In April of 2019, I flew from New York City to pay my first visit to Hawai’i aka The Kingdom Of Hawai’i. For a couple of years, I have been waiting for the opportunity to photograph a very interesting and obscure banana called Fe’i Potia. But before I begin this journey I want to speak a bit about the history of Hawai’i, because the origin is a key factor to this story. Now I won’t go too in-depth but I will do my best to give you a brief history.
A Brief History Of Hawai'i
A depiction of a royal heiau (Hawaiian temple) at Kealakekua Bay, c. 1816
Before becoming the 50th U.S state on August 21, 1959, Hawai’i was a recognized independent nation called The Kingdom of Hawai’i, and the further back you go the deeper and richer ancient history gets. Located in the Pacific Ocean, 2,000 miles west of the U.S and 4,000 miles east of Japan. Hawai’i is the most Isolated Island in the world! I emphasize the isolation of this tiny chain of islands because it’s mind-blowing that it has been inhabited for nearly 2,000 years! Long distant sea navigators of Polynesia arrived long ago from Samoan islands, Marquesas’ islands, Tahiti, and other various islands. Bringing with them an array of items from their homelands such as dogs, chickens, breadfruit, taro, sweet potato most importantly bananas. For hundreds of years, ancient Hawai’i went uncontacted developing very successful agricultural techniques, that supported a rich culture and trade networks in societies organized around chiefdoms on each of the islands.
In 1778, the British explorer James Cook landed on the island of Kauai. Fast forward to the year 1795, a warrior chief named Kamehameha the Great, of the independent island of Hawaiʻi, unified the islands of Oʻahu, Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi under one government, all islands became unified in 1810. The Kingdom of Hawaii was an independent nation recognized around the world. In 1893, Hawai’i was governed by a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Lili’uokalani at the head. However, a group of wealthy American businessmen staged a coup overthrowing Queen Lili’uokalani and establishing their own “provisional government.” The president of the United States Grover Cleveland condemned the coup but did not force the “provisional government” to return power to the Hawaiian monarchy.
In 1959, the U.S. government organized a vote in Hawai’i to determine if the territory should become a state. This move was partially designed to prevent Hawai’i from claiming independence. The vote passed, some dispute the legitimacy of this vote. The ballot contained only two options: for Hawaii to stay a U.S. territory or to become a U.S. state. There was no option to vote for independence. Colonial and military personal outnumbered Native Hawaiians at this time. Hawai’i is today is still a U.S. state, and indigenous Hawai’i continues to deal with colonial powers.
Documenting A Rare Extinct Banana!
The Oldest Research Documentation of Fe'i Potia -1947
For a couple of years, I had been waiting on the opportunity to photograph a very unique and rare banana. It’s not your typical yellow banana you buy at the grocery store. No, this one is very old and nothing like the banana you know. It’s called Fe’i potia, it belongs to a whole different species that not many people have tasted. There isn’t much information about this particular banana, and I haven’t seen any images of it at all. So you may see why I was excited to document such a wonderful natural treasure!
Originally from French Polynesia and Tahiti, this banana seems extinct there. So being able to photograph a rare ancient food was extremely important and amazing to document. I was very excited when I got a message from the person cultivating the last few plants saying “It’s ready to harvest”. Two years before, I was told by a friend that he obtained a few of these rare banana plants, which seem to be some of the last plants. I waited two years for them to be mature enough to produce fruit. Over that time some of the plants had died, but one made it through and produced a full bunch of bananas. Shortly after I was on my way to Hawai’i with camera in hand ready to capture the moment!
Landing in Hawai'i
I landed in Kailua-Kona (the Big Island) on April 19th late at night, I remember distinctly how bright the full moon was while riding to the location. It felt synchronistic having my first visit to Hawai’i aligned with such a powerful full moon night. Before getting on my flight, it was a cold New York day so it was also much relief to feel the warm air on my skin. I arrived that night on a farm and slept in a tent, waking up early the next morning to crisp air and dew-covered grass. I spent my first morning walking around the farm taking it all in. From one high point, I was able to look out to the coast realizing how far out in the Pacific Ocean I was.
Time On The Farm
Before getting my first look at the specimen that I came to photograph, I made myself useful on the land by helping with planting and harvesting, all using permaculture principles. It was also a great opportunity to learn a bit about agroforestry & tropical agriculture techniques.
Later that day I went for my first look at what I came to photograph. To be continued…..