Gas masks, fairy wings and costumes inspired by vegetables were in style Sunday as hundreds of marchers gathered at the War Memorial Stadium parking lot to make their voices heard on the subject of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, on Maui now and in our future.
Coconuts were handed out to help nourish and hydrate the crowd for the upcoming long walk up Kaahumanu Avenue to the Na Kai 'Ewalu Canoe Club hale. A drum circle was the marching band. Signs were plentiful, including the one saying GMO should stand for Grow More Organic. The march went on for blocks; the rally drew an estimated 1,000 people.
Presented by the SHAKA Movement (Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the Aina), the anti-GMO campaign seeks a ballot initiative to prevent tampering with our food sources until the long-term consequences are known. An abundance of children in the crowd underscored one of the movement's themes - it's about the future, not our future so much as theirs, and the generations after them.
Remember that basic law of physics - actions cause reactions? Short-range solutions may become long-range problems. Yeah, mongoose - I'm talking to you.
The tone of the march was happier, healthier, less strident and more organic than I remember from my own protesting past, decades ago. But no less serious. It's not a matter of certainty, yet, about the specific dangers and consequences of heading down the GMO highway, so much as a more pervasive unease about putting our faith in technology and the corporate forces behind it, considering where they've gotten us so far.
"The world is too much with us," wrote English poet William Wordsworth. " . . . Late and soon,/ Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; - / Little we see in Nature that is ours;/ We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!"
Wordsworth - which has to be the greatest poet's name of all times - wrote his sonnet more than two centuries ago. George Kahumoku Jr. has a more up-to-date way of putting it. George was one of the musicians performing at the rally, but he shared some observations with me before going on stage. They were based on his experiences as a farmer, growing everything from pigs and goats to taro, amidst the array of talents that make his "Hawaiian Renaissance Man" label pretty literal.
Growing 80 varieties of taro, George says he did his own genetic modifying - it was called cross-pollination. Ditto for animals; he breeds for temperament, among other things. "They've gotta walk up to me. Chickens, dogs, if they don't come when I call, I get rid of 'em."
At one time he had 6,000 acres on the Big Island. He described the corporate cycle of using pesticides, then having to buy GMO seeds to resist them, not to mention all the heavy equipment. It drove him right out of business.
"Lucky for me, I had music. I paid my debt with music," said the teacher and multi-Grammy-Award-winning slack key artist, who worked the rally into three other appearances Sunday. These days he tends his 2 1/2 acres "my grandfather's way." He doesn't use equipment he can't fix himself. "I've got a lawnmower and a weed whacker."
Citing farmer friends from the Midwest to India, George sees the same pattern everywhere he looks.
"The corporate guys destroy local industry. The reason I came here (to the rally) is when you go GMO, you modify everything. It's like you're playing God, you know."
Sunday's march capped a busy weekend of races, performances, art exhibits and fundraisers. Maui's Hawaiian Style volleyball team - featured in this column last week - wound up winning the women's open championship at Hilo's 57th annual Haili Tournament. Big bragging rights for this prestigious statewide competition, with Kaimi Rocha and Kela Lau Hee making the all-star team and Dreanne Shaw being named the tournament's MVP.
On Saturday night, Cynthia Conrad reports that a large group of local theater supporters gathered on a Kihei beachfront lawn under hanging lanterns to enjoy a sneak peek of Maui OnStage's upcoming season. Alexis and Stephen Dascoulias were honored for their community service and accomplishments, including improvements to the 86-year-old Iao Theater.
With costumed actors performing snippets, songs and scenes from the upcoming five-show season, the guests were invited to guess the titles. The correct answers were "Wait Until Dark," "Elf," "Annie Get Your Gun," "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and (exclusive rights to stage) "The Adams Family."
Kathy Collins emceed the evening. Larry Feinberg provided a table for 10. And Cynthia's husband, Jerry Labb, showed his support as Cynthia got in the act as a backup dancer behind soul singer Charles Cook.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 344-9535.