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First page of article with a aerial photo of Haena, Kauai coast and mountains

Book Review: Kaiāulu Gathering Tides

by Jackie Dudock

The tide is rising ahead of the early morning sun on the northeast coast of the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i. Waves rush singing onto the outer reef where two throw net fishermen stalk the surge. An elderly woman with her silver hair in a kerchief makes her way toward shore, two octopuses tucked in her mesh bag. Within hours, two hundred tourists will snorkel, sunbathe, and teeter on the coral, few ever knowing that people fish here or that their catch sustains an entire kaiāulu (community) connected to this stretch of reef.

– Excerpt from Kaiāulu Gathering Tides


In Kaiāulu Gathering Tides, author Mehana Blaich Vaughan* guides the reader through history, revealing practices that sustained coastal communities for generations and set the stage for the cycle of sustainability in the Hawaiian islands. Vaughan uses mo‘olelo (stories) and narratives to emphasize and bind her research together and to illustrate the beauty, complexities, and resilience of a particular area of rural North Shore Kaua‘i. Throughout Kaiāulu, the reader is captivated by these mo‘olelo that carry lessons across generations and transmit the fabric of culture in spoken words.

Twenty years ago, Vaughan, began collecting the mo‘olelo of long-time residents of Ko‘olau and Halele‘a, through both casual conversation and sixty transcribed formal interviews. Multiple generations shared their experiences, focusing on the decades from 1920 to the present. Many of those who were interviewed are no longer living. Their experiences and observations provide depth to the mo‘olelo of the way of life that is rapidly disappearing.

Land use, including water, prior to 1850, was expressed in terms of kuleana (responsibility). Kuleana did not stem from ownership, but from the use and caretaking of the ‘āina (land). Each chapter of this book focuses on a different way of enacting kuleana in the process of sustainability. For example, Chapter two, Hōʻihi: Reciprocity and Respect, begins with maintaining a harmonious, mutually respectful, and interdependent familial relationship with the natural world. Chapter six, Carrying Kuleana Into Governance, focuses on community efforts to protect and make decisions about natural resources, despite conflicts with centralized state management.

In 2015, Governor David Ige, signed Hāʻenaʻs Community Based Subsistence Fishing Area rules into state law, a historic moment for local level fisheries management across Hawaiʻi. These rules represent twenty years of community work to create regulations based on traditional practices, changing ecological conditions, western science, and negotiation with all user groups.  Initial studies of Hāʻena conducted since 2015 show increased biomass and abundance of many fish species under community management.

This thoughtful and moving book shares with the reader a realistic picture of what has been lost over the years, from 1788 to the present. It also reveals the resilience, commitment, and strength of some of those who have experienced a different, more responsive way to interact with the ‘āina, particularly our coastal resources.

Each layer of information in Kaiāulu builds naturally toward a broader yet detailed experience of the challenges and possibilities for more effective coastal management in Hawai‘i.

Pipi holo ka‘ao – May the stories as always continue


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