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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 6, 2010

In 5 1/2 years, this malihini learned a lots


BY MAUREEN O'CONNELL
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kanu Hawaii board members Alani Apio, left, Kylee Pomaikai Omo, center, and James Koshiba are dedicated to "the 'āina, a culture of aloha and local economic self-reliance."

Advertiser library photos

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Waimea Valley visitors walk one of its verdant trails.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

MAUREEN O'CONNELL

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In Hawai'i, we are forever glimpsing the past and the future.

You can sense the past in the North Shore's leafy Waimea Valley, which features one of O'ahu's last partially intact ahupua'a a green-minded mountain-to-sea land-use system devised by Hawaiians several hundred years ago.

You can hear it in the gentle voice of 82-year-old 'ukulele virtuoso Eddie Kamae, when his talk story turns to island heritage and why he started adding long-forgotten Hawaiian songs to his repertoire in the late 1950s, as The Sons of Hawai'i took shape and later became part of the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance.

You can feel the future in the bubbly energy of O'ahu's Surfrider Foundation chapter, which is dedicated to unapologetic protection and enjoyment of our waves and beaches.

There's also the forward-reaching perspective of Kanu Hawai'i. In February, the nonprofit marked its second anniversary and counted more than 9,000 members who have made public commitments on the group's website to "protect and promote ... a connection to the 'āina, a culture of aloha, and local economic self-reliance."

As a features writer and editor for The Honolulu Advertiser's Island Life section, I have asked countless questions about Hawai'i's history and emerging environmental, cultural, academic and economic maps for the century unfolding before us.

When Kanu members pored over past visions for Hawai'i, dating back to the 1960s, they were puzzled to find calls echoing their own for a diversified economy, thriving public schools and Islands that were "healthy in their environment and not being degraded."

Why then, they ask, do we still have so far to go?

When I moved here 5 — years ago, I was puzzled, too. From a Mainlander's view, Hawai'i is a vision of bliss in a relatively small, isolated place. How difficult can it be to get your arms around life's important issues and public policy aimed at vigorously protecting everything that makes Hawai'i awe-inspiring?

As it turns out, effecting change even minor proposals that would clearly benefit future generations is no easy task. James Koshiba, Kanu's executive director, says: "In island culture, it is a challenge to speak out and speak up in a confrontational, adversarial way because we're all so close-knit."

Given the possibility that a policy adversary may be an uncle, auntie or neighbor, Koshiba says, "The kind of activism we're trying to encourage is one that does speak hard truths, but does it in a way that ... communicates our sense of responsibility to take on an issue and not just point the finger."

Here's hoping this approach works as a means to protect all that is precious here and serves as the framework for a flourishing sustainable future in our tropical paradise.

When I started working in The Advertiser's newsroom I was so malihini I mispronounced the word for newcomer with a flattish "a," thanks to my upstate New York upbringing. Now that I know my mauka from makai, and have a better handle on local inflection, mahalo nui loa, I sometimes think about underlying meanings tied to our everyday terms, such as kama'āina a longtime resident well acquainted with the land.

A true kama'āina the sort looking for something more than a 15 percent discount at our tourist attractions is grateful for what Hawai'i has to offer and purposefully shoulders a role in shaping its future.

As a newspaper reporter and editor here, it has been my privilege and pleasure to meet many of these kama'āina and relay their compelling stories to you, dear readers. Aloha nui loa.