaped the country's landscape and meaning with little consideration for the various ecosystems and local native culture. According to a study done by the University of Hawaii, 62% of Hawaii's inhabitants believe the island is being run for tourists at the expense of the people (Takasi, 1983).
The major contributor to environmental degradation and native dispossession is the increasing construction of infrastructure for tourism. Hawaii is originally known as a society of diverse culture and ethnic groups. Although, as cements towers crowd the shoreline and golf courses overtake sugar cane fields, we see an aggressive shift in priority. From 1985 to 2010, the number of hotel rooms has been forecasted to double from 65 to 132 thousand (Lukasz, 2006).
Since Hawaii is a remote destination, in thought everybody and everything on the island is interconnected and therefore influenced by the growth of the tourism industry. The increasing development of Hawaii and tourism has led to Native Hawaiians struggling to preserve their culture. Almost every major resort development has been built on some culturally significant sight (Lukasz, 2006). Moreover, Lukasz presents an example of environmental dispossession in Keonaloa regarding a twenty-two acre burial ground. This burial ground was replaced and relocated to a one acre plot on the property. This site was then built in the marketing strategy for a resort. The traditional burial ground immediately lost all cultural significance to the Native Hawaiians.
Native Hawaii culture is amongst the largest concern when it comes to tourism within Hawaii. Over all the year of development, Native Hawaiian cultures have struggled to maintain the livelihood and basic traditions of their ancestors. Developing tourist attractions such as resorts and golf courses on the Native land has diminished the ability to keep traditional practices such as; fishing, gathering food, medicine, and as a whole, degrades their meaning of life. According to Lukasz (2006), growing disparity has limited the amount of avenues to satisfy the basic needs of Natives. Furthermore, this degradation of the environment is very important to their way of life as it is integrated into the cultural and social traditions of the Native Hawaiians.
Ronala Takaki is a Native Hawaiian cultural studies student at the University of Hawaii. While gathering information for a paper he interviewed his uncle on the effects of tourism on Native Hawaiians. This quote from his uncle describes the negative impact of tourism on the Native culture.
“Sometimes they feel out of place, for they know they belong to a passing era. They watch the island change, the expansion of resort hotels and new subdivisions with all the same houses into the sane fields they once ploughed and harvested with their bare hands. The conversion of sugar mills into museums for tourists and the construction of luxurious condominiums which block the old paths to the beaches where they once fished and picked berries.” (Takasi 1983)
By globalizing the island we are altering the Native Hawaiian's traditional ways of life. With the loss of traditional jobs many Native Hawaiians have become dependent on the tourism industry for employment. This has led to what Lukasz refers to as the “Hula market,” which is the sale of the Hawaiian culture. By forcing the Natives into a new line of work we are also threatening their traditional language. As English is the predominant language of business there are ever increasing pressures to make this the norm in Hawaii (Lucasz, 2006).
Indirect Environmental Dispossession
It does not help that on a small island such as Hawaii, native ecosystems are highly susceptible to disruption due to limited size of habitants and small specie populations. Above we have looked at social and economic reasoning for native dispossession. It is important to also draw attention to physical and environmental indirect factors influencing Native Hawaiians.
In 1997, G.E. Likens wrote a journal article discussing acid rain and its serious effects on Hawaii and Native culture. Firstly, he monitored the chemistry of precipitation in north-central Hawaii for over eleven years. After analyzing his data he found much stronger acidic levels in recent years. From 1986 to 1997, he found the difference in pH levels being as large as 3.9 levels higher. Likens presumably related the difference back to air pollution. While an increase in acid levels may not directly affect the native culture in Hawaii, it directly impacts the Hawaiian eco-system. Direct effects include changes in the leaching rates of nutrients, soil nutrients, predator-prey relations and acidification of lakes and rivers. The effects on aquatic ecosystems may be very large and dangerous, particularly if the input of direct precipitation to land drainage is high (Likens, 1997).
