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

18 Responses

    • Several weeks after the Rainbow Gathering at Ka’milo Beach someone went down there with a chainsaw and cut down old, live, Ironwood and Milo trees. They fell them all across and into a clear area that traditionally has been used for camping, picnics, and other activities. It was one of the most beautiful and sacred spots at Ka’milo. Now it is a tangled up mess of dead tree tops and is totally unusable for any activity. No one will be able to use that clearing until the mess is cleaned up. Judging by the size of the stumps some those trees were at least 100 years old. It is against the law to cut live trees at Ka’milo Beach. It is suspected that some Rainbow members returned to the area, after their rave, and did this damage in retaliation for being told that they were not welcome there. Because of the malicious damage done there, it will never be returned to it’s natural state.

  1. Late on this post but I’m going to say something anyway. I was born and raised in Ka’u, my family has lived on the same land in Waiohinu for almost 120 years. I moved out of Ka’u as a young adult to get my bachelor’s degree and eventually my law degree; but that is beside the point. We use the mountains and seaside nearest our home as our place to gather food. At the oceanside, we gather from Kamilo to Kaalualu; at the mountainside, we gather from Ha’ao. We usually don’t go beyond these zones because there is no need, and we don’t want to encroach on others.

    We never camp overnight, my papa didn’t like leaving waste down near the ocean because it breeds flies and cockroaches (which are abundant now if you go). He also didn’t like us defecating or urinating in an area that contains ‘iwi kupuna (if you don’t know what that is, look it up). If you needed to piss, you piss on the road. And even then, you say “E kala mai ia’u”, just in case you disturb anyone.

    When I am back home in Ka’u, I know when it is fishing tournament time because of the trucks that come in from Hilo with the poles on top. I know when the Rainbow people come in because I see them walking in with their gear, trying to hitch rides.

    It makes me sad that people treat Kamilo as a playground. It’s not. For some people, it’s their food source. Whether you are going down there to sportfish (Casting Club) or to party *ahem fellowship (Rainbow), you are creating a shitty situation, literally and figuratively, for the people who gather from those areas to supplement their foodstocks. What if I went to your home, opened your fridge and took a shit in it? Oh, and then I left the door open and unplugged the fridge? You’d be mad, right?

    When you camp down there and shit down there, you are poisoning a place and effectively tainting the mea’ai from this area that has sustained my family for generations. In essence, you are poisoning my family.

    My ‘ohana doesn’t claim to own the area; we don’t give malihini a hard time (and yes, even if you are from Hilo or Puna or Kona, you are malihini). We just try hard to practice good stewardship of the land and sea because we were here before you got here and intend on remaining here after you leave. So, if you choose to come, and I urge you to see the area, tread lightly and pack out EVERYTHING you packed in.

    Aloha.

    • Thank you for sharing your mana’o. For anyone who seeks to understand Hawai’i and Hawaiian culture, to me this is indigenous wisdom about how to malama aina…take care of the land.

  2. So Rainbow Hawk, aka? and 42 years you have been leaving a mess as recorded over and over again by the communities you decimate.
    Your trail is long and dirty. Try to use the Right to Assemble to redress the government is totally off the wall. The same old line of thousands of bows campers doing less damage to the land than a dozen scouts.
    No matter how many times you say it, won’t make it so.

  3. I agree that the event was ill conceived. I didn’t attend and have never been to Kamilo, but have done beach cleanups in the South Point area – pealing melted-on plastic off of the rocks that prevented the Limu from growing. This is my point: The fact is we all do untold amount of environmental damage we are often completely unaware of; our lifestyles are the problem and detrimental “Rainbow Gatherings” are merely a symptom. I have been ‘homeless’ and lived for months in Ocala National Forest in Florida. I don’t think much can be done to stop gatherings like this short of taking away peoples’ Constitutional rights, nor do I agree in the author’s stereotype that all people there were not thinking of their impact. I am certain there were many who went there solely to curb the amount of impact they knew would happen. Peace, Love and Light.

  4. Love nature every day.

    Your footsteps and missteps add to the aggregate destruction; that’s real. Even if 200 people got together to “work” on Kamilo, it would only begin to undo what they do while continuing to do what they’re doing.

