Na Kua’aina: Living Hawaiian Culture
Davianna Pomaika'i McGregor
Softcover, 384 pp.
The word kua'āina translates literally as back land or back country. Davianna Pōmaikaʻi McGregor grew up hearing it as a reference to an awkward or unsophisticated person from the country. However, in the context of the Native Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the late twentieth century, kua'āina came to refer to those who actively lived Hawaiian culture and kept the spirit of the land alive.
The mo'olelo (oral traditions) recounted in this book reveal how kua'āina have enabled Native Hawaiians to endure as a unique and dignified people after more than a century of American subjugation and control. The stories are set in rural communities or cultural kīpuka (oases) from which traditional Native Hawaiian culture can be regenerated and revitalized. By focusing in turn on an island (Moloka'i), moku (the districts of Hāna, Maui, and Puna, Hawaiʻi), and an ahupuaʻa (Waipi'o, Hawaiʻi), McGregor examines kua'āina life ways within distinct traditional land use regimes. The ʻōlelo noʻeau (descriptive proverbs and poetical sayings) for which each area is famous are interpreted, offering valuable insights into the place and its overall role in the cultural practices of Native Hawaiians. Discussion of the landscape and its settlement, the deities who dwelt there, and its rulers is followed by a review of the effects of westernization on kua'āina in the nineteenth century. McGregor then provides an overview of social and economic changes through the end of the twentieth century and of the elements of continuity still evident in the lives of kuaʻāina.
The final chapter on Kaho'olawe demonstrates how kua'āina from the cultural kīpuka under study have been instrumental in restoring the natural and cultural resources of the island.