Traditionally Associated Peoples and Ethnographic Resources

Surveying Traditional Hawaiian Use of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Charles M. Langlas, University of Hawaii at Hilo
February 25, 2003

Abstract: The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Ethnographic Study was carried out by the author from October 1996 to May 2000. The third phase of the study focused on current traditional use of Park resources by Native Hawaiians. Current use of three types of resources was studied,

  1. use of marine resources in the Kalapana Extension of the Park by Native Hawaiians from the Kalapana community east of the Park, who by law have the exclusive right to fish there;
  2. gathering of plants under permit for traditional cultural purposes; and
  3. use of sites at Kïlauea Caldera for traditional rituals to Pele, goddess of volcanic activity (mainly giving offerings to her).

As part of the research, surveys of Native Hawaiian resource users were carried out in order better-generalize about current Native Hawaiian use. A questionnaire was constructed for the Kalapana fishermen, in order to determine what they fish for in the park, how much they fish inside the park versus outside, what areas they use most in the park, and how their use has changed as a result of the recent lava flow which cut off direct access to the park from Kalapana. The questionnaire was used as a guide for semi-formal interviews with thirteen fishermen, whose names came from the park's list of those eligible to fish in the Kalapana Extension and who were known by the park staff to actually fish there. The fishing interviews provided a great deal of detailed information. Two other questionnaires were constructed and mailed out for written response. A questionnaire to assess plant collection was sent to 108 Native Hawaiians from Hawaii Island who had received Park permits to gather plants. A major goal was to determine for various plants how much they gather within the park versus outside the park. Seventeen questionnaires (16%) were returned anonymously, enough to provide useful information. Another questionnaire to assess use of ritual sites to Pele at Kïlauea was sent out. The goal was to get some idea of how widespread ritual use of Kïlauea is and to elicit the opinion of ritual practitioners about how to handle the offerings that are left to Pele. The park has no list of ritual practitioners. Because many hula teachers make offerings to Pele I sent the questionnaire to them, using a statewide list published by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The response to this survey was poor: only two of twenty questionnaires were returned, and the answers were often vague. The outcome is unsurprising because ritual to Pele is a sensitive topic. Face-to-face interviews (held with three of the hula teachers) were much more productive, but lack of time limited the number carried out. Not surprisingly, face-to-face interviewing works better with Native Hawaiian resource users than a mail-out questionnaire. However, the mail-out questionnaire can be useful, where there is a list of resource users with addresses and where the topic is not too sensitive.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park lies on Hawai'i Island, the largest island of the Hawaiian group. It includes two active volcanoes, both wet and dry forest land, and a long coastline. From October 1996 to May 2000, I carried out an ethnographic study of traditional Native Hawaiian use of the Park (Langlas n.d.). The study was done in three phases,

  1. documentary research on Native Hawaiian use of the Park,
  2. oral history interviews with elders to document traditional use between 1930 and 1980, and
  3. a study of current "traditional" use.

Here I focus on the use of questionnaires to investigate current use. I decided to attempt systematic surveys as a basis for generalization, even though I had misgivings about the potential for success. Like Native Americans, Native Hawaiians are generally suspicious of outsiders. I knew from earlier work with the Kalapana Hawaiians (Langlas et al 1990) that successful interviewing with Hawaiians requires building a personal relationship. Hawaiians are prone to label the questions of a stranger as niele, "inappropriately nosey." A one-time impersonal interview or a mail out questionnaire would likely be seen as niele and not elicit much response.

Two Native Hawaiian communities have the closest historical ties to Park lands, the Kalapana Hawaiian community to the east of the Park and the Kaÿü Hawaiian community to the west. However, Park resources are used in traditional ways by Native Hawaiians from the whole of Hawai'i Island and beyond. My research on current traditional use focused on three spheres:

  1. fishing from the shore of the Kalapana Extension by Native Hawaiians from Kalapana
  2. plant gathering in the Park by Native Hawaiians from the whole of Hawai'i Island, and
  3. use of Kïlauea Caldera in the Park to make ritual offerings to Pele (volcano goddess) by Hawaiians from all over the island group.

The methods used to contact respondents and administer the questionnaire varied with the type of use; and so did the success of the effort.

The Kalapana Extension Act gave Kalapana Native Hawaiians an exclusive right to fish from the shore of the Extension. From the 1960s the Park has maintained a list of Kalapana Native Hawaiians who are eligible to fish. In phase 2, I had already done a number of informal interviews with Kalapana Hawaiian fishermen. That work allowed me to create a detailed questionnaire on fishing and to establish a list of twenty-seven fishermen from the Park list who frequently fished in the Kalapana Extension. I interviewed thirteen of the active fishermen.

