In April-June 2016, I was on a spring research sabbatical in Hawai’i, with my wife Debi McNutt, and was a visiting scholar at the University of Hawaii Department of Geography. I was conducting research on the effects of U.S. military bases on Kanaka Maoli communities and nationhood, and the history of opposition to particular bases. The research will be used as a chapter in my forthcoming book A People’s Geography of American Empire, to be co-authored with Vassar College geographer Joseph Nevins. I have conducted research on former and current bases in Washington, California, Panama, and elsewhere, and taught classes on “People’s Geography of American Empire,” Native Decolonization in the Pacific Rim,” and American Frontiers, Homelands, and Empire.” I conducted site visits to current and former military installations in Hawai’i, and conduct interviews with members of base fenceline communities, community organizers, and those involved in base and firing range restoration projects See the albums below on the former Kaho’olawe Island bombing range, Pearl Harbor and Makua Valley / Waianae on O’ahu, and Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawai’i.

Debi and I traveled the entire coastal roads of O’ahu, Maui, and Hawai’i islands, and visited royal palaces, petroglyphs, heiau (temples), and ancient fishing villages. I volunteered on workdays for the restoration of an ancient O’ahu fishpond and a Kaho’olawe ceremonial trail. The most amazing experiencse were of the sacred mountains: the sunrise on Haleakala, the red glow of Pele at Kilauea Crater, the sacred summits of Kaho’olawe, the view from Makapu’u, and the Saddle Road between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. We also experienced Hawai’i’s many cultures, at museums, hula and Pacific dance performances, music, parades, festivals, galleries, farmers’ markets, restaurants and plate-lunch eateries. Along the way, we saw botanical gardens, flower shows, and waterfalls, and I swam with some tropical fish, turtles, dolphins, and manta rays.

Mahalo Nui to all our friends in Hawai’i who helped make this profound learning experience possible, and showed us great hospitality. These public facebook albums show some of the images from our journeys, but also try to convey the stories that were told to us along the way.



DMZ Hawai’i / Aloha ‘Aina

Pohakuloa video


Our first day on O’ahu

We’ve arrived in Hawai’i for my spring quarter sabbatical, staying in Aina Haina on the east side of Honolulu, next to the Wailupe Trail up into the mountains. To familiarize ourselves with the area, we visited Iolani Palace, the UH-Manoa campus, and the Bishop Museum (with feathered cloaks and standards of the monarchs), and took a spin to Kailua and Pali. The differences between the lush windward and drier leeward side of the island are striking, and raging trade winds are now bringing in some long-awaited rain. The flowers and trees are stunning, and there are chickens and tropical birds wherever you go. Different parts of the island remind us of different countries, and we’ve only begun to explore. Mahalo to all our friends and colleagues who have made our visit and research possible.

Makapu’u Summit

This morning at dawn, I set out to walk the trail up Makapu’u, the headland at the southeastern tip of O’ahu. It is a dry landscape dominated by black lava, flowering bushes, and blooming cactus. A 1909 lighthouse overlooks the ocean and a series of islands, including Moloka’i in the distance. Local families took the easy path up in the early morning, before the tourist throngs arrived. I also stopped by Makapu’u Beach at the foot of the mountain, to see crabs scampering around the lava tidepools. Back to our place in time for breakfast. Makapu’u was a profound introduction to the `aina of O’ahu.

‘Iolani Palace, seat of the Hawaiian Monarchy

The tourist brochures call it “the only royal palace in the United States,” because they don’t want to call it “the seat of the independent Hawaiian state illegally overthrown in 1893 by a U.S. military-backed settler coup.” The Palace offers evidence that the Kingdom of Hawai’i was widely recognized by the empires of the time (including the U.S.), and used electricity, telephones, and flush toilets before any other houses of state. The saddest and most poignant room is where Queen Lili’uokalani was held prisoner by the coup authorities, for standing up for her people. The Palace restoration was completed only five years ago, and they’re still searching on ebay, etc. for items stolen after the Overthrow. Americans should visit the Palace to find the real history of this so-called beach paradise.

