Monday, October 14, 2013

Driving through History: Waiʻanae

Hawaiʻi Research Adventure: Days 30-31

I returned from Hawaiʻi about one month ago, but I never finished sharing my photographs and stories. So here it is, in two more posts: the conclusion of my Hawaiʻi Research Adventure.

After driving through history along the windward coast of Oʻahu the previous weekend, on days 30-31 (this weekend) I decided to go in the opposite direction. Once again I had the pleasure of borrowing my friend's car, Constance. (Yes, this car has a name.)

So on a Saturday morning I left Mānoa with Constance and began heading west, or leeward, towards the Waiʻanae coast.

Āliapaʻakai ("Salt Lake"), Honolulu, Oʻahu

First stop, Salt Lake. Formerly known as Āliapaʻakai, this is one of the most important sites in early Hawaiian history—one of the earliest interfaces between Hawaiian production and the global capitalist economy. Here salt was extracted in the early nineteenth century for sale to foreign merchants and empires. If you know about all the furs that were traded across the Pacific Ocean in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, well, all that fur needed salt for its preservation, so that it could be packed onto ships and transported to China. By the turn of the nineteenth century, salt became a hot commodity in Hawaiʻi—really, perhaps, Hawaiʻi's first global commodity, even before sandalwood.

So I had to go see Āliapaʻakai. Today there is an upscale residential community around what is left of the lake. The community is known as Salt Lake. But the lake itself has largely disappeared. I was able to capture the above photograph only by standing on my tippy-toes to look over a chain link fence at what is left of the lake. Instead, much of the lake has been filled in and is a park, and a golf course, and who knows what else. As Hawaiian salt lost its global appeal and marketability, the need to preserve Āliapaʻakai diminished. Unfortunately, one of the most important sites in Hawaiian environmental history is left, then, in a state of near-erasure.

What's left of Āliapaʻakai: a park and a playground, and a little bit of a lake. The rim behind the park is part of the wall of an ancient crater. This crater held the salted water in place, providing a space for its evaporation into crystals. Early observers described Āliapaʻakai as "as white as snow" because of all the salt encrustation.

On my way out of Āliapaʻakai and continuing west towards Waiʻanae, I saw this beautiful kōlea (plover) in a parking lot. These birds had just arrived in Hawaiʻi at the end of an epic migration from Alaska. Some of the birds even migrate as far south as the equator, something I learned when studying the guano islands south of Hawaiʻi. Hawaiian migrant workers there in the mid-nineteenth century noted the kōlea. Well, they were all over Oʻahu in late August this year.
  Welcome back to Hawaiʻi, Kōlea!

Next I drove up to Keaʻiwa Heiau in the hills of ʻAiea ahupuaʻa. Readers may refer back to previous "driving through history" posts for my thoughts on heiau (temples). I arrived at Keaʻiwa Heiau in the rain, so I did not linger very long.
Keaʻiwa Heiau, ʻAiea, Oʻahu

Behind the heiau is a large forest preserve with a 4.5 mile loop trail. I had not yet done any hiking in Oʻahu since arriving two weeks earlier, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity for a hike. The 4.5 mile trail took me about one and a half hours. I hiked at a pretty good clip, except in the heights of the forest where the atmosphere was damp and the trail became muddy mush.
On the ʻAiea Loop Trail, Oʻahu. Note that the land drops off on both sides of the trail here. Pretty cool, if perhaps a bit dangerous.

View of Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Ocean, from the ʻAiea Loop Trail, Oʻahu

One of the most interesting parts of the ʻAiea Loop Trail came at the halfway mark, when I was treated to this scene: Hawaiʻi's Interstate Highway, in the midst of the forest. I have elsewhere remarked on how crazy it is that Hawaiʻi even has an interstate highway—how can this be "interstate"? Does this highway link with any roads in any other state, thousands of miles away? But seeing "the machine in the garden" here after hiking miles into the Oʻahuan forest was a nice reminder that there is no such thing as "wilderness," and that human history is everywhere. I was not only driving through history, but hiking through it, too.

The Machine in the Garden. ʻAiea Loop Trail, Oʻahu

Anyway, the best thing in all of ʻAiea is not the forest, or the heiau, but the manapua. No, seriously, I couldn't help it, but after my 4.5 mile hike, I was so hungry that I needed some food. My guidebook recommended a tourist trap called the Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory which apparently has the best manapua (a Cantonese-Hawaiian hybrid) in all of Oʻahu. I got a purple sweet potato-filled one, and also a red bean-filled one. Yum!

My manapua breakfast in ʻAiea. Had to take a bite out of each one so that you could see what's inside. :)

And, finally, I was off to Waiʻanae. Some people (and even my guidebook) had warned me about Waiʻanae. It is a very "native" place, they said. Not so friendly to tourists. It is very "local" there. (As I have mentioned before, "local" is such a loaded, heavy word in Hawaiʻi... it can mean a few different things, but "local" certainly excludes haole [white] malihini [newcomers] like me!)

