By  Keahi Manea

Since early 2012, Ka `Imi Institute members have collaborated with Kaua`i Forest Bird Recovery Project to provide a blessing for the Project’s spring research season. Dr. Cali Crampton, Project Director, requested the first blessing as they planned the release of 22 critically endangered puaiohi, the small Kaua`i thrush, into the Alaka`i Wilderness Preserve. These captive-bred birds had been hatched and hand reared in San Diego Zoo Global funded Bird Conservation Centers in Makawao, Maui and Keauhou, Hawai`i.  The puaiohi release was intended to strengthen the severely diminished Kaua`i flock. Dr. Crampton and the Project staff wanted to provide every possible advantage for survival of the birds, and this included a culturally appropriate blessing ceremony.

The first blessing occurred in February of 2012 at Kalalau lookout in Kōke`e State Park and included chanters, dancers, conservation agency staff and volunteers. An article and photos of the ceremony appeared in the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Conservancy “Notes From the Field” spring newsletter. The newsletter notes,

“What is heartening is how much Hawaiians here want the puaiohi to survive and thrive. On this day of celebration their songs and dances invoked the protection and goodwill of the gods and elders for the birds and their habitat as well as for the biologists who work to conserve them.  One lovely poetic song, or mele, written especially for the event, directly addresses the puaiohi and blesses the release”.

Thus began a tradition of annual spring blessings for conservation agencies working in the Alaka`i Wilderness  environment. Over the years, the blessing expanded to include Kōke`e Resource Conservation and the Kaua`i Invasive Species Committee and community volunteers, who after completion of the ceremony would participate in a forest weed-clearing workday at an area of the Kōke`e Forest called Pōhaku Hula.   Through an “Adopt- a- Park” agreement with the Hawai`i State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Ka `Imi Institute has cleared invasive weeds and reforested  indigenous plants in the Pōhaku Hula site for more than a decade.

The most recent blessing event was held on a beautiful  but chilly morning in February, 2021 at Kanaloahuluhulu Meadow.  `Ōlapa (dancers) and ho`opa`a (drummers) dressed in double pā`ū over leggings and long sleeved shirts with jackets for extra warmth performed oli, mele and hula to honor Akua, `aumakua and kūpuna and request continued inspiration from Laka and protection for the flora and fauna from invasive species and storms.  Each agency expressed goals for the spring season and the coming year, with statement of group affirmation for accomplishment of the goals. This expression serves to educate all present about the collective conservation work occurring the Alaka`i and Kōke`e State Park habitats.

Following this blessing, 11 Ka `Imi Institute members and 3 Kōke`e Resource Conservation staff worked at Pōhaku Hula (so named for it’s historic significance in the 1871 trek of Queen Emma into the Alaka`i Swamp) to clear a total of 1,316 weeds, (Yes, we count them) including ginger, guava, blackberry and honeysuckle from an area covering nearly a quarter of an acre. Participants planted 12 native plants, including pilo, naupaka, maile and `uki`uki.  Previous plantings are thriving and new maile and ferns are sprouting in abundance.

It is rewarding to spend time caring for this beloved site that has been a part of our hula world for so long. Kumu (teacher) Roselle introduced haumāna (students) to this site in the late 70s to teach how to identify and care for plants used for adornments for performances and ceremonies. Hula people depend on the forest for adornment, so having a small patch of forest to mālama (care for) helps us understand the relationships of the plants we use. Remember, flora and fauna are interconnected. Loss of or threat to one native species affects the balance of all the others.  As hula people, we tend to focus on the plants, but the plants depend on the birds for pollination,  spreading seeds and insect control, and the birds need plants for shelter, nesting and food.  If one element is in trouble, all are.

Here is a challenge to hula kumu and haumāna:  adopt a forest or coastal area to mālama. It will enrich your hula knowledge, inspire your creativity and help fulfil your kuleana (responsibility) of stewardship of the `āina (land).  Contact the Department of Land and Natural Resources office in your county, or other official state, county or city agency in your area and ask about opportunities for your group to adopt and care for a specific area.

#405  “Hahai nō ka ua i ka ululā`au.  Rains always follow the forest. “

`Ōlelo No`eau, Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings.  Mary Kawena Pukui