‘O ka lipo o ka lā
ʻO ka lipo o ka pō
Pō wale hoʻi
Hānau ka pō
Darkness of the sun
Darkness of the night
Nothing but night
The night gave birth – Kumulipo, lines 10-12
“When the sky was turning and the earth was hot, the world was birthed. For millions of years, combined processes of magma formation, volcanic eruption, and continued movement of the tectonic plate over a geologic hotspot gave rise to the Hawaiian Archipelago.”
So begins Mai Ka Pō Mai, a historic guidance document created to help integrate Hawaiian culture into the management of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
Papahānaumokuākea encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a 582,578-square mile protected marine region. Released to the public in late June, the 48-page guidance document establishes a collaborative management framework to guide the co-trustee agencies of the monument towards integrating traditional Hawaiian knowledge systems, values and practices into their management practices.
“Mai Ka Pō Mai is a groundbreaking document,” said Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO/Ka Pouhana Dr. Sylvia Hussey. “This document demonstrates that giving Native Hawaiian voices equal footing with federal and state entities in a complex management structure can lead to the successful stewardship of our most precious natural and cultural resources.
“Moreover, it shows that traditional Indigenous resource management is a best management practice to address climate change and other environmental challenges currently facing humanity. We hope that this stewardship approach is replicated elsewhere in Hawaiʻi and throughout the globe.”
Mai Ka Pō Mai is based on conceptual components of Hawaiian cosmology and worldview. The renowned genealogical creation chant, the Kumulipo, describes two realms, Pō and Ao, as fundamental features of the universe. Pō, the primordial darkness, is the place of gods and ancestral spirits. Ao, a place of light and consciousness, is where living creatures reside.
Within Papahānaumokuākea, an area sacred to our kūpuna, the island of Mokumanamana (about 155 miles northwest of Nīhoa island) is known to be a powerful leina (portal) on the boundary between Pō and Ao through which departed spirits pass from the realm of light. Numerous heiau on the island attest to the presence of mana. This boundary is at Ke Alanui Polohiwa a Kāne (the tropic of Cancer), the northern limit of the sun’s journey on the horizon.
Papahānaumokuākea also supports a magnificent diversity of life with the most extensive coral reef in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is a puʻuhonua (sanctuary) for hundreds of native species, including endangered species like the ʻilioholoikauaua (monk seal) and honu (green sea turtle), who make Papahānaumokuākea their home.
“The island of Mokumanamana rests on Ke Alanui Polohiwa a Kāne, the sun’s northern extent on the horizon, which occurs between June 19 to 21,” noted OHA’s Papahānaumokuākea Program Specialist Brad Kaʻaleleo Wong. “Our decision to release Mai Ka Pō Mai at this time speaks to the value of Mokumanamana for us today; it recalls the cultural history of our pae ʻāina and emphasizes the importance of utilizing ʻike Hawaiʻi for the management of our ʻāina in Hawaiʻi.”
Stewardship of Papahānaumokuākea is shared by four entities who function as co-trustees: the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the State of Hawai‘i, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).
The monument is cooperatively managed by these entities to ensure ecological integrity and to protect and perpetuate Northwestern Hawaiian Island ecosystems, Native Hawaiian culture, and heritage resources for current and future generations.
As a guiding document, Mai Ka Pō Mai articulates the values and principles for 20 strategies within five management areas that are in alignment with Native Hawaiian culture and values, as well as with federal and state agency mandates and missions.
The document was developed as a result of regular, ongoing meetings that began in 2010 between representatives of the four co-trustee agencies and members of the Native Hawaiian community (i.e., the Papahānaumokuākea Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group). The specific kuleana of the Cultural Working Group is to provide advice and recommendations through OHA to the Monument Management Board.
These meetings initially focused on the 2008 Monument Management Plan (MMP), which included two action plans relating to Native Hawaiians: The Native Hawaiian Community Involvement Action Plan and the Native Hawaiian Culture and History Action Plan.
Consultation with the Hawaiian community was part of an effort to build an early action plan strategy that would integrate ʻike Hawaiʻi into the actual management of Papahānaumokuākea; Mai Ka Pō Mai will serve as the foundation for the update of the MMP, which is currently underway.
“Mai Ka Pō Mai was birthed by the Native Hawaiian community and represents our vision for how we should mālama this special place,” said Kekuewa Kikiloi, chair of the Cultural Working Group.
Kikiloi continued, “We always believed that the cultural and scientific elements of the monument should not be managed in siloes. We thank the co-trustees for committing to a major paradigm shift by supporting Mai Ka Pō Mai, which incorporates Native Hawaiian culture and values in every aspect of management.”
Acting field supervisor of the US Fish and Wildlife Services’ Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office and Papahānaumokuākea Monument Management Board chair Greg Koob said, “The Board is privileged to have a guidance document that integrates traditional Hawaiian knowledge systems, values, and practices into the management of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.” Koob also expressed his sincere appreciation for OHA and for the efforts of the members of the Cultural Working Group.
“We are excited to have been part of this collaborative effort,” added Michael Tosatto, regional administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office. “Every day we work hard to live up to our commitment to care for ocean resources. Integrating Indigenous and traditional knowledge with sound science is key to this success as we move forward in approaches to resource management.”
“NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is pleased to have supported this plan from the outset,” said Athline Clark, NOAA’s superintendent for Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. “Hawaiian culture is a foundational element of monument management. We will continue to honor and perpetuate spiritual and cultural relationships with this special place.”
Designated as a national monument 15 years ago, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. In July 2010 it was also designated the United States’ first mixed (natural and cultural) UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site.