Beloved children are the plants (Pukui 1983:76, verse 684)
The forests, as the home of the akua, were seen as awesome and profoundly spiritual places. One did not enter them, or take from them, without first asking permission, and respectful behavior was always shown to all of the beings that lived there. (Anderson-Fung & Maly)
The gathering of plants served many important cultural purposes. Plants were consumed for food and medicine (e.g., the bark of the root of the ʻuhaloa was used for sore throat), used as tools and building materials, art, and adornments. (Kumupaʻa)
Participants in a recent Puna-based ethno-historical analysis noted that the Puna uplands have been traditionally accessed to gather lāʻau (plants, wood) for a variety of uses, and these practices must continue to be exercised today.
1. Native Out-planting: Because many of the native plants gathered by practitioners are rapidly dying off, it was recommended that action be taken to replace and reestablish these valuable forest plants.
2. Cultural Access: Community participants recommended that the forest be kept open and accessible to cultural practitioners such as hālau hula, artists, and lāʻau lapaʻau healers for native plant gathering. (Kumupaʻa)
Papa Henry Auwae, a prominent Kahuna Lā‘au Lapa‘au (Hawaiian herbalist), spoke of some of the different medicinal plants and herbs in the forest (and concern for the plants that had been impacted by the prior contemplated geothermal use):
“Plenty lā‘aus out here. Kōpiko. Oh boy. Oh my, the lama and the ‘ōpikos are all down. You see this tree here? Oh, my goodness. This is ‘ōpiko, this tree here. And the bark, all this bark here is all wasted already, you see. Poho, all this, all wasted.”
“And this is, we can use this for — you know, a woman when they miscarriage, all the time miscarriage. And this is the kind of bark we use for tea, make it into a tea form. But this is all waste. How many years this thing old? Oh, my goodness, cannot get anything. Poho.”
“You cannot get a tree like this to grow overnight. It takes years. And this kind of tree, they don’t grow too fast, they grow real slow, very slow. That one here took about 300 years, 300, 400 years. This is all waste, waste, wasted forever.
“And this is the kind of thing, we should stop people like this desecrating the forest. Why don’t they see people like us Hawaiians and we can help them, you know …”
“… go into a place like this and then try and save our herbs, our trees, you know, our lifestyle, instead of just waste it for themselves, through greediness. They like all the money. But how much life can they save? I can save life. Can they save life?”
“And this tree is gone forever. We cannot get this tree back in life again. And how many more trees like this that they had damaged and wasted? Cannot tell. We have use of the forest, we have the use of all the herbs in the forest to save people, to save human life.”
“And every time I walk and I see in a forest like this, I feel, I feel for the ‘āina. I feel what my grandmother taught me about the lā‘aus, how long it takes for the lā‘au to grow.”
“And people just come over here with a bulldozer and just knock it down. They don’t think, they don’t have any feelings.”
“You see that small leaves there? ‘Olu‘olu. That’s another medicine that we use. And it’s very scarce and very rare. This root here is important. This root here I would take this for medicine now. And I’m going to take this home for medicine right now. ‘Ohu nui.”
“For a person, I have a person coming up and he has been losing his voice; he cannot talk. So this is what we’re going to use to try and bring his voice back again. In a forest like this, there are a lot of lā‘au that can cure people. People all over the world you can cure.” (Nā Maka o ka ʻĀina; Kumupa‘a)