1984… and 1884

Hawaiian Birds

The Bishop Museum just wrapped up their Wonders of Nature exhibit. As great as it was to see the Museum’s collections from throughout the Pacific, I was there for a very specific reason. It was my first real chance to commiserate with some of the recently extinct wonder-fauna of the Hawaiian Forest…

Let’s talk nostalgia. Current pop culture is awash in it. If I were a cynic, I’d say stuck, but I’m not, I swear 😛 . 80’s sensibilities seem to be the current flavor. In 1984, the British Invasion was on. Think, Wham!, Culture Club. Prince was riding high on a purple rainstorm. Movies like Karate Kid, Temple of Doom, Terminator, and Sixteen Candles were all the rage. I’m sure I was playing with a Cabbage Patch kid somewhere.

I bring this all up because in some ways, 1984 doesn’t seem that far off. It wasn’t some strange different place (Or maybe it is and I’m just old!) A lot of these things are still in our current zeitgeist.  And yet…


1984 was an important year for this extinct friend. ‘O’u (Psittarostra psittacea) was once one of the more common Honeycreepers here in Hawai’i. This plump frugivore would have help disperse many of the native fruits in our forests. A small population survived into the 80’s in the ‘Ola’a section of Big Island. This habitat was destroyed in 1984 from the Mauna Loa eruption. That Red Dawn spelled grim tidings for the bird. It hasn’t been seen on Big Island since then. It lingered on for a few more years on Kaua’i, where it was last seen in 1989.

So close! We could have recorded it on VHS! If we go back in time further, say 1884, we would see other friends.

akialoaHawaii oo

The top picture is one of the ‘akialoa spp. I’m guessing Hemignathus obscurus. The bottom is the famed Hawai’i ‘o’o (Moho nobilis). In 1884, we would have been able to find these birds in Big Island forests. Granted, no recordings on Sony Walkmans, but it is close enough to be with inter-generational memory for people. I know my family has some stories of family members from that time period.

Which brings me to the meat and potatoes of this post. How I wish I could go back and tell family members in 1884 to save the ‘o’o bird. How I wish I could tell little kid Sebastian to stop playing transformers and save the ‘o’u.

But I can’t. Which is why I fight now. I don’t want to look at my grandkids with shame in my eyes and tell them that we didn’t save ‘akikiki because it was too humbug. That we lost a haha to extinction due to apathy. Yoda’s rhetorical flourish about no trying is a nice soundbite but, to me, is wrong in this case. Trying matters.

I cannot not end on a high note. This is Studia Mirabilium after all. The story or video I would like to leave would directly address the kids of the year 2184. It would be me hoping they are enjoying all the huge lonomea, koa, and lama trees we conservationist are planting now. That the Cyanea superba bloom in extraordinary abundance. I hope that they are enjoying the strange calls of ‘akohekohe and ‘i’iwi in their backyards. Most importantly, I’d like them to know that there were many people in the 21st Century that gave a damn about uniqueness of the Hawaiian Forest. We tried.

And I’ll leave it on Betamax

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