As you know from a few of my prior posts, Hawai’i is one of my favorite places in the United States. In addition to the natural glories of a tropical paradise, Hawai’i has a rich history as well as vibrant indigenous cultural traditions. In my travels, I have noticed great similarities between Hawaiian and Maori customs and expressions, which is not surprisingly among Polynesian cousins.

Last year we brought Hawaiian performers from Oahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center to Wellington and Auckland. The musicians, singers, and dancers visited Kiwi schools to demonstrate and discuss elements of Hawaiian culture. They also performed at our Independence Day celebrations in Wellington and Manukau, as well as at Te Papa.

The Polynesian Cultural Center’s dancers accept applause from the audience at the 2011 Independence Day celebrations in Manukau City.

A few of our friends from the Polynesian Cultural Center performing in Manukau.

The visit was part of the Embassy’s robust Pacific Islands outreach program. We have also facilitated a couple of rugby exchanges between Hawai’i and New Zealand, and I appointed a professor from Hawai’i, Manulani Aluli Meyer, to the board of Fulbright NZ. Earlier this year, we were delighted to have the opportunity to help bring the complex Hawaiian art form, hula, to the Pasifika Festival in Auckland.

Hula encompasses a broad range of performance art, though it is predominantly known as dance accompanied by songs (mele) or chants (oli). Like fa’ataupati in Samoa and kapa haka in Aotearoa, hula is an avenue for indigenous people to express their traditional heritage and cultural identity.

The Ka Laua’e Foundation performing on the main International Stage at Pasifika.

Performers from the Ka Laua’e Foundation sharing hula in Auckland.

Now seen mainly as entertainment, it’s likely that hula began as a form of worship during religious ceremonies, and many native Hawaiians still view hula to be sacred.  Hawaiians appear not to have produced written records before European contact, and thus hula’s origins are recounted through oral history and legend. There are nearly as many stories involving the genesis of hula as there are Hawaiian gods, which number in the many hundreds.

Hula is a strict discipline, taught in schools called hālau. The teacher of hula is known as the kumu.  There are two main categories of hula – kahiko and ‘auanaKahiko, the ancient hula performed before European encounters with Hawai’i, is accompanied by chant and traditional instruments. ‘Auana evolved under European influence in the 19th and 20th centuries, and is accompanied by song and more modern instruments such as the ukulele or guitar.

The great popularity of hula during and after World War II led to a simplified caricature deployed for tourism, marketing, and advertising purposes. Beginning in the late 1970′s, however, a resurgence of interest in Hawaiian culture has gradually led to more widespread practice and appreciation of authentic traditional forms.

Kuma Blaine. Please click through for image source.

Blaine Kamalani Kia.

One of the drivers of the Hawaiian renaissance is Kumu Hula (hula master) Blaine Kamalani Kia.  Kumu Blaine exemplifies the living spirit of the “Hawaiian poetry of dance.” He is the driving force behind the Ka Laua’e Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote preservation, conservation, and perpetuation of hula.

Born in Honolulu, Blaine started dancing hula at the age of 5. He studied music theory at the Leeward Community College and also majored in music theory at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He founded his own hula school in 1987 and has dedicated his life since then to perpetuating Hawaiian traditions.

Blaine is currently a Kumu Hula for Halau Ka Waikahe Lani Malie (Peaceful Heavenly Flowing Waters Hula School), which has started fifteen local hula schools around the world including in Oahu, Kauai, Northern California, Utah, Montana, Tahiti, Japan, and New Zealand.  The Kiwi group is affiliated with the Pasifika Sway Polynesian Dance Theatre Company in Auckland.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Kiwi hula group, Kuma Hula Blaine brought dancers from the Ka Laua’e Foundation to Auckland to join Kiwi dancers in hula performances at the Pasifika Festival in Auckland, appearing on the Festival’s International Stage.

