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Pili‘Oha/Kinship: (Re)Imagining Perceptions of Nature and More-Than-Human Relationality

Kim­ber­ley Greeson

Abstract: This essay draws from a larg­er ethno­graph­ic study look­ing at the com­plex con­tex­tu­al­i­ty of bio­di­ver­si­ty con­ser­va­tion in Hawaii. This arti­cle uses vignettes to com­mu­ni­cate its focus. These vignettes are autoethno­graph­ic by nature, but are pushed fur­ther through the use of dif­frac­tive method­ol­o­gy (Barad) to include social-media visu­als, mul­ti­species encoun­ters, and Native Hawai­ian (kana­ka maoli) per­spec­tives. Through my onto­log­i­cal and method­olog­i­cal approach, I seek to chal­lenge nor­ma­tive dis­cours­es on human excep­tion­al­ism, nature-cul­ture dichotomies, and the man­ner in which indus­tri­al­ized soci­eties place hier­ar­chies on species and mat­ter, as well as how these con­ver­sa­tions might impact con­ser­va­tion. In this arti­cle, and through these vignettes, I explore what it means to be native and how my own posi­tion­al­i­ty sit­u­ates study­ing the social and cul­tur­al milieu of con­ser­va­tion issues in Hawaii.

Résumé: Cette dis­ser­ta­tion s'inspire d'une plus large étude ethno­graphique sur la con­tex­tu­al­ité com­plexe de la préser­va­tion de la bio­di­ver­sité à Hawaii. Le sujet cen­tral de cet arti­cle est "la vignette" (la vignette est un bref réc­it). Ces "vignettes" sont auto ethno­graphiques mais appro­fondies par nature par l'utilisation de la méthodolo­gie dif­frac­tive inclu­ant les illus­tra­tions de medias soci­aux, les échanges entre divers espèces et les per­spec­tives des autochtones hawai­iens (Kana­ka maoli). Au tra­vers de mon approche méthodologique et ontologique, je cherche à éprou­ver le dis­cours nor­matif sur l'anthropocentrisme, les dichotomies écolo­gie-cul­ture et la manière dont les sociétés indus­tri­al­isées hiérar­chisent les espèces et la matière, de même que ces con­ver­sa­tions peu­vent avoir un impact sur la con­ser­va­tion.. Dans cet arti­cle, et à tra­vers ces vignettes, j'explore ce que sig­ni­fie être autochtone et com­ment ma pro­pre posi­tion­al­ité, en tant que fémin­iste décolo­niale, situe l'étude du milieu social et cul­turel des ques­tions de con­ser­va­tion à Hawaii.

This arti­cle draws from my doc­tor­al research, in which I explored the biopo­lit­i­cal and cul­tur­al con­texts of pol­li­na­tors and con­ser­va­tion in Hawaii. The pur­pose of this mul­ti­species ethnog­ra­phy was to sit­u­ate more-than-human mat­ter­ing with­in the­o­ret­i­cal and Indige­nous frame­works. I used a mul­ti­species ethnog­ra­phy to eschew tra­di­tion­al anthro­pocen­tric ethno­graph­ic meth­ods. Yet with lit­tle pub­lished on exact­ly how to include the live­li­ness of the non­hu­man while also attend­ing to con­tem­po­rary the­o­ry and ethics, the research meth­ods emerged dur­ing the research process. Here I present an ethno­graph­ic account of my expe­ri­ences in the field to illus­trate my research process, and to explore the ways dif­frac­tive method­ol­o­gy can be used to illu­mi­nate mul­ti­species assem­blages in a more eth­i­cal, thought­ful, and per­for­ma­tive man­ner. These mul­ti­species assem­blages shift the focus from human to cen­ter­ing more-than-human com­mu­ni­ties and rela­tion­ships. In these ethno­graph­ic vignettes, I also explore the con­texts that con­ser­va­tion in Hawai‘i sit­u­ate, as well as attempt to bring Hawai­ian voic­es to the table. The aim of this arti­cle is to exam­ine my expe­ri­ences as a mul­tira­cial set­tler who was born and raised in Hawai‘i in rela­tion to con­ser­va­tion and cul­ture in Hawai‘i, to explore the pos­si­bil­i­ty of dif­frac­tive method­olo­gies, and to chal­lenge nor­ma­tive dis­course on kin­ship towards a mul­ti­species interpretation.

In this arti­cle, I use nar­ra­tives of my own autoethnog­ra­phy and of my par­tic­i­pants to illus­trate and weave the per­son­al and descrip­tive; through first-per­son accounts with images (visu­al data), I (re)story the more-than-human voice, pres­ence, and agency. I have also includ­ed the Hawai­ian lan­guage through­out this man­u­script, and although I do not speak ʻōle­lo Hawaiʻi (Hawai­ian lan­guage), Hawai­ian words are often used (as a form of Hawai­ian Cre­ole Eng­lish), sprin­kled in Eng­lish ver­biage by Hawai­ians and non-Hawai­ian res­i­dents (“locals” like myself) famil­iar with Hawai­ian cul­ture. I include Hawai­ian words that are com­mon­ly used by local peo­ple in Hawai‘i, defined in paren­the­sis in an effort to engage you, the read­er. I use these terms to both hon­our Indige­nous peo­ple and to give authen­tic­i­ty and tex­ture to my writ­ing (autoethnog­ra­phy and over­all thick descrip­tion). These words are not des­ig­nat­ed in ital­ics, as APA or MLA would have me do, as Hawai­ian is not a for­eign lan­guage in Hawai‘i and to acknowl­edge the post­colo­nial (decolo­nial) per­spec­tive of my posi­tion­al­i­ty. Final­ly, I make an effort to include Indige­nous schol­ars, thinkers, or elders in my research and writ­ing. I am trained in a West­ern man­ner of sci­ence and research, but through this research seek ways to decol­o­nize social inquiry by includ­ing Indige­nous voic­es and the more-than-human world.

When I began this field research, I became aware that I was in search of Hawai‘i’s elu­sive and endem­ic bees, rare birds, and unknown (or per­haps just for­got­ten) Lep­i­doptera moths and but­ter­flies. I felt the need to go out to find these ani­mals and talk to peo­ple who stud­ied them. I ached to take as many pho­tos as I could to post on my social-media feed. I am not sure what cre­ates a human desire to track down things that are rare or dif­fi­cult to find and then to share with oth­ers. As I got into the field, set­tler pol­li­na­tors were every­where: yel­low, black, and orange but­ter­flies, the seem­ing­ly ubiq­ui­tous hon­ey­bee, and tiny, intro­duced, nec­tar-feed­ing birds. These were not pol­li­na­tor species endem­ic to Hawai‘i, but rather intro­duced by human set­tlers chang­ing pol­li­na­tor ecolo­gies. As I learned more about these tiny and inter­est­ing native pol­li­na­tors, I also dis­cov­ered they were the hard­est to cap­ture on film and the most obscure.

Terminology and Context for Hawai‘i’s Conservation

An exam­i­na­tion of con­ser­va­tion biol­o­gy and cat­e­gor­i­cal terms is nec­es­sary. For many con­ser­va­tion biol­o­gists, species fall under sev­er­al cat­e­gories: those that are endem­ic or native to an area, those that are intro­duced, and those that are intro­duced and inva­sive. An inva­sive species is any organ­ism that is believed to neg­a­tive­ly alter ecosys­tems. From a con­ser­va­tion stand­point, inva­sive species pose the most immi­nent threat to Hawai‘i’s ecosys­tems. In Hawai‘i, the plants brought by the orig­i­nal Hawai­ian set­tlers were known as canoe plants (to be dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed from endem­ic native species). Sev­er­al schol­ars have explored the philo­soph­i­cal and polit­i­cal prob­lems of such rigid and often arbi­trary and polit­i­cal tax­o­nom­ic clas­si­fi­ca­tion of species (see Helm­re­ich; Head; Head, Atchi­son, and Phillips).

