There is a rebirth of sorts happening on Molokai where local organizers have put culture front and center as a means of celebrating the world’s paddling community as well as honoring the island’s iconic leaders. Drawing over a thousand attendees, this year’s third annual Kulāia event celebrated a Molokai man who has dedicated his life’s work to stewarding a vast stretch of shoreline of the island’s north shore.
“It’s not just about Mac Poepoe, but it’s about his values, it’s about his life, it’s about his commitment, it’s about what he does for all of us,” said PVS President Nainoa Thompson who was on-hand to honor his friend.
Kelson “Mac” Poepoe is a community leader, natural resource manager and Hawaiian fisherman who has worked to preserve the Moʻomomi shoreline area, and he is this year’s recipient of the event’s annual Hoʻoilina award.
“I talked to my wife and I told her, ‘You know something, for all the awards I had, this one means the most to me,’” Poepoe said. “The reason for that being, this is from my own community, this is from Molokai, not from someplace [else] around the world.”
Poepoe and his wife Kamalu founded the nonprofit Hui Mālama o Moʻomomi in 1993 as a means to steward the area, which features a nearshore habitat abundant with aquatic life and a unique sand dune habitat that is home to a number of endangered plants and animals. Since then, their work with the State of Hawaiʻi has paved the way for the designation of community-based subsistence fishing areas elsewhere in the islands.
“It’s a privilege and honor… to acknowledge in my mind, one of the world’s really great navigators,” said Thompson of Poepoe. “The one who by himself, set a course, set a vision, found a destination, went through all the challenges, kept doing it and inspired so much greatness in the possibilities of protecting the oceans.”
Thompson said the Poepoes’ efforts to mālama honua, to care for the Earth, on Molokai helped inspire the strength to set out on the Worldwide Voyage. That “the greater risk was not to go,” in order to champion those local values on global level, said Thompson.
Kulāia, the event in September that highlighted Poepoe, is itself a tradition with historic and cultural significance. Prior to the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, Kulāia was an annual tradition honoring the Hawaiian monarchy. Afterwards, the event morphed into a celebration for outrigger canoe racing. When the Molokai Hoe outrigger canoe race across the Kaiwi Channel began more than 60 years ago, the Friendly Isle community treated its guests to Molokai’s own version of Kulāia.
“The festivities lasted for a weekend with campsites from one end of [the race site] to the other and the spirit of ʻohana and aloha radiated,” said PVS crewmember and Kulāia key organizer Kawika Crivello.
As organizing efforts of the Molokai Hoe shifted off-island, the Friendly Isle community and its Hawaiian style of hosting faded into memory. That is, until a few years ago when a grassroots effort began planning a revival.
Crivello said they were inspired to share “Molokai’s aloha and hospitality to our visiting brothers and sisters of the paddling ʻohana,” and that the practice of Kulāia is an important cultural tradition “that connects us to our aliʻi and our kūpuna.”
This year’s Kulāia event hosted Nā Wahine O Ke Kai paddlers reminding competitors from around the world that Hawaiian values and culture are an inextricable component of outrigger paddling. And by celebrating Poepoe, the event increases the relevancy of indigenous knowledge as a conduit to mālama honua – not just on Molokai or Hawaiʻi but around this entire island we call Earth.
Update – Oct 12, 2016
“Since 2013’s Conservation Conference we made a commitment to mālama our places as Hōkūleʻa journeys around the world to spread the lessons of aloha. That commitment makes us promise that our resources will be in a better state when theHōkūleʻa returns home. That promise still holds true for me.” – Mac Poepoe
Special thanks to Mickey Pauole for photos and to the Molokai Dispatch for quotes used in this post.