Social Issues and Psychology:
Psychology & The Environment
Fall, 1997

Cultural Significance

Jim Berling, Mary Krebsbach, and Jorie Henrickson

Please Note: These materials may be used for research, study, and education, but please credit the authors and source.

    What is the cultural significance of the North Beach Area in West Maui and will it be changed by development? This is a question of both personal belief and environmental truth. Opinions are numerous and vary depending on who you ask. Those who are permanent residents tend to differ from those who are guests to the island. Particular belief systems influence opinions of whether certain areas of North Beach are significant personally or due to faith. The question of environmental significance is more one of reality which is evident to anyone with knowledge of the area in general. It is very difficult to dismiss the significance of North Beach completely and for this reason must not be ignored when it comes to development.

cook.jpg    Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States in 1959. Long before the admission of Hawaii as a state, there existed a culture that saw their environment not as a resource but as a living being. They believed humans were bonded to all creatures and plants both biologically and spiritually. This belief system has survived long past the day when James Cook in 1778 discovered the Hawaiian Islands. As western influences began to take effect on what was known at the time as the Sandwich Islands, a constitution was modeled after American and British documents. Hawaii was recognized as an independent kingdom but this did not stop Britain and France from trying to take over the land (Tabrah, 1980). In 1900 Hawaii became a territory of the United States and came to be a state 59 years later. For additional information click on Hawaiian History.

    North Beach, also known as Kekaa, was once the capital of Maui and originally consisted of Polynesian descendents from the Marquesas Islands (Kuykendall, 1938). These native Hawaiians saw their gods as being able to transfer themselves into objects and environmental structures (Mulholland, 1970). They saw the earth as their historian and mother who stressed harmony with the environment. Both the Hawaiian culture and some indigenous people hold the environment in a position of reverence and respect. In this respect they have very common pro-environmental views.

    Hawaiians see the ocean as a source of food, health, physical and emotional well being, and nourishment. For this reason they see the ocean as having to be protected in order to earthx.gif (12942 bytes)preserve it as a sacred place of creation and as the spiritual core of the earth. Also shown through Hawaiian culture is the view of abundance, which states that no matter how much or how little is available, through sharing, there will be enough for all. Respect for resources is stressed and hoarding is seen as one of the great social evils. The native people of Kekaa claim North Beach is a place of tremendous spiritual, cultural, historical and environmental significance. They are upset because they perceive a growing lack of respect for the land and its native people. They claim any development would threaten the area known as North Beach, for it is said to contain one of the last sandy beaches and open spaces left in West Maui. The wetlands that exist there are important because they sustain valuable wildlife to the area. Development in this region is viewed as detrimental to the very environment that they and their ancestors have fought so hard to conserve.

    The residents of North Beach declare that there are many historical and sacred sites to be found in the area. One such site is known as Pu'u Keka'a or Black Rock. This place of interest is believed to be the point where souls of the dead once leaped into their ancestral spirit land. Kahekili, the last chief of Maui, leaped from this point and was unharmed because of his great spiritual strength. Visitors to Maui still go to see this site today although it is badly desecrated. Preservation must take place if it is to remain available for future generations to see.


    Within the ancient village of Kekaa, which stretched from Makaiwa Beach to Honokowai Stream, there are many places of spiritual and cultural significance such as burial mounds and the royal taro patch of Loi Hie. North Beach also contains the royal fishpond of Loko ia and Ke Ala Loa, the Old Kings Road and three sacred pohaku. Although taken over by the Royal Kaanapali North Course, there remains a sacred cave known as Ke Ana Pueo. In this cave lives Wahine Pee, the hiding woman and other guardian spirits who are known to dwell as owls.

    Many places of importance and meaning exist in the North Beach Area and could be harmed by further developmental action. The battle of West Maui fought in this region between Kamehamehanui and Kauhi decades ago is once again taking place in effort to save territory of relevance and value to the natives of the land. Native Hawaiians feel as though their traditions are being threatened by businesses that have taken over their beaches and are looking for a solution.

    Beginning in 1993 a strong movement began to form within the Hawaiian Islands concerning Native Hawaiian worries and frustrations with regard to their environmental situation. They were upset because their land rights had not been adhered to and concerned about the loss of native land, culture and tradition. On November 23, 1993 President Clinton signed what was called the Apology Resolution and by doing so admitted U.S. fault in the take over of the Hawaiian Islands one hundred years ago. The United States apologized for the overthrow and promised to work towards reconciliation with the native Hawaiian people. The idea of sovereignty has taken precedence over the situation as a possible solution to the lack of cultural preservation and regard for the rights of native Hawaiians. For additional information click on Sovereignty.

