Charles Kealoha Leslie

Native Hawaiian

About

I live in a small fishing village known as Nāpoʻopoʻo on the shores of Kealakekua Bay in South Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi. Mostly a Hawaiian community until the 2000ʻs, many residents were displaced as secondary home and vacation rental owners from the continent moved in to the area. Nāpoʻopoʻo was once a thriving fishing village where everyone worked together to bring in akule schools (big eye scad mackerel) through surrounds with net. We were and still are all related to each through our genealogies.

Kealakekua Bay and the main village of Nāpoʻopoʻo, as well as the remnants of the village at Kaʻawaloa across the bay, were important centers for the Hawaiians. Most famously, my ancestors were in the skirmish in which Captain Cook was killed at Kaʻawaloa and to this day, I am involved working with the State over there in the role of cultural advisor. My family were the last to reside at Kaʻawaloa before the area was converted to an MLCD, and our fishing rights and property were taken from us. This area is overrun with rampant tourism. Displacement of Hawaiian home owners by vacation rental owners has driven up the cost of housing so that no Hawaiians can afford to buy or even remain down here except 5 families. Back in the 1970s and 1980s we had close to 900 Hawaiian villagers living here, and now it is less than 50. My grandfather and great uncle built the pier in Nāpoʻopoʻo in 1912, but in 2007 with the onslaught of intense tourism, we were displaced from our pier by the rental kayak companies.

I was born in 1941 on the shoreline just to the north of my current home. I have lived my entire life in Kealakekua Bay, and it has been disheartening to see these changes that have so deeply hurt the Hawaiian people and our practices. I work daily to ensure that my tradition is taught to the new generations of keiki as best as I am able. I work with my community, other Hawaiian communities throughout the pae ʻāina (Hawaiian islands) our local immersion school, the national park, state and county groups to try to create a better life for my descendants and the Hawaiian families who have ties to this area. I also am actively working with scientists and conservationists in the attempts to adapt to and survive climate change effects. Kealakekua Bay has lost 96% of its coral due to overuse, effluent and too much fresh water from new farming methods up the hill coming into the salt water. My hope is that even at the age of 81, I still matter to my community and can make a difference through the sharing of knowledge entrusted to me by the many generations of my family who have worked to keep the traditions alive.

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