Water Rights

    Wai or water is such a valuable resource. We know that today, and so did our ancestors of ka wā kahiko (traditional times). The Hawaiian word for law is kanawai. This suggests that the laws of ka wā kahiko were centered around wai. Wai is such an important term in Hawaiian society that the term for being wealthy or rich is waiwai. This allusion back to wai demonstrates that wealth was not determined by material richness in Hawaiian society. Instead, it was determined by a person's access to fresh water. Having access to fresh flowing water allowed a person to cultivate kalo and other crops to sustain his family and the community as a whole.

Listen as uncle Calvin Hoe talks about some of the water issues that have gone before the State of Hawai‘i Supreme Court.

    With the increase of sugar production and sugar plantations in the Hawaiian Islands, water became a scarce resource for kalo farmers and other families that depended on the water flowing in the streams. Many of the plantations would divert the water away from the natural flowing streams for their products, whether it would be sugar or pineapple. This took away millions of gallons of water that local farmers used and needed for their crops. Without the water that once flowed freely in the streams, many families were denied the ability to practice their inherent culture. Many had to stop working the lo‘i, which led to having become dependent on other means for sustainability.

    In the late twentieth century, almost all of the sugar plantations have closed down. At the same time, many Hawaiian families on the Windward side of O‘ahu had begun to restore cultural practices, one being kalo farming. The families' assertiveness to re-open once flourishing lo‘i was met with some resistance when large companies refused to allow the water flow back to windward streams, which would allow communities to begin planting kalo. This stirred up controversies and lawsuits that ended up in the State of Hawai‘i Supreme Court.

    Uncle Calvin Hoe suggests that the bigger issue here is not whether the water is flowing in Windward or Leeward communities, but it is about the future of Hawai‘i. Since the majority of the plantations are now no longer in existence on O‘ahu, the water that was once used for the plantations is now being used for the development of new homes and communities. One thing to keep in mind when considering this is the over-development of O‘ahu. On an island, our resources are much more limited and questions of sustainability must be raised. Hear Uncle Calvin Hoe's mana‘o about this issue.