Concerned About Earth Art
Sue Nash's work reflects her concern for the loss of much of the world's earth art but especially the loss of Hawaiian petroglyphs. Sue's oil painting of Spiral Jetty, an earth art piece now covered with water in The Great Salt Lake in Utah is meant to be a tribute to Robert Smithson and to artists once again beginning to use the earth as the medium and canvas of art. Spiral Jetty was made by Smithson who created earth art during the 1970s. One of her large pieces, Anaeho'omalu Triptych, is to remind us of ancient petroglyphs, now lost because they were not protected from development.
Plat drawings of the area of Anaeho'omalu, Waikaloa, Hawaii were made by archaeologists supervised by Kenneth Emory and Yoshiko Sinoto. Now the area they drew is covered by development. Sue incorporates the colors of the sunset making her image much livlier than the plat drawing of the petroglyphs. Sue is concerned about the decision process that allowed the covering of these petroglyphs. Her work tries to evoke the feeling of the people of old who lived out their lives in a district that saw much change over centuries of time. Many elements of Hawaiian culture flourished site depicted in the triptych.
In creating this triptych, Sue is dealing with the issue of archaeological reports and their lack of impact on petroglyph preservation. The history of the Anaeho'omalu area is described by Dorothy Barrere in a report made by the department of Anthropology at the Bishop Museum in 1971. The 16th century reigning chief, Lono-i-ka-makahiki, was said to have erected the boundary marker called Ahu-a-lono between North and South Kohala there. During his reign, contact was made with Kauai and relationships were begun between the two island chiefly families. But carbon dating in burial caves as well as the worn paths of the foot trails attest to much earlier settlement. As early as 800 AD, two or three families lived in the area in specific sites. Two more sites were added in the late 1000s and site 24 was added in the mid 1200s. The heavily-traveled Kiholo- Puako trail runs through the area.
Petroglyph images abound throughout the area. About 710 units are described, 85 percent of them comprising dots and circles, 12 percent are human figures and 3 per cent are abstract or animal figures. The circle and dot figures are representative of the piko ritual in which families preserved the umbilical cords of children. Many petroglyphs are next to grinding areas where stone tools were sharpened and ground, thus indicating that the petroglyphs were perhaps tests of the tools.
Barrere believes the earliest petroglyphs in the area were made in the late fourteenth century. Population figures grew steadily and began a sharp decline in the 1800s when the area was owned by Kamehameha I. Indications are that the entire Anaeho'omalu area was inhabited by only two or three families by the late 1800s because an 1859 lava flow forced most families out of the area. So the story of Hawaiian settlement in Anaeho'omalu looks like a bell curve, starting very small in the 800s and rising to a peak between 1400 and 1600 and gradually dropping to almost nothing by 1880.
The burial caves, trail, grinding areas, and the vast poetry of wind, water and sunset skies make this a place of power and deep spiritual feeling. Everything is bright, hard and shining until evening when the sun turns everything soft and pastel. The sound of ocean waves beating against rocky and sandy coast is varied like the drum. Two large fishponds covered four and a half acres between the sandy beaches and the inner land.
The area (a little less than 1000 acres) was purchased for $1.14 an acre in 1878 by the Parker Ranch for recreational land for Ranch employees. Ranch employees set up camp there for fishing and picnics.
Today the area is the playground of tourists with several golf courses and hotels now a part of the Waikaloa Resort. Stretching all along the former footpath of Hawaiian fishermen we now find a busy resort area. Petroglyphs have been preserved, but only a fraction remain. The Beach Course and the Royal Waikaloan which now front the major petroglyph field were built in 1981 at the beginning of the real estate boom in Hawaii and on the Kohala Coast.
Sue finds it difficult to imagine how the vibrant culture of Hawai'i can be preserved if the Bishop Museum, the Bishop Estate, and the University of Hawaii do not speak out. The University of Hawaii does not even offer a Ph.D. in Hawaiian language. Many schools at the elementary and secondary levels do not offer Hawaiian language or culture courses despite a mandate to do so in the state Constitution. Petroglyph fields and areas have been preserved on the Big Island but only parts of them. On Maui nothing is being done to protect the site at Nu'u landing or at Olowalu. These symbols play a vital role in expressing and preserving Hawaiian cultural values.
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