This year was the 20th anniversary of the Pasifika Festival, which is now Auckland’s biggest annual free event. (More than 100,000 spectators attended this year.) The Ka Laua’e Foundation represented our Aloha State alongside groups from nine other Pacific cultures including Samoa, Fiji, Tokelau, Kiribati, Tahiti, and Tuvalu.

The Americans felt right at home. Given America’s vast size and great diversity, it’s sometimes easy for non-Americans to forget that the United States is a Pacific nation. Hawai’i lies near the heart of the Pacific Ocean. More American coastline touches Pacific waters than that of any other country. American territory is closer to Samoa and to the Asian mainland than is New Zealand.

The Ka Laua’e Foundation perform at the Mayor’s civic ceremony to open Pasifika.

Ka Laua’e Fndn performers at the civic ceremony opening the Pasifika Festival.

And of course, President Obama was born in Hawai’i, making him our first Pacific Island President. (For the record, I believe that our only other President thus far to be born west of the Rocky Mountains was Richard Nixon, born in Yorba Linda, California, just a few minutes drive from the ocean.)

Over the coming months I’ll talk more about our Pacific programs at the Embassy. In future years we’ll hopefully see a fully-fledged Hawaiian Village at the Pasifika Festival, supported by NZ-based Hawaiian communities plus local enthusiasts who, thanks to Pacific Sway and the Kuma Hula, have been bitten by the hula bug.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time as the 21st American Ambassador to New Zealand. It’s been a great honor to serve the American People and President Obama in beautiful Aotearoa, and I’ve been constantly reminded of the importance of the work that diplomats do and have done. Each day on my way from the front door of the Chancery to my office, I’ve walked past the photos of the 20 ambassadorial envoys posted to Wellington before me. The first photo is of Patrick Jay Hurley, who presented his credentials here 70 years ago today.

Patrick Jay Hurley.

Patrick Jay Hurley.

All of my predecessors served with distinction, but I have particular affection for Minister Hurley. The first press report that I uncovered in researching his appointment was a feature story in the Washington Post that included an eloquently disconcerting biographical judgment: “In the little blue-eyed fragment of humanity which thrust its first futile squalls across the plains of Indian Territory the morning of January 8, 1883, there was no more promise of general and diplomat than there is in most babies. In fact, there was less promise there than in most.”

Indeed, Minister Hurley’s path to Wellington makes for a compelling tale. Born in Indian Territory of the Choctaw Nation to poor immigrant Irish parents, he lost his mother at an early age, and started working in the local coal mine before he was 11 years old. He had no formal schooling until an itinerant teacher set up shop near the mine. He eventually left the mine, became a cowboy, took night classes, moved to Washington to attend law school, and paid for his schooling by driving taxi cabs. He later stated, “I learned more about human nature when I drove a cab at Fifteenth and H Streets than I have at any time since.”

After law school, Hurley returned home to open a law practice representing Native Americans, served as general counsel for the Choctaw Nation, and learned to fly. He joined a local militia, entered the U.S. Army, was sent to France during World War I, and had his first brush with diplomacy when he successfully negotiated, reputedly on horseback, with the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg for passage of American troops to the Rhine.

He returned to law and entered politics after the war, rallying the Oklahoma delegation to support Herbert Hoover at the Republican Convention of 1928. President Hoover subsequently appointed him to be Secretary of War. Hurley continued to fly his own airplane as Secretary of War until the President personally ordered him to cease and desist.

Colonel Hurley being sworn in as Secretary of War.

Colonel Hurley being sworn in as Secretary of War.

After the election of President Roosevelt, Hurley was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. His appointment to be Minister to New Zealand was a surprise, in part because he had been a “salty critic” of the  Roosevelt Administration and its policies. He was embraced with great enthusiasm by the media, which referred to him as “one of America’s most colorful figures,” “remarkably handsome,” and “attract[ing] attention wherever he may be, with no effort on his part.” Marshall Andrews of the Washington Post ended a profile of the new Minister thusly:

“He has gone now where all he learned of diplomacy and tact from his mine mules, from his Indian friends, from the books over which he pored by the hour, from his Irish mother and his Irish father, from the hard rough life of the frontier, will stand him and his country in good stead.  Pat Hurley is America itself going to do a delicate job in a hot corner of the earth.”

