By Shad Kane
The question that needs to be asked is “how long does it take a migrating people to see themselves other than their place of origin”. It is different living on an island than living on a continent. It is this important aspect that helps one understand why island peoples define themselves in terms of the aina. It is a personal relationship that grows out of living in isolation where distance and water serves as a barrier to one’s past. This is the story of a place once known as Kualaka’i, the Kalaeloa Heritage Park.
The British still spoke the same clear distinct language when they reached Spanish California 300 years later after their arrival on the east coast of America. In the Pacific we call ourselves by different names speaking slightly different languages of the same origin. Anciently when our ancestors got off that canoe they knew they may never go home. They knew everything they left behind would be no longer. We may not be certain what drove them away from those southern latitudes but we know that European migrations were motivated by religious persecutions and the right to practice as one chooses. Those migrations occurred much later than our Polynesian ancestors and occurred in larger numbers on larger ships. It was many people of different origins and different backgrounds. Their common motivation to risk a life of uncertainty in a strange and distant world was freedom to practice their individual religious beliefs. When they arrived in this new world they lived in large numbers collectively. They were still able to maintain a level of communication with their “old world” families thousands of miles away with the frequency of ship arrivals and departures. It is this aspect that is important to understand the difference between living on an island and on a continent. It is this aspect of migrations that allowed European migrations to hang on to their ancient past. They were still able to see themselves in terms of their national origins, historical past and languages.
When our ancient ancestors left their southern homes, they left many years prior to westerners. There are many academics who believe it even occurred hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Their “ships” were much smaller on a vastly larger ocean. Their risks to leave their homes appear to be much more severe than those of the later European migrations. Why would ancient islanders test those challenges? Perhaps it is more than religious beliefs. Perhaps living on islands is much different than living on a continent. Perhaps as one’s numbers on an island increases, resources become more limited and competition to gather those resources in a subsistence world becomes more challenging. We may never know however most of us feel it may have been more than freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs. Perhaps the challenges of staying were much more severe than leaving. On an island, one’s resources becomes increasingly scarce when one’s numbers increases. It was a world based on subsistence on an island of limited resources. Something we today should learn from.
Our ancestors migrated in smaller vessels or canoes. They travelled in smaller numbers most often as families. Most all the traditions associated with travel are associated with families. This is the origin of the island concept of “Ohana”. A good example is the travels of the Pele family from the southern latitudes to these northern islands where Kapo preceded the rest of her ohana. Kapo traveled to every island and established hula halau on every island before finally settling on Moloka’i. It is no wonder when one travels on small canoes they would rather be among families when one does personal things on a canoe. It is important to say again when they arrived on these islands they arrived as families. Another example the arrival of the Kumuhonua line of the Lo family of today’s ‘Ewa who constructed the birth site at Kukaniloko. Amongst their family were Maweke who brought the sweet potato from Peru to ‘Ewa, Keaunui who was the first to dredge, what we know today as Pearl Harbor, for the safe anchorage of their large canoes in Kaihuopala’ai, or today’s West Loch. Other more known descendants of this voyaging family are Moikeha, Olopana, Kaha’i, Mailikukahi, Kakuhihewa, Peleiholani and Kaleiopu’u, who most of us know as Kalaniopu’u. They knew when they got off that canoe they may never return. That ocean served as a barrier to their ancient past. Those earlier arrivals of these ancient families lived a subsistence lifestyle along the path of water in isolation. Their new world was shaped out of that isolation and a much closer relationship with the ground upon which they walked. They began to see themselves other than their place of origin after generations. Even their language took on a slightly different sound. We call ourselves Hawaiians, Tahitians, Marquesans, Samoans, Maolis, Fijians and there is even a manner of speaking in the Philippines similar to Polynesian. We are all the same people who call ourselves by different names rooted in the soil of our birth.
These are the stories of Kaha’i referred to in history as a Tahitian Chief although he was born here 5 generations after his family’s arrival. He was born and raised in a place anciently referred to as Keahumoa midway between today’s Waipahu and Wahiawa. The flat former agricultural lands between Kipapa Gulch and Kunia. A place Hi’iaka visited on her trip back to Hawaii Island to take Lohiau to her elder sister Pele. He travels to Tahiti to fetch an Ulu, Breadfruit tree, however travels beyond to Samoa and returns to plant it here in ‘Ewa. We know today that tree was planted in a place once known as Kualaka’i. The symbolism associated with the fetching of that tree and the planting of it in ‘Ewa is it represents a rebirth, a new life, a beginning.
It is a story of travel and migrations on an island. When one got off that canoe a thousand years ago it was a severing of the past and a new beginning. It is the story of a people who saw themselves other than their place of origin. This is who we are………It is no different today than it was over a thousand years ago.