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by Jennifer Ching, staff writer


Ramsay Taum, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and kumu (teacher), spoke to HPU students and faculty about sustainability and food security Feb. 24 at Warmer Auditorium. Having been mentored and trained by respected Hawaiian elders (kupuna), Taum specifically focused on how the ancient Hawaiians achieved sustainable living and how we might follow their example today.
More than 25 students and a few faculty members attended the free lecture, which was sponsored by the College of International Studies, the Center for Student Life & First-Year Programs, and HPU Reads: The Common Book Program.
Taum began by explaining that the core of the presentation was learning from our elders, the kupuna. “These individuals were…the remnant of our culture in the 20th century,” he said. “We came from a generation where we actually engaged, listened, and learned from people who actually lived the culture to a certain degree.”
He then established a definition of sustainability from the 1987 Brundtland Report: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
“ So what does this mean for us in Hawai‘i?” he asked the audience. “How did our ancestors care for themselves in this place and leave it in such a way that we today are benefitting? And then the question for us is, how do we leave this a better place for others?”
One concept Taum shared was that context shapes content, and he established the context of Hawai‘i: we are in a place in the middle of the ocean; we have had our location defined by others on the outside; and 85–90 percent of our food is shipped in from someplace else. So where will we get our food when the ships stop coming?
Taum suggested that a different business model, a place-based model, was needed when it comes to managing resources. “The place-based model,” he explained, “says that we need to look at the place to define who we are based on that place, and our prosperity, economy, goods and services, really somehow should reflect us versus someplace else.” He used the metaphor of a poi bowl which, when he was growing up, everyone in the family shared poi from. No matter how many people took poi from the poi bowl, there was always some left over.
“ See, we don’t eat for today,” he said. “Why are you eating? You want to do something tomorrow. It’s all about the future. The principle in play here was thinking about the next day, the next guy, the next generation.”
A key concept in Taum’s presentation was looking at the language: “If you want to understand anything about Hawaiian science or the practices of the place,” he said, “you have to go back to the nomenclature, the words, the stories, the legends, the dances. Anything that you want to understand is embedded here.”
He demonstrated this by breaking down words and examining stories to find the philosophies contained in them. In the word ‘ohana (family), for example, o is earth or the base; ha is life; oha is the root, the next generation that comes off the base (of a taro plant); hana means labor, or to work; and na is next, tomorrow. So altogether, ‘ohana is translated to mean “the basis for life is work that is mentored and demonstrated to the next generation.”
“ So in this one word, ‘ohana,” Taum explained, “you have a philosophy, a set of values and practices that ensures that the next generation eats. That’s food security. So ‘ohana is a construct, a structure that speaks about relationships and order. It’s called multi-generational learning.”
Taum also explored the ahupua‘a, a land management system that speaks of stewardship and involves caring for the place and for the people (family, etc.) around you.
“ For food security: I would suggest that our entire value system needs to go back to the principle of caring…about the place, about one another, about the future.”
“ I thought [the lecture] was very good,” said Michael Bennett, a freshman from Honolulu double-majoring in political science and economics. “I liked it because it went after more of the thinking. We all know that, obviously, we need to use less oil, that we need to use sustainable energy…, but we also need to know, ‘hey, why are we thinking this and where did this come from? Where did these concepts come from?’”
“ I think it was very interesting,” said Karolina Gottberg, an environmental science major from Sweden who will be graduating this spring from her college back in Sweden. “[Taum] told us a lot about the culture. I just missed a little bit more practical information about how to increase the agricultural production,” she said.
Born and raised in Hawai‘i, Taum attended the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and received his Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from the University of Southern California. He is the Director of External Relations and Community Partnerships and Special Assistant to the Dean on Host Culture at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s School of Travel Industry Management. He also is an instructor of several Native Hawaiian disciplines including lua (a Hawaiian art of self-defense) and ho’oponopono (making things right). He is also the co-executive director of the non-profit Sustain Hawaii, an organization committed to supporting sustainable living and development.
At the end of the lecture, Taum left the audience with some questions to think about: “If not you, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where? What will your legacy be? What will your priorities be?”



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