In the course of human intro­duc­tion (Poly­ne­sian and colo­nial) to the Hawai­ian Islands, the nat­ur­al and eco­log­i­cal realm shift­ed. As new species were intro­duced to the islands, endem­ic species were dis­placed and went extinct. These extinc­tions accel­er­at­ed after Euro­pean col­o­niza­tion (see Culliney). Hawai‘i is unique in that much of the species loss hap­pened at a fast rate (and con­tin­ues today). In a short amount of time, esti­mat­ed to be about two hun­dred years, Hawai‘i’s ecosys­tem dras­ti­cal­ly changed. The colo­nial his­to­ry of Hawai‘i and its con­se­quences hap­pened so quick­ly that in many cas­es humans do not know what has already been lost since Hawai­ian oral his­to­ries and writ­ten doc­u­men­ta­tion of many species is still incom­plete. More­over, most if not all species decline and extinc­tions occurred through anthro­pogenic caus­es. The peo­ple who knew the Hawai­ian words used for species have since passed, and the species’ Hawai­ian names along with them—highlighting the loss of oral context.

It is wide­ly accept­ed that the pri­ma­ry cause of species declines and extinc­tions in many places, such as Hawai‘i, is the threat from inva­sive species. A species is con­sid­ered inva­sive if it is non-native and caus­es the native species pop­u­la­tions to dwin­dle. Inva­sive species out­com­pete (sun­light, food resources) or direct­ly harm native species (eat­ing their eggs, caus­ing “alien dis­eases”). The native, endem­ic species have not evolved defens­es to cope with or with­stand the threats from the intro­duced species, mak­ing them extreme­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to harm. Con­ser­va­tion biol­o­gists deem this effect espe­cial­ly pro­nounced on islands. For exam­ple, most birds in Hawai‘i have not devel­oped an immune response to avian malar­ia. When avian malar­ia was intro­duced into Hawai‘i (through both intro­duced mos­qui­tos and birds), native Hawai­ian birds’ pop­u­la­tions plum­met­ed, result­ing in many species going extinct. In response, wildlife and nat­ur­al resource offi­cials removed the inva­sive species. Humans “man­age” nature in order to pre­serve mul­ti­species intra-actions and entan­gle­ments and to ulti­mate­ly pre­vent species from extinc­tion. Peo­ple manip­u­late pop­u­la­tions, genet­ics, and space by build­ing fences, erad­i­cat­ing inva­sive species, and replant­i­ng plants and relo­cat­ing animals.

In con­trast, my research ques­tions refo­cused on native or endem­ic pol­li­na­tors and the unique cir­cum­stances that define con­ser­va­tion in Hawai‘i. Fur­ther­more, I approached this project with the tenet that bio­log­i­cal and endan­gered species con­ser­va­tion can­not be viewed in a vac­u­um, iso­lat­ed from human socioe­co­log­i­cal influ­ences. It also became appar­ent that the cul­ture of pol­li­na­tors and bio­log­i­cal con­ser­va­tion is unique to Hawai‘i, and mod­els used else­where in the world usu­al­ly can­not be applied there. More­over, I quick­ly saw that while I fol­lowed (or rather searched for) pol­li­na­tors, oth­er vibrant things came to the fore­ground and begged atten­tion: the trees, the for­est, the water­shed, and the inor­gan­ic fences and rocks. Uncov­er­ing the embed­ded mate­ri­al­i­ty became par­tic­u­lar­ly appar­ent when dis­cussing pol­li­na­tors and pollinator—plant rela­tion­ships, and the for­est or water­shed they are a part of, as well as the human cultural/political contexts.

Methodological Framework: Towards a diffractive methodology

Diffrac­tion (as opposed to reflec­tion) of self should be ana­lyzed and writ­ten into mul­ti­species ethnog­ra­phy, for self is the appa­ra­tus of obser­va­tion and inter­pre­ta­tion of a mul­ti­species world through descrip­tive and cre­ative ethno­graph­ic meth­ods (such as mul­ti­me­dia). Nor­man Den­zin dis­cussed autoethnog­ra­phy as life expe­ri­ences and per­for­mances of a per­son. With this def­i­n­i­tion in mind, I pose this ques­tion: How cen­tral does the self become or not become? Tra­di­tion­al­ly, reflex­iv­i­ty and autoethnog­ra­phy go hand-in-hand. Accord­ing to Tony Adams, Stacey Hol­man, and Car­o­line Ellis, reflex­iv­i­ty in autoethnog­ra­phy “uses deep and care­ful self- reflection—typically referred to as ‘reflexivity’—to name and inter­ro­gate the inter­sec­tions between self and soci­ety, the par­tic­u­lar and the gen­er­al, the per­son­al and the polit­i­cal” (2). Using dif­frac­tion, I move beyond reflex­iv­i­ty to acknowl­edge there is no sep­a­ra­tion between “self and soci­ety” (2), for exam­ple, but rather each are co-cre­at­ed. How­ev­er, from a dif­frac­tive onto-epis­te­mo­log­i­cal approach, this inclu­sion of the self is not sim­ply about the self. It is embody­ing the self to make mean­ing by engag­ing with the mul­ti­species and mul­ti­ma­te­r­i­al mat­ter. The self is not an “inde­pen­dent, self-con­tained” being but shaped “through and by their entan­gled intra-act­ing” (Barad ix) with the world.

For the pur­pos­es of this research, I use dif­fract­ed autoethnog­ra­phy in the form of vignettes in three-fold ways. First, I use it to illu­mi­nate the more-than-human world sur­round­ing myself and par­tic­i­pants in an attempt to “give” voice to the more than human and to describe our intra-actions (becom­ing pol­li­na­tor). Sec­ond, I use dif­fract­ed autoethnog­ra­phy to give tex­ture to the sights, sounds, smells, and feels of my data events, or engage­ments with the more-than-human, pol­li­na­tor assem­blage (as part of the mate­r­i­al-dis­cur­sive). The read­er is typ­i­cal­ly not privy to my audio or video record­ings, and my use of vignettes attempts to con­vey the sub­stance of the encoun­ters. Final­ly, these dif­fract­ed vignettes con­tex­tu­al­ize the researcher with­in the research assem­blage and become an explo­ration of my mul­ti­species expeditions.

My sto­ries are not sim­ply a reflec­tion of what I saw in the field nor are they a sequen­tial, chrono­log­i­cal retelling of events. The work of William Cronor, Thom van Dooren and Deb­o­rah Bird Rose describe sto­ries as the “abil­i­ty to engage with hap­pen­ings with the world as sequen­tial and mean­ing­ful events” (3). Sto­ries are ren­dered to describe, present, re-sto­ry, and to ana­lyze the mate­r­i­al-dis­cur­sive unfold­ing of my expe­ri­ences with place, through which place and self are enmeshed. Each vignette, care­ful­ly craft­ed with accom­pa­ny­ing pho­tographs, is an entan­gled per­for­ma­tiv­i­ty of pol­li­na­tor, for­est, and con­ser­va­tion infra­struc­ture to describe the biopo­lit­i­cal par­tic­u­lars. Through these dif­frac­tive sto­ries or vignettes, I show the intra-actions of the pol­li­na­tor assem­blage, describ­ing the recon­fig­ur­ing and tem­po­ral­i­ties of my data event by includ­ing the past, present, and future, all the while bring­ing the more-than-human into the fore­front. This is impor­tant since my data col­lec­tion still relied on some tra­di­tion­al qual­i­ta­tive meth­ods and tools, such as inter­views and words.

Woven in these sto­ries are pho­tos because tak­ing pho­tos has become a nat­ur­al exten­sion of my obser­va­tion and inter­ac­tion with the world around me, part­ly because it is a hob­by of mine, but also because smart­phones have made pho­tog­ra­phy so acces­si­ble. I took copi­ous amounts of pho­tos while walk­ing to see native pol­li­na­tors and to fol­low their human comrades.

