It’s a pearl, rugged beauty emerging as brokenness restored… canon ball holes line the cliffs around the bay, garbage which washed ashore from Japan, Korea, and China, is flung across the rocks lining the shore. A wise Hawaiian elder, with dark weather-worn skin gazes out at the horizon. He is the Protector of these ancestral fishing lands and he has a vision to care for it so that his grandchildren’s grandchildren will still gather fish to feed their families 100 years from now.
Atop the cliff by the cove, exposed to sand, wind, and sun, sits the prophecy of foreign invasion etched in stone. A prophetess who foresaw events to come carved deep into the sandstone not just one set of shoe prints, but a dozen or more. She just kept carving—that crazy woman with a vision into things unknown, things so frightening and foreign to a barefooted people with no need for shoes. And so they killed her. Although the prophetess was dead, her vision was realized only a few generations later when Captain Cook and his mates stepped off of British ships and left the same kind of shoe prints on the sandy shores of Hawai’i.
I wonder why she carved so many—didn’t one set of shoe prints make a deep enough impression? I wonder if she saw beyond Cook, to the scores of whalers, missionaries, American military, and foreign laborers from many lands who would flood across the landscape like tidal waves forever changing the demographics and topographics of the island archipelago in the middle of the vast Pacific.
The Hawaiian Uncle who hosts us says it is his kuleana (responsibility, burden, and privilege) to protect this “icebox” of the island. This community is almost entirely sustained by the fish they catch, the deer they hunt, and the vegetables they grown in their gardens. They are an enduring people courageously resisting the tidal waves of modernization and holding to traditional ways of sustainable living. When they feed their families, rather than going to the grocery store, they go to the ocean and the mountains.
At the invitation of our host, our group of about 30 people spends 2 hours stooped over in the hot mid-day sun scraping up scads of foreign trash. We didn’t make the mess, and the local inhabitants didn’t either. Yet today, as we come to learn to aloha ke Akua (love God), aloha kanaka (love people), and aloha ‘aina (love the land that gives food), it has become our kuleana to clean it up. The Hawaiian Uncle has seen a lot of rebalancing of ecosystems over the years—the disappearing crabs return to their habitat, the depleting limu (seaweed) become plentiful again to feed new generations of fish—but now his biggest concern is the trash. Trash that keeps sweeping in from the west, from foreign lands, including the 100-year-old pile made by deep underwater currents, a sub-marine trash dump.
Standing at the sandstone carvings overlooking the bay, tears streak down my cheeks. I realize that the prophetess foretold my coming. All at once, I see the immense destruction to land, resources and people that came with foreigners like me and I lament. I lament for what was lost, for the long journey to recovery, and I lament because I am afraid. I know that this knowledge I have gained is precious, like a pearl, and it has now become my kuleana to tell the story to people who would never know—my people. My people need to know that the indigenous of this land and of lands across our globe foresaw the coming of this day. They have long maintained a more accurate pulse on global movements than my modernized community and it would behoove us to listen to them as we move into a shared future.
And so I tell them.
*Please note that the specific location is intentionally kept hidden to protect the place and people who call it home.