Once upon a time, Wakea, the god known as Father Heaven, bore a child with Hoʻohōkūkalani, daughter of Papahānaumoku, the mother of the Earth. The baby, however, was stillborn, and the parents buried the baby in the ground. Hoʻohōkūkalani cried, her tears watering the ground where the baby was buried until three days later, a sprout popped out of the ground where the baby was buried. The baby had not been dead, but had only been in vegetable form! The couple’s second-born child  was named Haloa, the human boy who gave rise to the rest of the human race. Thus taro is spiritally the older brother to the Hawaiian people. It’s said that the older brother always takes care of the younger brother. For that reason, no one is allowed to fight when a bowl of poi — the primary taro-derived food — is on the table. Refusing a bowl of poi that someone offers you may not be a good idea.

Scenic views were the staples of today’s trip.

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(Above: Background is Waimea Canyon)

After leaving our hotel in the northeast corner of the island, we traveled westward along the southern coast, from a cliff overlooking Hanapepe Valley to the Waimea town, river, and canyon (all with the same name “Waimea” translated to Red Water) in the west.

Waimea River is where I’ll start. We pulled up in the bus to the outlet where the Waimea river connects to the ocean. The sand is black with slightly larger siltstone sediment comprising it. The white sands on Hawaii are most commonly made up of limestone made from the weathering of corals. It is a finer sediment than sediment. There really isn’t anyone on this beach as well. There are a couple of canoes nearby and a couple of houses and the rest of the town about 200 feet away, but the beach definitely has not become a tourist attraction (at least, not for your average tourists).

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This place is very historically significant because it is where Captain Cooke, the British navy man charged with exploring the Pacific, landed. This is because the shore in front of the river outlet is devoid of corals. All of the other beaches around Kauai have coral reefs because the light is clear enough and devoid of nutrients enough that it can support coral life. This beach could not support corals because of the suspended clay particles within the water which make it turn red (hence Waimea or “Red Water”) and make it impossible for corals to grow due to blocking the light from reaching down into the water column. So the incorporation of the Hawaiian islands into the Western world began in that spot! How awesome is that?!

In the town of Waimea, we stopped at a set of two memorials: a statue of Captain Cooke commemorating him, as well as an obelisk commemorating the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by the west.

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I didn’t totally understand what there was to commemorate. From the point of view of the Hawaiians, Hawaii became integrated into the west through a process of economic imperialism, forced assimilation, and destruction of the native culture. So seeing as Captain Cooke arguably paved the way for integration of Hawaii into the west, I don’t totally see how this was a celebratory event from their perspective. Brian said that they are celebrating modern science in terms of the way that Captain Cooke got to the islands; navigation and map-making were great scientific contributions made by the british in this understanding of the memorials. This seems kind of ridiculous to me considering how Europeans devestated both the Hawaiian people (via diseases such as tuberculosis, venereal disease, the flu and other European ones that Hawaiians had had no evolved genetic resistance to) and their culture. I personally think that these “memorials” are just a tourist draw. Waimea has become a tourist town, with many little, clearly expensive shops made in a western style. These memorials are just contributing to that. Despite that, I still liked this place a lot for its historic and scientific value.

There were three more stops, but I only really have time to talk about 2 of them! So I will have to sum up one of the first of them very briefly. We went next to one part of Waimea canyon where we discussed the intersections of geology and biology. How did we get this huge canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific? How did it affect the local climate patterns — and consequently the vegetation — on the island of Kauai? And since its creation, how have humans altered or affected the structural features as well as the flora and fauna? If this stuff sounds interesting, you should look around online for answers because it is fascinating stuff.

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Much of the activities up until this point had been talking, looking around at different things in the environment, etc. All interesting things, but perhaps I was just getting a bit bored by 11:30. We arrived by bus near the top of a mountain on the peak (which I cannot find the stinking name for online, very annoying) and then walked up to the top. At the top, we found a native Hawaiian! And not just any native Hawaiian, but one who dressed up in traditional Hawaiian clothing. He stood atop a bench, his many different artifacts in front of him, and spoke to the tourist audience about what Hawaiian culture and cultural history is to the native Hawaiians.

