Hāmākua Hawai`i

Battlefield Hamakua

Hamakua is the ancient district of the Island of Hawai`i in which I have lived since arriving in the Islands in 1973. Following is one of a number of articles I wrote for The Hamakua Times, intended to enhance the appreciation of fellow residents of the amazing qualities and history of our home lands.

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The most thorough and inspiring archeological/historical synthesis ever done on data from the Island of Hawai`i  was published in 2000: Exalted Sits the Chief: The Ancient History of Hawai`i Island, by State archeologist Ross Cordy. One of the most riveting things about the book is the fact that, since it deals with our Island, it has numerous references to our Hamakua lands.

Many battles were fought during what Cordy calls “The Decade of Strife & Tears,” the period between 1782 and 1791. Because western observers were intermittently present during this period, either to witness the events or to hear of them from participants, there is a good deal of written information about the twists and turns of events that eventually led to Kamehameha’s establishment of dominion over all the islands of Hawai`i. Hawaiian historians also were able to document the history of the time with accounts from individuals with direct or second-hand experience. One particular episode in all these conflicts is of particular interest to us as residents of Hamakua and is summarized as follows:

With the death of Kalaniopu`u, three rivals emerged for control of the Island of Hawai`i, after a very brief reign of the old king’s son, Kiwala`o. Keawema`uhili controlled the lands of Hilo, eastern Hamakua and eastern Puna. Keoua held sway over Ka`u and western Puna, while Kamehameha ruled the lands of Kona, Kohala and western Hamakua, including Waipi`o. Warriors from Maui had gotten involved in the fighting among Hawai`i’s chiefs and Kamehameha had invaded to conquer portions of that Island.

After the bloody battle in `Iao Valley on Maui, in which Kamehameha’s lead in the race for western weapons assured his victory, Kamehameha traveled to Moloka`i. His intent was to increase his power by arranging connections with several powerful women. It was at this time, too, that he received the prophecy that a heiau dedicated to Ku and built at Pu`u Kohola at Kawaihae, would assure his success in conquering all the islands. In his absence, Keoua invaded Hilo and slew Keawema`uhili at `Alae, thereby extending into Hamakua the land under his control. With no one to seriously oppose his movements, Keoua continued on up the coast into Kamehameha’s strongholds, including Waipi`o. There, according to accounts put forth by Rev. Stephen Desha (see Kamehameha and His Warrior Kekuhaupi`o), he “…dried up the famous ponds of Lalakea and Muliwai, and also broke down some other fishponds. The kalo patches being cultivated by the men were damaged. The kalo was laid waste, and the banks of the lo`i needlessly broken down. He plundered the maka`ainana and abused the women of Waipi`o.” From the Valley, Keoua’s troops moved on to Waimea – probably along the alanui, or main trail that ran approximately along the route of the current-day “Mud Lane Road” — where the same kind of despoliation continued.

Reports of these terrible activities had reached Kamehameha, and his heart was greatly troubled. Kamakau, in Ruling Chiefs of Hawai`i, quotes Kamehameha as saying, “Alas, while I have been seeking new children my first-born have been abandoned.” He and his troops set out to return to Kawaihae. Their arrival was observed by Keoua’s spies; when he learned of the landing of his rival, Keoua immediately ceased his harassment of the people of Waimea and descended the slope of Mauna Kea toward the windward coast, placing himself and his army directly in Hamakua. John Young and Isaac Davis helped lead Kamehameha’s forces, and they caught Keoua at Pa`auhau, on the shoreline below and toward Hilo from present-day Honoka`a. Their cannon, Lopaka, did great damage to Keoua’s troops, but was for a time captured by one of Keoua’s leading fighters. The battle was indecisive, and Keoua retreated down the coast toward Hilo; another bloody but also indecisive battle was fought at Koapapa in east Hamakua. It, too, was inconclusive. Both armies retreated from the field, Kamehameha to Waipi`o, Keoua to Hilo.