Sarah Pink writes exten­sive­ly on the use of visu­al ethno­graph­ic meth­ods to describe place­mak­ing: “visu­al ethnog­ra­phy involves an approach that engages with audio-visu­al media and meth­ods through­out its process­es of research, analy­sis, and rep­re­sen­ta­tion. It is inevitably col­lab­o­ra­tive and to vary­ing extents par­tic­i­pa­to­ry” (2). Jamie Lorimer also approach­es this form of visu­al meth­ods, describ­ing the use of “mov­ing imagery method­ol­o­gy for wit­ness­ing and evok­ing human–nonhuman inter­ac­tions” (238). These inter­ac­tions are also por­trayed through the cam­era lens, humans tak­ing pho­tos and videos of their more-than-human companions.

Pho­tos are one way I use visu­al ethno­graph­ic method­olo­gies to cap­ture, illus­trate, and with per­son­al nar­ra­tive, to (re)story the more-than-human voice, pres­ence, mate­ri­al­i­ty, inter­ac­tions, and move­ments. This method­ol­o­gy allows for the “voice­less” and the more-than-human to be present in the study. While this tra­di­tion­al paper and pen pub­li­ca­tion can­not include audio, I added many images, as screen­shots of the pho­tog­ra­phy post­ed to my Insta­gram feed. Can see­ing these pho­tographs fil­tered mul­ti­ple times—through lens­es, edit­ing soft­ware, fil­ters, and scrolled and viewed on a tiny smartphone—be con­sid­ered a dif­frac­tive ren­der­ing of for­est materiality?

Fig. 1. Screen­shot of an intro­duced Hawk­moth at night from the author’s Insta­gram. Gree­son, Kim­ber­ley. multispecies_wanderings. “The hawk moth’s wings beat fast.” Insta­gram, 26, Sep­tem­ber 2018, <www​.insta​gram​.com/​m​u​l​t​i​s​p​e​c​i​e​s​_​w​a​n​d​e​r​i​n​gs/>.

These pho­to-edit­ing apps or soft­ware cre­ate and curate an aes­thet­ic or emo­tion. How can pho­tog­ra­phy be used in a dif­frac­tive analy­sis? Natasha Myers attempts to reck­on with the abil­i­ty of pho­tographs to be dif­frac­tive por­tray­als by hack­ing into the cam­era “to dis­rupt the con­ven­tion­al ecologist’s desire to cap­ture clean, clear, leg­i­ble data…to keep our mov­ing bod­ies in the frame, allow­ing us to reg­is­ter the moods and ener­gies of the land rela­tion­al­ly” (12). She opens the aper­ture to cap­ture move­ment and to “doc­u­ment the ener­get­ics of an encounter, the push and pull between bod­ies, human, more-than-human, and machine” (12). For me, slow­ing down the shut­ter speed allows a set­tler hawkmoth’s becom­ings and live­li­ness to be cap­tured. Per­haps the result­ing blur to show the insect’s move­ment is one approach to Myers’ kines­thet­ic imagery (Fig. 1), while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly allow­ing the minute denizens of the night to be seen.

My pho­tos were pri­mar­i­ly in focus, con­trary to Myers’ approach, to share the details of these small, mar­gin­al­ized species with a wide audi­ence. Unlike Myers, my intent was not to por­tray dif­frac­tion with­in one pho­to but instead in the nar­ra­tives as a whole, with each pho­to rep­re­sent­ing its own sin­gle dif­fract­ed piece of data. I did attempt to make my pho­tos a bit more fil­tered and effec­tu­al via social media, where they are inter­act­ed with and “alive” long after. This con­tin­u­al unfold­ing in a non-space1 such as social media is dynam­ic, enact­ed, and agen­tial. From an edu­ca­tor lens, my pho­tographs and Insta­gram posts also served to bring the more-than-human into focus and con­nect with a wider, non-aca­d­e­m­ic audience.

I use the dif­fract­ed vignettes to cre­ate and build car­togra­phies, new insights, and high­light dif­fer­ences. In an inter­view, Barad claims, “dif­frac­tive read­ings bring inven­tive provo­ca­tions; they are good to think with. They are respect­ful, detailed, eth­i­cal engage­ments” (Dol­phi­jn and van der Tuin 48). For exam­ple, in my dif­fract­ed vignette “Aca­cia koa” I detail the sights, sounds, plants, and ani­mals that I heard and saw to illus­trate the voice with­out organs in my intra-actions (Mazzei 732). With­in these nar­ra­tives, I inlay pieces of oth­er his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and per­son­al sto­ries such as mo‘olelo, sto­ries of cap­i­tal­ism and the ongo­ing inter­species entan­gle­ment of the for­est. All of these threads or lines of data become a man­gling or assem­bling fluc­tu­at­ing in space and time, in and out of the field. My expe­ri­ences were per­for­ma­tive and unfold­ing as I walked, observed, and photographed—embodied expe­ri­ences that not only dis­cussed mul­ti­species entan­gle­ments, but also the dif­fract­ed vignettes were entan­gle­ments themselves.

I use the notion of sto­ry or nar­ra­tive to write vignettes but also push them fur­ther through the use of dif­frac­tion (or dif­fract­ed autoethnog­ra­phy). First, I ask, what is meant by dif­frac­tion? Draw­ing from phys­i­cal phe­nom­e­non and physics the­o­ry, Karen Barad uses dif­frac­tions as a metaphor to describe phi­los­o­phy, method­ol­o­gy, and analy­sis. Dif­frac­tion is the read­ing of insights from mul­ti­ple sources and posi­tions, mark­ing the dif­fer­ences and the affec­tu­al path­ways these dif­fer­ences have on the world. Barad writes, “dif­frac­tion attends to the rela­tion­al nature of dif­fer­ence; it does not fig­ure dif­fer­ence as either a mat­ter of essence of as incon­se­quen­tial” (72). More­over, dif­frac­tion, as it is the­o­rized in quan­tum mechan­ics, illus­trates inter­fer­ence, entan­gle­ments, and ways of know­ing or under­stand­ing phenomena.

Vignette One

Aca­cia koa: A dif­fract­ed vignette

The Kaloko trails in the Honu­aula For­est Reserve are rel­a­tive­ly close to my home on west Hawai‘i Island. The reserve is a well-known cloud for­est oasis 2,600 feet above the sleepy coastal town of Kailua-Kona, where locals and tourists alike can read­i­ly gain access to see native plants and birds. As I learned dur­ing my field­work, hav­ing such easy access to native forests is not very com­mon today in Hawai‘i. Most native forests have been replant­ed and pro­tect­ed at remote, high-ele­va­tion plots where devel­op­ment and the pub­lic typ­i­cal­ly can­not reach. On Maui for exam­ple, orga­ni­za­tions have been focus­ing on cre­at­ing native habi­tat for native birds in the East Maui water­shed. This area is so remote and hard to access that heli­copters bring in peo­ple and equip­ment to care­ful­ly fence and rou­tine­ly mon­i­tor the area to keep destruc­tive ungu­lates out.

For­tu­nate­ly, on Hawai‘i Island I did not need a heli­copter to see native forests, and where there are native flow­ers there are native pol­li­na­tors. I fre­quent the Honu­aula For­est Reserve to see native birds and con­duct some walk­ing autoethnog­ra­phy. The trail­heads (as there are mul­ti­ple entrances to the trail sys­tem) are obscure and poor­ly marked. There is no offi­cial trail­head sig­nage, park­ing lot, or even clear direc­tions on how to get there. On my first few trips, I parked on three dif­fer­ent streets, entered the for­est at dif­fer­ent points, and walked dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the trail sys­tem. Each time I did not have a clear idea of where I was going and whether the trail I was on would loop back around, and I some­times felt a bit like Alice in Tul­gey Wood, the for­est and its crea­tures curi­ous­ly push­ing and pulling me in every which way.

