Creating a Hawaiian Sense of Place


Kulāiwi (nvs. Native land, homeland; native.)

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

Aloha mai kākou,

When I go home to Kohala, I normally fly into the Kona airport. I drive north on Māmalahoa Highway and when I get to Kawaihae instead of continuing on Māmalahoa I typically turn left onto ʻAkoni Pule Highway to continue the last 24 miles of my drive to Niuliʻi along the coast.

The older I get, the more meaningful that simple journey home becomes. As the familiar landscape unfolds before me I am often overcome with emotion.

On a spiritual level I feel a tangible sense of “place” in Kohala; it is an anchor to a different time, and it is so grounding. It’s not quite the same as it was when I was growing up, but Kohala will always be my home. The forests and streams, the way the mountain slopes to perilous sea cliffs, the winds and the rains unique to that wahi pana – all of it part of a memory I carry in my naʻau linking me forever to my kūpuna. Kohala is my kulāiwi.

The value and meaning of a place is tied to the mana of those who have lived, worked, loved and died there before us. As OHA moves forward with plans to develop its lands at Kakaʻako Makai I think on this.

Kakaʻako Makai has changed drastically. Pre-contact, the area was known for its rich fisheries. In the late 1800s it evolved into an urban plantation village, a humble working class community on the periphery of downtown Honolulu. In the 1950s and 60s it became a light industrial area. Today, Kakaʻako Makai is being developed into a trendy, revitalized urban community.

As OHA carefully considers development of its 30 acres at Kakaʻako Makai, much discussion has been given to the importance of creating a “Hawaiian sense of place” no matter what we ultimately decide to build. But what does this mean and how does it look?

“Highest and best use” is often viewed as inconsistent with creating a Hawaiian sense of place. I disagree. Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikīkī is an example of the way that commerce and culture can be balanced. Built on the wahi pana of Helumoa, on lands owned by Kamehameha Schools, that heritage is celebrated both aesthetically and in the programming offered at the center.

Similarly, OHA wants to generate revenues at Kakaʻako Makai sufficient to expand our efforts to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians in a way that is aligned with our ʻohana, our moʻomeheu (culture), and our ʻāina. Through culture and commerce, architecture and art, plants and programming, OHA envisions a community that not only benefits Native Hawaiians and celebrates our culture, but more importantly, creates a community where all are welcomed and can thrive.

It is, after all, part of our kulāiwi.

Sylvia M. Hussey, Ed.D.
Ka Pouhana/Chief Executive Officer