Hot was certainly an accurate description. En route to New Zealand by way of Australia after being sworn in, Hurley’s airplane was attacked by a swarm of Japanese fighters over Java. Hurley’s pilot engaged in evasive aerobatic maneuvers until American fighters responded to his distress call. The airplane was damaged, but the Minister escaped injury. He later remarked to reporters, “It’s a peculiar sensation to see guns blazing away in the air and to realize that they’re aimed at you.”

Japanese Zeros over Java. Please click through for image source.

Japanese Zeros over Java.

After the Minister’s plane landed safely in Darwin, he checked into a hotel, took a nap, and ordered breakfast. This is what happened next, in the Minister’s own words:

“There was a blast and something whizzed into the room, spun my breakfast tray around and messed up everything. I leaped into my shirt and pants and ran out into the hallway when I realized I was bare-headed. Thinking it undignified for a general to be bare-headed, I ran back, got my cap and started down the hallway again when another one hit. I went skidding on my face and tumbled down the stairs out into the street.

“I looked everywhere and not a soul was in sight. There was nothing but buzzing [Japanese] planes and plenty of bombs. It’s an empty feeling – having no friends. Down the street came the planes, machine gunning. I ran and dived into the dirt alongside a house on the side which was away from the direction the [bombers] were coming. But when they got up to the end of the street, they turned around and came back. And there I was in plain view and feeling mighty silly.

“But they missed me and I started to run across the street toward a big park when another bomb hit right in back of me. It sent me rolling end over appetite. But I got up and continued running until I came to a big tree under which the flyers couldn’t see me. Then a strange thing happened. A bomb blast swept over me and I looked up and there was not a leaf left on that tree. I was once more all alone and in plain view.

“Then an Australian came up and said, ‘General, would you like me to show you the way to a shelter?’ I said I certainly would be much obliged, and he did.”

During one of the bombings of Darwin. Please click through for image source.

During one of the bombings of Darwin.

Only when he got to the shelter did the Minister realize that he had been hit in the attack. He brushed the shoulder injury off as “nothing serious at all,” was bandaged by a medic, and continued his journey to Wellington, where he reported from personal experience that the war in the Pacific was raging relentlessly closer to New Zealand.

The Government in Wellington had been advised by Prime Minister Churchill months earlier that Britain would be unable to provide adequate reinforcements to defend the Dominion from invasion. President Roosevelt had offered to fill the void, and thus Minister Hurley’s first order of business was to complete preparations — launched by Kiwi Minister Walter Nash earlier in Washington — for the arrival, deployment, and provisioning of tens of thousands of American soldiers, sailors, and Marines.

Minister Hurley (seated, at right) enjoying a moment with Prime Minister Peter Fraser (seated, at left) and Minister Nash (at left).

Minister Hurley (seated, at right) enjoying a moment with Prime Minister Peter Fraser (seated, at left) and Minister Nash (at left).

After serving briefly but successfully in Wellington, Minister Hurley departed post in August 1942. He traveled to the Soviet Union, Middle East, and Near East on special missions for President Roosevelt, and was appointed American Ambassador to China in 1944. Minister Hurley was replaced as American envoy to New Zealand by William C. Burdett, a career Foreign Service Officer who died in a Wellington hospital one year after arriving in New Zealand. (I have been unable to determine the cause of Minister Burdett’s untimely death at age 59.)

As we approach the June anniversaries of the culmination of the work of Ministers Nash and Hurley – the arrival of the U.S. Army in Auckland and the U.S. Marines in Wellington – I will from time to time share other bits of historical record and local color. Diplomacy is not a dry, colorless enterprise. It’s filled with larger-than-life personalities, world-changing events, lessons worth remembering, very human fear and joy, and, yes, the occasional indecorous appearance in public without a hat when breakfast is unexpectedly obliterated by an air raid.