Fig. 2. Screen­shot of Hāpu‘u fern from the author’s Insta­gram. Gree­son, Kim­ber­ley. multispecies_wanderings. “Gin­ger and hāpu‘u fern under­sto­ry .” Insta­gram, 13, June 2016, <www​.insta​gram​.com/​m​u​l​t​i​s​p​e​c​i​e​s​_​w​a​n​d​e​r​i​n​gs/>.

Along most of these trails, there are an inter­est­ing mix of native and non-native plants. The two main tree species of native forests, ʻōhiʻa lehua (Met­rosideros poly­mor­pha) and koa (Aca­cia koa), have been replant­ed in the last ten years, and in some areas the hapu’u fern (Hawai­ian tree fern; Cibotium glau­cum) tow­er over­head or have top­pled over only to suc­cumb to a car­pet of lime-green moss, tiny ʻōhiʻa seedlings, and in one place, a fer­al hon­ey­bee hive. The giant fronds and palm-sized fid­dle­heads of the hapu’u relax under the for­est canopy and weep­i­ly bounce from rain­drops (Figs. 2 and 3).

Fig. 3. Screen­shot of a hāpu‘u fern fid­dle­head from the author’s Insta­gram. Gree­son, Kim­ber­ley. multispecies_wanderings. “Nature’s per­fect spi­rals and frac­tals.” Insta­gram, 1, July 2018, <www​.insta​gram​.com/​m​u​l​t​i​s​p​e​c​i​e​s​_​w​a​n​d​e​r​i​n​gs/>.

The high­er-ele­va­tion areas of the trail sys­tem but­tress a fence where the oth­er side is open pas­ture (Fig. 4). This pas­ture area, locat­ed mau­ka (towards the moun­tain, or ups­lope), is pri­vate prop­er­ty and an unortho­dox meet­ing of non-native grass­es, cows, and scat­tered ʻōhiʻa trees whose limbs were per­ma­nent­ly stretched hor­i­zon­tal­ly from the howl­ing wind. Even here, the hands of cap­i­tal­ism and human nature seep heav­i­ly into native for­est. Cat­tle and trees have each been com­mod­i­fied for hun­dreds of years in Hawai‘i. In 1794, Cap­tain George Van­cou­ver intro­duced cat­tle to King Kame­hame­ha the Great. These indi­vid­ual cows were nev­er domes­ti­cat­ed and roamed freely, some­times hunt­ed until King Kame­hame­ha the Great put a kapu (rules ban­ning their slaugh­ter) on them for ten years. Cat­tle have been incred­i­bly destruc­tive to the sen­si­tive native veg­e­ta­tion such as koa, tram­pling ten­der seedlings. Even today, herds of fer­al cows (called Hawai­ian wild cat­tle or pipi ahui), descen­dants from these orig­i­nal cat­tle set­tlers, roam the island’s forests (Straz­er xii).

Fig. 4. Screen­shot of a red ʻōhiʻa lehua blos­som next to a fence from the author’s Instra­gram. Gree­son, Kim­ber­ley. multispecies_wanderings. “A fence sep­a­rates native for­est from pas­ture­land.” Insta­gram, 17, June 2016, <www​.insta​gram​.com/​m​u​l​t​i​s​p​e​c​i​e​s​_​w​a​n​d​e​r​i​n​gs/>.

Trees, san­dal­wood, and koa in par­tic­u­lar, are promi­nent in Hawai‘i’s colo­nial his­to­ry. San­dal­wood changed the Hawai­ian peo­ple for­ev­er, mov­ing them away from the self-suf­fi­cient agri­cul­ture of the ahupua‘a—ancient land divi­sions that extend­ed from the top of moun­tains down to the ocean—towards mon­e­tary rewards col­lect­ing and trad­ing san­dal­wood to Euro­peans in the late 1700s. In more recent years, koa hard­wood is high­ly val­ued for its deep and strik­ing appear­ance. Peo­ple use the wood of the koa tree for the inte­ri­or fin­ish­ing of homes, fur­ni­ture, cab­i­nets, and oth­er prod­ucts. Hawai‘i’s koa indus­try was esti­mat­ed to net $28.7 mil­lion in 1991, and in 2004 its price per square foot ranges from $4.50 to $65 (Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture For­est Ser­vice Pacif­ic South­west Research Sta­tion 89). Koa was also the most impor­tant plant for ear­ly Hawai­ians, prized for mak­ing voy­ag­ing canoes and surf­boards as well as for med­i­c­i­nal use. The ancient Hawai­ian pro­to­col for har­vest­ing koa to make cul­tur­al items required an inti­mate mul­ti­species entanglement.

When a kahu­na or canoe builder, for exam­ple, entered the for­est to search for the per­fect koa tree, he would care­ful­ly watch the ‘ele­paio (Monarch fly­catch­er, Chasiem­p­is species). Search­ing for food, these tiny birds would hop from tree trunk to tree trunk, peck­ing for insects. The wood from the trees the ‘ele­paio stopped and pecked at in search of insects was con­sid­ered poor and per­haps rot­ten. How­ev­er, if the ‘ele­paio land­ed but did not stay to peck for insects, the trunk was deter­mined to be sol­id, right for build­ing a canoe.

Under­foot, the trail is cov­ered with the flat, sick­le-shaped leaves of the adult koa (Fig. 5). The koa stand that I am look­ing for has been replant­ed in the last decade and it was small­er than I had envi­sioned. I con­tin­ue to walk along the trail, lined with sev­er­al of these beau­ti­ful trees, for a good while before real­iz­ing this was the replant­ed stand to which peo­ple (via word-of-mouth on social media, i.e., Face­book) referred. It is as if the restora­tion efforts were hap­haz­ard and for­got­ten. I won­dered where were the fences. Where were the oth­er under­sto­ry plants apart from the hapu’u fern? Why has the kahili gin­ger not been erad­i­cat­ed? These were easy ques­tions to ask in spite of such dif­fi­cult and com­plex real­i­ties. Of course, I knew the answers.

Fig. 5. Screen­shot of trail from author’s Insta­gram. Gree­son, Kim­ber­ley. multispecies_wanderings. “Walk­ing the for­est trail.” Insta­gram, 15, June 2016, <www​.insta​gram​.com/​m​u​l​t​i​s​p​e​c​i​e​s​_​w​a​n​d​e​r​i​n​gs/>.

Con­ser­va­tion of bio­di­ver­si­ty has been noto­ri­ous­ly under­fund­ed and gen­er­al­ly not a high pri­or­i­ty unless the species of inter­est is of eco­nom­ic val­ue. Yet both native and non-native plants and ani­mals are the species that became the pol­li­na­tor sto­ry. The for­est reserve on the makai side (towards the sea) of the fence is large­ly dom­i­nat­ed by ʻōhiʻa lehua, hapuʻu, and the new­ly plant­ed koa trees are cov­ered with bright orange-coloured lichen. I not­ed in an Insta­gram field jour­nal post (Fig. 6):

Crus­tose lichen cov­ers the bark of the koa (Aca­cia koa) trees. There’s some­thing about the bright rusty orange and the deep greens of the #kaloko­cloud­for­est that stand their ground as the clouds move in. Bright col­ors shine through as the white mist slow­ly creeps down through the trees, as if the moun­tain #Hualālai her­self was exhal­ing. The koa tree isn’t just a tree but a com­mu­ni­ty of liv­ing beings. A #sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship near the ground and high up the canopy. (Gree­son 93)

Fig. 6. Screen­shot of lichen on a koa tree from the author’s Insta­gram. Gree­son, Kim­ber­ley. multispecies_wanderings. “Crus­tose lichen cov­er bark.” Insta­gram, 17, June 2016, <www​.insta​gram​.com/​m​u​l​t​i​s​p​e​c​i​e​s​_​w​a​n​d​e​r​i​n​gs/>.

