The North Shore is the cultural heart of the island of Oahu. If you cut the region in half from north to south, Waimea Valley would be at the center. The valley stretches over 1,875 acres from the mountains to the sea, and even today it’s considered a sacred place. Historically, the valley was home to the kahuna nui, the high priests. These were the educated people—astronomers, historians—who were experts in all aspects of Hawaiian culture.
I was born on the northeast side of the North Shore, and I attended the Kamehameha School. The school is more than 100 years old and was founded by Princess Bernice Pauahi Paki Bishop for students of native Hawaiian ancestry. It’s a privilege to be accepted. The school not only has one of the best collections of native Hawaiian texts but also makes use of the ocean and mountains as classrooms. My classes taught me to understand nature. Maybe that explains why I was so strongly attracted to working at Waimea Valley.
As a cultural educator, I teach programs to groups ranging from Boy Scouts working toward their Hawaiiana badge to law school students. The programs I run focus on raising cultural awareness by getting people back to the land. Waimea Valley was home to some of Hawaii’s earliest settlers, and today there are 78 archaeological sites in this area. We rebuild the structures on these sites to reflect what they would have been like in the old times. Instead of screws we use aha [cordage from coconut fibers] and rebuild the foundations by hand using rocks from the Waimea River. The park has a collection of more than 190 native plant species in our botanical gardens. Volunteers help clear out invasive species and replant endemic species, such as the iliahi [Hawaiian sandalwood], that evolved in Hawaii.
Surfing was invented in Hawaii, and today it is an integral part of both Hawaiian and North Shore culture. The surf beaches span about seven miles from Haleiwa to Sunset Beach. Surf events bring the world’s best to our backyard each winter, when the surf is at its peak. Some locals get mad and say, look at all of the haoles [non-natives] surfing our waves. But the spirit of competition has been part of Hawaiian culture for centuries. It’s just that in the past, the competitions didn’t have Billabong banners on the beach. It’s pretty cool to bike along the path from Sunset Beach to Pipeline and spot world-class surf stars.
I often get invited to participate in cultural ceremonies that surround such surf competitions as the Vans Triple Crown and the Eddie [a big wave event held in memory of surfer and lifeguard Eddie Aikau]. Each event kicks off with an oli, a traditional Hawaiian chant that honors the history of the land and its people, and asks for protection and permission to access that land. This is a way for us to preserve the traditions of our past and pay tribute to our ancestors. It is also a reminder that we must respect the land.
As told to Jen Murphy. Photos by José Mandojana. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue. See all of Hoku Haiku’s favorite places in Oahu’s North Shore.
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