The fishing interviews were done in person and were semi-formal in nature . The questionnaire was used as a guide, but the fisherman was encouraged to talk about his personal experience. The interviews were quite successful, providing a range of detailed and comparable material. The fishermen were asked what fish they went for in the Park, how much they used various areas of the Park, why they fished in the Park, and how much they fished inside the Park versus outside. The fishermen obviously enjoyed the informal interviews, but most would probably not have returned a formal, mailed-out questionnaire

The interviews showed that none of the Kalapana Hawaiian fishermen fish commercially in the Park anymore (although the enabling legislation allows that), because they feel that the fish stocks are too low. They also showed that the most important fishing resource in the Park for the Kalapana Hawaiians is the limpet ÿopihi (Cellana spp.). ÿOpihi is an essential item at a Hawaiian lüÿau (feast). Lüÿau are held by the Kalapana Hawaiians for first birthdays, graduations, marriages and other life-crises and are an important occasion for the extended family to work together, and reconnect. The Kalapana Hawaiians now depend on the Park for ÿopihi, because there is so little in Kalapana outside the Park.

Native Hawaiians (mostly from Hawai'i Island) are able to collect parts of certain plants from the Park under permit for traditional religious use. The permit program was instituted in 1989 to comply with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The permit records the collector's name and address, what plants are to be collected and the collection location. Analysis of the permit information showed what plants were most often collected by Hawaiians and to see that the amount of collection was clearly not increasing. Additional questions could not be answered from the permit files. I wanted to view Native Hawaiian plant collection from the Park in a wider context, to know if the Native Hawaiian collectors were gathering more from the Park, or more outside. Were there additional plants they wanted to gather, that were not on the Park list for collection? Did they feel they were being treated respectfully by the Park staff?

A questionnaire was sent out to answer those questions. From the list of permit-holders, every fifth name was chosen. The recipient was asked to fill out the questionnaire anonymously and send it back. In all, 108 questionnaires were sent out and 17 were returned (a response rate of 16%). In this case it seemed inappropriate to contact individuals and hold face-to-face interviews., although that might have increased the response rate. The permit-holders gave their names to Park personnel so they could collect plants on a given day without danger of arrest, not so that they might be contacted months or years later by a researcher. I could have located plant collectors by networking instead, but that would likely have resulted in a biased sample.

The results of the plant collector survey were useful, though limited. The survey questions had to be limited to encourage a return. Sometimes respondents misunderstood a question, and there was no chance to clarify. A return rate of 16% may be considered relatively good for a mail-out questionnaire. I believe the response was good because the plant collectors are generally students associated with hula schools. They are relatively well educated and were motivated by the chance to improve the plant collection program. There were only seventeen responses, but they provided interesting information, for example that the collectors gather more outside the Park than inside. Three of the respondents added an unsolicited comment that they avoid collecting in the Park unless they cannot find the plants anywhere else.

The use of Kïlauea Caldera for ritual to Pele proved to be the most difficult activity on which to get information. Many Native Hawaiians revere Pele, but they keep their beliefs and actions to themselves. There is a long history of Christian suppression of Pele worship, first by Western missionaries and then by Native Hawaiian Christian pastors. During the second phase of the research, a well-known figure in the ongoing Hawaiian cultural renaissance gave a wonderful interview describing her view of Pele, the ritual sites she uses at Kïlauea, and her view of how offerings to Pele should be given. I wanted to see how widely shared her ideas were among other ritual practitioners, but had difficulty in locating practitioners. Park rangers said that Native Hawaiians come from all over to make offerings. But there is no list maintained by the Park and no "community" of practitioners to work with.

Eventually, I decided to contact the kumu hula (hula teachers), because I knew that some of them, at least, give offerings to Pele when they come to Hawai'i Island for the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. I sent out a questionnaire using an address list of kumu from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. I asked them whether they go to Kïlauea to give offerings, what they offer and what sites they thought important. The mail-out questionnaire was not a success: only two out of twenty-one questionnaires were returned. Probably the topic was too sensitive for a mail-out questionnaire and perhaps some of the questions were too general. The answers that were sent back were too vague or limited to be useful. Subsequent face-to-face interviews with kumu hula were more successful, because I was able to establish a relationship of trust and to adjust the line of questioning to the individual. Unfortunately, time and travel constraints limited the number of such interviews that could be carried out.

Clearly there is a role for surveys in traditional resource use studies. It is important to be able to count cases and a systematic survey of users is one way to do that. But the situation has to be right for a survey to be productive. The researcher needs sufficient prior background to design a useful questionnaire. The researcher needs to be able to locate an unbiased sample of resource users to survey. If the resource users come from a small community (as the Kalapana fishermen did), then respondents can be located by networking. But if the resource users are scattered (as the Native Hawaiian plant collectors were) that will be more difficult. Face-to-face interviewing leads to more valid and comprehensive results than a mail-out questionnaire, but it may be too time-consuming. People are less likely to respond to a mail-out questionnaire on a sensitive topic. Thus, the survey of ritual offerings to Pele got less response than the survey of plant collection. Surveys can succeed, even with a traditionally-associated people that is suspicious of outsiders, but are limits to their successful use.

References Cited