Topic outline

    Module 1. Native Hawaiian Perspective and Cultural Overview of Sustainable Agriculture 

    Scott Lukas 
    Surabhi Jain
    Lilette Liliakala Subedi

    The mana‘o or expressions provided below reflect Native Hawaiian cultural and heritage knowledge (ao) in addition to academically acquired knowledge (‘ike).  The intent of this module is to support students – haumāna – as they progress through the corresponding lessons of the Farm to Table Project so that they will more readily recognize the coalescence of ao and ‘ike into the state of being akamai (often translated into English as “smart” or “intelligent”) relevant to grasping the concept of sustainable agriculture.

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    Student Objectives

    After this module, students will:

    1. Be better able to define and discuss the concept of sustainable agriculture within the context of Native Hawaiian traditions and practices.
    2. Understand more readily the benefits and challenges of respecting and incorporating Native Hawaiian agricultural traditions, practices and beliefs with the contemporary concept of sustainable agriculture.
    3. Be able to recognize and articulate the relationships between Native Hawaiian agricultural traditions, practices and beliefs with contemporary issues and opportunities of sustainable agriculture occurring in Hawai‘i.

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    Wehewehe ‘Ōlelo (Glossary)

    ‘Oihana mahi‘ai: Agriculture industry; farming – the cultivation of life forms that feed and nourish other life forms to achieve wholesome symbiotic relationships.

    Ahupua‘a: A division of land extending from the high mountain watersheds down through the spiritually and environmentally defined areas at specific elevations (i.e., different wao or forests) to the lowlands, shorelines, beaches and out into the deep ocean where pelagic life dwells. This land division was traditionally defined by the availability of essential natural resources that would ensure the survivability of its inhabitants – essentially an ample supply of fresh, potable water or wai. Kapu or restrictions did not permit easy transit or establishment of households across ‘ahupua‘a. Inhabitants dwelled and thrived under the leadership and supervision of their division chief or kahu.

    E ola pono: The most appropriate way to transliterate the English language term “sustainability” defined in this module to mean the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. Native Hawaiians did not always achieve ke ola pono due to social, psychological and spiritual factors.

    ‘Oihana mahi‘ai: (See above) Transliterates as, “industrial or conventional agriculture” and applies to the methods and products described in the corresponding definition within this module.

    Nā mea hana pono i ka ‘aha mahi: (lit. the proper work procedures in the area of cultivation)This phrase addresses the following terms identified in Module 1 – low input, biodiversity, and biotechnology.

    Ke ola pono i ka haunana o ka wā mahope: (lit. the proper lifestyle/practices toward ensuring future generations) This phrase expresses the interpretation of economic viability within a cultural context.

    Lā‘au make no ka mea ho‘opilikia: (lit. poison for pests) Literal equivalent for pesticide.

    Ho‘omomona lepo: (lit. to make fat the earth or ground) Literal equivalent for fertilizer. Other terms include kīpulu (fertilizer, mulch) and pela (decomposed material, especially flesh).

    ‘Auhau a me Ho‘okupu: Rather than “agricultural subsidies” the farmers in ancient Hawai‘i were obligated to provide taxes or offerings to their chiefs during the makahiki or interim period between harvest and planting (usually occurring from mid-October to mid-February). These offerings were made to ensure continuation of their cultivation in the next growing season, as well as to acknowledge and affirm the role of spirituality in their daily life work.

    Mahi: Traditional native Hawaiian farming practices are widely regarded as “organic” because whatever was on the land was tilled into it. Depending on the type of plants, post-harvest or other growth was burned prior to being turned into the earth.

    Māla a me lo‘i: Gardens or cultivated fields and terraced fields were used by native Hawaiians to plant large areas of single crops such as taro, sweet potatoes and yams. Generally speaking, monoculture was and remains the traditional agricultural method utilized in crop cultivation.

    Note: Traditional farming tools generally consisted of the planting stick or o‘o, hands, and feet. As many kupuna have shared, if our ancestors had the tools that advanced or made work more efficient, they would acquire and utilize these things to the fullest. That said, traditional native Hawaiian agriculture was not mechanized; and the most effective taro cultivation methods practiced today remain the same as in the days of old.

    Pono a me lōkahi: These two important terms are foundational beliefs and practices in native Hawaiian culture. Pono is a way of life – morally correct and balanced. Lōkahi is often defined to mean “harmony” but from a cultural context, the understanding of lōkahi encompasses acute perception and practice of maintaining balance in all aspects of life to ensure the consistency of living pono.

    Aloha ‘āina, mālama ‘āina: Respecting and caring for the land (or all that feeds and nourishes us) as one does with family members or other kin epitomizes the native Hawaiian context and perspective regarding the symbiotic relationships that sustain all living things.

