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the smallest island of the Hawaiian island chain, is located
southwest of Maui. It is separated from Maui by the 6.9 mile
wide Alalakeike Channel and from Lanai by the 17.5 mile Kealaikahiki
Channel. This dry and uninhabited island covers a surface area
of only 45 square miles.
the summit of a single volcanic dome, Kahoolawe’s terrain
is a gentle slope with a ridge running diagonally across the
island. The highest point is the 1477- foot Lua Makika at the
northeastern part of the island, which is also the site of the
caldera that formed the island. Kahoolawe is dry and arid, and
receives just around 25 inches of rain annually, occurring mainly
on the eastern side of the mountain. Little rain is due to low
elevation of the land, which fails to generate enough precipitation
from the northeastern Trade Winds as is the case on the other
islands of Hawaii.
For the native Hawaiians, Kahoolawe is a sacred island, deeply
rooted in history, culture, and religion. Called “Kanaloa”
or “Kohemalamalama” in ancient times, the island
was inhabited by several hundred Hawaiians of 50 generations
for over a thousand years. These people who lived on settlements
across the entire island, made their living mainly by fishing
and farming. Others quarried for stone tools. Indications of
these early times can be found in the carved petroglyphs, or
drawings, in the flat surfaces of rocks. Other archaeological
evidences are the stone platforms for religious ceremonies and
rocks set upright as shrines for successful fishing trips. Some
of the oldest and largest heiaus (Hawaiian shrines) are located
on Kahoolawe. This island was also the place where the navigators
and kahuna who guided the ocean voyages of early Hawaiians were
island’s lack of a freshwater source, disease, and violent
wars among competing chiefs led to a sharp decline in the population,
and Kahoolawe became almost barren. Sometime around 1830, when
the missionaries had arrived from New England, the Hawaiian
government of King Kamehameha III replaced the death penalty
with exile, and Kahoolawe became a prison colony. In 1853, a
law was passed repealing the law that made Kahoolawe a penal
1857 a survey of the island showed the population to be just
50 residents, and the land was mainly covered with shrubs. Tobacco,
pineapple, and gourds were grown along the shore. The Hawaiian
government then introduced sheep and cattle. During the next
80 years, Kahoolawe’s landscape changed dramatically due
to drought and overgrazing by the animals. The rest of the harm
was done by strong trade winds blowing away much of the topsoil.
1910, Kahoolawe was designated as a forest reserve by the Hawaiian
government, but the plans of restoring the island through re-vegetation
failed. In 1918, the island was leased for 21 years to a Wyoming
rancher, Angus MacPhee, who built a cattle ranch there. The
ranch was a moderate success.
1920, the U.S. Army and Navy began using Kahoolawe for target
practice and began routinely bombarding it. In 1939, the Territorial
government leased the southern tip of the island to the Army
for use as an artillery range. In 1941 after the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor, martial law was declared and the Navy took
full control of Kahoolawe. The inhabitants were ordered off
the island and MacPhee removed all his cattle as well. The island
was now used for gunnery and bombing training by the Navy, and
was routinely subjected to torpedo bombing.
Native Hawaiians had begun pressing for the return of the island
ever since they were ordered off in 1941. In 1953, President
Eisenhower promised to return the island to Hawaiians as soon
as soon as its military usefulness ended. The Military continued
using Kahoolawe for bombing practice, covering the island with
craters formed by the bombs. The largest crater, some 50 meters
(165 feet) in diameter, resulted from the then most powerful
non-nuclear bomb ever which was detonated in 1965 near Hanakania
Bay to observe its effects on ships anchored offshore.
1976, some Native Hawaiians laid the groundwork for a series
of legal and direct actions aimed at restoring Hawaiian control
over the island. This group, called the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana,
organized protests and conducted a series of occupations which
brought national attention to the issue and resulted in numerous
arrests and some imprisonments.
PKO then filed suit in the Federal District Court for the District
of Hawaii to stop the Navy’s use of Kahoolawe for military
training, to require compliance with a number of new environmental
laws, and to ensure protection of cultural resources on the
island. The court allowed the Navy to continue using the island,
but directed it to prepare an environmental impact statement
and complete an inventory of historic sites on the island.
1980 the Navy and the Protect Kahoolawe Ohana entered into a
Consent Decree. This agreement allowed continued military training
on the island, monthly access to the island for the PKO, surface
clearance of part of the island, soil conservation, goat eradication,
and an archeological survey. In 1981, the island of Kahoolawe
was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. At that
time, the Kahoolawe Archaeological District had recorded 544
archaeological or historic sites and over 2,000 individual features.
As part of the soil conservation efforts, workers had laid lines
of explosive charges to detonate them to break the hardpan so
that seedling trees could be planted. Used tires were placed
in miles of deep gullies to slow the washing of red soil from
the barren uplands to the surrounding shores. Ordnance and scrap
metal was picked up by hand and transported by large trucks
to a collection site.
the efforts of the PKO, bombing of Kahoolawe was stopped by
an Executive Order of the elder President George Bush in 1990,
and a year later the Kahoolawe Island Conveyance Commission
recommended that the island be returned to Hawaiian control.
In 1993, the U.S. Government approved a $400 million clean-up
fund for Kahoolawe, and in 1994 Kahoolawe was officially returned
to Hawaii. Bombing was permanently prohibited.
the island's return to Hawaiian control, the Hawaii State Legislature
established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve in 1993. The Reserve
consists of the island and its surrounding waters extending
outward two miles into the ocean. By State Law, Kahoolawe and
its waters can only be used for Native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual
and subsistence purposes; fishing; environmental restoration;
historic preservation; and education. Commercial uses are prohibited.
The Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) was also created
to manage the Reserve.
is presently undergoing clean-up and restoration. Hawaiians
plan on planting the island with native foliage, including edible
and herbal plants used in traditional native medicine. For this
purpose various soil conservation programs are being implemented,
and a catchment system is being created to capture rain water.
Under a state law, Kahoolawe is to be eventually turned over
to a native Hawaiian sovereign entity recognized by the state
and federal governments.
island will be an educational center for Native Hawaiian culture,
where one may go and learn about being Hawaiian. It will provide
a place for the Hawaiian and those who wish to be more Hawaiian
to experience the intimate connection to the land, the sea,
the kupuna, and the akua. Hawaiian arts and sciences such as
traditional navigation will be taught to a new generation.
Kahoolawe, as envisioned in the motto "Kukulu ke ea a Kanaloa,"
will be a cultural learning center where traditional cultural
and spiritual customs, beliefs, and practices of the Hawaiian
people can be freely practiced and flourish.