By directly altering Hawaiian ecosystems, Native Hawaiians are indirectly affected as well. An increase in acidic levels in lakes and rivers seriously increases fish mortality. Native Hawaiians are unable to fish for traditional foods and need to look elsewhere for food. A decrease in fish will directly change migration patterns of Hawaiian big game forcing Native Hawaiians to also change their hunting patterns. As well, plants containing traditional medicine or spiritual significance may also be altered by increased acidic levels.
With increasing acidic levels changing Hawaiian Native's traditional food resources, hunger in Hawaii has become a predominant struggle. Hunger and malnutrition are one of the most serious health problems on the island. In fact, malnutrition causes more deaths than warfare, AIDS, accidents or terrorism (Kent, 2003).
The table above demonstrates food security in 2000. Kent clearly shows how in 2000, approximately 221 834 Native Hawaiians were food insecure. The study's conclusion summarizes that food insecurity was prevalent in Hawaii: one in six (16.4%) households and 1 in 5 (19.2%) individuals experienced either being at risk of hunger or experiencing hunger in 1999-2000 (Kent, 2003). Kent found the poor, children, single adult households, and Pacific Islanders were particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. While the problem is not seen as "extreme" by global standards, there is an evident struggle with hunger in the state of Hawaii. Many Native Hawaiians have difficulties in choosing between paying for food and paying for rent or utilities when they simply cannot afford both.
“Just the other day, while I was eating my breakfast, I thought about my safety net regarding food supply. It occurred to me that I know longer have one.” (Middlekauf 2009) Since 1999, Hawaiian crop harvests have not been able to break even. In 2001, Hawaii experienced their largest grain yield ever recorded and was still unable to gain from the production. “The country was left with a fifty-nine day buffer before they were running on empty tummies.” (Middlekauf 2009) As tropical farmers, in Hawaii, there are many alternative crop yields other than grain. This is not that problem. Options include sweet potato, breadfruit, peach palm, and taro (Middlekauf, 2009). The problem facing the Hawaiian farmers is finding regulated areas to grow their crops. With rapid development taking over the island farmers are finding it very difficult to constantly grow crops, avoid construction run off that is harming their fields, and at the end of growing season break even with costs. Also, many believe the predominant issue leading to food security and malnutrition is unemployment. This is not the case either. Native Hawaiians are not facing unemployment but underemployment and low wage. As a result, Hawaiian inhabitants are turning to imports as a food alternative. Consequently, this is changing their traditional way of life, dispossessing culture and cultural food, and affecting the health of those who cannot afford imported food.
It is evident that today the Native Hawaiians are struggling to maintain traditional values and culture against futuristic ideas of excelling development on the island by Americans. Moreover, Native Hawaiians have struggled to gain sovereignty for over 100 years.
Responses to Environmental Changes
The Hawaiian Kingdom was unlawfully overthrown by Americans on January 17th, 1893. Fearful of the American Marines, Queen Liliuokalani ceded her authority to the United States and not the committee (McGregor, 2007). Ever since that time, Hawaiians have been seeking self-governance from the Americans.
When discussing Hawaiian sovereignty, two opposing self-determination projects related to decolonization exist. These are the pursuit of indigenous self-determination within U.S. federal policy on internal self-determination, and the right to full self-determination under international United Nations law (Kauanai, 2008). In 1897, a protest petition against annexation to the United States was sent to Washington. Queen Liliuokalani's goal was for restoration from President Cleveland however she never recovered her throne despite 21 000 Native Hawaiians signing the anti-annexation petitions (McGregor, 2007). Hawaii was annexed the following year.
Today, the local economy is anchored in mass-based, corporate-controlled tourism. The indigenous people find the last of their rural enclaves rapidly diminishing throughout their archipelago. Moreover, since the early 1970s, many Native Hawaiians are migrating to the mainland in search of better economic conditions. Like most oppressed native people, Hawaiians are a marginalized, dispossessed group in their own land (Yabusaki, 2004).
