Mālama ʻĀina: Exhibit explores Hawaiian concepts of land



Kona ʻākau, mai Keahualono a Puʻuohau.
Kona hema, mai Pu
uohau a Kāheawai. 


This is an ʻōlelo noʻeau referring to the north and south boundaries of Kona district. Lands that Henry Kekahuna scoured, recorded and mapped in the 1950s, as a means to document and pass on the essence of ka wā kahiko to future generations. 

For those of you who haven’t yet had a chance to visit the Henry Kekahuna Exhibition at Kona’s Huliheʻe Palace in Kailua, it’s a “must see”. The exhibition is appropriately entitled “Mālama ʻĀina”, two words that carry so much resonance in twenty-first century Hawaiʻi.

The theme is well illustrated from the moment you enter the first room in Huliheʻe Palace. Sunshine Chip, the exhibition’s curator, has chosen to introduce the Hawaiian concept of ʻāina as it was perceived in pre-contact Hawaiʻi, beginning with the ahupuaʻa, a map drawn by students of Kamehameha School, depicting the intricate tapestry of food and water sources available in the ahupuaʻa and most importantly, the value of interdependence in a community whose survival relied on sharing. The changes, conflicts and transitions introduced by the Māhele Era in Hawaiʻi nei, continues today and the maps of Henry Kekahuna have become essential in helping a broad spectrum of individuals ranging from families in search of genealogy to mega-developers, revisit the Hawaiʻi of at least three hundred years ago. Kekahuna’s maps brilliantly illustrate with painstaking accuracy, a range of textures from rugged pōhaku walls to fine grains of sand. His eye for detail of kapu spaces, altars and water sources remind the visitor of the astounding changes that have come about since the days when these kapu spaces were inhabited. The drawings depict historic sites far more vividly than any camera’s lens could have captured.

For those seeking a deeper understanding of mālama ʻāina, who perpetuates it, who lives on it and further on down the road, who are the rightful owners, the Palace Gift Shop carries an extensive collection of how to seek answers to these questions as well as literature on flora and fauna growing in different sections of the ahupuaʻa, some are thriving, some are endangered and sadly, some are extinct. Stories behind Kona’s rain names, like Nāulu, are included in Auntie Collette Akana’s recent bestseller Hānau Ka Ua.

ʻO kō Kona mau nō ia o ka laʻi. Calm is typical of Kona. This is an ʻōlelo noʻeau said of a Kona person who is always poised and calm, a clear message of how and why the concept of mālama ʻāina is so closely bound to kanaka and the ʻāina.



Vanessa Lee-Miller, a Hilo native, is a playwright and freelance journalist. She’s passionate about writing in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and hopes her work contributes to the collective movement of keeping ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi alive and flourishing.                           



Mālama ʻĀina is on display at Huliheʻe Palace on Hawaiʻi Island until November 22, 2017. For more information about Huliheʻe Palace’s hours and admission, please visit the website or call (808) 328-1877.



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