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

    • 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.

  2. 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.


    • 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.

    • Thank you for clarity
      on protocol
      to visit
      a place.

      Those who respect will listen and learn better.

      Sad for the losses.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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