Go Forth, Enlighten and Educate!

event panelists

Panelists Merv Tano, Anthony Kahalekulu, and Marley Puanani Smith, speaking to the NOAA Boulder community on June 2.

Diane Stanitski (NOAA), Georgia Madrid (NOAA), panelist Merv Tano, Lynette Asperin (co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation), panelist Marley Puanani Smith, Jennifer Casani (panel moderator and co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation), and panelist Anthony Kahalekulu.

Diane Stanitski (NOAA), Georgia Madrid (NOAA), panelist Merv Tano, Lynette Asperin (co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation), panelist Marley Puanani Smith, Jennifer Casani (panel moderator and co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation), and panelist Anthony Kahalekulu.

Lynette Asperin (co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation), panelist and student Marley Puanani Smith, and Jennifer Casani (panel moderator and co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation).

Lynette Asperin (co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation), panelist and student Marley Puanani Smith, and Jennifer Casani (panel moderator and co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation).

The NOAA Boulder campus celebrated Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month on June 2 with the screening of the 33-minute documentary about Ahupua’a, the ancient Hawaiians’ complex system of land division.

In the film, “Ahupua'a, Fishponds and Lo'i,” the late historian and anthropologist Marion Kelly introduced the people who now maintain these traditional ways of managing and caring for the land and sea throughout the Hawaiian Islands. 

After the screening, special guests from the Kumulau Foundation (a Hawaiian-led philanthropic, educational, non-profit entity committed to perpetuating traditional Hawaiian culture through community engagement) led a panel discussion and Q&A session. Marley Puanani Smith, undergraduate in the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University, brought a unique perspective to the panel,  as a native Hawaiian (Maui) and student of “Western” science. She shared some of her experiences as a student traveling throughout the Islands with indigenous cultural experts learning how to maintain, conserve, preserve and bring life to the ‘āina (land). This experience gave Marely insight into contrasting views of natural resource usage.

Through the film and discussion, the audience learned that food production in the Ahupua’a also feeds the community’s sense of well being and cooperative spirit. For native Hawaiians, sites, sounds, and smells bind them to the land and motivate them to care for it. They have a relationship to location: an identification with place through the rhythm of rivers, streams, and ocean waves, as well as through their daily repetitive tasks such as weaving or making poi (a traditional porridge-like dish). Similar to other indigenous folk, the Hawaiian lifestyle is community-oriented and closely connected to their environment. They eat what their region gives them, including taro, sweet potatoes, coconut, sugar cane, mountain apples, fish, and medicinal plants. Their song and dance also honor, respect, and incorporate that same environment and landscape.

This concept of “identification with place” is one that the Kumulau Foundation wishes to educate others to consider when thinking, for example, about how to feed the world in the 21st century. We learn from the Ahupua’a that science and culture can be symbiotic, rather than opposing, in nature. For example, there is a science and technology behind the Hawaiians’ division of fields to conserve moisture and provide habitat for the diversity not found in a mono-agricultural system. Their field managers are some of the finest botanists who understand that diversity is key to the success of their food production, health, and well being. The Foundation aims to encourage organizations like NOAA and NASA, as well as other agencies and universities to consider the Ahupua’a message as they steward our planet and develop policies and programs to protect it.

Lynette Asperin, co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation, presented panelists and NOAA organizers with “kukui” leis made from the nuts of the candlenut tree (Aleurites molucanna). Jennifer Casani, panel moderator and co-founder of the Kumulau Foundation, explained that these large shiny black or dark brown nuts resembling polished gemstones are used in traditional adornment. But more importantly, they have special symbolic meaning for the Foundation: enlightenment and education. That’s because the nuts had another use in the Hawaiian culture; because of their high oil content, they were traditionally burned like candles as a light source. By gifting these beautiful necklaces, the Foundation asked the wearers to take and integrate enlightenment and education into their respective missions into the global community. This was their departing message to the audience as well: go forth, enlighten and educate!

This event was part of the NOAA OAR EEO/Diversity Program Office and the DOC Boulder Labs Diversity Council’s 2016 Cultural Diversity and Tribal Relations Series.