    And even then, you can’t put the fish from your stomachs back into the sea. Maybe you should bring your own fish. You can’t take the piss and shit out of the soil. Is there much of a difference between gathering to profess your love for nature to each other or staying at home and telling nature alone? The shit goes in the toilet, that’s the difference. You can’t unburn the naupaka or grow back the trees. Maybe you should bring your own firewood. As far as the stones and coral go, I don’t think the Earth cares….

    But some people do. And you can’t put the respect back into the culture and its land and artifacts that you disregarded or knew little to nothing about.

    So, I move to suggest finding a place that no one cares about to do your do, Rainbowers. Bombard some forgotten patch of land with your bartering and bonfires, music and magic, stories and psychedelics, love and loitering, pee and poop. Somewhere far from the water. The Earth will mend itself before you check in again for your annual celebration of it.

    If we all lived in our own litter and filth, the Earth would be better off.

    • Such total lack of knowledge can only result from not being there and being a part. If you were you would certainly have a better understanding of that which you speak.

      • Did you go to one in Ka’u?

        In any case, I advocate rainbow gatherings…. huh? Sarcasm doesn’t translate well in text. But not at the expense of a people’s land and culture, man.

        Do you disagree with something I said?? Maybe you should drop some knowledge instead of denigration…. <3

  5. The article itself is extremely misleading. Rainbow Gatherings of the Tribes have now gone on for over 40 years on public lands in the U.S. and other types of lands around the world.
    In the U.S. in particular a good part of the Gathering is exercising 1st Amendment rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, free expression of religious or spiritual beliefs, an exercise in redressing the government for grievances (such as violating other rights retained by the people).
    Saying such things as ” 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” is hardly correct. In fact the supreme law/rules of the land is the Constitution and it’s accompanying Bill of Rights. Any regulation, rule or law which contravenes and denies the Rights set forth in said document is in fact null and void on the face of it. The Constitution IS THE LAW OF THE LAND.
    Now I have been part of Rainbow since its’ inception 42& years ago and dealt with everything from government officials to the press. More typically stated as in a U.S. Forestry Dept. study which stated “The Rainbow Gathering of 30,000 people (a U.S. National Gathering in Montana) left less ecological impact than a troop of 12 Cub Scouts.
    Gathers also do not cut live trees, using only dead and down ones. The photo shown is much more likely to show trees cut by locals using the area prior to the Gathering. You also don’t see any of the mountains of trash cited, so where is it? Gatherings set up recycling of anything possible and the sites are much cleaner than you average family outing locations.
    Sites are also cleaned thoroughly, impacted areas broken up and reseeded with species natural to the area. In some cases where people have built shelters with natural elements we have been ask to leave them for wildlife habitat. Occasionally being ask to leave improved foot trails so that those camping there later use them and do not create numerous others, thus saving future impact on an area.
    I am also quite sure that if white coral was used to line paths (to keep people on them) that such white coral was found out of the sea and was not part of any living reef system. Pieces of white coral are amply found in many areas and they bio-degrade at their natural rate of doing so, providing their benefits to the soil/environment. That they happen to be set up in a row to line paths does not change that, though upon cleaning up after such Gatherings they would be scattered more as they were when they were found.
    I do think that “Professor?” needs to get out of his Ivory Tower and learn the true facts before making such statements as he has. Such discredits his own credentials and do not speak well for UH Hilo as such is at best shoddy research based upon misguided personal opinions about events he obviously knows nothing real about.
    We do Gatherings with hundreds-thousands-tens of thousands around the world and have thee best environmental track record of any group/network there is. And that is very well documented in Governmental Reports and the Press over 4& decades.
    Actually the Gathering have proved to be extremely beneficial in that they train people to be able to live and survive in a natural environment. The very same skills required in doing relief work (including in urban areas) after major natural and man made disasters, which Rainbow is heavily involved in globally and usually at the vanguard of was we use our huge network to bring together everything needed, including highly experienced volunteers.
    Bashing, with erroneous statements, a very small Gathering of a couple of hundred folks, shows extremely little awareness and most likely a good amount of bigotry because those attending look like hippies and an arrogant “professor?” doesn’t like those kinds of folks. The amount of dishonesty in his report is perplexing and based upon ignorance or the facts.
    It also does not make this news source appear very reliable. It should investigate the FACTS and print a retraction.

