Aloha aina — love of the land.
The phrase “Aloha aina” translates to mean the love of land, but it encapsulates a lot more than just that. Native Hawaiians have always had a strong connection to their land and in fact, the land forms the basis of Hawaiian culture, as well as religion and political system. Western culture is based on what people possess, eastern culture hones in on the person and what he/she learns about oneself. Hawaiian culture, on the other hand, is based on the land.
In the past, Hawaiians took care of the land so that the land could continue to sustain them; today, their land continues to be protected as a symbol of pride and identity. On our recent trip to Waihe’e Wetlands Refuge off the northern coast of Maui, we saw a good example of how the environment is still conserved and taken care of by the Hawaiian authorities.
Our guide was Scott Fisher, a native Hawaiian who has dedicated his life to preserving their natural land. Having grown up in the area, he knows Waihe’e inside out and have worked very hard to get the local authorities’ attention. He took us on a walking tour around the wetlands and told us the story behind Waihe’e. “As an area of historical and cultural significance, this wetlands region was a sacred land for us Hawaiians and people have lived here since 1,000 years ago. This was once populated by two thriving ancient Hawaiian villages, and had an extensive inland fishpond and several heiau. The Waihee Refuge is among the most significant cultural sites in Hawaii.”
Nine years ago, the Hawaiian Land Trust took ownership of this very sensitive 277-acre site have since carried out several restoration programs which have enhanced critical native wildlife habitat, while preserving the area’s rich archaeological and cultural resources. The ecosystem is quickly recovering, with eight endangered bird species taking up residence at the refuge in recent years.
According to Scott, the Hawaiian Land Trust bought this area for three main purposes: to educate the young generation on the importance of aloha aina, to restore the natural habitat, and preserve the archaeological sites – all 93 of them. The public is invited to visit the refuge on free, guided explorations offered throughout the year, or for a self-guided walk along the two-mile coastal trail. Every Friday, the refuge also hosts volunteers who are interested in doing their part to restore the habitat.
The Hawaiian Islands Land Trust ensures that this rich cultural site, once slated for development as a destination golf resort, will be forever protected.
Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Visit Maui, but all opinions expressed above are our own.