Letter to DLNR / Helbert, Haster, and Fee

Kahikina de Silva, June 2014

Aloha mai kāua,

My name is Kahikina de Silva. I write in support of the DLNR/HHF Draft Kawainui- Hāmākua Complex Master Plan.

I am a life-long kupa of Kailua, in particular of Kaʻōhao - renamed "Lanikai" by early 20th century developers. It is in Kaʻōhao and the larger Kailua that I had my first baby lūʻau, learned to swim, paddle, and dive, tracked the sun's path through the sky, began my life-long dedication to the study and perpetuation of mele and hula, helped three of my aging grandparents pass into the next realm, had my wedding ceremony, and graduated as kumu hula. It is in Kaʻōhao and Kailua that I continue to participate in the intellectual, cultural, and ritual practices of hula - both as student and teacher - and it is here that I will raise the family my husband and I have started. And it is for Kaʻōhao and Kailua that I compose mele, choreograph hula, and work on my PhD in Political Science.

Spending my almost 38 years in a land native to me and my kūpuna, in an ʻāina that is consistently misidentified ("Lanikai" is a nonsensical name, not grounded in any sense of this place or its history), and on top of that whose misnomer is painfully mispronounced, has made clear to me the far-reaching consequences of a failure to establish a permanent, visible, and peopled Hawaiian cultural presence in Kailua - and one that is conceived, directed, and managed by Kailua's Hawaiian community. The lack of such a presence creates a kind of cultural "free-for-all", a vacuum into which commercial enterprises, "puka shell" tours, and hordes of wandering visitors are pulled. There are no visible stewards of the land or its moʻolelo, no sense of kapu at significant locations, and only the occasional sanctioned appearance of the host people, the true kamaʻāina, as a minority in canoe regattas or providing hula for a local block party. Worse than the effects this absence has on the Kailua community at large are the effects on the Hawaiians of Kailua who have stuck around through decades of irresponsible development, and on those generations yet to come. Like the Washington State natives looking out into the world only to find themselves reflected back as Redskin caricatures, we natives of Kailua look out into our own ahupuaʻa and see nothing of ourselves reflected back to us or to our keiki. This is where the true damage lies.

This is not to say that a Hawaiian presence does not exist in Kailua, no. The very plan for Kawainui that is currently up for discussion has flushed out Hawaiians working in diverse fields of knowledge and action, including: environmental restoration, navigation and voyaging, kapa making, hula and mele, food preparation, and political justice. What the Master Plan offers is neither a transplanting of culture into Kailua nor a commercialization of our current activities. Instead, it allows for a permanent, structural home that matches in stature, function, and worldview the highly developed culture of our ancestors that we continue to study and teach today.

Since my mother Māpuana began her hālau in 1976, we have been in search of such a home. Our own family home in Kaʻōhao worked quite well until the 1990's, at which time complaints from our new neighbors, transplanted from various places outside of Hawaiʻi, forced us to move the bulk of our teaching elsewhere. Since then, we have "ʻai i ka mea i loaʻa" - made do with what has been available, making house in those places most populous in Kailua, i.e. commercial office spaces. We have "ʻai i ka mea i loaʻa" everywhere from shared space with an exercise gym to our current location above Agnes' Portuguese Bakery. It turns out we are very good at making do, as are our fellow Kailua practitioners, and have found ways for our hula to survive at our hands. However, there are countless things that we are prevented from doing because of our confinement to these lumi liʻiliʻi, and there are certain levels of expertise that just cannot be achieved from a second-floor, asphalt-surrounded studio.

Of these disadvantages, two stand out. First is the feeling of being swallowed up by the whale of commercialism that is eating Kailua. It is almost impossible not to feel like just another customer when a student passes by Kayak tour businesses, convenience stores, boutiques, or restaurants on her way to a class or workshop. And it is likewise as difficult to have any sense of landed, cultural security, not only as an individual organization, but a Hawaiian community as a whole. These conditions contribute so much more to the commercialization of our cultural practices than anything proposed by the Kawainui Master Plan.

But even more impactful is the disconnection from ʻāina that these locations impose upon us. Temporary meeting structures or occasional visits to important areas (suggested as "enough" by some of the Plan's opponents) do nothing to repair this separation. Instead, they continue to treat us as visitors to our own ancestral lands and preclude the kind of constant care and respect that we want to engage in, especially with regard to Kawainui. There is no doubt that Kawainui is in great need of rehabilitation. It is my belief that those Hawaiians and practitioners who have participated in the drafting of this plan are best equipped to participate in, and in fact help guide, such efforts to restore Kawainui, not only environmentally, but culturally and spiritually as well. And these are aspects of Kailua that must be carefully addressed if we are to survive as a Hawaiian place and not simply a place in Hawaiʻi.

The Draft Master Plan, though not perfect, provides the most promising opportunity for environmental and cultural interaction and health that this generation has seen. Both Kawainui and her caretakers have been making do for long enough. It is time that we move out of a state of "ʻai i ka mea i loaʻa" (literally, eating what get) and into one of "loaʻa ka mea e ʻai ai" - of having what we need to thrive.

Ke aloha ʻāina a mau loa,

Kahikina de Silva