In the endangered species capital of the world, actor Jason Scott Lee and other dedicated Hawaiians are working to reclaim their threatened land and culture.
Many living in Hawai'i are striving to live according to the indigenous peoples‘ concept of Pono, "righteousness." It is a choice that lies at the center of TOWARD LIVING PONO, a film that chronicles the efforts of actor Jason and other island activists who believe the survival of their culture and the vitality of their environment hinges on honoring their centuries-old traditions and respect for the ‘aina, the land.
Behind the honeymoon hotels, the made-for-tourists luaus, and many popular misconceptions of the Hawaiian Islands, there exists another Hawai‘i -- a Hawai‘i rich in native history yet struggling under outside influences that threaten its vulnerable environmental and cultural landscapes. How can we take care of our precious home? It is a question that is important for people everywhere to be asking.
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"We don't have to go green, " chides Kupuna ("Elder") Uncle Robert Keli‘iho‘omalu, in unmistakable Hawaiian style. "We never stopped being green in da first place!" Native-language instructor and musician Kainani Kahaunaele protests, "Hawai‘i is so much more than Waikiki...many of us are upset to be stereotyped in such blatant ways."
Native Hawaiian and teenage activist James Akau, who works with the Nature Conservancy in Ka‘u to protect native forests, wisely contemplates his people's connection to the land. "Everything was related -- the animals and plants were considered family. People my age should know about their world -- and their heritage."
Working to raise awareness, Jason Scott Lee makes continuing speaking appearances at schools throughout the Islands to talk about the way he lives more simply and sustainably off the grid on his Big Island taro farm. "You've got to malama i ka ‘aina -- take care of the land. Give back!" he urges in the auditorium of Hilo High School. "Our beautiful islands are under attack and we've got to save them."
Lee invites the camera in to show his small, cozy home without electricity, take a tour of the lua ("outhouse"), and capture his day-to-day chores. At the time of filming, his farm contained a black-box theater where the public was invited to see dance, musical, and theatrical performances. Snippets of performances are included in the documentary.
Also featured in the film are visits with the taro farming Mock Chew Family of Waipi‘o Valley, Kumu Emery Aceret, Deb Arita and the young hula dancers of Hilo's Halau Na Pua ‘O Uluhaimalama, Jack Jeffrey and Donna Ball of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Hakalau Forest Reserve, Keith "Braddah Skibs" Nehls and his Pakalove crew, and Earl Kawamura.
TLP logo by Pearl Maxner