The koa trees are cov­ered with what appears to be sev­er­al crus­tose lichens, most notably a rust-coloured one. These lichens form an insep­a­ra­ble crust on the sur­face of the tree, and are entan­gle­ments them­selves, a com­pos­ite organ­ism com­prised of algae or cyanobac­te­ria liv­ing among fun­gi. The lit­er­al entan­gle­ment of tree, algae, and fun­gi define their agency. It is these ancient and evo­lu­tion­ary pre­cise entan­gle­ments that make the native for­est such an impor­tant piece of the pol­li­na­tor sto­ry and thus of the con­ser­va­tion sto­ry. Intra-actors in mul­ti­species com­mu­ni­ties or ensem­bles, such as those of the mesic forests, give life and ani­ma­cy to one anoth­er. Even just one koa tree, for exam­ple, hous­es innu­mer­able intra-actions that are con­tin­u­ous­ly in flux and influ­enced by my pres­ence and observation.

As I con­tin­ue along, search­ing high and low for pol­li­na­tors, I am becom­ing increas­ing­ly frus­trat­ed and defeat­ed. The birds above were too far to see, hang­ing out at the tree tops 60-70 feet above me. They moved fast and were dif­fi­cult to see through my binoc­u­lars, let alone cap­ture on cam­era. I have not yet mas­tered iden­ti­fy­ing their calls by mem­o­ry. The koa trees did not seem to be in bloom. I make a men­tal to note to check when the flower blooms and hope I have not missed it.

I walk fur­ther along the trail, down towards the low­er ele­va­tion where the native plants are more spread out and are few­er, spo­radic almost as if they were strug­gling to find their foot­ing and get­ting lost in the crowd of greens and yel­lows. The inva­sive kahili gin­ger (Hedy­chi­um gard­ne­r­i­anum) has become the dom­i­nant plant species. The air is heavy with their intox­i­cat­ing fra­grance. There is no breath­ing room. These gin­gers form thick mats at the rhi­zome or root lev­el. They choke out any­thing that tries to grow. They jump at any open ground, such as that of mud and soil ripped clear and rut­ted by the search­ing tusks and noses of inva­sive fer­al boars (Sus scro­fa)2 I see that a recent boar vis­i­tor has upturned fresh soil. Water is now pooled there wait­ing for dis­ease-har­bor­ing mos­qui­tos to lay their eggs. I am already itchy from the mos­qui­to (Aedes sp.) bites, as small red welts—a phys­i­cal sign of my body’s immune response flood­ing his­t­a­mines, immune cells, and flu­id to the area—have accu­mu­lat­ed on my legs. Mos­qui­tos, the hat­ed and demo­nized tiny insects that humans have long waged war upon, dis­tract and annoy me. I think that I should have brought mos­qui­to repel­lent, and slap the mos­qui­tos off my legs and point my cam­era up a tall koa trunk—an unglam­orous real­i­ty of field­work not depict­ed in com­posed and pic­turesque posts on social media.

The koa tree is a cen­tral fig­ure in the pol­li­na­tor sto­ry, as well as one of the dom­i­nant tree species in native Hawai­ian for­est ecosys­tems and local cul­ture. Unlike forests in the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States, where there are dozens of key tree species in an old-growth for­est, Hawai‘i’s native forests are dom­i­nat­ed by only two trees, koa and ‘ōhiʻa. There are hun­dreds of biot­ic species whose live­li­ness depends on these two tree species. Koa alone pro­vides food for over 100 insect species (Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture For­est Ser­vice Pacif­ic South­west Research Sta­tion 26). Not only is there an inter­species com­mu­ni­ty above ground (pol­li­na­tors, lichen, koa moth cater­pil­lars) but also below the ground a sym­bio­sis between the tree’s root sys­tems and the nitro­gen-fix­ing bac­te­ria that help the tree grow. Insects pri­mar­i­ly pol­li­nate koa trees, but sev­er­al bird species vis­it their flow­ers when they are in bloom from Decem­ber through June. Native birds and insects are not the only pol­li­na­tors that play a cru­cial role in pol­li­nat­ing koa. Intro­duced species are promi­nent as well, and in some cas­es fill­ing a niche.

With an array of native and non-native species inter­act­ing with­in the Hawai­ian com­mu­ni­ty, the pol­li­na­tion of native plants by non-native pol­li­na­tors, for exam­ple, has become what are known as nov­el com­mu­ni­ties. Due to the rapid decline in Hawai‘i’s native species, many of the pol­li­na­tors (most notably the Hawai­ian hon­ey­creep­ers) have gone extinct. In some instances, the pol­li­na­tion mutu­al­ism was so spe­cif­ic that the plant com­pan­ion fol­lowed suit and went extinct as well, but this is extreme­ly rare. More often, oth­er non-native pol­li­na­tors have moved into their place, fill­ing an eco­log­i­cal niche allow­ing endem­ic plant species to per­sist (Aslan et al. 478). The prob­lem is that no com­plete inven­to­ry exists of what was in Hawai­ian forests, in terms of species rich­ness and pop­u­la­tion lev­els, pri­or to col­o­niza­tion and the intro­duc­tion of inva­sive species. Since species are going extinct at such fast rates it is impos­si­ble to know if these nov­el pol­li­na­tor inter­ac­tions are ben­e­fi­cial. Are native pol­li­na­tors vis­it­ing and ben­e­fit­ing from non-native plants? Even if humans do not know what was there before col­o­niza­tion, the cur­rent real­i­ty is that native and non-native species are inter­act­ing in nov­el ways. For Kirk­sey, “Accept­ing that eco­log­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties are dynam­ic, ever-chang­ing systems—with parts that can be tak­en away or added—opens up eth­i­cal and prac­ti­cal dilem­mas” (218) of how to approach con­ser­va­tion, dilem­mas that I unfold research­ing Hawai‘i’s pollinators.

In tes­ta­ment to these nov­el ecosys­tems, I most often wit­ness Euro­pean hon­ey­bees and monarch but­ter­flies (Danaus plex­ip­pus) pol­li­na­tors dur­ing my research. These intro­duced species, such as the monarch but­ter­fly and the hon­ey­bee, are still part of the pol­li­na­tor assem­blage, as they have cre­at­ed unique ecolo­gies by pol­li­nat­ing and feed­ing on both native and non-native plants, espe­cial­ly in more urban areas. The real­i­ty is that many of these species are here to stay and active­ly shape the world.

Dur­ing the spring and sum­mer months, hon­ey­bees cov­er every inch of the flow­er­ing avo­ca­do and macadamia nut trees, to the point that the trees are hum­ming and buzzing loud­ly. Hon­ey­bees are impor­tant agri­cul­tur­al pol­li­na­tors for Hawai‘i’s econ­o­my. Cul­tur­al­ly, the monarch but­ter­fly is sym­bol­ic of Hawai‘i’s last monarch, Queen Lili‘uokalani (1838-1917), who famous­ly wore a dia­mond-adorned but­ter­fly brooch, a com­mon state­ment piece of the late 1800s. How­ev­er, it is unclear whether this brooch rep­re­sent­ed the native Kame­hame­ha but­ter­fly or the intro­duced monarch but­ter­fly. Most acknowl­edge it was the lat­ter, as the Queen’s favorite flower was the laven­der crown flower (Calotro­pis gigan­tea; Puakalaunu), which is the host plant for the monarch but­ter­fly. The crown flower is in the milk­weed fam­i­ly, mak­ing it a suit­able host plant for cater­pil­lars. Com­mon­ly used to make Hawai­ian leis, crown flow­ers are also a cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant species.

