In the Beginning

H N THE BEGINNING were coral polyps and starfish, sea urchins and limpets. Of hot darkness they came: crabs, conch shells, and mother-of-pearl. The sacred essence entered all things. Then swam the spinner dolphin through the dark sea, home of the silver albacore, the stingray, the octopus. On land, Hula winds stirred the 'ie'ie vine, and blossoming 'ohi'a trees stretched their boughs. In the Third Era of creation came the 'alalaa.

A male this, the female that

A male born in the time of black darkness

The female born in the time of groping in the darkness

Overshadowed was the sea, overshadowed the land

Overshadowed the streams, overshadowed the mountains

Overshadowed the dimly brightening night

The rootstalk grew forming nine leaves

Upright it grew with dark leaves

The sprout that shot forth leaves of high chiefs

The rootstalk sprouted, the taro stalk grew Born was the 'alala. . . .

Growing from one another, all species were siblings. Indeed, the land itself was considered a member of the human family. These views of creation figured into the way Hawaiians exploited and conserved the islands' animals and other living resources.

The Hawaiians' view of the 'alala began with their creation story, as told in the Kumulipo, or "Beginning in Deep Darkness." Here, Earth was not made by a creator but spontaneously arose from nothingness. Earth was then swept by a chaotic whirlwind of god-inspired life—plants and animals of sea and land—a world where every leaf expressed the face of the divine, every wind spoke the voice of spirits, and every forest fragrance breathed the supernatural. In this world there were no natural occurrences, only supernatural ones: the rainbow, the wind, a sudden call or flight of birds, unexpected ocean waves, cloud formations, the behavior of animals. What was not divine was an earthly sign. Noisy flocks of 'alala screaming down from the uplands of the gods and across the lowland villages warned that lava from Mauna Loa was on its way, and ancient Hawaiians knew that when the wiliwili bloomed along the coast, sharks would bite.

In line with these beliefs, the early Hawaiians based land management on both scientific and anecdotal knowledge. And their practical understanding of natural phenomena merged with their spiritual beliefs. This blend of mind and spirit, antithetical to most Western approaches to natural resource management, brought me to the heart of the question about efforts to preserve the 'alala. In the Hawaiian view, did the presence of the sacred in the 'alalaa and other animals bestow upon them a powerful, implicit claim to existence? If the 'alala's spiritually fortified existence did contribute to its preservation in the old days, could such intangible values likewise help in modern times—given half a chance? Have such beliefs been permanently supplanted by the traditional Western view that animals are objects first and beings last—if at all? Or is the whole notion of "spiritual ecology"—the belief that in the beginning

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