Ho'okele ‘Āina is a Hawaiian term that can be translated to mean "navigator of the land" or "caretaker of the land." The concept encompasses a deep connection to and responsibility for the land, emphasizing sustainability, stewardship, and respect for the environment. For Hawaiians, being a Ho'okele ‘Āina involves a cultural and spiritual relationship with the land, recognizing the interconnectedness of all living things and the importance of preserving the natural balance.
You'll commonly hear the word mālama associated with the phrase “E Malama 'oe I ka 'Āina, e Malama ka 'Āina ia ‘oe” which means “Take care of the land and the land will take care of you”.
For a tourist visiting Hawaii or kamaaina (Hawaiian residents), adopting the principles of Ho'okele ‘Āina can mean engaging in responsible and sustainable practices that contribute to the preservation of Hawaii's natural beauty and cultural heritage. It creates a meaningful and respectful travel experience if you are visiting, and a celebration of life itself if you are a current resident on the island.
According to a study conducted by the University of Hawaii,
over 90% of the state's native plants at the moment are endangered or threatened and many - on the brink of extinction. This alarming figure emphasizes the urgent need for conservation efforts. Large-scale habitat destruction in the Hawaiian islands had its roots in the early to mid-1800s when introduced livestock. This led to the degradation of native ecosystems.
While commercial agriculture has declined over the past six decades, a new threat emerged in the form of extensive urban and residential development projects. These projects have encroached upon valleys, ridges, and beaches. This ongoing wave of development continues to contribute to the destruction and fragmentation of the remaining natural habitats in Hawaii.
As a photography business collaborating with non-profits dedicated to sustainability and native populations, I strive to intertwine the values I learn from my volunteering experiences with the impact that my clients create on Hawaii while visiting the islands. It's not just about capturing moments for me but about sharing the essence of stewardship and cultural preservation of Hawai’i. I encourage my guests to embrace these values, fostering a deeper connection to the communities they visit.
The impact of getting your hands dirty goes beyond just you growing as a person; it's about diving into the community traditions. So, if you're planning a trip to Oahu or you are currently living in Hawai’i and looking for a way to give back - ditch the usual touristy stuff and dive into volunteering.
Here are two unique experiences that I recommend doing while visiting O’ahu:
Hānai 'āina Forest restoration hike - You will be going on an exclusive 45 minutes hike up to the central ridgeline of Waimea Valley forest (it is a private property so you can only hike it with the Waimea Valley staff) and you will spend the day helping the conservation team care for the native Hawaiian forest. The event is free and happens twice a month. Please RSVP on this page.
Join Ka Papa Loʻi ʻo Kānewai on their Community workday, tradition going back to 1980. It is open to anyone in the community looking for an opportunity to experience traditional farming methods, converse with Hawaiian Language speakers, talk story with practitioners, ku‘i ‘ai, ku‘i ka imu, and enjoy the day with family and friends. No reservations are required, but please review the parking instructions and the items to bring on the website here.
Through volunteering, I discovered that true fulfillment of my photography career lies not only in documenting authentic and storytelling images but also in actively contributing to the local community. It is a call to nurture the islands that give us life and inspiration to exist. Whether volunteering at local events, supporting environmental initiatives, or fostering cultural preservation projects, I've come to understand that the act of giving back is a celebration of life itself.
I am reminded that the truest colors of Hawaii are found not just in its sunsets and landscapes but in the smiles of its people and the shared joy that comes from being an active, contributing member of this beautiful community.