Learning the art of Lawaiʻa

Hello, my name is Sierra Franklin and I was apart of the National Student Exchange, with help from GLI, and attended The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo for the Fall 2021 semester. I learned so much during my semester in Hilo and will always have a piece of Hawaiʻi in my heart. My experience was not what I thought it was going to be, but it turned out to be even better. I chose the Resources and Sustainability theme during my time at GLI due to my passion regarding protecting the environment. I am majoring in Wildlife Biology and minoring in Restoration Ecology and want to one day become an Environmental Lobbyist that advocates for policy that protects and conserves the environment.

Hapuna Beach located on the Kona side of the island, about an hour and a half from Hilo over the Saddle.

I wanted to come to Hawaiʻi to learn about the ocean and get some hands-on experience regarding marine biology labs and classes. Due to COVID regulations and rules, I could not get into any marine biology labs or even any in person classes at all. This made me really upset, but I figured that I would just use my time in Hawaiʻi to learn about Hawaiian Culture, so I enrolled in several Hawaiian studied classes. I learned about the Hawaiian Family System and how ancient and present-day Hawaiians carry out their day to day lives. I also learned all the limu [seaweed] and iʻa [animals] that the island has to offer. In my Hawaiian Ethnozoology class we learned about these specific ʻōlelo noʻeau [sayings] associated with each iʻa and what they meant in context of everyday life. For example, the ʻōlelo noʻeau about the kūmū fish is “He kūmū ka- iʻa, muʻemuʻe ke aloha” [ kūmū is the fish, bitter is love ]. Due to the fishʻs bitter taste, it is used by Hawaiians to describe the bitterness of love and how sometimes love bites back.

A traditional Hawaiian canoe shown resting on a beach on the Kona side of Big Island.
The sleepy town of Hilo on a Saturday night.

I learned that most people pronounce Hawaiʻi wrong; it is [ havai-i ]. The Hawaiian ʻwʻ is said like the English ʻvʻ. So applying this to the title of this blog post, it is said [ lavi-u ] which is translated directly to English as fishing, but it means much, much more. Lawaiʻa means to take what you need but leave the rest for the future. Does this sound familiar? It is almost exactly the definition of sustainability. In Hawaiʻi the land, sea, and iʻa are a way of life for the people living there and they treat the land with love and care. They understand that in order for the land to give to you, you need to give back to the land and help sustain itʻs health. Hawaiianʻs relationship with their land is highly admirable and I wish that the mainland US shared these same attitudes towards the environment. Relating this to my GLI theme is so easy because everything I learned in Hawaiʻi reflects practicing sustainable resource use.

Inside of a town building in downtown Hilo during a night market.

I also took a Sustainable Tourism class during my time at UH Hilo and it shed a light on a larger issue. Hawaiʻi is being largely exploited for its resources due to mass tourism over the years. Most of the tourist organizations are run by mainlanders who pocket the money out of the state of Hawaiʻi. The tourism industry is selling white sand beaches and Margaritas by the pool; they are not selling Hawaiʻi. Many tourists come here and leave, not having learned one thing about Hawaiian culture. We cannot treat Hawaiʻi like another state in the US. There is a whole different culture and way of life here that has resided for hundreds of years. This mass tourism has damaged the islands environmentally and shown the world that Hawaiʻi is just a vacation to book when you need time away from your busy life. This needs to change and it needs to change fast because Hawaiʻi is not just a vacation spot. It is a sacred place and home to thousands of people. If mass tourism continues to proceed as it is now, Hawaiian culture will be muddled and the land and sea will continue to suffer.

Akaka Falls State Park, 20 minutes outside of Hilo.

I took away many things from my experience at Hilo, but one of the biggest things that I will take away is to respect Hawaiʻi for more than what it is marketed for. Hawaiʻi is a hotspot for cultural, linguistic, and environmental knowledge. There needs to be a renovation of respect for Hawaiian culture and a revamp of the tourism industry that is focused more towards showing Hawaiian culture. My Kumu [ professor ] Lito, who taught my Hawaiian Ethnozoology class, was apart in creating the Pono Pledge that will now be aired on all incoming Hawaiian Airlines flights to Hawaiʻi. Being Pono means acting with correctness and respect. The Pono Pledge according to the website, is, “a creative new initiative by the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) and Hawaii County, encourages safe, responsible and respectful tourism.”. This pledge encompasses not only respectful tourism but also practices sustainability and lawaiʻa in the name of all lands on this Earth. If you have read this far, you have to visit the link and take the Pono Pledge, make sure you click the link and scroll all the way to the bottom and click “Take Pledge” to watch the video! Mahalo nui, and I hope if you ever visit Hawaiʻi you take all of this into consideration.

A freshly planted taro patch on campus.

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