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UH Hilo Professor – “Too Much Love at Kamilo”

Commentary by UH Hilo Professor Jonathan Price:

Petroglyphs speak of the people who once made this their home. Nohu and Nehe decorate the shoreline, and it is the only place where Naio Pāpā is found at all. Today Kamilo in the Ka‘ū district of the Big Island stands as one of few remote coastlines that have been spared the toll of our modern society… until last month, that is.

Burned Naupaka patch (last year). Photo by M. Lamson.

Burned Naupaka patch (last year). Photo by M. Lamson.

The Rainbow Family of Living Light”, despite calling themselves a “non-organization”, coordinated a gathering using a website, a Facebook page, and a clearly-organized effort. People flew in from the mainland and knew precisely where to go, even at this remote site, which is only accessible by four-wheel drive. A complex of campsites was set up for well over a week, culminating on the night of the most recent full moon, where hundreds gathered. It is difficult to say how many showed up, but their Facebook page listed over 200 as attending, and it is certainly possible that additional “unplugged” people added to the mix. This is also not the first time that a gathering has occurred here. Being state land, of course there are rules that apply, and yet the Rainbow Family cites the U.S. constitution’s freedom to assemble and their own professed love of nature as reasons why the rules do not apply to them. In any event, the public has a right to know what occurred, in the interest of determining whether this is how we want our public lands to be treated.

Camp materials left behind (last year). Photo by M Lamson

Camp materials left behind (last year). Photo by M Lamson

First, the natural splendor of the site has undoubtedly been compromised. The most comfortable camping spots are within a stand of Milo trees near the shoreline (hence the name Kamilo), but in order to make room for hundreds of people, the undergrowth was heavily cut using chainsaws. Fire is a popular ingredient at these gatherings, and so massive amounts of wood were collected to feed these. However fire is difficult to control: at last year’s gathering a fire spread through a field of Naupaka, badly damaging the native vegetation. A huge input of nutrients from hundreds of people’s feces and urine (even when buried) will surely make its way into the shallow waters nearby and threaten the health of an otherwise high-quality coral reef ecosystem. Large amounts of rubbish further degrade the austere beauty of the area. Generally, a week with this kind of population density would wreak havoc in just about any natural area.

A living Milo tree that was cut (this year). Photo by C Spina

A living Milo tree that was cut (this year). Photo by C Spina

More disturbing however, is a general absence of understanding about the cultural history of this place. Like many coastal areas, it abounds in cultural artifacts and archaeological sites. An enormous pit to dispose of human waste may seem like the logical and sanitary thing to do, but it really just demonstrates an utter vacuum of awareness or respect. I can’t say what may lie beneath the soil, but neither can they, and it is best not to disturb such places. Other documented impacts include moving coral “white rocks” to mark paths so everyone can see the petroglyphs, shuffling stones around to mark fire pits and campsites, and generally disturbing the area.

Trampled native vegetation (this year). Photo by C. Spina.

Trampled native vegetation (this year). Photo by C. Spina.

Unfortunately, after several Rainbow Family events, the State has demonstrated little ability to enforce the rules that prohibit gatherings of more than 25 people and altering the natural character of the land (http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/pdf/administrative_rules/13-7.pdf). To be fair, this was organized with little warning, resulting in a quickly swelling crowd; DOCARE, DLNR’s enforcement arm that is charged with regulating hunting, fishing, and all other activities on State lands, has merely a handful of officers for the entire island. Nonetheless, better coordination among DOCARE, DLNR’s Land Division, and private landowners (whose land is traversed to access the area) could prevent such a gathering from happening here or any other comparably sensitive area.

Lua for the masses (this year). Photo by M Lamson.


Lua (bathroom) for the masses (this year). Photo by M Lamson.

The answer is not to prevent anyone from accessing Kamilo; fishermen and others access the site in small numbers with far less impact, and a group of dedicated volunteers working through the Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund have regularly organized coastal cleanups. But as the Rainbow Family has shown time and again around the country, too many people can simply “love a place to death”.

Jonathan Price
Dept. of Geography and Environmental Studies
University of Hawai’i at Hilo

20 Responses

  1. On behalf of all humanity, the Earth and my heartsong, I beg apology for any and all harm done by any who may or not be referred to as Rainbow… it is my sincerest wish that we can all learn to tread lightly on the planet, honoring all space as sacred. Forgive us our human tresspasses. My heart bleeds to hear this story, it is not the way I wish. Even now I wish I could teach these young people to respect. Please accept my deepest apologies. If I ever come to the Islands… I will offer many prayers of healing to the land. ALICE NEVIN

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