Kaho’olawe: From Bombing Range to Cultural Reserve


On April 21-24, I joined a huaka’i (journey) to the island of Kaho’olawe, 26 miles off of Maui. Kaho’olawe was used as a U.S. naval bombing range all through World War II and the Cold War, causing enormous destruction to the island, and exacerbating severe erosion. A strong movement led by the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) began lawsuits and direct action to stop the bombings in the 1970s. PKO highlighted the island as a sacred place, that has heiau (temples), mua (shrines), and an ancient school of celestial knowledge and navigation.

PKO members carried out a series of landings as to put their bodies in the way of the bombs and shells, much as Puerto Rican fishermen did at a similar naval range on Vieques. Two PKO leaders died at sea in 1977 as they tried to warn others of impending tests. By 1990, the bombing was halted, and by 1994 the island was transferred to the state, as a Cultural Reserve for Kanaka Maoli culture, spirituality, and sustenance. The Navy oversaw a clean-up of the unexploded ordnance (UXO), but cleared only 77% of the surface, including only 9% cleared to a depth of four feet. Access to the island was turned over to the State in 2003, and the island is held in trust for a future “Native Hawaiian sovereign entity.”

The Kaho’olawe Island Reserve is overseen by the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC), with PKO representation, and has been trying to restore vegetation to stem the erosion. PKO has been holding a series of huaka’i to bring Kanaka Maoli to the sacred island also known as Kanaloa (after the deity of the ocean), to inspire Kanaka Maoli youth, hold ceremonies, educate non-Native allies, and carry out projects to repair and restore the island’s environment. This huaka’i crew of 22 carried out maintenance on a trail that will ultimately be used for Makahiki new year ceremonies.

It was clear from the visit that the people are healing the island from the scars of militarization, as the island is also healing the people from the scars of colonization. The huaka’i to Kanaloa Kaho’olawe was a profound and moving experience, and I’ll always think fondly of the “Deuce Deuce Crew” that formed a community for the four days. I’ll soon post another album of the amazing food that the crew cooked, including the imu (earth oven). Deep thanks to the PKO, Davianna McGregor and her Hawaiian Studies class for the honor of participating.

Kaho’olawe: The Imu & Cooking Hawaiian Foods

Our recent huaka’i (journey) to the reclaimed bombing range island of Kaho’olawe was all about cultural revitalization and building community and ‘ohana (extended family). There’s no better way to build community than to prep, cook, and share food together. Prof. Davianna McGregor and Syd Kawahakui Jr did a magnificent job coordinating the hale kitchen, and Syd oversaw the imu (earth oven) that fired wood, stones, and banana stalks to cook Kalua pork, ham, and ‘uala (purple sweet potatoes). This culinary tour of Kaho’olawe is a tribute to the malama (care) of the 22 members of the “Deuce Deuce Crew.” (See my April 27 album for background on our visit to Kaho’olawe.)

The Road to Hana, East Maui

Perhaps the most beautiful drive in all of Hawai’i is along the coastline of East Maui, on the slopes of Haleakala Volcano. There are waterfalls every few miles, lo’i kalo (taro fields), unique trees and flowers in botanical gardens, and the Pi’ilanihale Heiau, the largest stone temple in Polynesia.

Swimming with the Turtles in Maui

From a distance, Maui resembles two separate islands, with Haleakala Volcano comprising East Maui, and Mauna Kahalawai comprising the much smaller West Maui. The two “islands” are connected by the flat plains of Central Maui, which is the only remaining sugar plantation region in Hawai’i, and the beaches of South Maui. This album covers our explorations of West, Central, and South Maui; I’m posting other albums on East Maui. We stayed in Kihei, South Maui, which is where we saw sea turtles and I later swam with a few of them. We also visited Lahaina (the former capital of the Kingdom), the Olowalu Petrogyphs, and took a drive around the entire West Maui coastline.

