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The Island is a Canoe

There’s an ʻŌlelo Noʻeau, a wise saying, that says: He Wa’a He Moku, He Moku He Wa’a, meaning “The canoe is an island, and the island is a canoe.”

Using only the stars as their guide, navigators sailed the Pacific for thousands of miles aboard voyaging canoes that carried limited resources. These resources – food, fresh water, livestock and more – were key to the survival of those in the canoe. Hawai’i Island and He Wa’a He Moku are two sides of the same coin: Be judicious in the ways you use your resources, and you will be met with success.


2,390 miles from California and nearly 4,000 miles from Japan, Hawai’i is so isolated that it has its own time zone. When early Polynesians migrated to Hawai’i circa 400 A.D., they worked in synergy with their natural surroundings to survive and thrive. Dividing the island into pie-shaped slices known as ahupua’a, they leveraged the resources found within a district that extended from mountain to sea.

“Natural resource management was integral to Hawaiian culture because it had to be. Sustainability was the only option if you wanted to have a lasting society.”
Ethan Souza, a Natural Resources Manager at Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection

Souza is a member of Mauna Lani’s Living Culture department, a four-person team that champions Hawaiian culture by preserving its stories. When the department was created, Living Culture revolved around cultural programming as well as natural resources. Pi’i La’eha, Natural Resources Manager, and “Uncle” Danny Akaka, Kahu Hānai, referred to the natural resources portion of the department  as “‘Aloha ʻĀina,” a nod to the intersectionality of Hawaiian culture and the natural world.

“People usually think aloha means hello or goodbye, but it more accurately translates to ‘respect and love, given and received.’ The idea of reciprocity is important because aloha is not true aloha if it is one-sided,” said Souza.

“Our relationship with our natural resources lives through the central idea of aloha ʻāina, of having a loving, respectful and reciprocal relationship with our land.”
Ethan Souza

Mālama Honu, Mālama Honua

Aloha ʻāina shines through Living Culture programs like Mālama Honu, Mālama Honua, a Green sea turtle conservation program rooted in education, conservation and community. The honu (Green sea turtle) is so culturally and ecologically significant that ancient Hawaiians may have believed their shells symbolically carried a map of the Polynesian Oceania world, encompassing the Hawaiian islands, Rapa Nui and Aotearoa.

The green sea turtle is among the largest species of sea turtles.

Sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act, meaning it is illegal to touch, harass or harm them.

Green sea turtles routinely sunbathe on the Kohala Coast's beaches.

Tailored to visitors of all ages, Turtle Talk explores our relationship with nature.

Green sea turtles play an important role in traditions, beliefs and practices in Hawai'i.

Sea turtles promote the overall health of coral reefs.

La’eha believes that sea turtles are key measures of the health of our oceans. “They called the turtle honu,’ and the world ‘honua,” La’eha said. “With focuses on sustainability and resiliency, we look to the turtles as they’ve inhabited the planet for more than 100 million years. When we see turtles in the ocean, we know there is a healthy reef, and a healthy reef is an indicator of a healthy ocean.”

This island – this canoe, if you will – is an interconnected system with resources that have nourished centuries. This Earth Day, we thank this island and moreover, Mother Earth, for sharing her priceless gifts.