Teachers and Parents
TEK and Hawaiian Fishing Legends
Native Hawaiian history is brimming with Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). In ancient Hawai'i, Hawaiians practiced "malama i ka 'aina, malama i ke kai," (care for the land, care for the ocean). In essence, the Hawaiians tried to live in harmony with the environment. The land and sea were considered the grandparents of all people and were treated as such. Hawaiians were provided with sustenance only when the land was maintained appropriately. Traditional ecological knowledge concerning fishing can be traced back to the arrival of Pā'ao, a high priest from Tahiti. Legends tell us that Pā'ao and his entourage were guided safely to Hawai'i by schools of 'ōpelu (mackerel) and aku (bonito). Following Pā'ao's arrival, oral tradition relayed ancient fishing tales through the generations. Traditional legends provide great insight as to how the Hawaiians lived in the past.
Many tales not only relate how ancient heroes saved their people from vicious sea monsters but also how great lawai'a pulled their canoes to shore overflowing with i'a. Lawai'a understood the ecological significance of their actions. They only took what was needed to feed their 'ohana and were sure to thank the gods for their catch. Hawaiian konohiki (resource managers) placed kapu or restrictions on catching certain i'a during their spawning seasons. They knew when and where many species of fish and other marine animals spawned and were careful not to disturb them during that time. When the population of a specific i'a species appeared to be dwindling, fishing efforts shifted to a more prevalent species while the other replenished its numbers. Also, although everyone in the 'ohana took part in gathering i'a, only the men who were taught and well versed in the fishing guidelines and methods were allowed to fish off-shore. The Hawaiians were knowledgeable fishermen who took their profession seriously. Ancient Hawaiian legends demonstrate the extent of their knowledge.
The Importance of TEK
Today Pacific Ocean fish stocks are experiencing a steady decline. Using modern fishing technology, Hawai'i's fisheries have declined to a size that cannot support the islands' population. If modern fishing methods continue to remove sealife from the oceans at this rate, many fisheries will eventually crash.
Among many Native Pacific Islanders and U.S. fisheries management groups, there is a belief that the study and revival of TEK may lead to a better understanding of Pacific stocks. Further, this knowledge may provide the key to relieving the pressure from endangered fisheries. Parents and teachers, the ideas behind TEk may seem complex for some children; however, the concepts embedded within the legends are important. Here, the legends and closing discussions are written for a young audience. I hope that your interaction and further explanation will help keiki (children) grasp the ideas presented.