'Iwa Tales

 

In 'Iwa Tales, by author Craig B. Smith, Kaimi Kanahele, a young boy living in Honolulu meets a mysterious ‘Iwa (Frigate Bird) on the beach. Intrigued by the large bird’s peculiar behavior, the boy approaches the bird. He is surprised to find that the bird speaks to him in a series of guttural croaks and hissing sounds, strange, but perfectly understandable. The first tale told by the bird describes how the early Polynesians arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, guided by one of the ‘Iwa’s ancestors.

Later that day, back at home, Kaimi wonders if he really heard the bird speak, or was it his imagination, magnified by the wind rustling through the palm trees at the beach? On succeeding days, Kaimi again encounters the magnificent ‘Iwa, who rails at Kaimi’s inattentiveness as he tells him more tales about the history of the islands. The second Tale recounts an ancient legend concerning a prince from the island of Kaua‘i who came to O‘ahu to perfect his surfing skills. He falls in love with a bird having supernatural powers and able to change herself into the form of a beautiful girl. When he breaks a promise, the girl dies and the prince is turned to stone. The ‘Iwa uses this story to emphasize to Kaimi that he must promise to remember the ‘Iwa’s tales.

The third tale concerns Kamehameha, the king who united the islands. The ‘Iwa tells Kaimi how the king narrowly escaped capture and death at the hands of his enemies by swimming to an underwater cave in the Mokulua Islands, not far from Kailua. The ‘Iwa challenges Kaimi: “Can you be like Kamehameha and accomplish great deeds, help save the seas and preserve these islands?” Later, the underwater cave takes on great significance for Kaimi. The fourth tale describes the attack on Pearl Harbor from the perspective of the ‘Iwa birds that viewed the ferocity of the bombing and feared for the invasion of the island. In the fifth tale, the ‘Iwa tells the story of a family that settled on the island near Kailua and made their home a place of refuge for birds. They typified a generation that cared for the island and its precious resources. When war came, they had to leave their home, but were able to return later. The ‘Iwa tells Kaimi of terrible things that are happening in the oceans, from plastics and debris that are killing sea turtles and birds, to rising sea levels and acidification that is killing coral, and urges him to do something about these problems. He predicts a bleak future for the islands unless the human residents change their ways and pay more attention to caring for the land and the sea.

Although Kaimi went many times to the beach where he’d first met the ‘Iwa, he never encountered the bird again.

Yet, there is a sixth tale, when Kaimi accidentally discovers the underwater cave and suddenly realizes that the ‘Iwa did have unique knowledge of the island. This and other mysterious events convince Kaimi of the wisdom of the bird’s stories, and he decides to devote himself to the future preservation of the Hawaiian Islands and the oceans around them.

After graduating from high school, Kaimi went to the University of Hawai‘i and earned a degree in biology. Now he works for an environmental organization dedicated to protecting oceans and coral reefs.

If you ask, he will quote the seven principles of ocean literacy, that the earth in reality is mostly one big ocean. The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of the earth, influence its weather and climate, and make it habitable. The ocean supports a great diversity of life, the ocean and humans are inextricably connected, and despite its importance, the ocean is largely unexplored. He’ll tell you about the importance of coral reefs, the small fish they shelter, and the marvelous chain of life that depends on them. He’ll also tell you sad stories of ocean pollution, of plastic strangling sea turtles, and of reefs suffocating from runoff. Finally, if you are lucky he’ll tell you about his favorite creature—the great ‘Iwa birds that fly over the islands.

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