The Hawaiian Sandalwood Video Project

This past fall United Plant Savers co-organized the International Sandalwood Symposium that took place over four days, with over 30 academic presentations on the following topics: local and global markets and threats, chemistry and genetics, cultivation and propagation, ecology and environment, regional use and development, regulation and sustainable management. Speakers were from several countries including the United States, Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Tonga and Vanuatu. Three take home points of the ISS gathering: beginning with the fact that the sandalwood story of Hawaii is one that is sadly playing out in island nations throughout the Pacific as small fragmented populations that are left of endemic species and varieties are struggling to survive due to an increase in price as supply shrinks. Secondly it is important for consumers to understand that nearly half the world’s global supply is being poached and that adulteration of sandalwood products is taking place. Third is that sandalwood as a value-added product has the potential to be an economic contribution to remote, rural island nations if efforts are invested in research, education, conservation and cultivation.

In the winter of 2012 before the ISS gathering I traveled with my three kids to the big Island investigating the Hawaiian Sandalwood issue. I conducted four interviews filmed on my iphone that highlight various people involved in sandalwood conservation. I encourage all to watch the videos, briefly described below that are now up on the UpS website.

“Nature at Work”. This interview highlights the spontaneous return of sandalwood (S. paniculatum) to Dr. Shay Bintleff property. Dr Shay, a retired pediatrician and famous local surfer, sells sandalwood seeds to those that wish to grow sandalwood and she also markets her seeds as a tasty unique local food, perfect for making pesto.

“Sandalwood Man”. Watch sandalwood restoration in action as Mark Hanson, founder of the Hawaiian Restoration Project, also know as the sandalwood man, talks about his life’s passion. The video demonstrates the obstacles to saving native Hawaiian endangered plants.

“Permaculture Sandalwood Style”. This video shows how to create a natural guild by using secondary species to mimic natural succession. Sandalwood is a perfect fit for this kind of permaculture approach to growing food on the short term and forest restoration on the long term. This interview is with Neil Logan who is an ethnobotanist, farmer and researcher who lives the big Island with his wife Sofia and their daughter Ona on their Mohala Lehua farm.

“The Plant of Aloha”. This interview tells the brief history and culturally significant meaning of sandalwood also known as iliahi in Hawaiian. The interview is with Leigh-Wai Doo, sandalwood activist, and passionate retired Hawaiian planner and politician and proponent of the sandalwood bill that has been proposed at the state legislature. This interview demonstrates the symbolic nature of sandalwood as the ultimate plant of Aloha.

One of the most moving moments for me at the symposium this past fall was when the children of the Iliahi Elementary School, danced on the eve of the opening day of the symposium. Before they danced, Liegh-Wai Doo, sandalwood activist who had arranged for the students to perform, came in to give the students a pep talk about the role of iliahi in their Hawaiian culture. He looked out over the large glass windows where you could see the beautiful Japanese garden at the east-west center and he said to them, “ You might look out and see a spectacular garden, but none of these plants are native plants; they are brought in from other countries. The iliahi is a native tree from your culture that is sacred. The native plants are disappearing at an alarming rate, and preservation of your heritage and your culture is intimately linked to the native plants of your Hawaiian Home”.

Saving sandalwood is no easy task, there are layers of environmental and cultural tragedy that create obstacles to implement conservation efforts. Ups is continuing to work on bringing awareness towards the issues surrounding sandalwood, the short videos provide a deeper sense of what a unique and important plant sandalwood is to the islands of Hawaii.

Click here to go to the video interviews.