Connecting to Hawaii’s Environment: Pu‘u Kali‘u, Kaiholena-Punalu‘u, Puanui-Pu‘u Kehena

By Drew Kapp

Nearly every Saturday this semester, students from Drew Kapp’s geography classes (face-to-face and online) at Hawai‘i Community College have joined forces with his UH-Hilo geography class to journey to different wahi pana of Hawai‘i Island. They learn about those deeply-layered landscapes and make a contribution in the form of a community service project.  So far, this Fall 2011 semester, HawCC students have traveled to and within the districts of Puna, Ka‘ū, Kohala and Hilo to explore their diverse geographies.  At each site, participants practiced Hawaiian protocol to ensure a proper entrance, experience, and to express gratitude.

In September, Drew’s students were the first volunteers ever to assist Pono Pacific with their native forest restoration project along the East Rift Zone between Kalapana and Pāhoa at Pu‘u Kali‘u.  In that unique forest, part of Pele’s domain, and known for the resurgence of native birds despite mosquito-borne threats, students planted māmaki and ‘ohe mauka, and removed invasive weeds under the gentle guidance of Eldridge Naboa.

Drew’s students traveled into Ka‘ū in October, heading mauka to Kaiholena, a land of legendary pu‘u on the most ancient slopes of Maunaloa.  There they reinforced conservation fencing protecting a kīpuka of native vegetation working with staff from the Nature Conservancy.  After their hard work in that lush and rainy place they descended to the Ka‘ū coast to take a walk from Nīnole to Punalu‘u, led by Ka‘ū native Nohealani Ka‘awa, visiting celebrated cultural sites along the way, including heiau, anchialine ponds and springs, pōhaku-birthing sites, among them.

For the first time in a few years Drew’s students had the opportunity to visit the ancient agricultural systems of Puanui below Pu‘u Kehena in Kohala in October.  There they learned about the storied and windswept area from Kehaulani Marshall and about traditional ‘uala (sweet potato) planting techniques from Ala Lindsey, and had the chance to prepare the māla (garden) and plant kā (sweet potato shoots) themselves at the site, and take some home to plant.  To cap off a great day the students climbed the steeply sided Pu‘u Kehena to contemplate the majestic landscape.

These huaka‘i serve to bring students from different classes and institutions together with a shared focus: to strengthen and deepen their connections with place so that environment and people can flourish.

Drew Kapp's Geography Class

Drew Kapp's Geography Class

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