Lessons from the Past

What can the ancient Hawaiians teach us about preserving today's resources for tomorrow?


Despite being in direct conflict with the systems and values of the Hawaiians, the Western model of the market economy took hold soon after Cook’s arrival.

“[Hawaiians] learned very quickly,” says Pyle. “Kamehameha I traded taro for goods that came from the west coast of America.” Out went the kapu system under Ka‘ahumanu and Kamehameha II. Then land was appropriated and sold for private ownership under Kamehameha III.

With new people came new diseases that nearly annihilated the Hawaiian population. “From the 1830s to 1850s, foreigners assumed Hawaiian people didn’t use the land properly because so much lay fallow,” says Pyle. “But it was because of disease.

“Westerners tended to think ‘uneducated,’ nonwhite people weren’t using the land as God intended. Subsistence farming and subsistence living were not looked upon as positive.”

This view has its repercussions even today, says Pyle. “There are people in Hawai‘i that value the traditional view of how the islands should be used . . . this helps explain the tension that has been going on for years. Hawaiians don’t see high rises and other types of development as respectful of the land that gives them sustainability.”

Ed Lindsay believes modern society has much to offer, “but we forget about the foundations and continue to plunder.”

Perhaps, after 250 years, we have much to learn from the ancients—and no time to waste in doing so.



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