    • Removing dead coral from the beach is illegal. The dead coral is part of the beaches habitat removing it is a federal offence. I know someone who went to jail for it.

      • Obviously moving it from one place to another is not “removing” it as it never left the site area. Odds are that every piece of coral moved is still in the same designated area it originated from, just some distance within it moved and likely as not scattered back.
        Frivolous arguments to deny the Rights of the People as guaranteed by the Constitution are hardly what the country needs.
        If you can come to a Gathering and teach people anything that needs to be known please do. Then you would really be saying something and contributing in positive ways.
        Anybody can bad rap anything. But what are you doing to make things better besides complaining and making a statement with no real validity?
        Educating and not denigrating others is the key.

    • I’m not sure how this article is misleading… When I look at respecting and caring for a place I dont need much more insight into the situation than the evidence that I have seen firsthand after these annual gatherings. I tend to use this formula as a basic rule of thumb: actions speak louder than words. Do you know Kamilo? Here is an insight into how small and fragile this ecosystem is:

      https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=499565100094489&set=pb.145214108862925.-2207520000.1360722105&type=3&theater

      Do you have an ethic code that you follow as a human? would you continuously want people to perpetuate this gathering at Kamilo if it was a most cherished places for you to visit? Your history with rainbow gatherings aside, sit down and educate yourself on the history of this particular gathering and this place!

      Do you really think UH professors sit in Ivory towers? why dont you come visit Hawaii Island and take a walk with me and meet some people that were at Kamilo while “rainbow gatherers were arriving and have been on site several times since…

    • So basically you are blaming the “locals” for not having nicely marked trails to get to their historically significant cultural sights and now you have done this for them. You are also saying that you burning all the underbrush and defecating on the beach is totally acceptable and you are doing a big favor to the Aina. Furthermore a couple of hundred people on sacred ground is not a very small gathering, especially on the Island of Hawaii. I know many Rainbow gatherers and I believe this was more of a party and not beneficial in any way except for a bunch of tourists exploiting a beautiful place and having a good time.I have much respect and love for Rainbow people as I am one but this was not the way to do it. Aloha .

  6. As a regular visitor to Ka’milo beach, for Marine Debri Art/Research/Family camping/Fishing. Seeing the destruction of the fauna; ie cutting into folage for camps, then further new trails, to go crap in the woods, leaving a fly infestation, hepititus possibilities for our Keiki who play barefoot there, showing no respect to the A’ina. I’m an old ”hippie” and ashamed of these folks, they arn’t ”hippies” in the 60’s sense of things. E ho’ola mai ka honua ala=Heal the Earth don elwing.

  7. I’ve posted in several places about the lack of integrity in how this event has gone down in the past. I know of many people who did not attend this year due to negativity surrounding the behavior of past attendees and the desires expressed by both Ka’u residents and gov’t officials that the event not happen. That said most of the misbehavior is due to negligence and innocent ignorance as to the biological and cultural nature of said environment. I’d like to suggest in the future that interested parties, DLNR (unofficially), residents, and HWF maybe reach out and co-opt future events to help “bridge the gap”. A few Luas would easily accommodate biological pollution and the wear and tear inherent to several hundred feet could be easily harnassed to do much good. Several hundred hands would accomplish WONDERS in beach-cleanup and habitat restoration. Camping will continue in Kau regardless. And frankly, MANY negligent campers cause a lot of damage in their camping daily, cutting live wood, leaving trash, 4-wheeling all over, overfishing, etc. I think the Rainbow Family is a lot more receptive and willing to help than a lot of the poor stewards we see down there. I say a cooperative, generative event could be incredible for the area and relations. It would take work, but i’m sure HWF, DOCARE, and DLNR have the will and creativity to accomplish this. I personally know several individuals who hiked from Kalapana to this event in Ka’u along the coast. That effort can be harnassed to make things pono. Mahalo. Hazen Komraus

  8. I hope someone forwards this message via facebook to these environmental terrorists. Stay home and crap in your own backyard and destroy your own items you consider precious. There is nothing new age about destroying the environment.

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