The tide is rising ahead of the early morning sun on the northeast coast of the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i. Waves rush singing onto the outer reef where two throw net fishermen stalk the surge. An elderly woman with her silver hair in a kerchief makes her way toward shore, two octopuses tucked in her mesh bag. Within hours, two hundred tourists will snorkel, sunbathe, and teeter on the coral, few ever knowing that people fish here or that their catch sustains an entire kaiāulu (community) connected to this stretch of reef.
This coast is known as a playground for tourists and backdrop for Hollywood movies, but catch from small local reefs, and the sharing of this abundance, has sustained area families for centuries, helping them to thrive through tidal waves, hurricanes, an influx of new residents, and economic recessions. Yet fishing families are increasingly invisible and many have moved away, threatened by global commodification and loss of access to coastal lands that are now private retreats for star entertainers, investors, and dot-com millionaires.
Building on two decades of interviews with more than sixty Hawaiian elders, leaders, and fishermen and women, Kaiāulu shares their stories of enduring community efforts to perpetuate kuleana, often translated to mean “rights and responsibilities.” Community actions extend kuleana to include nurturing respectful relationships with resources, guarding and cultivating fishing spots, perpetuating collective harvests and sharing, maintaining connection to family lands, reasserting local governance rooted in ancestral values, and preparing future generations to carry on.
An important contribution to scholarship in the fields of natural resource management, geography, Indigenous Studies, and Hawaiian Studies, Kaiāulu is also a skillfully written and deeply personal tribute to a community based not on ownership, but reciprocity, responsibility, and caring for the places that shape and sustain us all.
About the Author
Mehana Blaich Vaughangrew up where the districts of Halele‘a and Ko‘olau meet on the island of Kaua‘i. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, and the Sea Grant College Program and Hui ‘Āina Momona at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Mehana’s research and teaching focus on community relationships with natural resources, particularly in indigenous settings, as well as place-based education. Her home is on Kaua‘i with her husband, mother, and three children. Kaiāulu is her first book.
"Mehana Vaughan’s Kaiaulu: Gathering Tides is heartbreaking in its recognition of what has disappeared, and what is slipping away, from her native Hawaiian culture—but at the same time, her book brims with hope, with love, and with reverence for the people who take care of their place down to the last grain of sand. Along with meticulous research, Vaughan offers the reader a portrayal of people she’s bound to, through blood and community, and the ways in which tradition and ritual are as essential to human survival as the food we eat." –Debra Gwartney, author of Live Through This