Issue 14: Stewardship

Published April 2013

Though right can be relative, there is, no doubt, a right way for responsible stewardship, and we only have to look to the ancient Hawaiians for guidance.


When I was growing up, my family would go camping every year at Bellows Beach Park. I remember getting stung—and the excruciating pain that followed—by a nasty Portuguese man o’ war one year. The little sucker had wrapped his stringy blue tentacles around the length of my arm. After that, I was determined that no one experience that kind of pain, so every time when we went camping, I made sure to comb the campsite’s broad beaches for man o’ wars, gingerly picking them up between chopsticks and dropping them into a 7-Eleven Styrofoam cup until it was filled to the brim. Just doing my part, for the good of beachgoers everywhere.

Putting this, the Stewardship issue, together, I’ve come to realize that the idea of stewardship is a complex one. It’s not simply a matter of doing what’s right, because for many, “right” is relative. I assumed I was being a good steward years ago, protecting all those people from the wrath of the man o’ war; the jellies, I’m sure, would beg to differ.

Not even halfway through the year, and already protests have spilled into the streets of Hale‘iwa, shoving matches have been caught on tape at the State Capitol, outbursts have erupted in the legislative session—all in the name of what’s right. The war on GMO, the debate about energy, the fight for land-use—I believe the emotions and actions attributed with these issues stem from a place of good, of a genuine interest to see that the future of Hawai‘i is lively, beautiful, and secure for future generations. Some call it naivety, I call it eternal optimism.

Stewardship can take many forms—including of land, of each other, and of ourselves—still, there is such a thing as “right,” absolutely. There is a right way for responsible stewardship, and we only have to look to the ancient Hawaiians for guidance. Their establishment of the kapu controlled when and how resources were used. Senator J. Kalani English, in a bill to establish a commission to manage the state’s natural resources wrote this in 2007: “As the native Hawaiians used the resources within their ahupua‘a, they practiced aloha (respect), laulima (cooperation), and malama (stewardship), which resulted in a desirable pono (balance).  This is sound resource management where the interconnectedness of the clouds, forests, streams, fishponds, sea, and people is clearly recognized. … Through sharing resources and constantly working within the rhythms of their natural environment, Hawaiians enjoyed abundance and a quality lifestyle.”

We surely will never agree on all things, at all times, but I would hope to find middle ground somewhere on this trembling landscape we call home.

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