A Niu Way–Vili Hereniko’s Polynesian take on living with Coconut Trees in the Aloha State

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Gracing hotels, resorts and high rises around Waikiki and throughout the Aloha State, there’s nothing more iconic than the coconut palm.

However, when the corona-virus pandemic forced hotels and the tourism industry to shut down, it threw into stark relief the coconut palm’s importance not as an ornament for tourists but as a source of food and sustenance for Hawai’i’s residents.

In any Polynesian diet, it’s a staple.

Thus for islanders, that swaying palm is more than just some South Seas motif. There’s a cultural and even spiritual element to this tree which for For Polynesians, is the tree of life.

This awareness is seen through the eyes of Vili Hereniko, a Pacific Islander from Rotuma, a Polynesian outlier in the Fiji Archipelago. Vili is also a Honolulu-based filmmaker and Professor at the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawai’i.

His award-winning animated short, Sina ma Tinirau recently premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival.

Given the litigious society that is America, it’s understandable that hoteliers don’t want coconuts falling on the heads of visitors. However, this is a virtually non existent problem in island cultures. People know it’s not a great idea to spend a lot of time under fully laden coconut trees. They are taught this from a young age. It’s called common sense.

Thus, one doesn’t generally see mature coconuts still on the trees.

However, Vili noted, that changed during the Covid shutdown.

Seeing them in their proper place struck a nerve with Vili who became an activist, arguing for the return of a thriving niu culture in Hawai’i.

He became involved with NIU NOW! whose goal is to reclaim the sustaining properties of NIU for Hawaii’s residents and to prepare for the future.

His little video goes a long way in understanding the Polynesian point of view when it comes to the plight of the coconut tree in Hawaii.

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