Sunrise from Haleakala Volcano, East Maui

On Thursday morning I took the 1.5-hour drive up the slope of Haleakala, elevation 10,023 feet, to witness the spectacular sunrise on my late mother’s birthday. Haleakala means “House of the Sun,” and the dawn gradually filled in the huge cloud-filled crater with the first light of the day.

Waimea Valley & North Shore O’ahu

We took a couple of days off to visit O’ahu’s North Shore, and visited the botanical garden at Waimea Valley (with stunningly beautiful flowers and a Hawaiian village site), Pu’u o Mahuka heiau (stone temple), and saw green sea turtles come ashore on Laniakea Beach.

Lei Day & Changing of the Seasons

On Sunday, May 1, we attended the 89th annual Lei Day, as well as Huli Kauwela: Changing of the Seasons, both in Honolulu’s Kapi’olani Park. Lei Day draws on Hawaiian lei-making and music to celebrate the spring, rather than European May Day traditions. Huli Kauwela celebrates the change of Hawaiian seasons, with a public event watching the sun set at the edge of O’ahu, from the site of an ancient heiau (temple) and astronomical observatory. The two celebrations included two very different types of hula — the first emphasizing color and entertainment, and the second with a more serious cultural and spiritual grounding.

Pearl Harbor (Pu’uloa) as a Hawaiian Place

Last weekend, Debi and I went on a “Decolonial Tour” of western O’ahu, with Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keko’olani of Hawaii Peace & Justice. Our stops included Pearl Harbor, also known as Keawalau o Pu’uloa (“the many harbored-sea of the long hill”). Before the U.S. naval base was built in 1908-19, Pu’uloa was known as an area rich in fishponds and taro patches, and home of the shark goddess Ka‘ahupahau. The construction paved over and later contaminated the sacred site with oil and other toxins. I separately visited the USS Arizona Memorial, which remembers the dead from the 1941 Japanese attack that drew the U.S. into war with its Pacific imperial rival, and the USS Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered after the atomic bombings of 1945. Today, the sunken Arizona is itself treated as a sacred place, which continues to leak oil as a sign of “weeping” for the 1,171 who perished on board. Pearl Harbor is now a giant sprawling complex of installations and military housing, with its own PX shopping center. It was jarring to explore such a key site of “militourism,” and visit the museums that strain to tell its competing stories and lessons (told here in a chronology). Our thanks to Terri and Kyle for helping us to understand Pearl Harbor not just as a symbol of U.S. war history, but as a Hawaiian place.

Ancient He’eia fishpond on O’ahu

I participated in a community workday at the 800-year-old Paepae o He’eia (He’eia fishpond) near Kane’ohe, O’ahu. Fishponds have long been a key part of Hawaiian ahupua’a (geographical unit or foodshed) that includes taro patches further up the valley. The fishpond wall has been reinforced over the past decade, all by hand. Community volunteers are removing the invasive mangrove trees, which the colonial plantations grew to stem erosion, but which choke the fishponds and turn them into swamps. Our team removed mangrove logs, and dug out roots and weeds. It was difficult work that mirrored the process of decolonization–removing a settler plant by the roots–in order to restore the estuary environment and Indigenous food system to health. For information see http://paepaeoheeia.org/ I also included a few photos of fish at Hanauma Bay, near us on the east side of Honolulu.

Lantern Floating Hawaii

A moving and solemn Memorial Day ceremony on the Honolulu waterfront, drawing on Japanese Buddhist and Hawaiian traditions, to commemorate loved ones who have passed on. The event drew 50,000 people and 6,000 lanterns, and opened with taiko drumming, hula, and the lighting of a giant torch. http://lanternfloatinghawaii.com/

