Seeking the Sacred Raven: Politics and Extinction on a by Mark Jerome Walters

By Mark Jerome Walters

Will the ’Alala ever go back to the wild? A chook sacredto Hawaiians and a member of the raven kinfolk, the’Alala at the present time survives in simple terms in captivity. How thespecies as soon as flourished, the way it has been pushed tonear-extinction, and the way humans struggled to avoid wasting it,is the gripping tale of looking the Sacred Raven.For years, writer Mark Jerome Walters has trackedthe sacred bird’s position in Hawaiian tradition and theindomitable ’Alala’s unhappy decline. hiking throughHawaii’s rain forests excessive on Mauna Loa, speaking with biologists,landowners, and executive officers, he has woven an epic story ofmissed possibilities and the simplest intentions long past awry.A species thatonce numbered within the hundreds of thousands is now constrained to approximately 50 captive birds.Seeking the Sacred Raven is as a lot approximately humans and tradition because it isabout failed regulations. From the traditional Polynesians who first settled theisland, to Captain prepare dinner within the 18th century, to would-be saviors of the’Alala within the Nineties, people with conflicting passions and prioritieshave formed Hawaii and the destiny of this dwindling cloud-forest species.Walters captures brilliantly the internecine politics between privatelandowners, scientists, environmental teams, participants and governmentagencies struggling with over the bird’s habitat and defense. It’s onlyone species, just one chicken, yet looking the Sacred Raven illustratesvividly the various dimensions of species loss, for the human to boot asnon-human global

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Within the oral Hawaiian culture, the ‘alala¯ was a daily revelation. To the westerners, it was more of a static object to be studied for what it was, and, to them, always would be — a species of bird. And what would become of a bird torn from the context of spirit and belief in which it had, for more than a thousand years, existed and evolved in the Hawaiian mind? After several days of exploring the lowlands and shore, several parties of the European visitors hiked up the slopes of Mauna Loa. qxd 30 4/14/06 6:47 PM Page 30 beginning in deep darkness They confirmed that the lower elevations thrived with cultivated breadfruit trees, plantains, sweet potatoes, taro, gingerroot, and sugarcane.

The omnipresent ‘auma¯kua guided nearly every act and thought. For early Hawaiians it was kapu, or forbidden, to hit anyone in the face or head because that was the body’s entrance for good spirits, including ‘auma¯kua. Picking a blossom from the ‘o¯hi‘a tree or other plant required a prayer for dispensation, lest the act offend a lesser god. Hence, there were myriad prayers for fishing, planting, harvesting taro, cutting certain trees, even burying a newborn’s umbilical cord. The divine presence in trees and elsewhere in the natural world evoked reverence, as well as fear of potential punishment — these gods could deliver both reward and retribution — that may have mitigated exploitation of the island’s resources.

But when Kamehameha’s son Liholiho had assumed power, several months before the Thaddeus arrived, he, now free of the old ruler, ordered Hawaiians to abandon their old beliefs and destroy their temples. The missionaries’ work was half done. Even the major temple at Pu‘ukohola¯ , built by Kamehameha the Great near Kawaihae, had just been pillaged, within sight of where the Thaddeus would soon anchor. The newly arrived missionaries wasted no time in reshaping Hawaiian perspectives on life, spirituality, and the world.

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