VIDEO: Native Hawaiian group under protest returns whale remnants to ocean

September 24, 2010, 3:24 PM HST · Updated January 5, 9:26 AM
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By Wendy Osher

A group of Native Hawaiian Cultural Practitioners gathered at Maalaea Small Boat Harbor under protest this morning to return portions of a whale to the ocean.  The rare beaked whale stranded itself in Kihei on Maui’s south shore on August 16, before its transport to the Hawaii Cetacean Rehabilitation Center in Hilo where it eventually died two weeks later.

Photo by Wendy Osher.

“What NOAA has been doing for the last 30 years is circumventing the right of Native Hawaiians to practice their culture,” said said Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr.  “The whale, the dolphin, the sharks—all of these animals in the ocean—represent the kinolau, the physical representation of Kanaloa, one of the major gods of Hawaii.  Ku, Kanaloa, Lono and Kane,” Maxwell said.

Members of the group, Hui Mälama O Kanaloa, were not only opposed to the transport of the whale, but also the handling of the creature saying euthanasia disposal on land disrupts the natural cycle.  Instead of allowing the animal to die at sea, the group was given a portion of the soft tissue that was cremated and some bones from the whale that were returned to a spot about seven miles off-shore from Maalaea.

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“We have a portion that was cremated.  We’re going to take it back to the ocean under protest.  This is not what we do.  We usually take the whole animal back to the ocean,” said Maxwell.

Group members say marine mammals are not only ancestors, they are aumakua and connected to Hawaiian people like family.  By allowing the animal to die at sea, it completes a cycle that provides a gift of nourishment to the surrounding area.

“Wherever the animal lands, it becomes a place of momona—momona meaning fat.  So the animal dies on the shore—you take them out to the ocean and it feeds fish out there.  Then the bones unite with the coral and it becomes sand and coral.  In the Kumulipo chant, that’s where we came from, the polyps in the coral.  It is a continuation of our culture,” said Maxwell.

“Other kupuna and practitioners may share that they strand for momona or mo’olelo or a mana’o they may have or an offering or a gift to an alii.  My experience is they are opening up to us to bring awareness to us of healing,” said group member Vernon Kalanikau.

Tests on the whale determined the animal had severe gastrointestinal disease, as well as kidney disease –and that the two could have been the result of a viral or bacterial infection.  The Blainville’s Beaked whales are deep water swimmers that are rarely seen, offering researchers a unique opportunity to learn from the creature.

The group issued a press release saying that while science sees a beached whale as a burden for removal and as an opportunity for research; Hawaiians see it as a gift that has come ashore.

“This is where science and religion clashes.  But this is Hawaii and Hawaiian culture and spirituality should supersede all of the scientific nuances.  It is such an insult to have pieces of our whale—this is the last whale that was stranded called Kamaui,” said Maxwell.

“Each stranding is different,” said Kalanikau.  “They don’t just strand just because they want to strand.  They strand because they have a mo’olelo or a mana’o or something is wrong out there,” said Kalanikau.  His thoughts differ from scientific interpretation of the whale’s cause of death.   “As for Kamaui, as I had shared with the scientists before they even flew Kamaui to the Big Island and left Kihei—the mana’o from Kamaui is he lives 2000+ feet in the ocean, but the sonar is what scared him.  So, he had to surface really quick, and by doing that, he got the bends,” said Kalanikau.

Maxwell said he wishes he could file charges against NOAA for all that has been done to circumvent the culture and says he plans to pursue the issue with Hawaii’s congressional delegation.

“If we can fight for Kahoolawe for 25 years and then it comes back to us, and it’s going to a sovereign nation someday; if we can stop the building of the Ritz Carlton hotel because of the burials out there; and if we can stop the killing of the sharks, like we did 14 years ago; this is nothing,” said Maxwell.  “But why, why, why, do we have to always fight to perpetuate our culture,” said Maxwell.

“They’re not coming to the beneficiaries or the practitioners for input based upon these kinds of adverse effects that happen to our culture, our religious practices, anything—even our environment,” said cultural advocate Ke’eaumoku Kapu.  “They need to stop looking at this as pertaining to be guinea pigs of a dead culture.  We are still alive; we’re still here; we still practice,” said Kapu.

“Everyone comes to Hawaii—they love the fun and the sun—but we are also native people of this land, kanaka maoli.  We have spiritual things that occurred thousands of years ago that western man have not found out about us,” said Maxwell.

Maxwell, who has suffered from some health issues of his own in recent years vowed to return for the next stranding that occurs on the island to assure that the culture is cared for.

“The next animal that is stranded here on Maui—I will be there with my cane, my wheelchair, whatever—to resist and protect that animal, and we will take them back to the ocean.  But they are not going to ever do a necropsy, and they are not going to inject it with all the chemicals that they do.  And I can promise you that,” said Maxwell.

*** If you liked this post, you might also like our story on Native Hawaiian Stone Carving.

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