By Andrea Brower on 17 May 2009 in The Garden Island
Image above: Ithaca Hour denominations from two hour note down to one-tenth ($1)
This past Friday, the Malama Kaua‘i radio show on KKCR hosted Paul Glover, founder of Ithaca HOURS, one of the most successful local currencies in the country. It was an inspiring and interesting discussion about the economic, social, cultural, and environmental benefits of creating local exchange and investment systems, and what we could do on Kauai.
Local currencies are a tool of sustainable economic development — they are designed to build a local economy by maximizing circulation of trade within a defined region. Popular in the 1930s during the Great Depression, they are now seeing a revival in North America.
They help to keep money local, build community connection, and incentivize business development in places where there are dollar “leakages.” Paul Glover states, “We printed our own money because we watched federal dollars come to town, shake a few hands, then leave to buy rainforest lumber and fight wars.
Ithaca’s HOURS, by contrast, stay in our region to help us hire each other. While dollars make us increasingly dependent on transnational corporations and bankers, HOURS reinforce community trading and expand commerce which is more accountable to our concerns for ecology and social justice.”
There are over 900 participating businesses in Ithaca, including grocery stores, movie theaters, farmers and medical clinics, and thousands of people receive HOURS (one HOUR = $10) as part of their paycheck.
Through the system, business loans are offered at no interest, hundreds of non-profits have received grants, and a very affordable cooperative health insurance system is thriving! HOURS have even become a popular souvenir and “special attraction” for the visitor industry.
In a similar system in Massachusetts, six banks offer exchange for the local currency (BerkShares), and over one million BerkShares were circulated in the first nine months of the project. Susan Witt, co-founder of BerkShares, published the following analysis in Orion Magazine: Use of BerkShares, a paper currency, requires face to face economic exchange. The citizen/buyer must meet the merchant/owner and enter into conversation about the item purchased.
In the course of these multiple transactions an understanding begins to grow of the nature of the business, how it fits in the streetscape of the town, the working conditions of its employees, availability of locally made goods, the impact of new regulations, the necessity to respond to the changing tastes of consumers, the hurdles to prosperity, the many roles the merchant plays in the community as volunteer ambulance squad member, school board official, community theater player.
Most of today’s national currencies are no longer commodity-based. They are at best pegged to each other, or tied in a vague way to the general productivity of the country of origin. At the end of the twentieth century money has become altogether abstracted from our daily experience. We talk of earning 6 percent interest, but have no picture of “what our money is doing tonight” — whether it is working to build wheelbarrows in Brazil, grow corn on chemically fertilized land in Iowa, or make shoes in a crowded factory in Thailand.
By intentionally narrowing our choices of consumer goods to those locally made, local currencies allow us to know more fully the story of items purchased; stories that include the human beings that made them and the minerals, rivers, plants and animals that gave of their substance to form them.
Such stories, formed from real life experience, work in the imagination to foster responsible consumer choices and re-establish a commitment to the community. In this sense, local currencies become a tool not only for economic development but for cultural renewal. Inspired by Malama Kaua‘i ’s Friday radio show, a group will be meeting on June 20 to discuss the possibilities for local currency and investment systems on Kauai.
For details, visit MalamaKauaiNews.Org • Andrea Brower is the projects supervisor for Malama Kaua‘i and can be reached at email@example.com
Island Breath: TGI#22 Time better than money 1/27/07
The Gobbler: The Ithaca money system 11/21/93
By Hope Kallai on 15 May 2009 for in Island Breath -
Image above: Lower reaches of Moloaa Stream, when full, as it nears the ocean.
The County of Kauai Office of Economic Development has recently released;
"KILAUEA IRRIGATION WATER ENGINEERING DESIGN AND MONITORING STUDY"
available at www.srgii.com/projects/KilaueaIrrigationReport_April09.pdf
It discusses the inflow to Ka Loko reservoir as now coming from Pu`u Ka Ele stream (via the Ka Loko ditch) and the un-permitted Moloa`a ditch. According to the county report, sometime in the past decade, a new ditch system was constructed beginning on Mary Lucas Estate land, and continuing about a half mile on Moloa`a Forest Reserve, state land. During the Kilauea Sugar plantation era, the Moloa`a ditch system delivered an "inconsequential amount of water" and fell into disrepair from non-use.
