Commentary: Kama’aina Blues

by Alan McNarie

Kama’aina: someone who’s been here long enough to look at a place in the present, see it as it once was, see it as it will be, and care deeply about all three.  I just spent two days on the Kona side for the first time in years–met my lady friend Kersten’s brother and his wife for the first time and enjoyed the visit, but that enjoyment was tempered by Kama’aina pain. They’d rented a time-share in Waikoloa. I took them to see Kalako-Honokahau National Historic Park, one of my favorite spots on the island: one of the few places left in the islands where, in the past, I’ve seen not just endangered species such as ae’o (black-necked stilts) and ‘alae ke’oke’o (Hawaiian coots), but whole flocks of them. Yesterday, though, all I saw were a single ‘alae ke’oke’o and a few sandpipers. On previous visits I’ve seen dozens of green sea turtles, either hauled out to sun or grazing on algae in the tide pools; yesterday I only saw three or four. I’m hoping that the birds and turtles were just displaced temporarily by the storm, and will return…. Yesterday evening, while Kersten nursed a migraine at our darkened room, I went snorkeling with Kersten’s brother at Anaeho’omalu. We saw only two yellow tangs; almost all 0f the few fish we did observe were small, drab species–probably thanks to the damned aquarium trade.

But one thing was getting more abundant on the Kona Coast:  shopping centers. New developments seemed to be sprouting like fungi all along Highway 19 from Waikoloa to Kailua-Kona. The whole North Kona Coast, which was the home mainly to feral donkeys, a few beach parks and the ruins of ancient Hawaiian villages when I first got here, appears to be on its way to becoming a strip city….

I’m sure many or most of the tourists who sunbathe and play golf at the Waikoloa resorts don’t share this kind of temporal migraine, this painful triple vision; they just see the luxurious cocoon of the resorts, without seeing how much the land is changing. The only glimpses they get of the past may be the petroglyphs along the golf course trails, the romanticized biographies of Hawaiian royalty on the plaques in the King’s Market, and the bowdlerized and inaccurate  “Hawaiian luaus” where they feast on roast pig and pineapple while “hula dancers” shake their hips furiously to the wild rhythms of Tahiti. I think Kersten’s brother and his wife are probably more sensitive than many to these conflicts of place and time; they edit a newsletter for their own community in Arizona, where some of the same conflicts must be happening.  But how could they know that the very place where they came for a happy getaway was arousing such deep conflicts in their resident relatives?  How can they guess that, when our smiles fade too quickly, the smile at seeing them is genuine, but the sadness comes from seeing the land? How can they possibly discern the difference between what we feel about this place and what we feel about them?

How many other visitors notice the tired scowls and forced smiles of the wait help, who likely caught the Hele-On from Puna or Ka’u in the wee hours of the morning in order to reach their minimum-wage jobs? How many of them realize that once, all along this coast, every bay and cove held a Hawaiian village instead of a luxury hotel or subdivision?  How many of them glimpse the pain of what was lost, and will be lost, to give them their few days in an artificial “Paradise”?

And yet it’s not their fault.  They’re trying to get away from their own troubles in their own homes in far-off places, and paying dearly for the privilege.  So we hide our pain and we smile, and some of us get a few dollars from the resorts’ corporate owners to help maintain the illusion.

Today marks the 27th anniversary of the day that I first stepped off the plane in Hilo. Since that day, I’ve worked first as a teacher, then as a paralegal helping the victims of family violence, then as a journalist, giving people information that they needed to know and might not have learned otherwise. I’ve celebrated local artists and local culture, have tracked off-island money in local elections, and have helped to provoke at least four full-fledged grassroots rebellions with the stories I’ve reported. I like to think that I’ve given enough back overall to earn my place on this island that I love so much, though sometimes I wonder.  For the past 15 years or so, I’ve been joking that I was “almost a kama’aina”–and would be until the day I die.

