Visualizing a Creative Economy

paʻa.hana (nvs. Industrious, busy, hard-working; workman, laborer, worker, industry)
“Ma kāhi o ka hana he ola malaila; Where work is, there is life.”

Aloha mai kākou,

Photo: Sylvia Hussey

My great-grandfather grew up on the shores of Kaʻūpūlehu on Hawaiʻi Island north of Kailua-Kona. He lived there his entire life and, like his father before him, he was a fisherman.

My great-grandfather worked hard, fishing for the ʻohana and trading with folks ma uka for fresh produce, flour and sugar. Raised by her grandparents, my mother told me that her kuleana as a child was to gather into kāuna (sets of four) the fish that her tūtūkane had set out to dry. When he traded, he would offer one or more kāuna of fish for the items he wanted.

Before currency was introduced to Hawaiʻi, what ʻohana grew, raised, hunted, fished or made was traded. Our kūpuna had their own economic systems, valuations and measures. For centuries, Hawaiʻi had a thriving ʻāina-based economic system. Poverty as we know it today did not exist. ʻOhana worked hard, side by side, to provide for themselves and their communities.

As Hawaiʻi plans for a post-pandemic economic structure, and as we pivot from a tourism-based economy to something more diversified, sustainable and less dependant, strengthening our ʻāina-based economic system and establishing a “creative economy” are viable solutions.

A creative economy is generated by innovation, knowledge and information. It includes visual and performing arts, fashion, software, language, architecture and other expressions of Indigenous or regional culture. A creative economy that advances nā mea Hawaiʻi demands authenticity and authenticity ascribes value.

Cheap trinkets made in China or the Philippines cannot compare to handcrafted works of art imbued with the mana of Kānaka Maoli artists and created with techniques and motifs that represent the collective ʻike of generations.

Many Hawaiian entrepreneurs are already moving in this direction. Artisans, designers and musicians have established businesses and created jobs which help grow our economy while elevating our moʻomeheu (culture) worldwide.

Beyond arts and entertainment, there are other opportunities to use our ʻike to build a sustainable economy. For example, Hawaiian-focused charter schools have developed innovative curricula and instructional methods, while the revitalization of loko iʻa (fishponds) capable of yielding hundreds of pounds of fish per year offers solutions to address hunger in our pae ʻāina and beyond.

It makes sense to monetize our ʻike and export it to the world; to enable ʻōiwi to support their ʻohana, perpetuate our moʻomeheu, protect our ʻāina and make a global impact in the process.

With this in mind, the November issue of Ka Wai Ola celebrates the diversity of contemporary Native Hawaiian businesses with stories about the popular Pop-up Mākeke, OHA business loan recipients with thriving businesses, innovative start-ups, and the beloved Kamaka Hawaiʻi, Inc., in business now for more than a century.

We come from a tradition of hard work and innovation, as the businesses featured in this issue testify. This is the kahua (foundation) left to us by our kūpuna. From this kahua we can reimagine our economy and adopt traditional ways to care for our ʻohana, celebrate our moʻomeheu and mālama our ʻāina.

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