Words by Tara Michie and Shae Kamaka’ala. Photos by Tara Michie.
When you plan a camping trip, the first step is to make sure to have all the essential adventure gear. Tent? Check. Flashlights? Check. Teva Arrowood sneakerboots? Check. Camping permit? Check.
Permission from the community to use that natural space… check?
I decided to go on a solo camping trip (with my dog Annie) to Ahupuaʻa o Kahana State Park on the east side of Oʻahu. I got all of the proper permitting via the state camping website, but decided to chat with a representative from the community who takes care of that particular valley: Shae Kamakaʻala is a modern day boss lady and great example of someone really shaking up the way our generation is doing things.
Shae Kamaka’ala is a Native-Hawaiian-rights and environmental lawyer currently supporting Hawaiian communities throughout the islands in an effort to better work with the government in caring for near-shore fisheries. She lives, works, and plays in Kahana Valley and met with me on my quest to be a more conscious camper.
From thriving lands and people to the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Hawaiʻi has a really interesting and rich history, but without getting into all the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about the beauty that lies within this culture and place. The ancient Hawaiians (properly known as Kānaka Maoli) had a special relationship with the land and elements surrounding it. Traditional land divisions that are still recognized today include the ahupuaʻa, a phrase agricultural system which allowed the land and people to work symbiotically from the mountains all the way out to the sea. There was a unique balance between the land, the ocean, and the people and it was through this and their kinship that the Kanaka Maoli to were abel to make their lands and fisheries grow in abundance. The water from streams flowed through lo’i kalo—taro patches—which provided nutrients and breathed fresh water and life to the oceans and loko i’a (fish ponds).
Does all that make sense? Well, it’s these same practices that have allowed the present-day Kahana community to re-establish and live in this unique balance with the land. In a world where we are surrounded by technology and other modern luxuries, the next generation of leaders in Kahana were taught that their most sacred learnings come from the obersation and work they put into making their lands and ocean abundant again. But, over the last two centuries, the Kahana community has seen a lot of negative change to their natural space.
Just in the last few years, imminent damage to the Kahana trails has lead to runoff into the nursery of Kahana Bay, where the Kahana eat and gather from land and sea. The community has noticed photos of this place all over social media, which leads to people seeking out this and other beautiful yet sacred places. People sometimes advantage of these areas without really considering their meaning and importance.
Hawai’i is the endangered-species capital of the world and is home to many fragile ecosystems. The Kanaka Maoli rely on the islands’ resources to continue their culture and lifestyle the ways their elders taught them and will continue to pass on for generations.
As an adventurer, camper, photographer, and avid social media user, I know I am responsible for some of the negative impacts places like Kahana have seen. But I hope I can change that by being a more conscious camper and contributor to social media. Here are a few ways to become a more conscious camper, hiker, visitor, and contributor in the communities around you:
Pictured: Women’s Arrowood WP
CONNECT WITH COMMUNITY
Do your research and be respectful to the locals. Before I pitched my tent, I asked permission to camp and take photos in Kahana Valley. I want to be respectful to the community living and caring for that area.
LEAVE IT BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT
Being in such a beautiful place is a privilege, and I think we forget about that sometimes and just enjoy it for ourselves. The land needs some love, too! Always make sure to pick up after yourself and then some. How can you make that place better than when you first got there? I made sure to pick up trash along the beach and plan on going back in the future to help remove invasive plants and restore native ones in the area.
Pictured: Women’s Arrowood Lux Mid WP
There may not always be an opportunity to donate, but when there is I encourage you to help support the places you visit! I took photos while I was in Kahana that will be used all over the Internet and on social media. Donating to support the work of the community is the least I can do to have had the opportunity to be in that natural space. I learned that Kahana has is a non-profit that funds on-going projects within the community. I plan to donate 10 percent of my earnings from my project.
If you have the platform to share photos of a beautiful place, give them something to read, too! We all love seeing beautiful places and imagery but how nice would it be to actually learn a thing or two? Having a little information about new people or places might encourage others to be respectful and conscious of their actions.