The round building that lies like a giant mo‘o (lizard or reptile of any kind) biting its tail at the juncture of Rice Street and Kuhio and Kaumualii Highways has been an architectural marker on Kauai for years. We’ve seen it change until it evolved into the central home for our county offices; however, it was only recently that I had the experience of looking out from its lei of picture windows toward a panoramic view northeast toward Makaleha Mountain over Kapahi.
During a meeting I attended, the overcast afternoon’s layers of dove-gray and charcoal clouds shifted and banked, a lava lamp. It was a mesmerizing scene, backdrop to the interesting content of what was taking place in the room. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a hint of bright white which dipped out of sight when I focused upon it. My eyes returned to those present in the room, but just as something of great import was stated, the white once again bobbed up like a shining egg surfacing in the saddle of the mountain, then sank to disappear.
Because I was a minor player there, I hesitated to point out the “sign” I was seeing. When my turn came to speak, somehow mention of “the white flash” (not green!) slipped in as an aside. I pointed to the view from the upper room windows, which happened to be from our mayor’s office. I trusted that those present would be in tune with the signs and omens that are so much a part of our culture here. Of course, when everyone turned to look, the white flash was not there, nor did it show again for awhile. When the white apparition again teased me, I knew I’d understand later, as with foretelling dreams.
Meanwhile, I listened to what our Honorable Mayor Bernard Carvalho was saying about projects based on Hawaiian culture and practices. He sounded enthused about plans that were culminating through forward movement in county-sponsored brochures.
I learned that Kauai Nui Kuapapa–Talking About Our Island, is the county’s newest educational project. It has been created for community and also to be used by visitors. In fact, anyone interested in the history and culture of Kauai and Ni‘ihau, as part of Kauai County.
During the meeting, the mayor handed us a brochure that names each original Hawaiian moku, or districts. He demonstrated a set of informational printed fans keyed to the brochure, from the Kona ahupuaa, or mountain-to-sea division, running counter-clockwise if imposed upon a Kauai map, to close the circle with Napali. Also included is the island of Niihau with Kaula rock and Lehua crescent.
The fans’ colors caught my eye: “the brightest red” earth of Waimea Canyon for Kona (Polihale to Ha‘iku); yellow, signifying Kauai royalty (as in the feather capes of our mo‘i, high chiefs) and including past and present government seats located in Puna (Ha‘iku to Kealia); red-purple (an old favorite of my Crayola colors) combining colors of ‘ula‘ula (red) of the spiny lobster with Kauai purple for Ko‘olau (Anahola to where Kalihiwai and Princeville meet); a leafy green signifying the verdant growth of “the land of Halele‘a” (extending from Princeville to Ke‘e Beach); the bright blue of Napali (Ke‘e Beach to Polihale), representing the color of sunlit sea lapping the spectacular ridged coast; and the golden tan signifying “connectedness to the land” for Ni‘ihau Island, embracing the colors of the ‘uala, sweet potato staple, the people’s roots, and the clinging opihi, or limpet shellfish. This fan of segments fittingly encompasses a rainbow spectrum, and the total “small round island” of our island home, Kauai nei.
Although each of the Hawaiian islands can be mapped with the traditional five main moku on their varying geographical shapes, each island has distinct differing properties and symbolic references due to the volcanic nature and shaping of Hawaii. For all of us who have visited other islands, it will be easy to make illustrative comparisons, such as with the Puna district of Kauai compared with that of Oahu. Each island needed — and needs — to come up with its own suitable formula for the use and interchange of natural resources leading us into a sustainable future.
When I visited the website for Kauai Nui Kuapapa, I read an echo of what Mayor Carvalho said enthusiastically during the meeting–that the “Talking About Kauai” project “fits perfectly” into his Holo Holo 2020 vision as it provides information about “where we come from and how we operated and identified with our surroundings when we were in fact living a sustainable lifestyle on this island.” He calls for all organizations, businesses, residents and visitors to join in with the creation of an island community that is not only sustainable, but “values our native culture, has a thriving and healthy economy, cares for all — keiki to kupuna — and has a responsible and user-friendly local government.” Now who could argue with that?
Look for signs of what’s being hatched in a related way all over our island community. Also, keep an eye on those colorful motu signs posted in appropriate positioning as you leave and enter the varied districts. Let these be your prompts reminding you to contribute your hands to the work needed for the vision to be accomplished here at home.
Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, has led group travel throughout the Pacific region and regularly instructs on the topics of history and Hawaiian culture for visitors to Kauai through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar” program — through Pacific Islands Institute. The writer’s second memoir, Burma Banyan, based on the Burma of pre- and post-World War II times, will be published this year. She continues her work through TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations-Kauai under DAWN Enterprises.