In collaboration with the New Zealand Defence Force, Archives New Zealand, Auckland War Memorial Museum, and educational resource platform eTV, the Embassy is launching a video history competition for secondary school students to commemorate events in 1942 that changed the world.

U.S. Army troop ships began arriving in Auckland on June 12th, 1942, and the Marines landed in Wellington on June 14th, as American forces deployed to help deter an invasion of Aotearoa by Imperial Japanese forces sweeping southward through the Pacific. The Americans then staged from New Zealand with our allies in a series of battles that changed the course of the war, including at Tarawa and Guadalcanal.

The US 1st Marine Division arrives in Wellington aboard the USS Wakefield on 14 June 1942.

The U.S. 1st Marine Division arrives in Wellington aboard the U.S.S. Wakefield on 14 June 1942.

The video competition, called “Making History,” invites young Kiwis to preserve the memories of their grandparents’ generation by making short videos that tell local stories about the presence in New Zealand of tens of thousands of American Army troops, Marines, and sailors during World War II.

This year’s 70th anniversary of the arrival of American forces is an important opportunity to thank and remember all who served during those uncertain, dark days – Kiwi and American, military and civilian alike. It is essential that we do so while we can. As the World War II generation passes, personal memories of the great sacrifices and achievements of that era will pass with those men and women.

US Marines at Oriental Bay.

U.S. Marines at Oriental Bay.

History is not a clinical exercise reserved to elites. It’s a living, breathing, very personal story. Young people have an important role to play in preserving history, gathering stories before they are lost.

In fact, curious students can be particularly effective historians. Their (your) fresh eyes and evolving minds are drawn to overlooked details, eclectic nuances, and emotive content. They (you) have accreted fewer preconceptions and orthodoxies, and thus can often see the past through a clearer lens.

Camp Hale, Auckland War Memorial Museum.

U.S. Army Camp Hale takes shape on the lawn of Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Contest rules and regulations? Only a few, and very straightforward:

The competition is open to all secondary school students here in New Zealand. Video entries must be documented and researched, and should be no more than 3 (three) minutes in length. Submissions should be uploaded directly onto the Making History contest website by 11:59pm on Sunday, June 3rd.

Entries can take the form of an interview with relatives or neighbors who remember the arrival or presence of U.S. military forces during the war; or digitization of family or community photos or other historical documents from the era; or a video tour of a local school or hospital built by U.S. forces; or a tour of places where soldiers lived or played; or any combination of the above.

US Marines arriving at Wellington, 1942.

U.S. Marines on a Wellington train.

Entries will be judged on (1) how well they capture the flavor of the War World II era in New Zealand, and (2) how well they combine original research and other new materials with the historical resources available via the eTV Making History website.

The website makes available for students’ use a unique library of film footage, still images, interviews, and other content specially provided by Archives New Zealand, Auckland War Memorial Museum, Te Papa, Kapiti U.S. Marines Trust, Auckland City Libraries, and others. The new cyber library is an exciting tool for budding documentary filmmakers, young historians, and indeed any student with an interest in history.

Exhausted US troops at Pukekohe.

Exhausted American troops at Pukekohe.

Further details are available on the Making History website. The information that I shared above, though, is pretty much it in terms of major rules, regulations, and guidance. The goal is to unleash rather than constrain. If you still have a question after looking at the website, let me know.

Once the contest closes, a blue-ribbon panel will make its selections, and winners will be acknowledged at a prize-giving ceremony in mid June featuring a public performance by the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific Band.

Marines parade in Wellington.

On parade in Wellington.

Prizes will include a visit to a New Zealand Defence Force base or ship, special behind-the scenes-tours of Auckland Museum and Te Papa collections, and a day’s mentoring by a professional documentary film maker, each at a time convenient to the parties involved.

