Ancient, modern ways with water explored

Traditional Hawaiian values need to be reflected in water resource management, a UH faculty member told the crowd at the Waikiki Aquarium Thursday night. UH Hui Konohiki faculty member Ka’eo Duarte contrasted the traditional Hawaiian view of water resources with that of a western hydrologist, differences that he said he personally exemplified in some ways.

Raised near Kona on the Big Island, Duarte learned the traditional Hawaiian ways of finding water sources from his family, and then went on to college where he studied hydrology and engineering from a western point of view.

“I sometimes think, how did they (ancient Hawaiians) survive here (in Kona),” Duarte said.

Duarte’s talk, titled “Wiapi’o — The Bend in the Water,” was the second in the 2003 Natural History Lecture Series sponsored by the Waikiki Aquarium and the Ala Wai Watershed Association.

Duarte described Hawaiian hydrologists as having personal, sacred relationships with water sources, which allowed them to understand the biological, sociological, and hydrological connections between people, the land and the water. This deeper understanding would give them a “more complete view of the localized area,” Duarte said.

Duarte described the western hydrologist as having a more “lumped” view of the system, where wells and rivers are just lines on a map, which resulted in a more detached view of the system. However, they are better able to quantify the details and manipulate the data, and can attempt to predict the future through the use of models.

No one way of looking at water resources is better than the other, Duarte said, they are just different. The western view should be open to suggestions based on local knowledge.

Explaining some of the history of bio-hydrology on the islands, Duarte said there were many changes over the last 150-200 post-contact years, including deforestation, the construction of massive drainage ditch systems, abandonment of fish ponds, significant loss of native agriculture and water diversions, more pollution and the advent of well drilling.

More recently there have been further changes. Duarte said the big plantations are pulling out, the ditches are out of use, groundwater is being heavily used, native forests are largely gone, there is a lot of alien vegetation, and coastal areas are being highly developed. On the plus side, he noted, we have better pollution controls.

Duarte said that today, economics are driving resource degradation. We need to properly value water resources. Most importantly, he said, we have to integrate Hawaiian cultural practices and knowledge with western hydrology.

In the future, Duarte said there needs to be better interdisciplinary and interagency cooperation with teaching and research, more transmittal of knowledge of the Hawaiian ways of finding water resources — especially to students — more social studies of how people value their resources, and a simplification of modeling and optimization methods.

Duarte’s talk was part of the 2003 Natural History Lecture Series titled “Wakea and Papa (Heaven and Earth): Resource Connections in Waikiki.” The next talks in the series will take place on April 24, titled “Limu: Religion Made Them Important” and “Building Modern Community Connections to Reefs” at 7:30 p.m. at the Waikiki Aquarium.. Doors will open at 7 p.m., and the aquarium exhibits will be open for viewing before the lecture.

For more information, contact the Waikiki Aquarium Education Department at 923-9741, extension 8-107.

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