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Ship Logs

Laysan: The Ancestral Root of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Posted By Scott Kikiloi
September 18, 2002

Throughout this expedition I've done by best to adopt the perspective of my ancestors, in an attempt to verify our traditions and gain deeper insight to this area of our homeland. The pursuit of this knowledge requires much more than visual observation, learning, and note taking- it requires a spiritual connection. A Hawaiian perspective requires a deep and intimate relationship with your surroundings. It is a type of insight in which the natural world and physical elements are personified. Your ancestry speaks to you through ho`ailona, or natural signs. Our history and presence in this region of the archipelago is ancient. It's as ancient as time itself. The most complete ko`ihonua, or genealogical chant that connects native Hawaiians to these islands was recorded in 1835 by a Lahainaluna student named Kai`aikawaha (BPBM Archives, #HI.H. 107, folder 2). It's through his diligent recording that we know a series of ancestral names for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, going in a sequence from east to west up our island chain. "Kamole," means "the taproot," or "ancestral root," or "source." My intuition tells me that this is the name for Laysan Island. My visit there was one of discovery, to help me to reconnect and unlock the true identity of this ancient place.

Laysan Island is the largest island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and it has one of the most complete ecosystems in this region. It has a diverse range of species unique to the island, and an unusual feature in a hypersaline lake in its interior. It is the very essence of renewal, as captures the complete cycle of life… and death, in a very dramatic way.

As we headed to Laysan yesterday the water was calm, and there was a light shower of rain that fell on us. Rain has always been traditionally thought of as a blessing of sorts, and this rain was an indicator of the type of day I was about to have. As we approached land, I could see the cascades of pohuehue vines Laysan beach with pohuehue vines.running downwards on the beach. When we got to shore, we unloaded the equipment and bags, and headed up towards the base camp. Before we got to the beginning area where vegetation grew, I could see life all around me. I turned around to look back at the ocean and a `ilioholoikauaua, or monk seal was swimming curiously near the coral reefs, peeking his head out of the water for a few moments. I acknowledged this animal's presence and headed inland. Once there we did an `oli kahea, to ask for permission to enter, and called upon our ancestors to join us in the days journey. The sound of sea birds was in the air, and the wind rustled through the bushes… we continued to head inland toward the interior lake. I immediately became immersed in a vivid world of native birds nesting in ground burrows, and trees, and of native bushes and ground cover, such as naupaka kahakai (Scaevola sericea), `akulikuli (Sesuvium portulacastrum), nohu (Tribulus cistoides), `emoloa grass (Egragrositis variabilis), and even a makaloa type sedge.

Laysan Hypersaline lake.The interior of the island was a much different experience. Walking through the native grasses and sedges towards the piko of the island was unnerving. You could smell it coming… It was apparent that the water table of the pond was low due to a lack of rain in recent months. The water was shallow and stagnant. It had a stench of death, as you could see flies and bacteria grew within the pond. Sitting on the surface of the pond were a number of dead albatross eggs and dead bird carcasses rotting back into the earth completing its life cycle of existence.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the island, and getting to know the island intimately. I respect her for I have seen her at both extremes, and from now on I will acknowledge her by her traditional identity, "Kamole," the very essence of the dualistic interplay between life and death in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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Kekuewa "Scott" Kikiloi


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