NA MAKA O KA ‘AINA PROJECT – THE EYES OF THE LAND PROJECT ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP FOR CHILDREN

He keiki aloha nā mea kanu
Beloved children are the plants
(ʻŌlelo Noʻeau 684)

Awakening Stewardship of the Environment on Maui – Na Maka O Ka ‘AinaFrom April to September of 2018, When We Shine Foundation and Malamalama Maui Project, an ArtPlace America placemaking grant, collaborated on a community awareness mission to awaken stewardship of the land and sea for the children of Maui. We chose this social artistry project to shine a light and open up discussions on the environmental impact of wasteful land usage practices by humans on our island home. The project was named Na Maka O Ka ‘Aina, meaning “the eyes of the land”. It was based on a song with the same title written a few months earlier by the 3rd grade class of Pomaika’i school during a songwriting residency with Melinda Caroll. The project focused on the children of Maui, ages 5 to 15 years of age.

Throughout the 5 month period of the project, we set up art stations at various school gardens, at community events and fairs and flower shows that allowed children’s activities. We provided a niu, a coconut, for each participating child. We then shared the story about the life-giving coconut as a canoe crop brought over by Hawaiians when they oringinally landed in the Hawaiian islands. We talked about stewardship as seen through a Hawaiian cultural lens, using the model of the Ahupua’a, from land to seen as naturally regenerative resources when we care for them properly.

After the stories, we would ask the children questions on what they observed in their own lives, adding small exercises that required them to observe their surroundings to gain the perspective of the eyes of the land that were watching them. They shared their experiences and observations. We then provided non-toxic water-based paints and colored pens and invited each one to create their own design of what the “eyes of the land” was saying to them. We would all then promise to do our best to become good stewards of the ‘Aina.

The outcome for teachers and students alike, was a deeper conversation and awareness about ways to care for their schools, their school gardens and home environment. The resulting artwork, beautifully imagined in the children’s eyes, became a choice of garden art or a living tree planted in or around their school garden. They were also invited to take their painted “eyes of the land” coconut home to plant to remind them of their promise.