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He accepted donations from a basket laid out far ahead of him. Everyone else snagged a picture with him and then ran off to listen to Brian talk about the canyon, but I wanted to hear about Hawaiian culture. Mr. Huddleston kept calling, so I walked towards him several times to make it LOOK like I was coming, but then I turned ack around and he gave up eventually. The Hawaiian’s name was Punaohu, translated as “a rainbow close to the earth”. He discussed his own life as a native Hawaiian living and surviving in Western civilization, as well as Hawaiian mythology and spirituality, technology, clothing, and Hawaiians in the present day.

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Eventually, everyone left besides me and I got a chance to talk to him one-on-one. He told me that the state (or federal, I’m not sure which) government arrested him and charged him on counts of illegally vending on state property — a state park. Punaohu claimed that the US government has been trying to assimilate native Hawaiians into the US as citizens (something I think they are doing because there are many native Hawaiians who feel disenfranchised and have been protesting against the US government for illegally overthrowing Lili’oukalani in 1898 and annexing the territory in 1959). By incorporating native Hawaiians into the country as citizens, they can force them to obey state and federal laws. On this grounds, Punaohu fought the charge, saying that he was not a Hawaii native, but was rather a member of the nation of Hawaii, a nation that was recognized by Obama as a its own political entity as late as 2014 and by Clinton even earlier. Punaohu told me that he demanded the judge to produce evidence that the US had officially annexed Hawaii, that the Hawaii natives actually were Americans by law. After five court appearances with similar results, the prosecutor still had no evidence and the judge acquitted Punaohu. I later talked with Professor Mark Merlin, another ethnobotanist who has been traveling with us who teaches at University of Hawaii at Manoa, who postulated that maybe Punaohu intentionally challenged the ruling in order to raise awareness about this problem, that the charge was not serous but Punaohu challenged it for political reasons. I thought that this guy was very honest and so I don’t think that’s why it was. There were a lot of other interesting things, but I should probably go on so that I get to the last thing!

The last thing that we did was we went to the Iliau Trail, a trail in Waimea Canyon home to two species of plant found no where else in the world: the greenswords. They are in the Asteraceae: the sunflower family. These plants are trees that have a very thin trunk, grow very tall, and have a pom-pom-like top made of leaves.

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There are two species, one which we saw, and another that is very similar but is found in another part of the canyon. They are both endemic to Kauai, meaning that they are both found on Kauai and no where else. They have adapted to very arid conditions. Specifically, they are very tall so that they can get above the rest of the vegetation and get the closest to the sunlight. They are mostly found only in high elevation coastal plain areas because they require arid conditions with top-soil. Lower in Kauai, they cannot grow because the top-soil has been wiped out through grazing of livestock and cultivation of agricultural crops leading to erosion of the soil. The Iliau trail (Iliau is the Hawaiian name for the green sword) has 95% of the greenswords on the island.

(Top left: The field of greenswords, 95% of the ones on the whole planet live in this grove. Bottom left: Professor Yamamoto telling us about the plants. Right: An invasive shrub called Lantana, an ornamental that is taking over the landscape of Hawaii)

Our assignment was thus to consider this population from an ecological perspective. Firstly, what is the health of the population? Is it growing? Declining? At equilibrium? Secondly, how are they competing with the neighboring plants? Are invasive or other species causing problems to their growth? Thirdly, what external influences of humans and other animals are evident on the population? Fourth, what is a method of determining the age? Fifth, what method of conservation would we recommend for these ultra-rare plants? We had about 30 minutes to do this exercise, but of course it turned into an hour (but in this case, that was ok that we went over). I was divided into a group with five other students and we set out into the grove. I really enjoyed the exercise because it simulated what a scientist or ecologist does in research.

SO that was it! Thanks for reading through to the end. Come back tomorrow, I will make it shorter and easier to read!

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