These events, centered in Hamakua, were sandwiched in between the prophecy that led to the building of Pu`u Kohola heiau at Kawaihae, and the destruction of much of Keoua`s army at Kilauea by the violent eruption a short time after in 1790. At least in the temporal sense, and perhaps in even more critical ways, the lands under us here were the stage upon which pivotal events in the unfolding of history in Hawai`i occurred.

aging well

Aging well in a Blue Zone

Aging Well in a Blue Zone

Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and Icaria in Greece. What do these locations have in common? You probably know — if you have dialed in to the notion of Blue Zones. Researchers have found that the people of these places tend to have exceptionally long lives and to be unusually healthy in their old age. Author and activist Dan Buettner participated in some of the studies that identified and examined the characteristics of these populations and wrote about them, their diets, social patterns and ways of life in his 2009 book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. What a great idea, and an obvious resource for those of us who wish to live long and well. Even better, Buettner has developed projects and staff to facilitate the introduction of the Blue Zone principles to select areas in the U.S. But wait!, as infomercials say: There’s more! East Hawai`i and North Hawai`i (centered on Hilo and Waimea, respectively) have been chosen to be part of this effort to extend healthy longevity on a community-wide basis.[1] The word of this opportunity has been spreading in the media (regular and social) mostly by the primary sponsor in the Islands, HMSA. Volunteers are getting organized, meetings are being held and points of influence identified (e.g., schools, faith-based organizations, restaurants, grocery stores….). The Blue Zone suggestions are logical and varied, so that the ones that appeal to each of us make for an easy introduction to the whole range of possibilities. It can benefit all of us to learn more about the project in the communities we frequent and to help ourselves by stepping up to choices for living well as long as possible.

Last month this column touched on the importance of keeping active by muscle-powering ourselves around. In his more recent book[2] Dan Buettner includes recipes based on the dietary habits of those living in Blue Zones as well as some very specific suggestions for increasing movement (considerable physical activity being part of the typical life of Blue Zone residents), including one that struck me as unusual: ditch the TV remote so you have to get up and walk to your set to change channels. That’s one that I doubt many people will adopt, but it highlights the importance of even small changes in increasing activity levels on a frequent basis. On the other end of the range of possibilities, I recently talked with a neighbor who has taken up roller derby as part of her fitness regimen. Again, probably not many will follow that route to fitness, but she is pleased to notice the positive changes resulting from her workouts. Importantly, she came to this additional activity from a solid, consistent level of exercise. In between these choices are a wide range of possibilities for us. Recent research documents the adverse effects of sitting and this common part of our work and relaxation times turns out to be much more detrimental than one might think.[3]  Negative consequences to our backs, internal organs and mental acuity are only part of the damage done by too much sitting. Searching the internet for something like, “health effects of sitting” leads to information that will definitely make you want to get out of your chair and move!

Advocates of increasing our levels of activity have differing views, some suggesting easing into a pattern gradually while others call for a total, intense immersion. A book[4] by a retired attorney and his physician present both viewpoints. Chris Crowley is a jump-right-in kind of guy, strongly pushing starting right now with going to the gym, getting seriously aerobic four days a week and working (again, seriously) with weights two other days. He’s a very motivational writer and speaker, fervent and funny. His co-author, Dr. Lodge, is considerably more open to a gradual approach, saying more recently that as long as your activity gets you to sweat on a regular basis, you’re helping yourself to reverse the decay that accounts for 70% of the aging process.

Both approaches have advantages, though I personally have had more success with intentional habit changes tending toward the gradual end of the spectrum, particularly when it comes to adding a desirable pattern. This is perhaps especially true with natural movement: looking for chances to, say, park in the center of town and walk to the post office and the other places you need to go rather than to get in your car and drive to each one, will remind you of the advantages of fresh air, greeting friends, not having to back out of several parking spots, and it will, almost surely, feel so good that you’ll do it again, and begin to look for other opportunities to stretch your legs. This cascade effect, where a small trickle of activity is rewarding enough to lead to a fuller flow can apply to any sort of activity that appeals to you. Aspiring to a greater engagement with investing in our well-being works best when we tell our friends and family about our plans and recruit them to join us. Announcing a plan makes it less likely we’ll back out of it if we temporarily lose motivation, and the involvement of others in our changes provides mutual support and encouragement. If we commit to meet others for a morning walk, we’re much more likely to show up. And after all, showing up is one of the essentials for living well as long as possible.

©Hugh Montgomery, PhD

[1] See hawaii.bluezonesproject.com

[2] The Blue Zones Solution: eating and living like the world’s healthiest people.  Dan Buettner. National Geographic, 2015


[3] For example, http://www.washingtonpost.com/apps/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/

[4] Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond. Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, M.D. Workman Publishing, 2007.