Thank you to our institutional partners for being so generous with their materials and resources. I have always enjoyed rummaging through archives, warehouses, basements, attics, and garages in search of treasure, and there is quite an impressive trove awaiting students who enter the competition. I look forward to viewing the videos that you create.

Today is Earth Day. While researching a couple of ideas for a suitable blog post, I came across an interesting article by Lily Whiteman on the National Science Foundation website about how everyday folks can function as citizen scientists in ways that significantly advance the cause of environmental protection.

Lily provides a smart, creative, and eminently practical answer to the sometimes frustration-inducing question, “What can I do to help?” Although largely drawn from from her experiences in the United States, the efforts that Lily describes can be mounted anywhere. Rather than paraphrase, I’ll reprint Lily’s article below.

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Novel Answer to That Perennial “Earth Day” Question: “What Can I Do to Help?”

Groups of “citizen scientists” are making pivotal contributions to research on the Earth, its place in the universe, and other natural phenomena

A student observes patterns of flowering and pollinators to determine the potential for mismatches in timing of plants and their insect pollinators.  Credit: National Phenology Network

A student observes patterns of flowering and pollinators.

April 19, 2010

Earth Day invariably triggers discussions about the enormously complex state of the planet and begs the equally daunting question, “How can one person make a difference?”

But just one person can indeed chip in as a “citizen scientist,” who helps the scientific community unravel the mysteries of where Mother Nature is today and where she is headed.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds groups of these concerned volunteers who collect data and share their observations and insights on a scale that full-time scientists simply cannot accomplish.

“Volunteer citizen scientists are helping to generate new knowledge about biodiversity, the weather, stars and galaxies, and even the molecules in cells,” says David Hanych, an NSF program manager. “The significance of their contributions is supported by various lines of evidence.”

As citizen scientists contribute to science, they also learn about the natural and human-made worlds, as well as the nature and methods of science, adds Hanych. NSF supports citizen science projects because they advance discovery and promote learning.

Groups of citizen scientists provide boots on the ground in all 50 states and internationally. Joining citizen scientist groups usually doesn’t require any previous scientific training or background — just curiosity and a willingness to carry out relatively simple tasks, such as monitoring backyard rain gauges, observing the brightness of stars, or taking pictures of local lady bugs, to name just a few examples.

Although citizen science projects have existed since the 1800s, the number of projects has increased dramatically during the past decade. The increase is partly due to the availability of Internet resources that are making it easier to form and to manage citizen groups and transmit data from citizen scientists to the scientific community.

The ranks of citizen scientists include families, retirees, entire school classes — and even prison inmates who want to do their part to make Earth Day more than a holiday. And regardless of the backgrounds of citizen scientists, studies show that the data collected by them has been reliable and valid, Hanych notes.

The contributions of citizen scientists have also been valuable in terms of the volume of data they provide and the originality of their insights.

For one thing, citizen scientists provide strength in sheer numbers. For example, the USA National Phenology Network, which monitors the timing of seasonal events such as spring blooms, currently engages more than 4,000 volunteers across the United States. Since 2008, these volunteers have contributed one million records to the NPN database — far more data than researchers could collect themselves.

In some cases, citizen scientists are the sole sources of important types of data. Henry Reges, the national coordinator of the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network, which feeds information about precipitation to the National Weather Service and others, says even a single real-time report of major precipitation from a volunteer in an area that is otherwise not monitored can speed the issuance of potentially life-saving flash flood warnings.

Sometimes too, citizen scientists offer new perspectives that can catalyze major breakthroughs. Last year, for example, scientists who were having difficulty piecing together the structure of an important enzyme from an AIDS-like virus consulted a group of online gamers who were aficionados of the computer game known as Foldit.

Foldit allows players to collaborate and compete in predicting the structure of protein molecules. The result: the gamers generated models that helped the researchers refine and determine the enzyme’s structure within just a few days; these models helped the researchers advance their work designing anti-AIDS drugs. (This article describes this Foldit success.)