Houseless in their Homeland: O’ahu’s Waianae Coast

Hawai’i is usually depicted as paradise, but left out of the image is the enormous crisis of houselessness, particularly for the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) community. Many of them have been evicted from their land by the plantations, military, and tourist resorts and real estate. There are have no refugee camps like elsewhere in the world, so they end up in tents of the beach, on the streets, or emigrating to the U.S. mainland. When they try to form communities on the beach, to live off the land and sea like their ancestors, they are often evicted again and arrested, but they keep trying. About 80% of military landholdings in Hawaii are confiscated former Hawaiian government and Crown lands. About a quarter of O’ahu land is in military hands, and subsidies to military personnel for off-base housing enormously jack up the rents for everyone, driving more residents out of their homes. The western leeward side of O’ahu, called the Waianae Coast, has much of its land and water under military control, and is not coincidentally the lowest-income region of the island. We took three trips, with the “Decolonial Tour” of Hawaii Peace & Justice, the Environmental Justice Tour of KAHEA: Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance and Concerned Elders of Waianae, and to visit with organizers Sparky Rodrigues and Poka Laenui. They showed us the Makua Valley training area, the Lualualei naval transmitters, and other installations, and an organic farm and self-governed “home-free” community. Thanks to them for opening our eyes to the “other side of paradise.”

Don’t Skip Honolulu

Almost everyone who’d visited Hawai’i as a tourist gave us the same advice: “You might arrive in Honolulu, but get out of it as soon as possible, and go to Beach X or Island X.” I beg to differ. Yes, the big-city traffic is a pain, and Waikiki is a surreal American-Japanese tourist nightmare. But Honolulu is a fascinating international city, with a multiethnic working-class culture that emerged from the plantations and urban labor and community struggles. It is also a Hawaiian city. These are some random images of Honolulu that try to convey its cultures: parades, museums, canoe races, singers, farmers’ markets, and Chinatown lei shops. The food also tells of the cultural mélange, from poke, malasadas and Spam to Vietnamese fusion and conveyor-belt sushi. The enclaves of nature within the city were also lovely, whether Manoa Falls botanical garden, Haunama Bay coral reef, or the Manu-o-Ku (white tern) that has adapted its Hawaiian life to the city. I don’t regret any of the two months we spent in Honolulu.

Hawai’i Volcanoes & Petroglyphs

Our Hilo friend Renee Pualani Louis? took us to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where we visited the Halema’uma’u Crater within the Kilauea Caldera, and witnessed the red glow of the lava lake on the rising steam. It was awesome to see the recent flows of jagged, black lava over the earlier flows of smooth, shiny lava, the deep craters, and the rope braids of flows frozen in time. The Earth really is alive. We saw the thousands of petroglyphs made by past Hawaiians on the Pu’uloa Trail, and attended a Hawaiian-language opera by Kamehameha Schools students.

Hilo Orchids & Waterfalls

Debi and I stayed with our friends Renee and Arna in the pleasant Big Island city of Hilo, just in time for the fabulous Hilo Orchid Show. We also visited the stunning Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Akaka Falls, and the Hilo and Maku’u farmers’ markets. Mahalo to Renee and Arna for their hospitality, wisdom, and laughs.

Sacred Mauna Kea & the military desecration of Pohakuloa


Global attention has focused on the Hawaiian movement to stop the descecration of sacred Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in the Pacific and (if you start at the ocean floor) in the world. It is considered the piko (navel) of the islands, and the center of energy flows on Hawai’i Island. Kanaka Maoli have for years opposed the mountaintop removal development on the peak for giant telescopes. Last year the movement took action with blockades of the only road, to oppose the planned Thirty-Meter Telescope. The blockades joined youth and elders, and Kanaka Maoli and allies, to draw a so-far successful line against TMT.

But what is lesser known is that a huge U.S. Army training area and bombing range operates on the slope of the sacred mountain, in the “saddle” region or sacred realm of unity with the two other great mountains of Mauna Loa and Hualalai. The Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) has operated on Hawaiian Kingdom government and Crown lands that are also rich in cultural sites. Many of the same activists opposing TMT also oppose Pohakuloa for similar reasons.

Since World War II, and has seen infantry training, depleted uranium (DU), strategic bombers, and more recently Strykers and drones. The 133,000-acre site is five times larger than the former naval bombing range island of Kaho’olawe. It is the largest military installation in the archipelago, and contains more endangered species than any other U.S. military base on Earth. Unexploded ordnance (UXO) is found throughout the site and on adjacent former military lands where civilian homes and resorts have since been built.

