Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

An earlier rescue of barren isle

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

The battle to save Kaho'olawe in the 1970s was a big part of the Hawaiian Renaissance. It wasn't the first battle. I recently stumbled across another battle for Kaho'olawe that took place 50 years earlier.

What caught my attention in an old Advertiser dated Dec. 23, 1922, was the name of Armine Von Tempsky, who became one of Hawai'i's best-known authors. Before her novels "Dust" and "Hula" made her reputation, she reported this battle for Kaho'olawe for The Advertiser. The story is part of her debut in print called "The Redemption of an Island."

Although Von Tempsky doesn't name him, the hero of her story is her father, Louis Von Tempsky, a colorful veteran of the Maori Wars in New Zealand who came to Hawai'i as a rancher. He made a valiant attempt to turn Kaho'olawe green again.

His daughter wrote about how goats and sheep had eaten the grass to the dirt. Their hoofs trampled the roots: "Year by year the destruction continued unchecked. From other islands, one could observe the blood of Kaho'olawe (red dust) streaming against the sky. ...

"Kaho'olawe had no chance. Occasionally a wandering hunter or two landed for a few days to enjoy the abundance of game. More often opium smugglers took advantage of the security its isolation afforded. ... At length came its rescuer. ...

"With intervention the island might be reclaimed, but never until the goats were destroyed. And then began drives that were a distinct feature of Hawai'i. ... A sampan was purchased to facilitate transportation between Kaho'olawe and Kihei. Arrangements were made with plantation butcher shops to buy the goat meat. Sale of the meat was to pay for the first two years lease (of the island), running expenses and improvements. ...

"Men on horses, mules and afoot spread fanwise across the island. Thousands of goats swarmed like lice upon Kaho'olawe's humped back; the seething mass would be driven almost to the pens, then would break back for the wild reaches of the barren island. ...

"A thousand unwritten animal tragedies took place. Grand old billies with their flowing beards and spreading horns went over perpendicular cliffs at the crack of a rifle. ... Nannies heavy with their unborn kids were dragged down by the dogs. With tear-blurred eyes, he (Louis Von Tempsky) left their killing to another day. ...

"Today Kaho'olawe drowses peacefully. Imperceptibly, the pili grass is creeping up its sides, salt bush spreads and herds of imported turkeys run, the kiawe increases every year, useful for its beans as cattle feed, the honey in its flowers, and as firewood, affording a steady income. Cattle in moderate numbers are able to pasture there once more.

"Red scars provide a perpetual reminder of the island's sacrifice to carelessness and greed."

Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.