Elemental cartography: Kānaka Maoli restorative mapping for a changing earth

Candace Fujikane

Kānaka Maoli cartographies are rooted in land-based governance and arrangements of life premised on the laws of the elements that supersede the profit-driven motives of the laws of humans. In this way, Kānaka Maoli are returning to ancestral mapping of the 400,000 elemental forms, including winds, rains, cloud formations, ocean currents, and waterways, each with their own elemental functions specific to hundreds of ahupuaʻa (traditional land divisions). Mealaaloha Bishop’s Kalo Paʻa o Waiāhole maps the layered histories of traditional kalo (taro) farming, from the collective struggle of farmers against eviction, to the fight to restore corporate diverted waters to streams, to the reclamation of place names and the names of the elements mapped onto kalo leaves. Kaili Chun’s Hū mai, Ala mai maps the return of Kanaloa, the deep consciousness of the ocean. Her piece illustrates the projected future inundation scenarios for Waikīkī that make possible the return of fish that become more abundant with rising waters. In this way, Kānaka Maoli are mapping the elements in adaptive ways that turn potentially devastating conditions into renewed possibilities for abundance.

Hū mai, Ala mai

Kaili Chun, Hū mai, Ala mai (2020), Honolulu.

Artist's statement: Hū mai, Ala mai connects the past and potential future shorelines by illustrating the projected future inundation scenarios for the shores of Waikīkī. Overlaid with fish that get more abundant with the rising waters, Hū mai, Ala mai visualizes how inundation actually beckons a future reconnected watershed filled with schools of ʻoʻopu in the loko iʻa kalo (taro patches that are also used to raise fish), and schools of awa (milkfish), ʻamaʻama (mullet), swimming up the muliwai (estuary streams) as tidal surges fill estuary ponds. Waikīkī was a dynamic living and breathing tidal zone of abundance, and the overlaying of past and future waves of Hū mai, Ala mai asks us to attend to where the water wants to return. This knowledge will tell us how much it can provide, and where and how to build with its pulsing energy.

Kalo Paʻa o Waiāhole

Mealaaloha Bishop, Kalo Paʻa o Waiāhole (mixed-media, 1999). Image courtesy of the artist. In the collection of Kalama Niheu, Honolulu, Hawai'i.

In this mixed-media oil painting, Mealaaloha Bishop maps the layered histories of traditional Kānaka Maoli kalo (taro) farming, from the collective struggle of farmers against eviction to the fight to restore corporate diverted waters to streams. The veins of the kalo leaves are the arterial streams that feed the valleys, and we see the names of the valleys mapped onto the leaves, a reclamation of place names many had forgotten along with the moʻolelo (storied histories) specific to them. The corm, or the root of the kalo, reflects images of the kalo paʻa—the people who are steadfast in their protection of lands and waters—the waters of the loʻi eddy and swirl with the voices of the people. Bishop’s painting reflect the kilo observations of an artist who farms kalo and is attuned to the elemental patterns of the forces around her.

Candace Fujikane is Professor of English at the University of Hawaiʻi. She has co-edited with Jonathan Okamura Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawaiʻi (University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2008), and she has recently published Mapping Abundance for a Planetary Future: Kanaka Maoli and Critical Settler Cartographies in Hawaiʻi (Duke University Press, 2021). For the past twenty years, she has stood for the protection of lands and waters in Hawaiʻi and for Hawaiian political independence.