Mysteriously, a new ditch system appeared - about the same time as the spillway at Ka Loko disappeared and the raising of the elevation of the dam face. Kalua`a is a perennial stream tributary that starts from a soggy seep on state forest land, flows into Moloa`a stream and is the main water source for Moloa`a stream. Mysteriously, someone poured a new cement ditch system diverting Kalua`a water from Moloa`a stream into Ka Loko Reservoir and into a pipe system servicing Mary Lucas Trust lands and Pila`a.
This extra water inflow allowed the impoundment of hundreds of millions of gallons of extra water in the increased-capacity Ka Loko reservoir (altered by removal of spillway and elevation of dam) beyond the intended storage capacity of the reservoir.
At least until March 14, 2006. Our ahupua`a based group of neighbors, Malama Moloa`a, formed about a decade ago around a common cause - the de-watering of the streams from Anahola to Kilauea. About the same time, late 1990's, Moloa`a stream began changing. There were no flushing flows - high precipitation events didn't cause the stream to rise as it used to. Sometimes, Moloa`a stream rose when there was no precipitation.
A few times the stream ran really dirty - brown water and grey water (looking like cleaning up after a cement pour). Early 2000's Moloa`a stream had a sand berm at the mouth that didn't clear for 3 years, blocking the migration of o`opu. Malama Moloa`a wrote many letters with maps and photos where we thought the diversion was, but Mayor Kusaka wouldn't honor anonymous photos submitted to our group from the public.
DLNR's Commission of Water Resources Management (CWRM) sent a representative to investigate but they were escorted by a representative of a land owner who did not show them the new diversion from Kalua`a into the re-aligned historic Moloa`a ditch and into Ka Loko reservoir or the Mary Lucas/Pila`a pipeline. Alterations to state land in the Moloa`a Forest Reserve by James Pflueger were revealed in the EPA Consent decree settlement, in very close proximity to the newly-created ditch system, and the unpermitted grading and grubbing remediated.
Yet no agency present noticed the disappearance of the spillway or the increased flow into Ka Loko from a new, unpermitted stream diversion from Kalua`a/Moloa`a. On Feb. 21, 2006, Moloa`a Stream experienced a destructive flood that took out the Old Government Road bridge in lower Moloa`a. Due to the volume of water and how long the flood lasted, we thought that Ka Loko had blown. We were told by county representatives "Ka Loko's not full; it's still holding. Don't worry, if it blows, it will take out Kilauea side."
Three weeks later it did - killing 8 people. We believe what actually happened was the diversion experienced a log jam and Moloa`a regained it's stolen water. Since the failure of the alterations to the historic dam, Ka Loko has had some high tech additions of monitoring equipment. Pu`u Ka Ele stream delivers water via the Ka Loko ditch into the reservoir but is "insufficient to meet the water needs of 20 farmers and Mary Lucas Trust".
An unknown amount of water is being delivered by the newly constructed, unpermitted Kalua`a/Moloa`a ditch system into the reservoir. There still is no spillway or way to remove water during high flow/emergency situations. Kalua`a Stream, the major source for Moloa`a Stream waters, is being heavily diverted from the Moloa`a ahupua`a. Moloa`a is one of the few areas of Kauai not serviced by county water; there are NO residential hookups. Most residences have water wells.
Since the removal of the only perennial tributary from our stream system, Kalua`a, Moloa`a Steam has gone completely dry in the lower reaches during the summers of 2007 and 2008. The ground water aquifer has dropped. Wells have gone dry. Pumps have been lowered and residents are rationing water during the summer.
Many houses have been built within the past decade, all with well water. There is no alternative water source available to the residents of Moloa`a. Will over 200 Moloa`a residents have to move because of loss of primary source of water to deliver a secondary source of water to the 20 water users of Kilauea Irrigation System (who use 37%) and the Mary Lucas Estate (who use 63% of the water from Ka Loko and as much of the Moloa`a ditch as they want)?
This plan is not sustainable to the residents of the source water - Moloa`a and is a violation of Public Trust. Moloa`a residents must be considered as stakeholders and included in this planning process. Moloa`a water is not for sale.
Our stream needs its' water. Our groundwater table needs its' water. Our reefs need fresh water. All Kalua`a Ditch waters must be returned to the Kalua`a/Moloa`a Stream of origin. Out-of-the-watershed export of water cannot be considered. An unpermitted, un-engineered, stream diversion, in trespass on state land, constructed illegally, can not be considered as a water source for a public water delivery system.
