Filed under: News
Healing the land along H-3
September 2, 2011
By Mary Alice Milham
In ancient times, Hālawa Valley was a place of almost unrivaled importance to Native Hawaiians.
It is home to at least 70 archaeological sites, including heiau and other areas of great cultural significance.
At the back of the valley, nearly a hundred pits, the remnants of former imu, likely mark the place where the bodies of fallen kings were cremated in fires tended by kāhuna for 10 days until their bones were all that was left. The valley, according to historian S.M. Kamakau, was “filled with chiefs and priests.”
Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa, a Professor at the University of Hawai‘i Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, says even the name, “Hālawa,” meaning “enough breath,” suggests a place where one enters the portal of death.
Hālawa Valley is also a place of birth, home of Hale o Papa. According to Kame‘eleihiwa, it’s the only place on the earth where the goddess Papa Hānau Moku, ancestral mother of the Hawaiian people as well as the islands of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i, Maui and Ni‘ihau, is said to have walked upon the land.
Its significance is reinforced by a petroglyph depicting birthing and the positioning of a Neolithic mate, a petroglyph of a man with a rainbow arching over him, at the luakini, the men’s heiau, across the river.
Luluku Terraces, on the windward side of the Ko‘olau Range, was of great importance in its own right, a place of intense agricultural use, reaching from the foot of the mountains to the shore of Kāne‘ohe Bay.
Kame‘eleihiwa says Native Hawaiians likely inhabited Hālawa Valley and Luluku for at least 60 generations.
When the construction of the 16.1-mile Interstate H-3 bored a tunnel through the Ko‘olau Range and devastated the cultural areas along its path, it was traumatic for Native Hawaiians.
Mitigation, to repair and soften the damage done during the construction of the H-3, officially began in 1987, with the signing of a memorandum of agreement by various government agencies.
Later, in 1999, an agreement between the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation established the Hālawa-Luluku Interpretive Development (HLID) Project to take on the monumental task of figuring out how to interpret and preserve the historical and cultural resources in the freeway’s corridor.
The project is now in the last planning phase before the mitigation construction work begins and involves gathering community input, evaluating the economic feasibility of the input, creating a plan, compiling environmental impact reports and gathering permits. This phase of the project is expected to take 18 to 20 months, with the construction phase beginning in 2014.
Once environmental permits have been obtained, initial land clearing can begin. The HLID team will then meet with the architectural engineering team and begin to design pedestrian walkways, gates and fences, nurseries, educational facilities, as well as work to restore the taro terraces, lo‘i kalo, and the heiau that were destroyed.
While mindful of the patience Native Hawaiians have borne throughout the process, there is also the need to proceed with caution.
“Sites are one thing, you know, you can mitigate a site, but how do you mitigate passion and feelings and the hurt that has been evident in this project for so long?” asks HLID Project Coordinator Kaiwi Nui.
One of the most important parts of the mitigation work, he says, will be in the area of education. “For people of Hawai‘i to reconnect to great spaces in Hawai‘i, to be a part of the fragile and fleeting cultural and natural resources of Hawai‘i – that should be at the core of mitigation,” says Kaiwi Nui.
In Hālawa Valley, that education process is well underway through the nonprofit organization Nā Kūpuna A Me Nā Kāko‘o and its proposed cultural and educational healing center.
“People understand a little more now,” says Clara, “Aunty Sweet” Matthews, an HLID Working Group member who gives free tours of Hālawa Valley as a member of Nā Kūpuna A Me Nā Kāko‘o. “They love Hālawa and they feel something is happening in there, spiritually.”
Matthews laments the impacts at Hale o Papa and the luakini, where once wāhine and kāne could stand upon their respective altars and chant back and forth to each other, as well as the loss of habitat for pueo (Hawaiian owls), revered as ‘aumākua (ancestral gods) by Native Hawaiians.
But she sees great value in sharing Hālawa Valley with others and is encouraged by the growing number of students, who, brought in by their teachers and professors, are taking an interest and spreading the word about Hālawa’s unique cultural significance.
“Not only the Hawaiians, but other cultures that come in – they need places like this, because it’s natural,” she said.
Most of all, she looks forward to the construction of a hālau, or learning center, in Hālawa Valley, a place where kūpuna (elders) can share in the spirituality of Hālawa in comfort, where they can share their knowledge with Hawai‘i’s keiki and where mākua (adults) can also share their knowledge of hula, oli (chant), ‘ölelo (language), culture and the arts.
The influence of the younger generation also brings hope to HLID Working Group member Māhealani Cypher.
“We are encouraged by the more positive spirit we have felt among the new members of the HLID staff,” she said. “These young people ‘get it.’ They are culturally aware and understand that the kuleana (responsibility) for that office should be to serve as advocates of the Hawaiian people.”
Cypher, who like Kame‘eleihiwa refuses to drive on the H-3, says: “My kūpuna and all of those whose iwi were disturbed during construction of the freeway – in Kukuiokāne, in Ha‘ikū and in Hālawa Valley – all of them await closure, a lifting of the sadness in our hearts from the disrespect that has been shown.”
As Project Coordinator, Kaiwi Nui finds himself balancing the feelings of the Native Hawaiian community and the applicable federal, state and county laws.
“It’s difficult to do mitigation after the fact,” he says. “Federal agencies are supposed to have done mitigation and their research before building the highway. A lot of unfortunate oversights and mistakes were made along the way.”
He believes that, in the end, the work that’s been necessary in the HLID plan to address the past mistakes may serve as an example for ensuring future construction projects of this type are done better. Times have changed too, he notes, and cultural and natural resource preservation laws are more strictly adhered to than in the past.
Addressing the impacts at Ha‘ikū and Kukuiokāne, areas initially included in the HLID Project but later removed, will also depend on building trust and understanding among the respective parties. HLID is tasked with integrating cultural perspective to ensure mitigation is carried out in a respectful, thorough and accurate way. And indeed, HLID involves an amalgam of groups – the Federal Highways Administration, state Department of Transportation, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Hawaiian community.
“Each of these entities has very different missions and very different outlooks on how to complete a mission,” says Kaiwi Nui. Despite those differences, he says he is optimistic that the mission, although difficult, is achievable when the groups work together.
And it is the Hawaiian people whom he credits with having had the resilience and determination to maintain their push to restore and preserve these places.
“The need is there, on their behalf, to try and make good on the advocacy that they have done,” says Kaiwi Nui. “And then of course it’s HLID’s actions that ultimately leave a tangible legacy for our children. We must make sure that this legacy can reconnect them with their past so they may have a better future.”
Mary Alice Kaiulani Milham, a Portland, Oregon-based freelance journalist, is a former newspaper reporter and columnist from California’s Central Coast.