Feeding the naʻau: Vegetation Continuum

Written by Alec Wagner
July 2, 2020

Vegetation Continuum Logo

Ua mau ke ea o na kānaka ʻōiwi i ka ʻāina 

The life of the Native Hawaiian people is perpetuated in the land  


In early April, Kahea pitched her project called Vegetation Continuum at the close of (K)new Futures, a program in collaboration with the University of Hawaii Office of Sustainability that called for haumāna to create solutions of indigenous innovation for ecological and community well being. A large inspiration for the program is Paul Hawkenʻs Project Drawdown and within that framework is an alignment on the importance of indigenous peoplesʻ land management. 

Project DrawdownSecure land tenure protects indigenous peoples’ rights. With sovereignty, traditional practices can continue—in turn protecting ecosystems and carbon sinks and preventing emissions from deforestation….Indigenous communities have long been the frontline of resistance against deforestation; mineral, oil, and gas extraction; and the expansion of monocrop plantations. Their resistance prevents land-based carbon emissions, and maintains or increases carbon sequestration. (ProjectDrawdown.com) 

Kahea’s story for Vegetation Continuum begins in Wahiawa, a place with deep genealogical ties to the Hawaiian people. Known as Kūkaniloko, Wahiawa is piko to the pae ʻāīna and is where aliʻi were born. Despite its rich cultural history, Kūkaniloko is slowly being erased from modern memory after hundreds of years of “land degradation and displacement, modernization and homogenization of food systems that have altered the identity and connection of this area,” says Kahea. 

Called to action by the erasure of indigenous land practices at Kūkaniloko, Vegetation Continuum’s goal is to restore the connection between land and people. 

We asked Kahea why she chose to take on this project. It comes down to hands in the lepo. 

When you start doing work with your hands and get into the ground, you get this sense of awareness of who you are and what your capabilities are. When you see the fruits of your labor and see that itʻs growing. That’s where the Vegetation Continuum came from. A feeling of passion and enthusiasm from working with the ʻāina. I think thatʻs inside of everybody. It just has to be unlocked.” 

While Kūkaniloko may be one thread in the origin of the project, another is that of Kaheaʻs background in soil sciences and her work with ʻulu. Sheʻs spent years diving deeply into academic research on ʻāina, but has run into a challenge that many indigenous innovators have run into in the past: finding an identity or personal connection to the science of their practice. Kahea says,

“My background is in soil sciences. Itʻs taught me a language but at the same time, it pulls you away from the bigger picture. I can lose a sense of who I am within the research and scientific articles. Dr. Noah Lincoln gave me this project to work with Kūkaniloko. I have an opportunity to ground and come back to the core.”  

“A beautiful day in Lualualei. The sun rising on this intercropping of canoe crops, maiʻa and kalo. By diversifying our plantings, we diversify the soil microorganisms that feed and support the life above ground.”

Kūkaniloko is an opportunity to marry the sciences and ʻike kupuna, which for Kahea gives her the ability to find herself as well as develop what Kamuela Enos calls a “dual-fluency.” Modern science and technology can be a way of expanding the impact we make to ʻāina or the lāhui, so long as you stay close to the naʻau. 

This hybrid, dual-fluency is what informs indigenous innovation. We are asked to create enterprises that optimize for the health of the land and people the way kupuna did. But what does optimal health look like today? How does that manifest in our daily choices? Systems that maintain thriving ʻāina, ahupuaʻa and ʻohana require our participation whereas modern technology and startups often sacrifice this for the sake of convenience. 

When we truly understand our identity as integral to well being, we begin to innovate. Business-as-usual for centuries deemed our cultural identities as incalculable and therefore, invaluable. As stewards of indigenous innovation, we work to make available the choices that feed opportunities of well-being so that we may contribute to more efficient, regenerative cycles with joy.

“Of all the pathways that I’ve walked in doing this work the biggest thing is recognizing the power of food, and where it comes from. To me, the food you choose to eat is the first step to sovereignty. Youʻre freedom to choose what you put in your body, is a choice on how to grow and develop as a person. At least from a Hawaiian sense, our brains are not our thoughts. Our stomachs are. If we feed naʻau with good food, weʻll be able to think well and do well, and connect.”  



How to get a hold of us:


🌱The Vegetation Continuum strives to restore personal pilina with ‘āina and perpetuate lifestyles that are culturally and environmentally aligned with traditional ecological knowledge systems and Hawaiian values and principles. 

An ecosystem of ʻāina-based practices and resources, the platform curates information regarding Hawaiian plant knowledge, integrated land management strategies and connects communities to ʻāina-based programs and initiatives across the pae ʻāina. 

They are developing a board game that teaches about restoring island communities through diversified land management strategies, while building the capacity for Hawaiian cultural philosophies.

To stay up to date or share manaʻo on their work, email veg.continuum@gmail.com

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