Instead of restor­ing things to pre­cise­ly how they used to be, biol­o­gists focus on what is most rel­e­vant and appro­pri­ate for present cir­cum­stances. Whether it be tend­ed wild, pro­gres­sive agro­forestry prac­tices, or pol­li­na­tor gar­dens, how do these chance, human-cen­tered spaces become havens for non­hu­man species? More impor­tant­ly, can these dis­turbed land­scapes allow more sen­si­tive species to per­sist? In oth­er words, who is thriv­ing in these areas? In some cas­es, for­est birds flour­ish in dense native forests, avoid­ing the mar­gins where native for­est meet urban, agri­cul­tur­al area (Stein­berg 54). These mar­gins can be for­est edges, cor­ri­dors, and frag­ment­ed habi­tats, which often char­ac­ter­ize land­scapes. In Hawai‘i, habi­tat frag­men­ta­tion is addressed through efforts to con­nect small-scale for­est farms while restor­ing the ancient Hawai­ian land-use prin­ci­ples of the ahupua’a. The ahupua’a encour­ages peo­ple to grow food for humans sus­tain­ably and with the wider, entan­gled nature of the water­shed (Corn­tas­sel 96). Thus, look­ing at emer­gent ecolo­gies acknowl­edges these entan­gle­ments and helps humans to recon­sid­er the real­i­ty and reci­procity of human-dom­i­nat­ed land­scapes in the Anthropocene.

Vignette Two

Mount Hualālai: A dif­fract­ed vignette

My house sits on the west­ern slope of Mount Hualālai, Hawai‘i’s third active vol­cano, which has not erupt­ed since 1801 (The Huʻe­huʻe flow). I have watched both the sun and the moon rise from beyond the moun­tain­top through clear skies. In the morn­ings, the sum­mit is beau­ti­ful as it shines, evok­ing var­i­ous states of emo­tions with hues of golds, pinks, and pur­ples (Fig. 7). Watch­ing the sun­rise is my favorite time of day, when the colours change as a sym­pho­ny of ani­mal sounds wel­come the morn­ing: ‘io (Hawai­ian hawk), fer­al roost­ers, par­rots, saf­fron finch­es, and our family’s ducks. As the day pro­gress­es, clouds and vog (vol­canic air pol­lu­tion) cov­er the sum­mit, and dark­er clouds indi­cat­ing rain show­ers come in almost every after­noon. To me, sun­rise is the best time to see this mag­nif­i­cent and often for­got­ten moun­tain. Mount Hualālai, which stands at 8,271 ft. (2,521 m), is not one of the bet­ter-known vol­ca­noes in Hawai‘i, such as Mau­nakea and Mau­naloa. Even in Hawai­ian cul­ture, Hualālai does not show up much in his­to­ry and mo’olelo. Yet it is cap­ti­vat­ing nonethe­less. It is also a moun­tain, whose sum­mit can­not be accessed legal­ly. No pub­lic trails lead up to the sum­mit, because most of the land is pri­vate­ly owned. So, I was thrilled when I was invit­ed to go up the mountain.

Fig. 7. Screen­shot of Hualālai from the author’s Insta­gram. Gree­son, Kim­ber­ley. multispecies_wanderings. “Hualālai sun­rise.” Insta­gram, 23, Novem­ber 2016, <www​.insta​gram​.com/​m​u​l​t​i​s​p​e​c​i​e​s​_​w​a​n​d​e​r​i​ngs/>.

Keolani’s non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tion works to bring Native Hawai­ian fam­i­lies back to the moun­tain, fos­ters oral his­to­ry, and imparts tra­di­tion­al Hawai­ian pro­to­col by teach­ing about the indige­nous plants that grow on the moun­tain. Native Hawai­ian pro­to­col for enter­ing sig­nif­i­cant places includes using the tra­di­tion­al ways, typ­i­cal­ly in the form of oli (or chant), to request per­mis­sion when enter­ing sacred spaces such as the sum­mit of Hualālai. Keolani stops her truck at a large gate off the main road. I can see now why she needs a 4x4 vehi­cle to access her family’s prop­er­ty, as the road beyond the gate is noth­ing more than grat­ed lava rocks. As we gath­er out­side the truck, I soak in the views, sounds, and feel­ing of the air. The morn­ing skies are sun­ny, bright blue behind creamy white clouds, promis­ing of clear skies at the sum­mit, though one nev­er knows as high-ele­va­tion weath­er can change so sud­den­ly. The moun­tains of Hawai‘i Island are geo­log­i­cal­ly young, with smooth slopes, round sum­mits, and rolling foothills, a stark con­trast to the steep water­fall etched ridges of the Waianae Range on Oahu where I grew up. We are approx­i­mate­ly 4,875 feet above sea lev­el. Straight roads and sev­er­al steep pitch­es allow one to dri­ve to this ele­va­tion from the coast in just about 11-12 miles, and this quick assent in ele­va­tion gives me a sense of how grand and majes­tic Hualālai is. Hualālai, or per­haps Madame Pele or Tūtū Pele (as she is often respect­ful­ly called), qui­et­ly sits, guard­ing over Kailua-Kona. At this ele­va­tion the habi­tat changes from trop­i­cal moist for­est to trop­i­cal grass­land and shrub­land, mean­ing the wet fern under­sto­ry gives way to grass­es and small shrubs but the area is still dom­i­nat­ed by ʻōhiʻa for­est (and his­tor­i­cal­ly more koa was like­ly found here as well) (Fig. 8).

Keolani begins by telling me:

When we come, when­ev­er we are going into anoth­er place, espe­cial­ly a wahi kūpuna [ances­tral sacred place] wahi pana, a sacred place you always want to say in your mind or out loud where you are from, who you are, and what your pur­pose is. It’s kin­da a way of ask­ing per­mis­sion [the birds are chirp­ing in the back­ground] and as Hawai­ians you always know where you are, so right now we are in the Ahupua'a Kaloko and we are going to cross over into [the Ahupua’a] Ka’ūpūlehu where we’ll stay. And the types of land divi­sions that Hawai­ians had was ocean to mau­ka or even sky, the dif­fer­ent winds and you get wao kahakai, wao kana­ka where peo­ple dwell then as you get high­er you get into wao la’au where the for­est is and wao akua [realm of the gods], if you will. Before we go up I’ll do a lit­tle oli for us and then we can head in. (Keawe)

Keolani takes a pause and a deep breath, as if she is col­lect­ing her thoughts and set­ting her inten­tion. She faces the gate where we would pass over from the Ahupua‘a Kaloko to the Ahupua‘a Kaʻūpūle­hu and con­tin­ue up to her family’s cab­in and prop­er­ty. Keolani has a soft voice, but the melod­ic oli is clear and pur­pose­ful. The oli gives me chills. It is beau­ti­ful, har­mon­ic, poetic.

Fig. 8. Screen­shot of an ‘ohia for­est from the author’s Insta­gram. Gree­son, Kim­ber­ley. <multispecies_wanderings>. “The dri­ve up Kaloko.” Insta­gram, 8, July 2016, <www​.insta​gram​.com/​m​u​l​t​i​s​p​e​c​i​e​s​_​w​a​n​d​e​r​i​n​gs/>.

To pro­tect the forests, Keolani sprays the truck tires and each of our shoes with a fungi­cide, so as not to spread the fun­gus that caus­es Rapid ‘Ohia Death (ROD). I saw spray bot­tles for ROD once at a trail­head half emp­ty under an infor­ma­tion­al sign on ROD. After­ward, we jump back into her big pick­up truck. The road ahead is bumpy, so Keolani nav­i­gates her truck slow­ly and care­ful­ly through the lava. High­er up, the blue skies turn into a thick, white cloud. The mist hangs on the top of the moun­tain obstruct­ing what would have been panoram­ic views of Mau­naloa and the Kona-Koha­la Coast. When we stop to check out an unnamed crater I can only see about 100 feet ahead of me. My legs feel weak stand­ing so close to the crater’s edge, and the mist makes me feel as if I am in a room with cloud walls enclos­ing us, just like when I was on the misty sum­mit of Mount Ka‘ala on an ear­li­er expe­di­tion with ento­mol­o­gists for Nation­al Moth Day (see Gree­son for a detailed account). It is still beau­ti­ful on Hualālai, and the mist forces us to be present in this moment and this place.