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    Focus Questions

    In addressing the guiding questions in the corresponding section of Module 1, consider how discussion would evolve within the Native Hawaiian cultural context. Think about these queries or nīnau as you proceed:

    1. How did the people of old Hawai‘i (nā po‘e kahiko) perceive and define agricultural practices in comparison to or in contrast with today’s understanding of sustainable and conventional agriculture?
    2. How do you and your family fit in with the agricultural system in Hawai‘i today and what is your mana‘o about the role of sustainable agriculture and your participation in it?

    These questions should help to guide your recognition and understanding of indigenous cultural heritage and significance relevant to agriculture/sustainable agriculture in Hawai‘i.

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    Lessons and Resources

    Agriculture in Old Hawai‘i

    From Ancient Hawaiian Civilization, A series of lectures delivered at Kamehameha Schools Chapter 10, Agriculture, Juliet Rice Wichman, 1931 

    “The Hawaiians were skilled agriculturists. Possessing only the crudest of tools, the oo [o‘o], which was nothing more or less than a crooked stick, the tilled the soil and raised great and successful crops of taro, sweet potatoes, and yams. They developed systems of irrigating their wetland taro. They understood how to enrich the soil and how to treat it so that its value was not destroyed. They performed, with regularity and dependability, the heavy labor demanded by the crops they raised with the tools at their command. But the Hawaiians were something more than skillful farmers. Their agriculture was tied up with a body of religious beliefs and observances which are, by the unthinking, sometimes labeled as ‘superstitious.’ They suggest to the thoughtful that the Hawaiians who lived close to the world of nature may have glimpsed truths to which our eyes are blind. Certainly anything which works is not superstition, and the Hawaiian agricultural practices were most effective.” (p. 109)

    From Native Planters in Old Hawaii—Their Life, Lore, & Environment E.S. Craighill Handy and Elizabeth Green Handy with the collaboration of Mary Kawena Pukui

    “The actual methods of cultivation were in one sense relatively primitive in that the Hawaiian planter used only the digging stick and his hands and feet to till the soil. However, the variety of plants he cultivated, the animals he raised for food, and the ingenuity and diversity of his methods, such as elaborate irrigation and terracing of lowlands and hillsides, dry farming, mulching, green manuring, and very intelligent production of many varieties by selection of those best suited to a wide range of environmental conditions and valued most for size, quality, and flavor, justify our calling the native Hawaiian’s gardening a highly advanced type of horticulture with the aid of primitive tools. The whole list of plants and animals that the native planters were raising at the time of discovery in the late 18th century is in itself sufficient to indicate that the subsistence economy was not primitive at all.” (p. 14)

    In alignment with language of the U.S. government “farm bill” defining sustainable agriculture (1990), native Hawaiian agricultural perspectives and practices did follow systems that:

    • Satisfied human food and fiber needs;
    • Enhanced the environmental quality and the natural resources base upon which the agricultural economy was dependent;
    • Strove to make the most efficient use of all resources through integration of appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
    • Sustained farming and cultivation of aesthetic and other-use plants necessary to ensure the health and well-being of the populace
    • Enhanced the quality of life for all members of the society

    During the course of study, exploration and practice of the project, opportunities will be present for further discussion about how native Hawaiian culture, traditions and practices guided agricultural work than was (and still is) sustainable, organic and spiritually fulfilling.

    There are four native Hawaiian foundational concepts relevant to the “Farm to Table” project that we will continue to discuss:

    • E ola pono – living a good and proper life
    • Ho‘omana – acknowledging the role of spirituality in all that we do
    • Aloha ‘āina – mālama ‘āina – understanding and respecting the deeply rooted relationship between humanity and the environment that provide for healthy symbiotic sustenance and existence
    • Ho‘omau i ka ea – striving persistently to achieve and properly practice self-determination relevant to personal and collective success and fulfillment

    E ulu, e ulu kini o ke akua – ulu o Kāne me Kanaloa!

    Enter and inspire, may myriads of spirits enter and inspire including Kāne and Kanaloa!

    Here is a traditional oli (chant) of greeting and welcome. It is a beautiful way of acknowledging our place within our greater surroundings (Hawai‘i nei—beloved Hawai‘i). Can you identify the kaona or metaphors in this chant?

    Oli Aloha

    Onaona i ka hala me ka lehua, he hale lehua no ‘ia na ka noe

    O ka‘u no ‘ia e ‘ano‘i nei, e ‘ali ‘a nei ho‘i o ka hiki mai

    A hiki mai no ‘oukou, a hiki mai no me ke aloha

    Aloha e, aloha e, aloha e — 

    Sweet and fragrant are the pandanus and ‘ōhi‘a blossoms, an ‘ōhi‘a blossom house in the mist

    It is truly through my heartfelt yearning for you that I await your return to this place

    You must come, come here where you are most welcome and cherished

    Greetings, you are welcome here dearly beloved!

    The hīnano or pandanus flower (referred to in the chant as hala) together with the ‘ōhi‘a or lehua (flower of the Metrosideros macropus) smell extremely sweet. It is a wonderful fragrance to experience! In native Hawaiian culture, the sweet scent of certain flowers describes a variety of expressions of love and endearment.