New exhibit seeks to raise awareness about Kahoolawe


Maui Ocean Center’s new Kahoolawe exhibit, created in collaboration with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, seeks to raise awareness of the culture, geography, history and restoration of Kahoolawe.

An island steeped in cultural reverence and historical significance, Kahoolawe has long been a wahi pana, a sacred and storied place for Native Hawaiians. Referred to as Kohe Malamalama o Kanaloa, Kahoolawe is dedicated to one of the four major Hawaiian gods, Kanaloa, the deity associated with voyaging, the deep sea and marine life. A center for celestial navigation training, cultural and religious practices and agriculture, Kahoolawe’s history is notoriously marked by a controversial era of intense U.S. military target practice and operation training that brought forth strong opposition, protests, and a movement to end the bombings and restore Kahoolawe.

Today, Kahoolawe is a site of healing and a beacon for cultural preservation.

To commemorate the past, present and future of Kahoolawe, Maui Ocean Center has recently unveiled its latest exhibit, “Kaho’olawe: A Story of History and Healing.” Created in collaboration with the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), the new exhibit features previously displayed exhibit content used in the “Ke Aloha Kupa’a I Ka ‘Aina” (“Steadfast Love for the Land”) exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., and the “Kaho’olawe: Rebirth of a Sacred Hawaiian Island” exhibit at the Bishop Museum on Oahu.

These exhibits played a part in a large-scale effort to raise awareness and garner support to end nearly half a century of military bombing and training campaigns on Kahoolawe. After years of protests and litigation put forward by the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana, the order to end the bombing of Kahoolawe was announced in 1990.

KIRC was formed to manage the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve while being held in trust for a future Native Hawaiian sovereign entity.

Maui Ocean Center has supplemented these historic exhibit pieces with additional insight into Kahoolawe’s role in navigation, the marine life that inhabit its waters, and the role and progress generated by KIRC and volunteers, the latter of which will have an on-site presence within the exhibit. Designed to show the power of change, both good and bad, the exhibit follows the timeline of Kahoolawe’s development from the first settlement to current restoration projects. Upon entering, guests are greeted with a recording of the Oli Kahea and Oli Komo, a cultural protocol used to ask for permission when approaching Kahoolawe. The first steps into the exhibit brings guests to a 360-degree representation of Pu’u Moa’ulaiki, a hilltop used to train navigators with panoramic views of major ocean currents, neighboring islands and constellations. From this vantage point, many describe Kanaloa’s kinolau (physical manifestation) of the he’e (squid, octopus) — eight tentacles stretch out through the ocean channels and islands of Hawaii while the head of the octopus lies at Moa’ulaiki.

The exhibit’s chronological storyline consists of chapters that introduce the island’s geography, pre-contact settlements, 10 of the island’s major wahi pana, the history between U.S. and Native Hawaiian relations, cultural significance and role in today’s perpetuation of Hawaiian culture, and the hope for the future of Kahoolawe. The exhibit features archival photography, historical newspaper clippings, an interactive exhibit of the island, and a coastal cliff with key Hawaiian marine species.

Through this storyline, guests can see both the hurt mankind has caused and the attempts to heal the island environmentally, culturally and spiritually. With the goal of creating further awareness of the culture, geography, history and restoration of the island, the exhibit evokes the power and capacity to effect change and hope for the future of Kahoolawe.

* Evan Pascual is the marketing and public relations coordinator at Maui Ocean Center. “Ka Mo’olelo Moana,” or “The Ocean Story,” is a monthly column submitted by Maui Ocean Center staff members. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in Maalaea. For more information, call 270-7000.