By Steve Morgan
Going back a few years, I remember a song performed by the students of Kumu Manuwai Peters’ Hawaiian language class, the song entitled “O Kala’au.” This song tells of the beauty of La’au and of the ancient creatures that inhabited this place, also known as the “Ilioholoholoikauaua,” which translated is a word that means “the dog that swims” or more commonly referred to in our time as the Hawaiian Monk Seal.
Contrary to what some may believe, the Monk Seal was not introduced to our shores and is in fact “Maoli” in the truest sense.
In the mo’olelo of the creation story of “Hawaii Loa” the Monk Seal is associated with Lono, extending the name of this magnificent creature to “Ilioholoholoikauaua a Lono.” This mo’olelo tells of the creation of the first man “Kumu Honua” who, along with his wife, dwelt in Kalani Hauola. The story goes on to mention that among the animals that dwelt in this place in peace and comfort was the Ilioholoholoikauaua a Lono.
Long before the first voyaging canoe arrived to our islands, the Monk Seal dwelt in this place, small in number but nevertheless at home. I have always understood the idea that we respect that which is “kahiko” just as we respect those who have dwelt in this ‘aina before us. To abandon this basic principle ignores the foundation of not only Hawaiian culture but that of any honorable culture.
The Monk Seal continues to decrease in numbers and, sadly, even on Molokai, where it seems that this ancient creature might find a place of sanctuary, it remains threatened.