Waialeale and the gold light of pre-dawn were peeking out from beneath the clouds when Koko and I went walking this morning. A fine rain, heavy enough to make me glad I’d brought my umbrella, but not so heavy as to dampen Koko’s enthusiasm, fell about mid-way, giving the brightening world an ethereal glow.
As we neared home, the sun began to rise in a blaze of hot pink and orange that filled a perfect square formed in the clouds as Waialeale disappeared beneath a pile of rosy fleece.
Meanwhile, beneath the sea, the oil from British Petroleum’s failed well keeps on flowing into the marine environment. It’s suspected that the spew is a lot larger than is being reported and may already have entered a major ocean current, prompting officials from the Obama Administration, which still thinks offshore drilling is a good idea, to issue this statement:
"We will not rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead, the spill is cleaned up, and the communities and natural resources of the Gulf Coast are restored and made whole," Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a joint statement.
Sounds good, but in reality, it’s highly unlikely that the "natural resources" of the Gulf Coast ever will or even can be “made whole.” But the belief that humans can fix nature, even though we still don’t fully understand either it or our impact on it, is a prevalent one; indeed, it’s a required belief system for those who want to keep us on this insane path.
It’s part of the same mindset that believes every impact can be mitigated, especially if it’s caused by a money-making activity, like Hawaii’s seed corn industry. As The Garden Island reports today, the GMO aspect of that industry is seeing particularly robust growth. But while Hawaii is all gaga over the usual — jobs! tax revenue! $$$! — there remains this niggling unknown that has at least a few of us feeling uneasy:
In addition, there has never been an Environmental Impact Statement conducted for any of the seed industry companies on island, so “we have no idea” what they are doing to the soil and water, among other things, said Blake Drolson, a founding member of GMO-Free Kaua‘i.
Besides the money, the rationale for the industry provided by one of its advocates, Laurie Goodwin, Hawai‘i Crop Improvement Association vice president and Syngenta’s Hawai‘i outreach manager, is not unlike something BP officials might say to defend their drilling:
“Seed biotechnology is a tool in the tool box,” Goodwin said when asked how she would respond to opponents of the industry.
Problem is, some “tools” are a lot more devastating than others, and by the time we find out just how big a mess some of these “tools” can make, we’ve gotten well beyond the place where nature and communities can be “made whole.”
“I’m really disappointed in the Obama Administration, that it can continue to support activities that are so devastating to the environment,” a woman told me yesterday. “Nature is sacred, and they are violating it.”
Her comment brought to mind a conversation I had last Sunday with a graduate student from Wesleyan University. He is here conducting research for his master’s thesis in anthropology, and is intrigued by why so many Americans don’t view the disturbance of Hawaiian burials as desecration.
Perhaps, I theorized, it’s because aside from money and its pursuit, most Americans don’t really hold anything sacred, if you use this definition of the word:
regarded with reverence; secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right; properly immune from violence, interference.
As Oahu Island Burial Council Chairman Kawika McKeague explained it when I interviewed him on Saturday for an article I’m writing, desecration has already occurred once the burial is disturbed. To borrow from an OIBC report:
In Hawaiian culture, a burial is kapu (sacred and off-limits). Families would kanu (bury or plant) a deceased loved one with the understanding that the person’s full life cycle would continue. Upon being “planted,” the iwi (bones)—and the aina (land) that nurtured the iwi—in time would become one. The individual’s mana (spiritual power), retained in his bones, would imbue the aina and provide a source of mana for the community associated with that äina. In this way, kupuna (grandparents, ancestors) continue their kuleana (role, responsibility, obligation, and right) to spiritually nourish their families and äina. The kuleana of the living descendants is to maintain the sanctity of the iwi kupuna (ancestral remains), thus preserving the integral relationships among their ancestors, the aina, and the living community.
The act of burial and burial locations were kept huna (secret and hidden). Burials were kapu, intended to be left in peace, and carefully guarded to ensure that no disturbance occurred. Intrusions into burials (opening up the ground to expose iwi kupuna, touching iwi kupuna, uprooting iwi kupuna, etc.) was considered extremely offensive and disrespectful—an act of violence and degradation directed at the deceased individual, the living family members, and the larger community associated with that burial. Such an act would be akin to disrobing a living person and physically handling them against their will.
Hence, archaeological inventory surveys that encounter iwi kupuna through careful hand excavation are highly troubling for Native Hawaiians. More distressful is the thought of archaeological investigation via backhoe excavation. And worse still is
the notion of inadvertent intrusion into burials and destruction of iwi kupuna by high-powered, modern construction tools. Such acts cause extreme pain for us.
Kawika and I got to talking about the relationship between colonialism and burial desecrations, and it’s a close one, fed by the same mindset that allows a country to come in and occupy another nation’s lands, make comments like “oh, Hawaiians are just making up their culture as they go along” or “they’re just using burials as a way to stop development.”
“People seem to be able to make the connection with unmarked burials at the Arizona Memorial,” Kawika said, “and if I wanted to build a 7-11 in Punchbowl, the veterans would come and shoot me. But the humanity is removed from our burials. They become objects, ‘resources.’ People forget that they are all someone’s kupuna, that we are the living embodiment of that ancestral past. There’s a disconnect, and it’s part of the ongoing disconnection and colonization of consciousness.”
And it struck me in reflecting on all this today that the same colonial mindset drives our troubled modern relationship to the natural world, which we have similarly objectified, depersonalized and removed from the realm of the sacred. And why? So that we could dominate it and exploit its “resources” with an untroubled conscience.