Confronted with the environmental changes placed upon them, young Hawaiians began a protest movement in the 1970s. The movement evolved both cultural and political demands that focused on the historical injury of the overthrow and annexation. The goals of the modern movement now include some form of self-government, the creation of a public educational system in the Hawaiian language, and legal entitlements to a national land base, including water rights (McGregor, 2007). Proliferations of Hawaiian groups seek to improve the conditions of Native people. This new awakening of the Hawaiian people regarding their marginalization and land loss has spurred the formation of social capital which stresses lokahi, ohana, and love and care for the aina (Trask, 2000).
The first Hawaiian demonstration of the movement comes from the 1971 struggle to protect a Native community on the east end of Oahu Island from eviction. Residents and supporters formed a group whose purpose was to help resist development of upper-income housing (Yabusaki, 2004). The attempt was not successful but the practice of using Kohua - self-help and reciprocity is still the main method of indigenous Hawaiians responding to colonial environmental changes to their community.
Another example is the 1976 attempt of the Protect Kahoolawe ohana (PKO) to oblige to malama (cafe for) the aina of Kahoolawe. The federal government had targeted the island as a bombing site however, after 11 years of protest, the ohana-based group was successful in forcing the American military to stop the bombing and revegetate the land. The PKO is now concerned with the transfer of Kahoolawe Island to the Hawaiian nation (Trask, 2000). The traditional value kuleana - continuing responsibility is being used to accomplish their goal of decolonizing the island.
By the new millennium, Hawaiian resistance had developed into a full-blown sovereignty movement with dozens of political and cultural organizations. Today, there are groups that sought to protect anything from beaches and wetlands to groups that are dedicated to the return of lands and waters to the control of the Hawaiian people (McGregor, 2007). This proliferation is proof of Native social capital and cultural vitality.
Hawaiian cultural values of ohana, lokahi, malama aina and kue, a form of resistance, have been strengthened as the result of resistance in the post-Statehood (1949) era. However, Hawaiians have yet to gain self-governance to the degree enjoyed by recognized Indian nations on the mainland. Nearly 1.8 million acres of Native lands and resources are badly managed by the state without any consideration for Native Hawaiians (McGregor, 2007). The issue lies in the fact that the American government has consistently dealt with the State of Hawaii rather than with the Native people regarding the trust lands (Trask, 2000). The current policy of the United States regarding Hawaiians remains one of non-recognition. Nonetheless, this is not a mistake. The American government has been using the land for training sites, bombing areas, parks and hotels for military personnel. They are benefiting from the lands whereas the kua'lina are being resisted of their ancestral territories and are refused eligibility in the Federal Policy on Native sovereignty.
To gain recognition and sovereignty, Native Hawaiians formed Ka Lahui Hawaii (KLH) in 1987. There are over 20 000 members with local representatives or po'o representing different regions of each island. The group enables participation through a democratic process to demonstrate how they would operate once federally recognized (Trask, 2000). A constitution was implemented in 1992 to outline the rights and freedoms possessed by Native Hawaiians if sovereignty were achieved. Among those rights are those of free access to the mountains and seas; rights of subsistence; and rights to gather traditional medicine from the archipelago.
Undoubtedly, the Hawaiian political and cultural movement garnered and focussed on large amounts of social capital. In spite of that, only policy change on the Federal and State levels can remove hindrances to Native self-determination in Hawaii or any other land in the United States. No significant land policies have been put forth by the state or federal governments since the illegal American invasion of the Hawaiian aina in 1893 (Yabusaki, 2004). This helps explain why the Ka Lahui Hawaii was formed in 1987. By organizing as a Native initiative for self-government, Ka Lahui Hawaii created an alternative policy in opposition to state and federal entities. Their success has yet to be determined but, inarguably, the call of resistance has been answered by the generations succeeding the overthrow. If the Hawaiian social capital system were to fail however, the culture and people would fail to parallel that of their ancestors (Trask, 2000). This all depends on political conditions set by state and federal governments and their policies toward the indigenous peoples of Hawaii. The movement is stronger than ever with the introduction of the KLH yet they are at a fragile point in their history because if this movement is unsuccessful, it will be very difficult for a population to overcome such devastation of not gaining sovereignty.