Eminent scientist and kahuna Samuel M. ‘Ohukani‘ohi‘a Gon III will bring his illuminating talk, “Pre-contact Hawaiian Ecological Footprint: A model for sustainability from our island past,” to Hilo later this month.
Gon, senior scientist and cultural advisor with The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, will be the featured speaker Friday, Aug. 29, at the Environment Hawai‘i annual fundraising dinner at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. The event is set for 6-9 p.m. and will include a silent auction featuring the work of local artists and products from area businesses, a cash bar and music by Jazzx2.
“Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian ecology are inseparable in my viewpoint,” Gon said.
In addition to having a master’s degree in zoology and a doctorate in animal behavior from the University of California-Davis, Gon has more than 30 years of experience in Hawaiian ecology and extensive knowledge of Hawaiian culture, history and language. A well-known cultural practitioner of traditional chant, hula and protocol, he underwent the traditional Hawaiian ‘uniki rites of passage under kumu John Keolamaka‘ainana Lake, a master of religion and cultural protocol, to attain the status of kahuna kakalaleo.
Gon’s research delves deep into the Hawaiian Islands’ past in an attempt to answer the question of whether we can ever return to what he says is the “100 percent sustainability of our past.”
“Before 1778, hundreds of thousands of Hawaiians lived in a thriving self-sustained Polynesian culture in these islands,” Gon said.
But where, exactly, did they live and what was their impact on the land? Using archaeological modeling and traditional knowledge sources — including mo‘olelo (stories) and oli (chants) — Gon reconstructed the pre-contact Hawaiian world, “from which unfolds the story of the changing island landscapes that culminate in our world today.”
Gon has been honored with the designation of “Living Treasure of Hawai‘i” by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii.
Among many other roles, Gon serves on the Restoration Advisory Group for the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, on the Board of Trustees for the Native Hawaiian Culture and Arts Program and the Bishop Museum Association Council. He also recently ended his term as an at-large member of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
For the past 24 years, Environment Hawai‘i has published countless articles documenting the recent human impacts on Hawaii’s natural, agricultural and urban landscapes, as well as its marine waters. It also has reported about efforts by government agencies, community groups and individuals to make Hawaii a more sustainable place to live.
The deadline to reserve a spot for the annual dinner is Aug. 25. Tickets are $65 per person and include a $20 donation to Environment Hawai‘i. To make a reservation, call 934-0115 or email email@example.com.