I’m going to stop saying that now.  I’m at least a novice kama’aina.  It hurts too much, now, for me to think I’m anything else. But I know that what I feel is only a scratch compared to the pain of those with older roots. How magnified would my sadness be, if my ancestors had lived in one of those vanished coastal villages–if they’d toiled for generations, piling the rocks of those mighty fishpond dikes at Kaloko-Honokahau? What would I feel if my great-great-grandmother had left my great-grandfather’s piko in one of those holes pecked in the pahoehoe beside what is now the seventh green, but I’m only welcome to come to visit that spot, now, if I’m a corporate employee or the guest of one of the guests? How would I feel if my ancestral village  lay under the foundation of a time-share condo?

There is too much pain, too much sadness deep in the bones of this beautiful island. Kama’aina are the ones who are gifted to feel it.


An Open Letter to the Governor re Mauna Kea


Dear Governor Ige,

Because we are Hawaiian Cultural Practitioners and are fairly well-acquainted with Mauna Kea, on April 8, 2015, Paul Neves and I guided you and your party to the summit of Mauna Kea. I have made pilgrimages to the summit a few times since that momentous trip up there with you.

One of my primary activities of my cultural practice is to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors – and i have walked over many parts of Mauna Kea, including having my cultural hiking group – Huaka’i i na ‘Aina Mauna – in 2002 – hike from sea level at Koholalele Landing, at Kukaiau, on the Hamakua coast, to the summit of Mauna Kea, following the Umikoa Trail, then descending the Skyline Trail, crossing Pohakuloa Training Area and following the Kona Highway to the vicinity of Pu’uAnahulu, then hiking the Pu’uAnahulu-Kiholo Trail back to sea level at Luahinewai, at Kiholo Bay on the Kona coast.

I am desirous to ascend Mauna Kea again – but I hear that you have illegally placed certain restrictions on cultural practitioners (such as me) to be able to go up the Mountain only at 1 p.m. on a daily basis in a group of less than 10.  And I understand that the reason for this restriction is that you have declared the road to be unsafe, making it a public safety issue.  But what I don’t understand is that the observatory people have access to go up and down the Mountain.- with no limitations.  It seems to me that if the road is unsafe for cultural practitioners, that it would be unsafe for astronomers and the public.  Do they sign disclaimers or something of that sort – to be able to do what they are being allowed to do?  If so, I’m willing to sign a disclaimer too.  In other words, I’m willing to disclaim the risk of using the road that you have declared to be unsafe.  However, I hear that there are no restrictions for cultural practitioners who are willing to hike.

Well, back to my wanting to ascend the Mountain.

Despite having a hypertensive condition, and suffering from a side effect of gout, I thought I’d visit the summit area on Sunday, leaving the HalePohaku Visitors’ Center area at 5 a.m.  As you are a relatively young man compared to my being 79 years old – I would love to have you share the hike up the Mountain with me.  We can do this by ourselves – and you can give your bodyguards the day off – as there won’t be any of those “unruly,” young Protectors on the road that is being restricted to them.  And since they will be escorted up the mountain by one of the Mauna Kea rangers when they can come up at 1 p.m., things should be quite secure.  And since there will be just you and me – we’ll be able to enjoy the spirituality and serenity of the Mountain in peace and quiet.  Lake Waiau should be at its shimmering best.  Even if we take our time moving at a leisurely pace, going up to an altitude of 13,000 feet, we should be back to the Visitors’ Center before 10 p.m.

There is only one problem – and that is that if my feet swell excessively because of my medications and subsequent water retention – that I’ll have to abort any further ascent at that point – and start down.  Will that be OK with you?

Can I look forward to your timely appearance at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning as we engage in this wonderful cultural (we don’t have to call it religious) activity?  Please make sure, though, that you have good hiking boots, some energetic food and snacks and warm clothes (in case the weather should turn a bit cold).

Thanks.  I’m looking forward to spend a very nice and pleasant day with you.

ku ching

2nd Graders Publish Book on Plantation Life

From Larry Czerwonka Publishing:

Second Grade students at Kalaianaole Elementary in Papaikou have teamed up with Larry Czerwonka Publishing to release their book, “A Day at the Hawai‘i Plantation Museum.” The book is a collaborative effort of writing, illustrations, and photographs between about 25 students, alumni, and teachers, along with the staff and volunteers at the Hawai‘i Plantation Museum (

The hope is that this book will inform and educate readers about plantation life and maybe spark some conversations at home about a way of life that was once common on Hawai‘i Island. The book tells the reader some of the history and cultures of plantation life as seen through the eyes of the students. “We wanted to not only show the students photographs and items from the plantations, but we also wanted them to interview people about Plantation Life. We also encouraged the students to ask family members what they recall about growing up in and around the plantation,” says Cynthia Inouye, who is the students’ second grade teacher.

