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  • Writer's pictureSarah Taylor Ko

Love the Land, Malama Aina

The show opens today February 27th at 5pm, Viewpoints Gallery in Makawao, Maui and runs through April 16, 2022.

The ancient Hawaiʻians have so much to teach us about ecology. Not only did they see themselves as part of the land rather than exploiting it, but they created a brilliant system of management which granted each community access to resources from the ocean’s salt to the mountain’s Koa trees.

Each island was called a mokupuni which was divided into several ahupuaʻa, and ruled by a chief or aliʻi. These were further sub-divided into ʻili, sometimes set aside for the chief, sometimes communal land. The more fertile the area, the smaller the ahupuaʻa. Not only did this ensure a more equitable distribution, it also prevented over-harvesting of any one resource.

Although in reality they were more organic, I created long thin paintings to imitate the shape of the ahupuʻa land divisions.

In order to convey the lush abundance of Hawaiʻi I layered rich surfaces, contrasting textures, and representations of crops featured most prominently in Ulu Kala Maiʻa (Breadfruit, Taro, Banana.)

ʻĀina i ka Pono references our state motto: Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono which means, "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness." To me that means in order to support the earth we depend on, we have to employ balance and selflessness. In this painting, koa leaves which are shaped like a crescent moon adorn the top and bottom. Koa wood also was used to make ocean going canoes in the same shape.

I included moi, a fish prized by the aliʻi, and ulua, a sacred fish whose body in some legends created the Hawaiʻian Islands. Ulua refers to man, or can mean sweetheart, but the fish in olden times had the serious job of standing in for human sacrifice. You can see them most prominently in Hale ʻĀina.

In Hilo Rising I painted not only the hilo moon, which is one day after a full moon, but hilo also refers to a type of rich soil, as well as the city of Hilo on the Big Island. I collaged in "The Queen's Prayer," written by Queen Liliuokalani when she was imprisoned, "And so, o Lord protect us beneath your wings and let peace be our portion now and forever more."

I used gold leaf in some of the paintings to underscore the value and beauty of the land. I included petroglyphs from Hawaii Island in some of the paintings.

Ohe kapala prints, often used to decorate kapa cloth, reference waves and mountains.

Text written in Olelo Hawaiʻi about the Big Islandʻs ahupuʻa and maps of Hilo city add subtle dimension and a sense of place.

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