Traditional Knowledge Helps Understand Nature in Every Sense

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Cultural Anthropologist, Keola Awong, discusses the importance of approaching this week’s BioBlitz in the protected space using every sense, as well as a deep understanding and appreciation of the ancient sanctity of the place. The 24-hour species inventory is the ninth in a series of similar events in the run-up to next year’s centennial celebration of the founding of the U.S. National Park Service.

David Braun: What does the Cultural Anthropologist for the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park do?

Keola Awong: I started in Cultural Resources in 1998, as a curatorial assistant in the park. I was also the liaison person for consultation between the local Hawaiian community and the Park Service. I am Hawaiian, born and raised in Hawaii, so the customs and practices of Hawaiians are very familiar to me.

When I started in the park I would get a lot of questions from staff, including management, about Hawaiian traditions and culture. I was a little uncomfortable interpreting Hawaiian culture because I didn’t want to speak for all Hawaiians. The culture here depends upon where you grew up, the unique local environment that nurtured you. So someone who grew up on, say Oahu, may well have a different perspective from that of someone like me, who grew up on this island, where it is more rural.

I was very uncomfortable acting as the voice of all Hawaiians, so I proposed to the Park that they put together a consultation group, including elders from the adjacent Hawaiian communities, to help the Park understand our traditional connections to this place as well as explain Hawaiian ceremonies and practices.

“The elements are our elders, and it is their responsibility to care for us humans, the younger relatives.”

This park is very important because of the lava. The word pele, even if people think of —> Read More