As Keolani dri­ves along the uneven road, she talks to me about her orga­ni­za­tion, the pur­pose, his­to­ry, geneal­o­gy, and chal­lenges. She stops a few times along the way to her prop­er­ty to show me var­i­ous plants and sites, which she also shows and teach­es to the kei­ki she works with. We final­ly arrive at her prop­er­ty high on the moun­tain. The air is cool, and I am glad I brought a jack­et with me. A green one-room cab­in sits on the road flanked by fenc­ing. She takes me on a hike makai of the cab­in where the major­i­ty of their prop­er­ty lies. As we walk through an orchard of apples, plums, and pears—fruit not com­mon­ly seen grow­ing in Hawai‘i’s climate—she yanks clumps of the inva­sive fire­weed (Senecio mada­gas­carien­sis) and tells me about the native ʻōh­e­lo ʻai (Vac­cini­um retic­u­la­tum), puki­awe (Sty­phe­lia tameimeiae), ‘a‘ali‘i (Dodon­aea vis­cosa), and inva­sive banana poka (Pas­si­flo­ra mol­lis­si­ma), a rel­a­tive to pas­sion­fruit or lilikoi that we pass along the way. Many of the native plants we see, such as ʻōh­e­lo ʻai, puki­awe, and ‘a‘ali‘i, are impor­tant nec­tar sources for Hawai­ian yel­low-faced bees, and I won­der if they are up here entan­gled with these very plants when they are in flower. Head­ing back ups­lope towards the cab­in, she points out an ‘i‘iwi (Drepa­nis coc­cinea), the first I have seen up-close, danc­ing in the māmane (Sopho­ra chrys­o­phyl­la) trees. It has a con­spic­u­ous crim­son body, long curved bill, and sig­na­ture call, “ee-vee,” squeaky like a rust­ed hinge, which makes iden­ti­fy­ing it easy. As quick­ly as I see it and am able to snap a pho­to, the ‘i‘iwi flies off (Fig. 9). I want to linger longer to see if it comes back.

Fig. 9. A screen­shot of an elu­sive ‘i‘iwi from the author’s Insta­gram. Gree­son, Kim­ber­ley. multispecies_wanderings. “Spied an ‘i‘iwi up Hualālai.” Insta­gram, 22, Novem­ber 2016, <www​.insta​gram​.com/​m​u​l​t​i​s​p​e​c​i​e​s​_​w​a​n​d​e​r​i​n​gs/>.

Being in the high moun­tain envi­ron­ment is pow­er­ful. To be able to touch plants, pick seed pods, pull weeds, breathe the cool moun­tain air, and hear native birds singing can shift and mold a person’s under­stand­ing of place. This more-than-human entan­gled mate­ri­al­i­ty helps to co-cre­ate place. Using the moun­tain, Keolani uses place-based expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing to teach the com­mu­ni­ty about the plants, their cul­tur­al uses, and how to col­lect and prop­a­gate seeds. In turn, Hawai­ians are recon­nect­ed with their cul­ture, place, wao akua (place of the gods) and deities rep­re­sent­ed by native plants there (Mali et al. 2).

Through­out this jour­ney, I fol­lowed the pol­li­na­tors through their pol­li­na­tion sto­ry from bud to seeds. When I vis­it­ed Hualālai it was in the fall and most flow­er­ing plants had already bloomed and set seed. The nights were get­ting cool and the for­est seemed qui­et. Seeds had dropped from the trees onto the for­est floor. These tiny seedlings either flour­ish or per­ish. As I have learned, some­times all it takes is for humans to sim­ply clear inva­sive plants out to give native plants a chance and they will flour­ish, giv­ing new hope for con­ser­va­tion. Oth­er times, it is about reimag­in­ing what native ecolo­gies look like by con­sid­er­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of intro­duced species to fill niches—emergent ecolo­gies, or an ecol­o­gy that focus­es on shift­ing and nov­el players.

Multispecies entanglements as pili‘oha/kinship

The sto­ry of pol­li­na­tors and pol­li­na­tor con­ser­va­tion in Hawai‘i is one that has var­i­ous actors and motives, as illus­trat­ed in the vignettes above. Through these vignettes, I por­tray a sto­ry of intra-species and nature-cul­tur­al entan­gle­ments, one that is acute­ly dif­fer­ent from con­ser­va­tion else­where in the world. As I walked these trails, my iden­ti­ty was shaped and formed through my intra-actions with these for­est crea­tures, and con­se­quent­ly had a role in form­ing this research. Here, the line between nature/society and object/subject is con­tin­u­ous­ly nego­ti­at­ed. I dis­sect these human entan­gle­ments of more-than-human worlds and bring togeth­er con­ver­sa­tions of native plant and ani­mal con­ser­va­tion with phi­los­o­phy, cul­ture, and pol­i­tics, and attempt to illus­trate the com­plex­i­ty of Hawai‘i’s con­ser­va­tion, bio­cul­ture, and con­tex­tu­al­i­ty of native­ness (Helm­re­ich). Under­stand­ing these entan­gle­ments involves inter­species mutu­al­ism, ecol­o­gy and beyond ecol­o­gy, and uncov­er­ing the bio­log­i­cal, polit­i­cal, and cul­tur­al frag­ments of these communities.

My nar­ra­tives Aca­cia koa, and Hualālai dis­cuss nature-cul­tur­al nuances and emer­gent ecolo­gies that arise in response to the Anthro­pocene in order to under­stand human entan­gle­ments with the more-than-human world. It was through these sto­ries that I became entan­gled with the mul­ti­species par­tic­u­lars and the encoun­ters with pol­li­na­tor and for­est kin. This kin­ship, or pili‘oha, as it is called in Hawai­ian (Duarte), are bio­log­i­cal­ly and social­ly dynam­ic, influ­enced by intra-actions and events. For Hawai­ians, kin­ship is not only char­ac­ter­ized by human rela­tion­ships, but also by the inher­ent con­nect­ed­ness between Hawai­ians and the more-than-human world, as Kana­ka maoli schol­ar Man­u­lani Mey­er argues. She writes that in a Hawai­ian epis­te­mol­o­gy, all things have life or agency and tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge comes from the ‘āina (land); it is place-based (Mey­er 39-40). This knowl­edge-land reci­procity informs the Hawai­ian prin­ci­ple of māla­ma ‘āina (to take care of the land) and is char­ac­ter­ized by kuleana (respon­si­bil­i­ty). The resur­gence of the tra­di­tion­al val­ue of māla­ma ‘āina (also ref­ered to as alo­ha ‘āina) has been actu­al­ized in con­tem­po­rary pol­i­tics over genet­ic engi­neer­ing, edu­ca­tion, and envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty move­ments (see Chinn; Fein­stein; Gug­gi­ni; and Gupta).

