Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mapping the Hawaiian Footprint | Hana Hou! Magazine

It was fascinating learning from Sam ‘Ohu Gon III, Senior Scientist and Cultural Advisor for the Nature Conservancy, about the ecological impact the Native Hawaiian footprint had on Oahu versus today. It's truly eye opening how much the islands have changed since we've inhabited them.

In 1998 Sam Gon started creating maps that would show the ecosystems of the Hawaiian Islands as they existed before humans arrived, the rainforest, lowland forest, desert, etc. He put those maps up against modern-day maps to illustrate the changes that have occurred since. But he was always haunted by the prospect of the 'in between' maps. What would a comprehensive map of the Hawaiian Islands’ ecosystems have looked like when the Hawaiians were living on and using the land, at the heyday of Hawaiian civilization? What was their footprint like? Where were their roads, their housing settlements, the fields for their crops, their gathering sites, their fishing grounds? How much of the original native ecosystem did they displace and for what purposes? Gon decided to try to create such a map and began with the island of O‘ahu. He relied on a number of sources to do it: Old writings and newspapers, old maps, archeological evidence, chants, soil samples, rainfall patterns. And he succeeded in creating a comprehensive map of what O‘ahu would have looked like in pre-contact times.

I photographed Sam at a native restoration complex, Papahana Kuaola in Haiku valley, Kaneohe to illustrate what a Native Hawaiian habitat might have looked like for Hana Hou! The Hawaiian Airlines Magazine.

Sam chants before spreading stones at the Heiau he helped create at Papahana Kuaola