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Beyond Pixels: why diversity in space matters in the aftermath of Maui's fires

In the aftermath of the heart-wrenching Maui fires that have claimed the lives of over 100 people and continue to leave a trail of devastation, our hearts collectively ache for the pain that the people of Hawai'i are enduring. As we look at the stark imagery of destruction on social media, we are reminded of the immense losses suffered and the resilience required to heal. The jarring contrast between before-and-after satellite images showcases a landscape forever transformed, a poignant visual testament of nature's fury. But as we pause to contemplate these powerful snapshots, we must also reflect on what remains unseen, what lies obscured beneath the ashes, and the lens of technology.

Satellite images serve as windows into the heart of events, capturing moments frozen in time. Yet while undeniably powerful, they often leave us myopically fixated on the visible terrain.

It is in these very snapshots that the danger lies – the danger of mistaking the seen for the entirety, the physical for the spiritual, and the immediate for the eternal.

Lāhainā, once an abundant wetland, danced in harmony with Native Hawai'ian tradition and Indigenous wisdom. A land where wildfires were as rare as they were incongruous, a testament to nature's intricate balance and the wisdom of Hawai'ian Indigenous aquaculture. However, the satellite's eye, while revealing the extent of the devastation, fails to tell the story of the hidden ties that bound the land to its people. It was here that the lizard goddess Kihawahine found her abode, a symbol of the interconnectedness between myth and reality.

These waters ran far deeper than the satellites can measure, as they hold the spiritual heartbeat of a community who still to this day revere their land as a living entity.

As we grapple with the anguish felt by Hawai'i's inhabitants, we must acknowledge the historical and ecological factors that have contributed to these devastating wildfires. It is a harsh reminder that the scars on the land run deeper than what meets the eye, echoing the profound wounds felt by the community. During the 19th century in Maui, the realm linked to Kihawahine underwent a profound transformation as colonization took hold. The waters that once nurtured the fishpond and freshwater springs at Mokuʻula, a site that holds immense importance for Native Hawai'ians as a sacred ceremonial site, were rerouted by sugarcane companies for irrigation. Mokuʻula, situated in Lāhainā, Maui, stands as a spiritual and cultural cornerstone of the Hawai'ian Kingdom, embodying the legacy of its rulers,and the enduring connection between land, tradition, and the divine. This diversion led to the drying out of the sacred fishpond. In the early 20th century, the remnants of the sacred pond were filled with soil, repurposing the area into a public park. The resulting satellite images remain oblivious to the intricate cultural implications of this profound transformation.

To distill Lāhainā 's narrative solely to the visual evidence presented by satellite images is to overlook the intricate interplay of ancestral knowledge, ecology, and spirituality that once flourished.

We extend heartfelt condolences to Hawai'i. Let our response embrace a broader perspective. A resolute commitment to amplifying Indigenous-led conservation endeavors, recognizing that safeguarding our collective heritage demands a holistic approach.

This calls us to stand united in safeguarding cultural treasures, towards a future where the seen and the unseen harmoniously unite, where technology and tradition coalesce seamlessly, and where Lāhainā 's wetlands thrive anew.

In the spirit of unity, please consider supporting those affected by the Maui fires. Your generous contribution can bring hope and relief during this challenging period. To donate directly to displaced families in need, kindly follow this link:


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