Here is a sample of citizen science groups that have received NSF support; they illustrate the wide range of interesting and important activities taking place across the United States — not only on Earth Day, but every day.

  • The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the U.S. Many scientific papers on changes in the timing of seasonal events have been based on this group’s data.

  • Project Budburst engages the public in collecting data on the timing of the leafing, flowering and fruiting of plants in the United States. Data generated by Project BudBurst was recently used to help validate models of the timing of cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. and the mid-Atlantic states in the presence of climate change.

  • Projects sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology help researchers better understand birds and their habits via varied programs involving inventories of the abundance and distribution of birds over large distances; analyses of how birds are affected by climate change, urbanization and land use; the development of new methods for identifying birds; and advice for individuals for converting their backyards into bird-friendly habitats.

    • Much of the data included in the Department of Interior’s annual State of the Birds report for 2011 originated from Cornell’s citizen science programs. The report helps public agencies identify significant conservation opportunities in various habitats.

  • The Lost Lady Bug Project recruits residents of geographical areas throughout the United States to submit photographs of lady bugs from their local areas in order to help scientists determine how and why the ranges of various economically and ecologically important species of lady bugs are currently rapidly changing.

  • The Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network measures and maps rain, hail and snow levels throughout the United States. Users of this organization’s data include the National Weather Service, meteorologists, hydrologists, emergency managers, city utilities (water supply, water conservation and storm water), insurance adjusters, the USDA, engineers, mosquito control, ranchers and farmers, outdoor enthusiasts, teachers, students and local residents. Learn more about this group from its animated introductory video.

  • Citizen Sky Program solves mysteries involving the cyclic dimming of a particularly bright star known as Epsilon Aurigae, based, in part, on nightly observations of the star’s brightness that are recorded by citizen scientists using everything from the naked eye to high-tech equipment.

    • The editor of Sky & Telescope discussed the importance of contributions made by citizen scientists to the development of recent new insights about Epison Aurigae in two video interviews, as well as the particular importance of recruiting citizen scientists into astronomical research during periods of shrinking research budgets. In addition, the March 2012 issue of Sky & Telescope features an article covering this topic.

  • Einstein@Home (Web site) uses donated time from the home and office computers of 250,000 volunteers from 192 countries to help process the enormous amounts of data that are generated in the search for various astronomical phenomena. The program has helped scientists discover about one new pulsar per week throughout 2012. (This press release, which includes a video, describes the discovery of a pulsar by citizen scientists.)

  • Quake Catcher Network links the computers of volunteers into a network that sifts through seismic signals and helps determine whether detected motions represent earthquakes or cultural noises, such as slamming doors and the motions of large trucks. Recently, the Quake-Catcher Network detected a tremor 10 seconds before the shaking reached Stanford University’s campus. Read about it here.

  • Sustainable Prisons Project: Forges collaborations between scientists, inmates, prison staff and others to enable inmates to conduct ecological research and conserve biodiversity. An NSF press release features the Moss-in-Prisons project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, a medium security prison in Littlerock, Washington and an NSF video entitled Science Behind Bars is posted here.

“New projects exploring many fields of science are currently on the drawing board,” says Hanych. “NSF plans to continue supporting those that actively engage members of the public in timely scientific research and measure the impact of the projects on participants and their contributions to science.”

– Lily Whiteman

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If you are interested in the concepts that Lily describes, please check your local library or bookstore for Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research, a new book by Richard Louv, Janis L. Dickinson, Richard Bonney, and John W. Fitzpatrick. Also, the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment will publish a special edition in August devoted to the topic of citizen science.

Online, you can find more information about existing citizen science projects and ideas for starting new citizen science organizations at Citizen Science Central, www.Citizen-Science.org, and www.CitizensForScience.org.

Take ownership of Earth Day. We can all do far more than we imagine, if we actively imagine. And then act.