A Native Hawaiian’s Perspective on Oahu

MinJi Murschell

My closest friend, who wanted to be identified merely as the Kamak, is an 18 year old male from the Hawaiian island of Oahu and has consented to me utilizing his images and statements.

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“One of the few open spaces left on the island of Oahu.  This picture can represent many things. I took this picture on my way to work on the bus; with that being said there is definitely a conversation to be had about the mix of pure nature and human development. Moving forward we need to learn how to better retain spaces like this while still making space for us to grow. In general, this means a more environmentally oriented idea to architecture and urban development. On this piece of my island, the eastside, are some of the last parts left alone from true urban development. When planners look to develop this land, it begs the question, ‘do we really need this much space to accommodate everyone?'”  the Kamak

This picture and the Kamak’s statement reflects the impact of urban development, or rather, the land that remains after urban development. Urbanization isn’t a problem exclusive to Oahu as many natural spaces are rapidly developed and we are losing more land to concrete every day. The environmental problem this raises is something the Kamak wished to express when stating, “I think about when I first moved here compared to now, there is a lot more urbanization and a lot less natural land. It is sad to look out onto open fields and undeveloped land and wonder how long they have before a Starbucks replaces it.”

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“I love my home, but it isn’t the paradise that everyone thinks it is. Our homeless population is overwhelmingly prevalent. In a similar vein, how are we able to provide the means for living for those coming in and putting aside those who already live here. My Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) increasingly make up the homeless population. This has become a public health concern for Native Hawaiians especially in the midst of the pandemic. There should be means for the natives to live and thrive in their homeland.” – the Kamak

the Kamak wished to convey through this image how people also often see Florida as a paradise, the Sunshine State, with Disneyworld and Universal and the other plentiful amusement parks and attractions. Hawai’i is very similar in this vein because of the homeless population and the high cost of living on the islands. As more people move to the islands, the space remaining for the natives is quickly drying up. Because of the global pandemic, the health concern the homeless population raises is even worse. My participant feels for the natives that make up a good part of the homeless population on Oahu, especially knowing that part of the reason they may have been displaced is the influx of people coming to the island from outside Oahu.

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“This mural is important because of its message (and because I helped paint it). In my culture the ‘aina – the land – is something we live in synergy with. It is not something to be exploited, but something to work with and preserve. In a lot of ways we need to think of our environment as it is depicted in this mural, as a fellow person. We need to have a certain empathy for the wrong we do to the environment as we would our fellow human being.” – the Kamak

The message this mural and this statement seeks to present is moving and inspiring. Much like how the murals of San Diago’s Chicano Park represent something to the Chicanx community, this mural represents how the Hawaiian people view their land. While the murals of Chicano Park portray Chicano culture, this mural portrays a part of Hawaiian culture. The Hawaiian people share a strong connection with their land. They work with the land and seek to preserve its beauty rather than merely bulldozing through. They see the environment as a fellow person and treat it as if they were working with another human. I think the sentiment to work with land in such a way is one many more could care to support.


After reviewing the statements and photographs the Kamak chose to share with me, I decided the theme would be the hidden aspects of Hawai’i, as it is very different than the idea a lot of people have when they think of Hawai’i. The Hawaiian people cherish their land and there is a lot of beauty on the islands outside of the beaches advertisements use to sell vacation packages. Another part, less positive than the first, is the homeless population, at least on Oahu. As the cost of living rises and more people move to Hawai’i, partly because of the paradise image Hawai’i holds, the homelessness, and the percentage of Native Hawaiians that make up the homeless population, rises. The final image used in this assignment shows the rich culture of Hawai’i, another part that some, I believe, are unaware of. Many people are also unaware of how exactly Hawai’i came to become part of the United States. It was very similar to the way the rest of America came to be, with the takeover of native lands for the white man. When thinking of Hawai’i nowadays, a lot of people probably picture the beaches and the vacations, but Hawai’i is so much more than that. It holds a lot of culture, something reflected in these images.

Similar to many Native Americans, the takeover of Hawai’i was not peaceful, nor was it legal.  Native Americans lost sovereignty of their land, and with it, the ability to control what happened, resulting in a loss of natural lands. This is similar to the telescope debacle on the island of Hawai’i, where Mauna Kea sits, a large volcano that is regarded as one of the best spots for astronomical observation. There are thirteen telescopes on Mauna Kea currently. However, Mauna Kea serves as an extremely sacred spot for Native Hawaiians. In the wake of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), many protests were held, halting construction. It is the hope of many Native Hawaiians that the telescope is never built and the sponsors of the telescope find a different place to build it. The disregard for the culture and history of Mauna Kea draws many parallels to the environmental problems addressed by many Native American communities.

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A Native Hawaiian’s Perspective on Oahu by MinJi Murschell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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