The idea to write a book started after Cynthia Inouye attended a meeting where Larry Czerwonka talked about his publishing company and how they had a program for helping teachers and students write and publish books.

“I love giving back,” says Publisher Larry Czerwonka. “Helping students go from being readers to published authors is something I am very passionate about.” Everyone involved in the project says the book will do more than just record a social studies assignment. “We believe this book will inspire students to ask more questions about how things used to be,” says Jean Wence, a retired teacher involved with the project. “There is a wealth of knowledge in our kupuna not just about how things were but about many other things as well. We hope this experience gets the students excited about talking story with their elders.” “

A Day at the Hawai‘i Plantation Museum” at or by using the Bitly link:

Morning Lava Report, 11/2/14: More of the Same


As of Sunday morning, the leading edge of the  lava flow remained stalled approximately 170 yards above Pahoa Village Road (Old Government Road). Activity behind the lava flow’s leading edge continued, with localized breakouts of molten lava within the flow’s interior and along its side margins.   As of approximately 5 p.m. on  Saturday, November 1, observers spotted  lobes advancing  along the flow margins at roughly 5.5 yards, per hour  that “could plausibly merge with the stalled flow front,” according to Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Hawaii Civil Defense reported that  “Smoke conditions are light to moderate with light trade winds from the northeast pushing the smoke in a south southwest direction.”   Residents with respiratory problems are still advised to “take necessary precautions and to remain indoors. ”


Hughisms — A Historical Perspective Of Hawaii County’s 2012 Election

By Hugh Clark

There is a strong temptation to treat 2012 as re-run to 1976 when angry voters largely displaced the county council in one of the biggest ballot box upsets in Big Island history.
There are some parallels and many differences but come the first Monday of December a major overhaul will have concluded with fewer incumbents and more newcomers to be sworn at Hilo civic, just like 36 years ago.
The similarities are behavior of the current council and that of 1972-1976. Plenty of ornery debate, threatening and juvenile conflict and with separate leaders each two years and acrimony that seemingly never would end.
Council critics, including those who think nine makes for an unwieldy, costly body, may seek a more focused approach to county governance but agree that are sharp differences based on geography and locale. (California counties with many more residents and equally large territory employ five supervisors. Nevada’s Cark County (Las Vegas) has just three supervisors.)
All council members were elected at-large in the 1970s, though six were required to be from the traditional districts – Ka’u, Puna, Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala and Kona. Members now come from narrowly confined districts based on the latest reapportionment still being debated by some. A mere stop sign or the centerline of a street now can define boundaries
On primary election eve 1976, a somewhat unknown Waimea taxpayer protester named Muneo “Moon” Sameshima shouted from the Mo’oheau Park podium: “throw the rascals out.”
The time-honored Hawaii phrase was aimed not only at his own opponent who once was council chair but the whole body. The crowd, much larger than those today since the council became nonpartisan, roared with laughter.
Few took it all serious except for a young reporter for the Star-Bulletin who expressed no surprise. Sure enough the aforementioned rascals were largely out. Read more

History — A Page From Puna’s Past

Editor's note: The excerpt above about midwifery in Puna in the early 1900s commences Big Island Chronicle's history section and is from the book,  Pāhoa Yesterday, by Hiroo Sato.  Pāhoa Yesterday is available at Jeff Hunt Surfboards, 15-2883 Pahoa Village Road in  Pāhoa (Open Monday through Saturday, 10-5, Sundays, 11-3; Call (808) 965-2322 or visit, or at the Hawai′i Japanese Center, 751 Kanoelehua Ave. in Hilo (Open Monday mornings while under renovation for most of this year; Call (808) 934-9611 or visit