For my sabbatical research I interviewed Uncle Ku Chung, Aunty Maxine Kahaulelio, Jim Albertini, Kalani Flores, and No’eau Peralto, and they gave advanced geography seminars with maps. They want the area closed (like Kaho’olawe), and then cleaned-up. If the movement For more information and to sign a petition, see the video at https://vimeo.com/63867

North Hawai’i Paniolo Country

The moku (districts) of Kohala and Hamakua are not as touristy as other parts of Hawai’i Island. Kohala is the homeland of King Kamehameha I, and we visited his Pu’ukohola Heiau (temple), and the ancient fishing village at Lapakahi. Kohala is also the homeland of the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy). After Vancouver gifted the King with cattle in 1793, some escaped and went wild. To round them up, the Kingdom brought in Mexican vaqueros in the 1830s, and the paniolos (Hawaiian for “españoles”) taught Hawaiians their craft. We stayed in beautiful Waimea (or Kamuela), the center of the Parker Ranch and paniolo country, on the cusp of the Big Island’s lush windward and drier leeward sides. On the windward side, we stopped by Honoka’a and Waipi’o, in Hamakua on the slope of Mauna Kea.

King Kamehameha Day in North Kohala, Hawai’i

Today was King Kamehameha I’s birthday, and a major celebration was held in the area of his birth, by his statue in Kapa’au at the northern tip of Hawai’i Island. Hula dancers and the Royal Order of Kamehameha paid tribute to the King, and his statue was draped in huge flower leis. A long horse parade passed by the statue, with the horses and their riders also wearing leis, and wearing colors representing the different islands that he unified into one Kingdom in the 1790s. After the parade, everyone went to the park for song, dances, and food. The Kohala region is heavily Native, and has been home to Hawai’i’s Paniolo (Cowboy) culture since the 1830s, and the blending of the cultures was remarkable. It was one of the most beautiful events we’ve ever seen, with no corporate sponsors, politicians, alcohol, or military — just the community, and an affirmation of independent Hawai’i.

Kona Coast, West Hawai’i

The Kona moku (district) is on the western drier side of Hawai’i Island, and is punctuated by huge jagged lava flows down to the sea. It is a center of Hawaiian history, the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau royal sanctuary of peace, the nearby site of Captain Cook’s not-as-peaceful demise, and numerous petroglyphs and heiau (temples). The town of Kailua-Kona has both the Hulihe’e royal palace and Mokuaikaua Church, (the first Christian church in Hawai’i), and hosts outrigger canoe races. Offshore I was thrilled to swim with tropical fish, green sea turtles, dolphins, and manta rays, and in the uplands we saw coffee farms and artisan colonies, and on the coast we saw stunning sunsets and moonsets.

Ka‘u & Puna, South Hawai’i

On our drive from Kona to the Hilo airport and home, we went through a less trodden area of Hawai’i Island, in the districts of Ka‘u and Puna, on the southern slopes of Mauna Loa. We saw many lava flows and lava tube, coffee farms, cool rural towns, and South Point, the southernmost point in the country (whether the Hawaiian Kingdom or the United States). It was a great last day in Hawai’i.

Video: Swimming with a Big Island Turtle

Swam today with a honu (green sea turtle) who was feeding on the Kona Coast of Hawai’i Island. We were joined by some fish off Kahalu’u Beach Park (2:44).

Video: Swimming with the Dolphins

Swam with nai’a (dolphins) off the Kona Coast of Hawai’i Island. The spinner dolphins first make an appearance at 0:20, and two of them get really close. I could hear them whistling to each other in the water (1:29).

Video: Manta Rays in Hawai’i Waters

Last night I took this video of manta rays dancing their ballet, under lights designed to attract their plankton food source. At points they came so close that they I could see down into their mouths, and I could see a fish attached to one. Hahalua (manta rays) are amazing creatures — almost otherworldly: http://www.hawaiimagazine.com/…/cultural-significance-manta… Thanks to Evergreen student Anne Giles for suggesting this unique experience on Hawai’i’s Kona Coast (1:37).