The cultural aspects of wai

Sponsored by Board of Water Supply, Ulupono Initiative, and Hawai’i County Department of Water Supply

HONOLULU (HI Now) - The Native Hawaiian cultural perspective of water holds a wealth of wisdom and is key to inspiring Hawai’i residents to take responsibility for managing our precious water resources. Ola i ka wai reflects the ancestral knowledge of our kūpuna that be translated to “water is life.” This expresses the worldview of Native Hawaiians. It shows how they viewed water; they understood the reciprocal relationship between Hawai’i’s people and water.

Native Hawaiians saw the value and importance of water and took care of fresh water to ensure there was water for everyone. Waiwai, literally water water, was the word for wealth, defined by how much water you had to share with others. Stewardship of water is important to take care of others, the environment, and future generations. Our water today is a gift from our kupuna, who saw rain years ago and then seeped into the ‘āina for us to enjoy today. Native Hawaiians used water judiciously, using what they needed for their lo’i and ensuring there was water for the streams to support animals (’o’opu, hihiwai, and ‘opae). They also make sure water flowed makai to fishing areas. We can benefit by returning to that same deep sense of kuleana or responsibility for others.

Wai was so pervasive in Native Hawaiian culture that it also serves as the basis for our laws – kanewai. In Hawai’i, no one owns the water resources. Our water is held in a public trust to benefit all of us. We are all responsible for taking care of water, now and for future generations.

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