    What is the cultural significance of the North Beach area and will it be changed by development of various kinds? Who should we look to for an answer to this question? Should it be the developers who want to transform the region or the natives of Kekaa who make this place their home? History has taken its toll on the islands of Hawaii by interlopers of the past, which Hawaiians are expected to excuse by means of an expression of regret by a would be leader. If we as cognitive beings are to learn from our mistakes we must not forget the past, but use it to our advantage. Hawaiian culture sees its environment as bonded to humans and all creatures of the earth and believes we should treat it with the same prodigious respect as we would fellow humans. The natives of North Beach see development as a threat to their heritage and believe it should not be the cause of further loss. They maintain that their homeland should be protected and preserved for both themselves and future generations to enjoy. Is this too much to ask in order to keep history from repeating itself? We think not. 

Click here for information on Hawaiian History
Click here for information on Hawaiian Sovereignty 
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    Kamakau, S.M. (1961). Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press.

    Kuykendall, R.S. (1926). A History of Hawaii. New York: Macmillan.

    Kuykendall, R.S. (1938). The Hawaiian Kingdom. Honolulu: University of Hawaii.

    Liliuokalani, L. (1897). Official Protest of the Treaty of Annexation.

    Planet Hawaii. Retrieved September 21, 1997 from the World Wide Web:

    Mulholland, J.F. (1970). Hawaii's Religions. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle.

    Tabrah, R.M. (1980). Hawaii: A Bicentennial History. New York: American Association for State and Local History.





     During the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, the U.S. military wanted a fortress in the Pacific so that America could expand into the ocean and Asia. The United States military conspired with a group of businessmen known as the "Missionary Party" to take over Hawaii. In 1893, the U.S. marines landed in Honolulu and established a provisional government until Hawaii would be annexed to the United States. Sanford Dole was made the president of the provisional government and the international community was in an uproar over U.S. aggression towards the historically peaceful Hawaii. In fact, King Kalakaua was the first head of state in history to circle the world in a voyage of friendship, commerce and peace. He was remembered as the Merry Monarch because of his love of Hawaiian music and dance. He also collected Hawaiian legends and recorded them in his book, The Legends and Myths of Hawaii (Kamakau, 1961).

    The world was outraged by the United States' invasion. During this time Grover Cleveland was elected president. He was very concerned about the morals of quickly annexing Hawaii and called for an investigation by the U.S. Minister James Blount who hawaii_map.gif reveled that the U.S. had no just cause for its invasion and establishment of government in Hawaii. Consequently, President Cleveland refused to support annexation and the Provisional Government re-emerged later as the Republic of Hawaii still headed by Sanford Dole. The next president of the United States was William McKinley. It was during his term that the U.S. Senate voted on the annexation of Hawaii. McKinley allowed a simple majority of both the U.S. House and Senate to annex Hawaii instead of gaining two-thirds support as required by the Constitution. Hawaii was then known as the Territory of Hawaii and Sanford Dole was appointed Governor. Shortly there after the U.S. military built its pacific military fortress and command post. Meanwhile, the members of Dole's original missionary party were becoming quite wealthy from Hawaiian sugar.

    Since 1877, Lydia Liliuokalani had been Queen of the Hawaiian Islands. Twenty years later, in 1897, she found herself forced to cede her islands to U.S. military might. In her official protest of the Treaty of Annexation she states "I yield my authority to the forces of the United States in order to avoid blood shed, and because I recognize the futility of a conflict with so formidable a power." Her protest states:

I declare such a treaty to be an act of wrong towards the native and part-native people of Hawaii, and invasion of international rights both towards my people and towards friendly nations with whom they have made treaties, the perpetration of fraud whereby the constitutional government was overthrown, and, finally, an act of gross injustice to me. My people, about 40,000 in number, have no way been consulted by those who claim the right to destroy the independence of Hawaii [The treaty proposes to confiscate 4,000,000 acres of our territory, ignoring the hereditary property of our chiefs.] Therefore I, Liliuokalani of Hawaii, do hereby call upon President of that nation to withdraw said treaty from further consideration. I implore the people of this great and good nation, from whom my ancestors learned the Christian religion, to sustain their representatives in such acts of justice and equity as may be in accord with the principles of their fathers, and to the Almighty Ruler of the universe (Lili'ookalani, 1897).

