Hawaiian Bahá’í Contributes to Sustainable Environmental Efforts

“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh 

A growing number of Baha’i individuals and communities around the world are taking action to contribute to a more sustainable environment. One Baha’i on the island of Molokai, for example, has transformed a parcel of land overgrown with invasive species into a productive micro-farm.

It’s been about fifteen years since Nelson Puailihau—aka “Easy”—gave up his rough and rowdy ways. Three years ago, he began to tend a parcel of land near Kilohana School. From the thicket of bananas, papayas, and taro to the expansive, impeccable lawn, the “Garden of Easy” is the expression of his deep desire to bring life and beauty to the ‘aina.

“Since I got clean and sober and turned my life around,” says Nelson, “I’ve put my heart and soul into this land.” Once overgrown with kiawe, it is now meticulously tended. “Lots of old timers pass by and see it. They are surprised by the transformation.” 

Born in Honolulu, Nelson grew up on Molokai helping his grandparents, Eva and Sam Puailihau, on their land, both in town and on an eastside farm not far from his current location. Their farm had a spring and a productive lo’i kalo. 

Helping in the yard and farm was young Nelson’s kuleana. Work was always supposed to came before fun, but one day the urge to surf got the better of him and he hit the beach before doing his chores. When he came back, hungry, he looked in the pot for something to eat. “Where’s the food, I’m hungry,” he grumbled. “Eat your surfboard,” said his grandmother. It was a lesson he took to heart.

“I learned about hard work from my grandparents. I learned farming just by watching them—and by doing.” Growing up traditional, living off the land and sea, he also hunted and fished. He is said to have a “squid eye.”  

“I also worked in the pineapple fields, the corn fields, and at the bakery. Now I just work on the land. I don’t get paid, but I love it. As I saw the land transform, get more beautiful, I got deep into it.” 

Nelson is often seen sitting on the ground weeding the lawn while listening to music. Now that the lawn has filled in and is almost weed free, more time is given to clearing land and expanding his crops. Nelson occasionally sells bananas and laulau, but often gives what he grows to friends. 

“I have enough to eat and give away, and I make a few dollars. But it is not about making money. If I can make a few people happy that’s how my eyes like to see it.”

His latest project is expanding into pineapples and vegetables like broccoli, onions, tomatoes, and peppers, to round out the diet. “They are harder to grow because of bugs and chickens, so I play that by ear.” 

Nelson takes the bus to town three times a week, where he is well known for making people laugh. He needs to take a break from the land or else he starts “getting creative”, meaning he comes up with too many projects. At 62, he says he needs to slow down.

“I take pride in what I do,” says Nelson. “I am proud of myself, to be an example for our people that live on this island and pass by every day, to see how much beauty we can create and how we can live sustainably. But it is a lot of hard work!”

Regenerative projects are underway in Baha’i communities around the world, on various scales. A new website created by the Baha’i International community—One Planet and One Habitation, Sustainability and Environmental Efforts by Bahá’í Communities Around the World [Link to https://opoh.bic.org]—highlights efforts by diverse communities in Congo, Columbia, Singapore, Vanuatu, Zambia, Dominica, and the Navajo Nation. 

In the Navajo community, for instance, a series of conservation and agricultural initiatives undertaken over the course of four years involved several groups of middle-school students participating in the Baha’i-inspired Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program. The youth applied their capacities of observation, inquiry, and service to the ecological and social realities of the reservation on which they lived, in light of the traditions and culture of the Navajo people. Drawing on both indigenous knowledge and the insights of scientific inquiry, the youth experimented with sustainable gardening systems focused on water conservation, heritage crops, and soil building.

Bahá’í efforts toward environmental sustainability are grounded in the conviction that humanity is organic with the natural world—that the human heart cannot be separated from the environment around it. For Bahá’ís, advancing a materially and spiritually flourishing civilization in harmony with the natural world is central to the human sense of meaning and purpose. “Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world,” Bahá’u’lláh writes. The natural world is a trust for which all members of the human family are responsible.

(A version of this article was first published in the Molokai Dispatch, November 30, 2022.) 

Nelson Puailihau standing infront of banana trees.

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