There is no insurance or maintenance agreement. This theft of water cannot be allowed to continue. If a flash flood happens on this diversion and another wall of water kills people, who is responsible?
Image above: Moloaa Stream ends here as it enters the bay. Photo by Juan Wilson 9/8/05
Island Breath: Moloaa diversion details 5/13/09
Island Breath: Molaa Water Diverted 5/9/09
Image above: "New Man New Woman", by Alex Grey - 1984. From http://www.alexgrey.com.
When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” Boy, no pressure there. But let’s begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating.
Kind of a mind-boggling situation – but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades. This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them.
Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food – but all that is changing.
[Editor's Note: Fuller wrote a book titled "The Operating Manual for The Spaceship Earth" 40 years ago].
There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says:
YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING.
The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required.
Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done. When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data.
But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote,
“So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums. You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more.
This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force.
It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.
There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider.
“One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice.”...is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world. Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots.
Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown – Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood – and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages.
And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit.
And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history. The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy.
We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it.
You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.
The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected.
Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms.
The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe – exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a... “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.” So I have two questions for you all:
• First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end.What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past. Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television. This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years.
• Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature.
Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.
The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.
Beware: cyberspace is filling up By John Harlow on 26 April 2009 in the London Times - (http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article6169488.ece) Internet users face regular “brownouts” that will freeze their computers as capacity runs out in cyberspace, according to research to be published later this year. Experts predict that consumer demand, already growing at 60 per cent a year, will start to exceed supply from as early as next year because of more people working online and the soaring popularity of bandwidth-hungry websites such as YouTube and services such as the BBC’s iPlayer. It will initially lead to computers being disrupted and going offline for several minutes at a time. From 2012, however, PCs and laptops are likely to operate at a much reduced speed, rendering the internet an “unreliable toy”. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British scientist, wrote the code that transformed a private computer network into the world wide web in 1989, the internet appeared to be a limitless resource. However, a report being compiled by Nemertes Research, a respected American think-tank, will warn that the web has reached a critical point and that even the recession has failed to stave off impending problems. “With more people working or looking for work from home, or using their PCs more for cheap entertainment, demand could double in 2009,” said Ted Ritter, a Nemertes analyst. “At best, we see the [economic] slowdown delaying the fractures for maybe a year.” In America, telecoms companies are spending £40 billion a year upgrading cables and supercomputers to increase capacity, while in Britain proposals to replace copper cabling across part of the network with fibreoptic wires would cost at least £5 billion. Yet sites such as YouTube, the video-sharing service launched in 2005, which has exploded in popularity, can throw the most ambitious plans into disarray. The amount of traffic generated each month by YouTube is now equivalent to the amount of traffic generated across the entire internet in all of 2000. The extent of its popularity is indicated by the 100 million people who have logged on to the site to see the talent show contestant Susan Boyle in the past three weeks. Another so-called “net bomb” being studied by Nemertes is BBC iPlayer, which allows viewers to watch high-definition television on their computers. In February there were more than 35 million requests for shows and iPlayer now accounts for 5 per cent of all UK internet traffic. Analysts express such traffic in exabytes – a quintillion (or a million trillion) bytes or units of computer data. One exabyte is equivalent to 50,000 years’ worth of DVD-quality data. Monthly traffic across the internet is running at about eight exabytes. A recent study by the University of Minnesota estimated that traffic was growing by at least 60 per cent a year, although that did not take into account plans for greater internet access in China and India. While the net itself will ultimately survive, Ritter said that waves of disruption would begin to emerge next year, when computers would jitter and freeze. This would be followed by “brownouts” – a combination of temporary freezing and computers being reduced to a slow speed. Ritter’s report will warn that an unreliable internet is merely a toy. “For business purposes, such as delivering medical records between hospitals in real time, it’s useless,” he said. “Today people know how home computers slow down when the kids get back from school and start playing games, but by 2012 that traffic jam could last all day long.” Engineers are already preparing for the worst. While some are planning a lightning-fast parallel network called “the grid”, others are building “caches”, private computer stations where popular entertainments are stored on local PCs rather than sent through the global backbone. Telephone companies want to recoup escalating costs by increasing prices for “net hogs” who use more than their share of capacity. see also: Island Breath: Data's Carbon Footprint 5/12/09 .