    President Clinton of the United States acknowledges the truth of Queen Liliuokalani's statements a few years ago. In 1993 he recognized the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and apologized to the native people of behalf of the United States. Clinton's Apology Resolution was passed by Congress and signed by Clinton in November of 1993. In excerpts from the resolution, Clinton states that:

The health and well-being of the Native Hawaiian people is intrinsically tied to their deep feelings and attachment to the landThe long-range economic and social changes in Hawaii over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been devastating to the population and to the health and well-being of the Hawaiian people. The Hawaiian people are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territory, and their cultural identity in accordance with their own spiritual and traditional beliefs, customs, practices, language and social institutions." The resolution ends with an apology for denying Hawaiians the right of self-determination, a commitment to acknowledge the ramifications of the overthrow and support for reconciliation efforts. One senator in fact commented that the logical consequence of this resolution would be independence.

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    Kamakau, S.M. (1961). Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press.

    Kuykendall, Ralph S. (1926). A History of Hawaii. New York: MacMillan.

    Liliuokalani, L. (1897). Official Protest of the Treaty of Annexation.

    Planet Hawaii. Retrieved September 21, 1997 from the World Wide Web:






clinton.jpg (5833 bytes)    Throughout 1994 meetings took place to assess the legal right of Hawaiian people to restore their own independent nation. People met from all the islands to select a Head of State and draft their own Constitution. President Clinton has recently recognized Pu'uhonua Kanahele as the official Head of State of Hawaii after writing a letter addressing him as such. In the fall of 1995 the Ahupua'a Action Alliance was formed. Their purpose was to integrate a more environmental view into the future planning and development of the Hawaiian Islands. In fact their mission is to "protect Hawai'i's waters and its Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) traditions from further assault by environmental degradation and unresponsive governmental policy decisions." Delegates spent two days together and then departed to their respective islands in order to protect the traditions and land of the native Hawaiian people. There is a strong fear from this organization and others like it that there will no longer be traditional and sacred places if action is not taken now. They are highly against the profit making way in which their land has been built up for tourism. In fact their ideals fall much more so into the concerns of environmentalist around the world. Also in 1993 the Hawaiian Supreme Court ruled against the Big Island's planning commission in what is seen as a win for groups like the Ahupua'a Action Alliance. The planning commission was preparing to allowed the building of a resort on an area of the island which would "cut off shoreline access and customary rights" to the native people. The Supreme Court came out with a harsh ruling against the planning commission. In fact they made a point of reminding the commission of its obligation to the Hawaiian people. Places of significance to the Hawaiian's are to be protected and preserved not destroyed.

    As seen from the actions of the Hawaiian people over the last four years there is a growing concern for preservation of Native culture. It is important to remember that culture includes a wide variety of things that can vary depending on the people. The Hawaiians definitely feel as though their traditions are being threatened by the businesses that have taken over their beaches and built hotels. There needs to be more of an awareness about balancing and accounting for the needs of these two opposing forces. Obviously the people on the planning commission of the Big Island were not concerned with the significance of the land they were agreeing to build on. The Hawaiian Supreme Court has set the precedent for recognizing and preserving native culture. In fact they demanded it. Now all that is left is for communities follow their prompting.

    Recent developments have shown further attempts being made towards independence and sovereignty. In January of 1997 Native Hawaiians on Maui met in a church to talk about the future. Their goal was to obtain sovereignty and their unity stemmed from concern over the destruction or deterioration of Hawaiian culture and the upholding of their rights as Native Hawaiians. Additionally, there was a rally on October 10, 1997 in Honolulu. At that time people came together in order to reenact protests which took place 100 years ago by Native Hawaiians who were upset over the potential annexation of Hawaii to the United States. Only time will be able to show the outcomes of Hawaiian action to preserve their culture, although they have taken great measures in the last few years in order to do so. If every culture were as concerned and connected to the environment as the Native Hawaiians the earth would definitely prosper.

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Psy 412 Miami University. Last revised: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 17:06:33. This document has been accessed 1 times since July 15, 1997. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman . Also See: Social Psychology at Miami University