The Green Leaf

IUCN Spotlight: Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele

August 30th, 2016
Dr. Pualani Kanahele, right, and Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, during a panel discussion on Native Intelligence in Modern Times at the East West Center in Manoa. Star-Advertiser 2012 archives. Photo by Jamm Aquino/The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Dr. Pualani Kanahele, right, and Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, during a panel discussion on Native Intelligence in Modern Times at the East West Center in Manoa. Star-Advertiser 2012 archives. Photo by Jamm Aquino/The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Dr. Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele, or "Auntie Pua," as some fondly call her, is retired from the University of Hawai‘i and Community College system as well as former president of the Edith Kanaka‘ole Foundation of Hilo, which became one of the newest Hawaii-based members of the IUCN. She is also a retired kumu hula and Hawaiian spiritual leader.

Kanahele, 78, went back to get her PhD from the University of Hawaii at Manoa at the age of 69, and has a lifetime of knowledge of the forests, mountains, volcano and ocean of Hawaii from a native Hawaiian perspective and shares some of her wisdom through poetry. She will be part of a high-level discussion with other world spiritual leaders from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 5 entitled "Connections: Spirituality and Conservation."

Along with Kanahele, the discussion will include Rabbi Sergio Bergman, Minister of the Environment, Argentina; His Eminence, Imam Professor Dr. K.H. Muhammad Sirajuddin Syamsuddin, Indonesia; Rev. Peter Harris, Anglican Minister and co-founder of A Rocha; Mrs. Masami Saionji of the World Peace Prayer Society. Moderated by Sally Ranney, president of the American Renewable Energy Institute and co-founder of WECAN.

Kumu Hula, Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele and Nalani Kanaka'ole of Halau o Kekuhi, perform at the Ho'ike held at Kanaka'ole Stadium. Star-Advertiser photo archives. Photo by Ken Sakamoto.

Kumu Hula, Pualani Kanaka'ole Kanahele and Nalani Kanaka'ole of Halau o Kekuhi, perform at the Ho'ike held at Kanaka'ole Stadium. Star-Advertiser photo archives. Photo by Ken Sakamoto.

The Green Leaf sat down for a Q&A with Dr. Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele about the upcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress.

GL: Why is the IUCN World Conservation Congress important to you?

PK: I'm very conscious of the fact that we live on an island, and the island has a limited amount of land space and I think that those of us that live on these islands need to be conscious of that because if we run out of land space, we have no place to live. I would like us to be conscious of the land, the environment and what the land has given to us...There has to be some kind of reciprocation between ourselves and the land...

People have to be able to be conscious of that and learn that, and in some way, give back...then in their consciousness will always be the fact that the land is like a kin, and you never do anything that erodes that kinship...Hopefully the conference will serve as a spiritual enlightenment...

GL: Is there a spiritual side to conservation? Has there always been a spiritual side, for you?

PK:Very much so...It's the way we believe, yes, but it's not just the fact that we believe it. It's the fact that a lot around us provides life – water provides life, the ocean provides life, the sun provides life...This is a consciousness that people should have, not only because it's part of Hawaiian culture, but because we live on an island. We have to be conscious of where our water comes from, the cycle of water, the importance of the sun, the mountain and the trees in the forest. All of this is part of our life cycle...

GL: What is a Hawaiian spiritual leader and what is your role in conservation in Hawaii, and in the world?

PK: My family and I teach Hawaiian ceremony. We taught it to a lot of people within the last 40 to 50 years...and we've taught people how to chant. Chanting has to do with the way you address the elements (of nature) and reciprocation of the elements to you. In that way, it's kind of a spiritual movement...

GL: Are you still very much involved with the Edith Kanaka‘ole Foundation, which just became a member of IUCN, even though you retired as president?

PK: I'm still very involved in the foundation because it's a family foundation, so we're all involved in it...(Edith Kanaka‘ole Foundation was founded in 2000) It's what gives us strength to do what we do, so we shore up each other but we also allow it to move outside of our family circle...Conservation of Hawaii is important to us as Hawaiian practitioners. If you're dancing hula, the forest is an important entity. That's where you get all your lei. Anything in hula is about Laka and you should know something about the forest. We're taking from the forest so we have to be able to give back, so there's always a reciprocation...The whole idea of conservation comes out of that upbringing....

There's always a reciprocation...you can't just take and take, you have to feed it back...It's the whole idea of aloha. You know, aloha for some people, it means to always give, but aloha also means for them to give back...Aloha means I'm giving you my breath; Eventually, you have to give back, otherwise I'm going to run out of breath...

GL: You're on a panel with an interesting group of other spiritual leaders. What do you hope to share with other religious world leaders at the congress?

PK: Each (of us) will have our own ideology of where we come from. I think each of us has something to add to the idea of conservation, so we should take as much as we can from any practice or belief...It's interesting being on a panel like this. It's a first.

I think we need to teach each and every one that lives on this Earth something about this Earth so they can develop a kinship to that and become conscious of it...We need to actively develop that, whether in our education system or our government.

Related video from TEDx Maui 2012:

2 Responses to “IUCN Spotlight: Pualani Kanaka‘ole Kanahele”

  1. Amy:

    I'm very excited to meet you Auntie Pualani.
    Thank you for ALL the good works you have done and continue to do.
    See you on Monday at the IUCN panel discussion.
    ALOHA 🌺 Amy


  2. Gwen:

    Aunty was awesome and very informative. Her mana'o is priceless..Big Mahalo Aunty Pualani for sharing. Much love to you.
    Aloha no,
    Gwen Robello


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