Anyway, as I suspected, these warnings were actually just codewords for saying that Waiʻanae has one of the state's most concentrated indigenous populations, and that a very large percentage of these are poor and working-class Hawaiians. So if I was your standard Waikīkī-going tourist, yes, then perhaps Waiʻanae—with its real people and real world problems—would be a bit off-putting. But I rather find Waikīkī with its fake people and its fake prosperity off-putting, so Waiʻanae was refreshing. There is nothing refreshing or relaxing about poverty, or about Hawaiian history in general, which I was driving through, but the historian in me could not help but recognize that Waiʻanae is full of important moʻolelo—stories to be told—stories that differ from those told in other, more commonly visited parts of Oʻahu.

And then again, some of the moʻolelo here are exactly like the rest of Oʻahu, such as this beach that I found and sat upon for about an hour. There was also a touristy hotel nearby (which I did not photograph). I went for a short swim. The history of tourism was evident here as much as anywhere on Oʻahu.
Makaha Beach, Waiʻanae Coast, Oʻahu
 Makaha Beach, Waiʻanae Coast, Oʻahu

Another note here, looking back at my guidebook of Hawaiʻi, not only does this guidebook seemingly discourage tourists from going to Waiʻanae, but it also grants only a few pages of text to describing Waiʻanae, whereas it gives scores of pages of information on the windward coast of Oʻahu. You can see the ways that race and class influence tourism here. But is it that most affluent tourists seek to avoid majority Hawaiian and/or majority working-class areas? Or is it that the guidebook assumes as much and seeks to steer tourists into more white, affluent parts of the island? Or is that the people of Waiʻanae desire to keep tourists out, and to keep their coast unattractive to tourism and over-development? It may be all of these things. This is certainly a complex issue, although one wishes that the race-based and class-based assumptions implicit in the guidebook were put out into the open and made explicit—so as to lay bare the history, to let tourists know what is and what isn't, rather than allowing malihini to just go on imagining and romanticizing Hawaiʻi as they always do.

Anyway, after my swim, I drove on past Makua Beach—the scene of important anti-colonial actions in the late twentieth century, where Native Hawaiians sought to reclaim areas controlled by the U.S. army and to camp openly on Makua Beach in defiance of the government. I drove on to Kaʻena Point, to the end of the road. And then, where the road ends, there is a footpath to the actual point, the most western edge of Oʻahu, where the seabirds reign.

The view back towards Makua Valley from the Kaʻena Point trailhead
The Kaʻena Point trail follows an old railroad that once went up the Waiʻanae Coast and connected with the North Shore of Oʻahu. It is long gone, but you can see the old railroad ties in the photo above. Now you can't even drive a car between Waiʻanae and the North Coast. Only foot traffic connects these two shores.

 Another view back towards Makua Valley and the Waiʻanae Coast from Kaʻena Point. Here I have just passed through a gated barrier that is meant to keep rats and other predatory animals out of the protected seabird nesting area. I am not sure if this fencing system works, but it is crucial for the survival of seabird chicks that no rats are around to gobble them up.

I had hoped to see seabirds at Kaʻena Point, but I barely saw one or two. I heard some, but I couldn't spot them, even with my binoculars. I guess it was just the season when seabirds are away, but their chicks were still here. Especially shearwater chicks. Their nests are underground. You could see the nests everywhere, and little feathers scattered around here or there, and hear some sounds. But it was really hard to see any of them!

Protected seabird nesting area at Kaʻena Point. View of the North Shore of Oʻahu in the distance.

Then I hiked back to Makua Beach from Kaʻena Point. All in all, today I had walked nearly ten miles! Good exercise for a bookworm, if I must say. It was now nearing sunset. I drove back down to Waiʻanae, the major city on this coast, for dinner which I then ate along the beach at Pokaʻi Bay Beach Park.

At the park is another heiau (temple). This one looked particularly majestic amidst the setting sun. 

Kuʻilioloa Heiau, Kaneʻilio Point, Waiʻanae, Oʻahu
 Heiau stones quarried centuries ago, basking in the light of the setting sun. Kuʻilioloa Heiau, Kaneʻilio Point, Waiʻanae

I had a plate lunch of mahimahi, white rice, and mac salad, and I sat at a picnic table near the heiau, just watching the sunset.
Sunset at Waiʻanae

Sunset at Waiʻanae

After dinner I drove back to Mānoa. The next day I stayed in Mānoa and worked more on my writing. Then, on Monday, because it was Labor Day, all the libraries were closed and I was forced to take another day off from my research! That was the day of my last adventure with Constance across Oʻahu. And that will be the story of my next post.

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