These mul­ti­species entan­gle­ments and kin­ship reflect what Den­nis Mar­tinez calls kin­cen­tric­i­ty, the Indige­nous per­spec­tive that human and nature are kin and have familial/ancestral ties (see Mar­tinez; Salmón). For Mar­tinez tra­di­tion­al knowl­edge is about rela­tion­ships: “How to be a human and live in har­mo­ny with all our relations—a rela­tion­ship that includes rec­i­p­ro­cal oblig­a­tions between humans and the nat­ur­al world.…It is rela­tion­ship cen­tered. It is process-cen­tered” (Mar­tinez). With­in this kin­cen­tric per­spec­tive, the rela­tion­ships between humans and eco­log­i­cal enti­ties also entail a famil­ial respon­si­bil­i­ty. Echo­ing this sen­ti­ment, Pauline Chinn explains that a Hawai­ian world­view under­stands “humans are part of a world in which plants, ani­mals, and nat­ur­al fea­tures are alive with ances­tral and spir­i­tu­al significance…a famil­ial rela­tion­ship.” (1250)

Non-Indige­nous schol­ars, such as Don­na Har­away (Stay­ing with the Trou­ble 103), Eben Kirk­sey (31-34), and Maria Puig de la Bel­la­casa (160), have also chal­lenged nor­ma­tive cat­e­gories of kin­ship and nature by argu­ing that these mul­ti­species entan­gle­ments engage con­ver­sa­tions on ethics, kin­ship, reci­procity, and care. Eben Kirk­sey writes of these ensem­bles, “I sug­gest that we under­stand such mul­ti­species as ensem­bles of selves—associations com­posed of con­scious agents who are entan­gled with each oth­er through rela­tions of reci­procity and account­abil­i­ty, who regard each oth­er with empa­thy and desire” (34). These inter­species kin­ships, as visu­al­ized in my vignettes, are dynam­ic and shaped by bio­log­i­cal, social, cul­tur­al forces that dis­rupt notions of relationality.

Eben Kirk­sey, Bran­don Costel­loe-Kuehn, and Dori­on Sagan reflect on the eth­i­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions of these mul­ti­species kin­ships: “nego­ti­at­ing pow­er in mul­ti­species assem­blages requires great empa­thy, reflex­iv­i­ty, and tact” (209). Mul­ti­species ethno­g­ra­phers nav­i­gate these pow­er dis­par­i­ties and what is looks like to care for beings in this mul­ti­species world (Kirk­sey 148; van Dooren 6). In my vignette Hualālai, I explore how place, con­tex­tu­al­ized by set­tler (mine) and Indige­nous (Keolani) inter­pre­ta­tions, serves as a reminder that humans have kin­ship with the more-than-human.

Acknowl­edg­ing Indige­nous stand­points in rela­tion to these con­tem­po­rary frame­works, Natasha Myers writes on decol­o­niz­ing the eco­log­i­cal sen­so­ri­um “to become bet­ter allies to Indige­nous resur­gence projects, set­tlers could start by for­get­ting every­thing we thought we knew about non­hu­man lives and worlds” (7). For this study, it means for­get­ting what we think we know about native and non­na­tive species, and how we per­ceive place, land, and its inhab­i­tants as not mere­ly “resources” in need of “man­age­ment.” It also means recon­sid­er­ing what kin­ship looks like beyond the bina­ry, human­cen­tric ontology.


Over the course of col­lect­ing data, I attempt­ed to fol­low pol­li­na­tors through­out three of the Hawai­ian Islands. This jour­ney was sto­ried, with each event and expe­ri­ence adding and weav­ing lay­ers of mean­ing and con­text, and unfold­ing what con­ser­va­tion meant in Hawai‘i and in what ways it could be re-envi­sioned. I walked through moun­tain­ous forests and coastal habi­tats to see pol­li­na­tors in action. I began this jour­ney in the ear­ly sum­mer with flow­ers bloom­ing. These aligned with the flow­er­ing times of the plant com­pan­ions, tiny black bees, micro­moths, and rare nec­tar feed­ers. My field sea­son closed dur­ing fall, when the flow­ers had with­ered and turned to seed pods.

In con­gru­ence with this spe­cial issue on crit­i­cal rela­tion­al­i­ty, this arti­cle attempts to bring the recent inter­est in mul­ti­species stud­ies (and ethnog­ra­phy) and Indige­nous stand­points into deep­er dia­logue. Fur­ther, through my onto­log­i­cal and method­olog­i­cal approach, this man­u­script chal­lenges nor­ma­tive dis­cours­es on human excep­tion­al­ism, nature-cul­ture dichotomies, and the man­ner in which indus­tri­al­ized soci­eties place species and mat­ter in hier­ar­chy rather than lat­er­al rela­tion. In these vignettes, I attend­ed to the sticky spaces where these mul­ti­species and bio­cul­tur­al meet­ings might occur in conservation.

Through a specif­i­cal­ly decol­o­niz­ing per­spec­tive (Ger­rard, Rudolf, and Sriprakash 6; Bonel­li and Vicher­at Mat­tar 61; Tuck and Yang 7), I was inter­est­ed in exam­in­ing mul­ti­species, posthu­man­ist, and Indige­nous con­cepts of non­d­u­al­i­ty, more-than-human entan­gle­ments, and how these beliefs can help us to counter per­spec­tives on con­ser­va­tion, as well as sci­ence, pol­i­cy, cul­ture, and ulti­mate­ly edu­ca­tion. This occurred by intra-act­ing with the human and more-than-human that make up pol­li­na­tor assem­blages and the broad­er native forests of Hawai‘i, and in the con­tin­u­al analy­sis that emerged from a post­colo­nial Hawai‘i.

In con­clu­sion, I present two points of fric­tion of which researchers must be mind­ful. First, that researchers grap­ple with “rep­re­sent­ing,” inter­pret­ing, and car­ing for the more-than-human world, the very point of mul­ti­species ethnog­ra­phy, with­out roman­ti­ciz­ing or over­ly anthro­po­mor­phiz­ing more-than-human species, mat­ter, or place (Can­dea 252-253; Puig de Bel­la­casa 219). A sec­ond point of fric­tion is ensur­ing that researchers do not per­pet­u­ate colo­nial­ism (e.g., neo­colo­nial­ism, colo­nial thought, and epis­te­mol­o­gy, etc.) by ignor­ing Indige­nous stand­points and cos­molo­gies with regard to land and mul­ti­species stud­ies (Bonel­li and Vicher­at Mat­tar 61; Tall­Bear 187).

While not direct­ly in response to con­ser­va­tion, Don­na Har­away argues that humans ought to:[reconfigure] the actors in the con­struc­tion of the eth­nospe­cif­ic cat­e­gories of nature and cul­ture. The actors are not all “us.” If the world exists for us as “nature,” this des­ig­nates a kind of rela­tion­ship, an achieve­ment among many actors, not all of them human, not all of them organ­ic, not all of them tech­no­log­i­cal. In its sci­en­tif­ic embod­i­ments as well as in oth­er forms, that nature is made, but not entire­ly by humans; it is the co-con­struc­tion among human and non­hu­mans (The Har­away Read­er 66).

As Har­away argues, mul­ti­species and oth­er nov­el method­olo­gies, such as the dif­fract­ed vignettes of my jour­ney, posit knowl­edge that is not bound to dom­i­nant dis­cours­es and per­cep­tions. This epis­te­mol­o­gy allows me to ask nov­el ques­tions and seek answers, as well as to explore how traditional/Indigenous per­cep­tion of entan­gle­ments can inform a wider sense of mul­ti­species kin­ship as it sit­u­ates in a post­colo­nial con­text. Here I offer two exam­ples in which this cre­ative and non­tra­di­tion­al analy­sis address­es these issues and adds to the grow­ing con­ver­sa­tion on more-than-human stud­ies by includ­ing non-nor­ma­tive more-than-human relativity.

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  1. See Augé, Marc. Non-Spaces: Intro­duc­tion to an Anthro­pol­o­gy of Super­moder­ni­ty, Ver­so, 1995.

  2. The mod­ern fer­al boar is large­ly con­sid­ered an inva­sive species and genet­i­cal­ly made up of both the small­er, domes­tic Poly­ne­sian boar (intro­duced by Poly­ne­sians and impor­tant cul­tur­al­ly) and the larg­er, Eurasian Boar (intro­duced after Euro­pean con­tact in 1776 and thought to be far more destruc­tive than the Poly­ne­sian boar. While genet­i­cal­ly hybrids, the fer­al boars of today are genet­i­cal­ly large­ly Eurasian boars. Oth­er intro­duced species (pro­tein sources for the boars) allowed pigs to thrive in forests where their Poly­ne­sian coun­ter­parts had not nor­mal­ly entered. (Lin­der­holm, et al.; Maly, et. al.)