The reality is more complicated. The amount of energy used by information technology is growing fast, and already accounts for about 2% of the world’s carbon emissions – roughly equivalent to that of global aviation. The rate at which the sector is growing, particularly in developing nations such as China and India, means emissions will double by 2020 compared with 2007 levels, according to research by the Climate Group, a nonprofit consultancy. This will add 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere – more than twice the current emissions for all of Britain.
Even this estimate could be too conservative. The Climate Group’s analysis relied partly on the assumption that businesses would monitor their carbon emissions and invest in efficiency. It now appears those assumptions were optimistic.
A report by Gartner, a research firm, shows that most firms are not putting systems in place to measure their carbon footprint. In Britain, only 17% of mid and large-sized companies report their carbon emissions.
“This is surprising given that from next year thousands of UK firms will be subject to emissions reporting under the UK’s carbon reduction commitment legislation,” said Simon Mingay, the report’s author.
Gartner found telecommunications firms, which could make the biggest impact on greening the technology sector, are less likely to spend money on energy efficiency in a recession.
“If few businesses are tracking their energy use and sales of efficient IT is as a result lower than predicted, then previous growth estimates of the environmental impact of technology may need to be reevaluated,” said Molly Webb of the Climate Group.
The emissions growth of the technology industry is generally based on the power consumed by its products – laptop computers, for example – and the carbon intensity of that power. This doesn’t always show the entire picture. Laptops are getting much more energy efficient, as is their source of power. But these gains are being offset by growth – laptops will comprise nearly a quarter of all IT-related emissions by 2020, as millions more people use them.
Emissions from mobile phones will also rise to reflect future sales of smart phones like Apple’s iPhone, which consume about 60% more energy than regular handsets.
Across the IT chain, data centres provide the greatest cause for concern. Data centres hold thousands of computers that store information and process the billions of transactions required to run a modern economy.
They need electricity not only to run the computers, but also the large air-conditioning systems that keep them at a constant cool temperature. The world’s 44m servers already consume 0.5% of all electricity, with data-centre emissions now approaching those of Argentina, according to research by McKinsey, the management consultancy.
Demand for digital storage is growing by about 60% a year, according to McKinsey. In America alone, the electricity required by data centres between 2008 and 2010 will be the equivalent of 10 new power plants.
Without efforts to curb demand, current projections show worldwide carbon emissions from data centres will quadruple by 2020.
Data-centre demand reflects the huge growth of the internet. Bandwidth capacity on the web has doubled every year since the mid1990s and shows no sign of slowing down. “More bandwidth demand means that bigger networks and routing systems are needed,” said Jeff Ferry of Infinera, a Silicon Valley technology firm that makes the computer chips that deliver data across the internet.
This growth has led to a sharp rise in IT costs. Data centres typically account for 25% of total corporate IT budgets, but this is rising by as much as 20% a year – outpacing overall IT spending, which is growing by 6%.
Emerging technologies will help ease costs and energy consumption by allowing companies to store more information along the same routes. Infinera’s next-generation chip, the size of a fingernail, will have enough data capacity to carry 1.2m YouTube videos, compared with 300,000 today, and will improve energy efficiency by 80%.
This will allow network providers to send more information along the same, albeit more crowded, path without substantially increasing their costs.
“Because hardware costs are falling rapidly, and energy costs are rising, the cost burden of IT has actually reversed,” according to Jonathan Steel of IT consultancy Bathwick Group. “This means it is more affordable to invest in new, more efficient technologies than to keep old ones that consume more energy.”
Whether companies are willing to make that investment remains to be seen.
By Juan Wilson on 11 May 2009 in Island Breath -
Image above: Still from video on Homo floresiensis discovery in Liang Bua Cave in Indonesia. From http://www.npr.org/templates/player/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=103934319&m=103943549
Did Menehune Discover Hawaii?
Since moving to Hawaii I have heard many stories of the Mehehune. Some are fantastic tales that involve legend and mystery. Others are more practical explanations of the Polynesian historic experience. The stories seem to share on several characteristics about the Menehune. They were small in stature, but strong. They were industrious and clever. They were reclusive and secretive. They were mischievous.
