KAHOOLAWE - A bomb crater nearly as large as a football field is like an open wound on the southern coast of the former Target Island.
The so-called Sailor's Hat - a gaping hole 75 yards in diameter and filled with brackish water 15 feet deep - anchors southwestern Kahoolawe island. The site was a peninsula, possibly like Keanae Point or Puu Olai.
The Atomic Energy Commission used the site to test explode two 500-ton piles of TNT, according to Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission Executive Director Michael Naho'opi'i. Each pile measured some 80 feet wide by 20 feet high of explosives. The commission wanted to find out the blasts' shock impact on U.S. Navy ships moored offshore, Naho'opi'i said.
The rising sun casts shadows as 22 University of Hawaii at Manoa student volunteers chant “‘O ‘Awe-kuhi o kai uli” — an exit chant to the ocean deity Kanaloa — before leaving Kahoolawe early Thursday. They worked three days regreening the island.
The Maui News / KEKOA ENOMOTO photo
"Once you contaminate an area with ordnance, you can never unring that bell," Naho'opi'i said Thursday near the site. A part-Hawaiian graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Naho'opi'i was a senior project engineer during the $400 million decadelong cleanup of ordnance on the island.
The isle's moniker "Kahoolawe" means "the carrying away" - as by currents. The name also signifies the launch site of voyaging canoes sailing from Hawaii to Tahiti via the Kealaikahiki current. And, the place traditionally represents a jumping off into a new undertaking or phase or dimension.
Now the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana is calling the island "Kanaloa Kahoolawe" during a yearlong celebration of the Year of Kanaloa Kaho'olawe to honor the Native Hawaiian ocean deity Kanaloa. The enhanced name honors the 20th anniversary of the stopping of bombing Oct. 22, 1990, on the former Target Island - and also heralds a new era in the isle's evolution.
A physical manifestation of the island's new era stands on a bluff at the south end of cerulean-blue Hanakanaia bay. There reposes a kahualele: a raised stone platform with a Hawaiian flag flying at one corner.
Atwood "Maka" Makanani spearheaded construction of the kahualele to honor the vision of his PKO colleague, the late Parley Kanaka'ole of Hana.
The 30-by-15-foot platform was built "basically to drink awa and commit to the island just as a group did in 1993," said Baker, a Hawaiian-language instructor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He said the 1993 group included leaders such as U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and then-Gov. John Waihee, plus PKO members.
Awa ceremonies will culminate the Year of Kanaloa Kaho'olawe on Oct. 22, 2011, and reaffirm participants' commitment to regreen the island and nurture it as a cultural and environmental reserve, Baker added.
Two decades of the island's healing have witnessed some 6,000 visitors: Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, volunteer workers and intermediate school through college students. The latter included 22 UH-Manoa student volunteers participating three days last week in KIRC's wide-ranging revegetation program.
Naho'opi'i said, "We're really trying to regreen a desert out here."
He noted that UH-Maui College students had designed and installed a solar water-heating system on-island.
"We're doing a lot with a little. We tried to save as much as possible," he said about efforts to recycle former military buildings, equipment and vehicles.
On a recent access to the island, a small group of visitors was allowed to view the 26 percent of the former Target Isle that remains uncleared of munitions. The uncleared Waikahalulu area lies to the southwest. Observers wended carefully over sandy ground, stepping around stray pieces of metal as eye-searing 25- to 30-mph winds whipped by.
Remnants of a half-century of bombing littered the kiawe-dotted landscape - shell casings; 5-inch rocket warheads; rusty, mangled metal carcasses; a 10-by-20-foot bomb crater the size of a small lap pool; and H6 high-explosive bomb filler described as "still very viable."
"It's enough to take the cab off of a truck," Bart Maybee said of the H6 that resembled a benign 4-inch rock. He is the stolid UXO (unexploded ordnance) and safety officer for KIRC.
Maybee said the sheer volume of uncleared bomb fragments represented "years of dirty dishes left in the kitchen sink."
Craters and fragments, notwithstanding, the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana will hold a 20th-anniversary event from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday at the UH Center for Hawaiian Studies on Oahu.
The event will honor the late George Helm and Kimo Mitchell, who were lost at sea in 1977 during an effort to protest the bombing, as well as deceased kupuna and others who led the 14-year struggle to repatriate the island from the Navy. There also will be the film premiere of "Mai Ka Piko Mai: Homecoming of Early Warriors and Hokule'a"; speeches; entertainment by the Helm 'Ohana and other musicians; and a presentation on "Kukulu Ke Ea A Kanaloa" cultural plan developed for the island by the Edith Kanaka'ole Foundation.
Above all, the yearlong celebration will salute the power of the island to heal and be healed, and to represent the future of Native Hawaiians and renewal of their culture.
As UH senior peace studies major Matthew Weyer said Thursday, the opportunity "to give back" as an on-island volunteer made him "very hopeful . . . Over here it's more isolated, it's just about the island. The experience is a lot more powerful" than he had imagined.
* To volunteer: kahoolawe.hawaii.gov
* To view the "Kukulu Ke Ea A Kanaloa" cultural plan: kahoolawe.
* Kekoa Enomoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.