This year marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Parks—and on the worldwide Mālama Honua voyage, the crew of the Hōkūleʻa has visited several, including those in American Sāmoa, St John in the Caribbean, the Everglades in Florida, and coming up in early June, Governors Island in New York City. Along the way, the crew has learned how every community has its own way of practicing Mālama Honua, to care for our earth. The Sāmoan way was clearly communicated by Pua Tuaua, National Park Ranger when the canoe was docked in Pago Pago, American Sāmoa, in September 2015.
“Our land is probably the most valuable asset of our people,” Pua explained.
While the crew of Hōkūleʻa was visiting schools, teaching children how Hōkūleʻa embodies Mālama Honua, Pua was beginning his day in the park ranger’s office in downtown Pago Pago. Pua’s office overlooks Pago Pago Harbor, a deeply protected bay with a shoreline that winds and wraps five miles into the center of the island. On one side of the harbor, there’s the governor’s mansion, on the other, Rainmaker Mountain. Along the docks, you’ll find crowds of fishing boats: Pago Pago is the most profitable commercial fishing port in the South Pacific bearing the U.S. flag.
Along with a team of rangers and marine biologists, Pua is responsible for overseeing and managing 2,500 acres of rainforest and 1,200 acres of beach, ocean, and coral ecosystems across American Sāmoa. No small task. The park is the only U.S. National Park south of the equator. In American Sāmoa the United States leases the parkland from the village matai. Back in 1993, when the U.S. government tried to buy the land, the matai said, “Our land is not for sale.” Since Sāmoan custom forbids the selling of land, the final decision to lease the land was based on a collective vote by the village council. The rental income is then distributed to all the constituents of the village.
“Littering is one of our main problems right now,” Pua said. To Pua, his care of the land extends beyond just the parklands. It extends throughout his island home. “Litter. It’s a major, major, major concern right now.”
In Sāmoan, Mālama Honua can be expressed as mālamalama e fanua, which means, to understand the earth. Sāmoans believe that in order to care for the earth, you must first understand your land, and from this understanding comes compassion, empathy, and love. This belief unites the entire archipelago of Sāmoa—American Sāmoa, five islands and two coral atolls, and the Independent State of Sāmoa, which includes two islands. Situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates converge, these volcanic islands rose up from the ocean floor over a million years ago.
“In the old days, we didn’t have plastics,” he explained. “Plastics are everywhere.”
Plastic is the prime invasive species throughout the Pago Pago harbor and the thoroughfares around the island. A soda bottle on the side of the street, a plastic bag wrapping your ankle in a swim, a cup on your hike through the community college medicinal garden. But in more remote areas, away from the center of Pago Pago, you can see how the rainforest, lowlands, and beaches still flourish, unpolluted, seemingly untouched.
People used to weave a laufola, a bowl, out of leaves, or fashion a cup out of a coconut shell. You could take these anywhere, to the beach or to the forest, and leave them on the land or in the sea, as they would naturally biodegrade.
“But it’s plastic now,” Pua explained, that folks just toss out, not realizing it will never biodegrade.
Plastic, aluminum, Styrofoam—it all comes in through the harbor’s main shipping yard. Ship containers, ten stories deep and four stories high, are stacked in the yard. An estimated 1,000 containers come into this harbor every month, providing the island with 90 percent of its food and supplies. This is a concern to Pua, who grew up as a fisherman, a hunter, and a farmer who harvested taro, bananas, and breadfruit. This is a man who used to spear fish in the harbor, but who now has to venture out of the harbor and to the outer reefs to find any fish at all. This is a man who used to hunt wild pig in the rainforest, a man who in the mere fifty-year span of his life has witnessed the shift from a relatively independent sustainable existence to a highly dependent unsustainable lifestyle.
“My family was poor,” Pua recalled. “We didn’t have a refrigerator, so we would only fish for what we could eat now.” Fishing and hunting and farming are survival skills no longer required of children. “Today everybody’s going shopping at the store.”
“The rainforest, that’s where the Sāmoans used to turn to long, long time ago,” he said. “Now, today, McDonald’s is here.”
“All the kids say, McDonald’s! I want to go to McDonald’s!” but Pua offers another option. “Let’s go in the forest. Let’s go back to the land.”
To guide children back to the land, Pua teaches them how to pick a coconut, how to weave a basket, how to catch a fish. Pua is hoping to teach them how to be independent of imported goods. He’s encouraging them to pick up trash, even if that means you need to walk a few blocks with the trash in your hands until you find the nearest trashcan.
Small lessons. Large gains.
“I’m trying to teach kids to think ten years from now, five years from now, what’s going to happen if we keep doing this? It’s not going to be good. It’s not going to be good for the environment, and it won’t be good for us, the people.”
In 2012, the local Environmental Protection Agency banned plastic bags. Those who do not comply are fined. The EPA distributes alternatives called Bio Bags, made from corn, with a set expiration date, as they will naturally biodegrade in 180 days.
Pua spoke of mana, a word that is also used in Hawaiian, meaning spirit.
“If I had so much mana I would make everybody go back to the rainforest,” Pua explained. “Go to the rainforest. Get a peace of mind.”
This beautiful hardcover book chronicles Hōkūleʻa’s epic mission to nurture worldwide sustainability. Interwoven with descriptions of Hōkūleʻa’s experiences in port are the voices of the master navigators and crew members, who guide the ship along the ocean’s trackless path, and the local pioneers—scientists, teachers, and children touched by Hōkūleʻa—who work tirelessly to weather the many environmental challenges of our modern lives. 320 pages, with full-color photographs throughout.