Julia Steele

researcher, writter, and narrator of Aloha Aina. She is currently an editor at Hawai‘i’s largest magazine, Hana Hou!, where she has written and edited numerous award-winning articles about Hawai‘i. She was the founding editor of Honolulu Weekly. She holds a BA in Pacific history and journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and a JD from Stanford Law School.

Welcome to the first episode of Aloha ‘Āina, a series dedicated to exploring Hawaiian kinship with the natural world. Over the next thirteen weeks, over the course of sixty-five episodes, we’ll speak with kūpuna and kumu in the Hawaiian community and explore this deep-rooted and fundamental Hawaiian philosophy.

Over the next few days we’ll hear different voices speaking to the meaning of aloha ‘āina. We begin at the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies on the UH Mānoa campus, sitting in the office of Professor Jon Osorio as the birds outside his window call to each other. “Aloha ‘āina is a relationship not just with the land but really with nature itself and in particular that part of the land and sea and streams and water that actually sustains life.

On the thin stretch of land between stark, sere cliffs and bright blue ocean Auntie Puanani Burgess sits in Wai‘anae’s Hale Na‘au Pono, talking about aloha ‘āina as the traffic passes by on Farrington Highway.

When Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln was a boy of eight living in the uplands of Kula, Maui he saved his money for several months and bought a number of rare Hawaiian plants to plant is his backyard. He was a little kid, proud and happy, but three weeks later the axis deer came through and ate every single plant but for one lone koai‘a tree. Lincoln, now an assistant professor in indigenous crops and cropping systems at UH Mānoa, tells the story as he reflects on the meaning of aloha ‘āina.

Davianna Pōmaika‘i McGregor is a professor at UH Mānoa and a long-time member of the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana, the group that in the 1970s successfully fought to stop the US military’s bombing of the island. Aloha ‘āina, she notes, is not a simple term; it conveys varying things depending on time and context.

Episode 6: Arrival

Feb 5, 2016

The first navigators to reach these islands were led here by starlight. They sailed the waters of the world’s largest ocean with the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain as their companions and the heavens as their guide. They made landfall on the wide-open coastline of Ka‘ū on the southern tip of Hawai‘i Island, and then they moved out into the astonishing lands that would become their home. They found sister peaks, one of them, Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the world.

The first Polynesian navigators arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in canoes laden with plants that would become the foundation of the most complex and sophisticated agricultural systems in Oceania. These “canoe plants,” as they are known today, had been cultivated by the Polynesians for millennia and sustained their societies as they moved out across the Pacific. The navigators brought some twenty-five differing canoe plants to Hawai‘i. There was noni for medicine, kukui for light, kamani for wood.

Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln will never forget the moment he first saw the Leeward Kohala Field System. The specialist in indigenous crop systems had trudged up Pu‘u Kehena in the wind and when he turned around a massive agricultural system popped out at him, he says, like a 3D picture. The ancient system, an agricultural network covering some twenty-five square miles, is today hidden in pasture grasses but from the summit of Pu‘u Kehena it all came into view—and with it, says Lincoln, came a Eureka! moment.

In the lush green hills of Kohala fierce winds blow steady and hard. Many farmers might consider those winds an enemy—but centuries ago Hawaiian farmers made them an ally. In the ancient Kohala Field System they built low, mounded walls that stood two feet off the ground, walls that succeeded in trapping moisture from that wind; and then they planted sugar cane and banana along those walls to trap even more moisture, which fed the sweet potato and kalo growing below.

In the human history of the Hawaiian Islands, no plant has had greater significance than kalo. It sustained kingdoms for centuries and enabled the initial population of Polynesian explorers to grow to by some estimates as many as a million people. Kalo was farmed across the Islands in numerous ways, says enthobotanist Dr. Kāwika Winter.