Another common theme in stories about Menehune is that they could be relied upon to do heavy labor tasks, beyond what could be expected from their small stature. The Menehune were clever craftsmen on civil engineering projects. They worked through the night. Legendary stories about "wee" people are not uncommon throughout the world. The Irish have their Leprechauns and many cultures have their dwarfs, elves, sprites and fairies.
One thing different about Menehunes is that they seem to have some historic reality. Some stories place Menehune living on Kauai until recent times, hiding out in closed valleys along the Na Pali and isolated locations in the upper reaches of the island. There are records indicating that Menehune were counted in the first population census in the mid 19th century.
My opinion about the historic reality of Menehune has been that they may have been the earliest discoverers of Hawaii. I agree with those who believe that the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii in the 3rd century from the Marquises and were followed by Tahitian settlers in AD 1300 who conquered the original inhabitants. It is well documented that the Polynesian culture evolved from Southeast Asia. Our ancestors spread from Africa, crossed Asia and eventually found their way throughout what is now Indonesia and New Guinea, before developing the Polynesian culture that discovered Hawaii.
That culture spread an agrarian package of chickens, pigs and dogs as well as sweet potato, taro and breadfruit. This was a hearty and resilient package for sailing off to distant undiscovered tropical islands. However, this package included no metal or draft animals. That meant that no matter how sophisticated their culture, the Polynesians were limited by doing work within the bounds of manual labor, using stone-age tools. (Read Jared Diamond's "Collapse" and "Gun, Steel and Germs" for background on the role of domestication of animals and plants in the development of civilizations.)
Were these Hobbits the Menehune?
Something I heard on the radio this weekend has added a new wrinkle to my thoughts on Polynesian history and the legends of the Menehune. A recent National Public Radio Broadcast of "Science Friday", updated a fascinating story that featured Stony Brook University anthropologist Bill Jungers, who discussed the skeleton of a recently discovered humanoid species.
The discovery was made in 2003 on an Indonesian island named Flores (Flower Island). Flores lies southeast of Java, and Sumatra and west of East Timor. A team of Australian anthropologists (Peter Brown and Michael Morwood) conducted a dig in the Liang Bua Cave. About twenty feet below the current floor of the cave they unearthed a new species of hominid they named named Homo Floresiensis. It was soon nicknamed The Hobbit. The nickname stuck because of the diminutive height (three feet) and large feet of H. floresiensis.
The feet are chimpanzee-like while the arms and hands more human-like. The bones discovered in Liang Bua Cave were about 17,000 years old. The species is thought to have survived on Flores until as recently as 12,000 years ago making it the longest-lasting non-modern human, surviving long past the Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) which became extinct about 24,000 years ago. Due to a deep neighboring strait, Flores remained isolated during the last glacial period. This has led the discoverers of H. floresiensis to conclude the species, or its ancestors, could only have reached the isolated island by water transport, perhaps on bamboo rafts around 100,000 years ago.
This idea of H. floresiensis using cooperation and technology on a modern human level has prompted the discoverers to hypothesize that the Hobbit almost certainly had language. These suggestions have been some of the most controversial of the discoverers' findings. One thing seems clear from the time line. The Hobbits of Flores coexisted with some the modern humans in Indonesia. Some of those humans migrated on and eventually became Polynesians. There may be oral legends about H. floresiensis that are based on historical facts and personal contact. These oral histories may be the basis of our Menehune legends.
Could humans have used draft hominids?
Let me throw in another idea. This, obviously, is not supported by any anthropological evidence. And this is not meant to be a scientific argument - just a socio-anthropological thought experiment to explain some of the content of the Menehune legends. What if H. floresiensis were used by early Indonesian modern humans as domesticated animals? There are not many species of animals that have ever been domesticated.
There are only a few large draft animals that include the horse, ox, camel and llama. One key to human domestication of another species is that the animal grouped itself in herds or packs and is obedient to an alpha-leader. Is it possible that H. floresiensis and humans learned to share a language and were domesticated by humans? Is it possible that H. floresiensis traded its independence for safety as the laborers for a larger dominant parental species? Certainly, humans have been able to rationalize the use of slave-labor of their own species to this day.
See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_floresiensis
Island Breath: TGI#11 - The Future Polynesian Package 8/24/07
Island Breath: Legend of the Menehune Fish Pond 6/14/2004