“Seeking higher ground via education”
Words by Guy Ragosta
Photos by Summer Austin and Guy Ragosta
Truth sometimes turns us into strangers. And in our quest for truth, many look towards inspiring figures like surfing rock stars to lead the way in the media lunacy of Hollywould. I sought truth at Kokua Festival 2007 in Waikiki (featuring musicians Jack Johnson, Eddie Vedder, Matt Costa, The Girlas, and Ernie Cruz, Jr.), an environmental awareness fundraiser for the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation, a non-profit group that teaches kids in Hawai’i more about sustainable living via interactive education.
Over the last year, I emailed and called Kokua Hawai’i Foundation and Jack Johnson in my mission to help Surfing Medicine International reunite Jamaican Maroon Healers with their Asante relatives in Ghana, Africa aboard the Black Star Liner to share knowledge on plants used to treat cancer and heal the Earth while promoting the Hawaiian art of surfing as a form of spiritual healing for those inflicted with cancer.
You might ask, why the Black Star Liner, and why did I seek Jack’s help? Because the Black Star Liner, a shipping line created in 1919 by Jamaican ‘Back to Africa’ advocate Marcus Garvey, epitomized and reflected the efforts of African Americans searching of a way back to the homeland. The Black Star Liner ceased in 1922, after J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation agents infiltrated and sabotaged the operation.
Now, Surfing Medicine International wants to reinvigorate ‘a broke down melody’ called the Black Star Liner into a mobile biolab where traditional healers from Jamaica, Ghana, and Hawai’i could investigate and share knowledge on herbs and marine organisms used to treat cancer and AIDS in a historic journey back to Africa of repatriation, research, and international unity.
So why did I seek Jack? Shortly after the cancer got O’ahu pro surfer Jason Nalu Bogle, I saw Jack play music at Nalu’s funeral on the North Shore. Nalu had inspired Surfing Medicine International, I thought, as I watched the words slip off Jack’s tongue in difficult times like these. Just because Nalu was gone now didn’t mean Nalu wouldn’t appear later. I sought out Jack for just one question as an outsider in an insider’s world of Hawai’i, but most importantly, for the Nalu all around us.
Without plants, the land would erode into our Nalu, and neither Jack nor I would have clean surf left. Surfing Medicine International strives to help create sustainable medicinal plant systems for coastal communities by fostering international cooperation amongst traditional healers. The connections between us all reflect off the Earth, and back into the water we drink and surf, drive and ride, sing and write, which, like it or not, connects us via massive ecological chain reactions that inevitably will cause our Nalu (like Pipeline and Sunset) to disappear as Sea rises with fossil fuel emissions, indigenous cultures disappear, and ice caps continue melting abnormally fast.
But we can seek higher ground via education. With even only one question, just one quick question for a good guy like Jack Johnson, whom kids all around the world (and especially in Hawai’I) listen to and look up to as a role model, I could create positive change for Nalu, for Surfing Medicine International, and for the kids.
Jack Johnson’s notoriety as a former pro-surfer and musician creates media frenzies that no one can fully deal with, so I did not expect to talk with Jack. But people all around North Shore O’ahu, his home, talked about his love of place and family. So I knew he’d listen if it made sense for the kids. And this made me think of Bob Marley’s lyrics, “Tell the children the truth.”
4/20 stands as the internationally recognized day to promote hemp. In a growing global consciousness, courtesy of 4/20, over the years some nations listened. Now, Europe, the U.K., and other countries around the world grow legal industrial hemp with standardized production levels of THC (the psychoactive chemical in ganja) so low that only the Jolly Green Giant himself could inhale enough hemp to get high. But in the USA, hemp remains illegal for cultivation while plastic and fossil fuels rage on against rising seas.
Armed with my girlfriend, video camera, and an idea, I hit the 4/20/2007 Kokua Festival Press Conference with a mission. The Malloys and Mark Cunningham showed, as well as L.A. folk flown in from a currently burning Beverly Hills. I’d most likely ask Jack Johnson one question with the trigger happy Paparazzi lurking everywhere.
I set up my camera and out rolled Jack Johnson, Matt Costa, Ernie Cruz, the Girlas, and the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation to the press table. So I stepped up to the mic to ask Jack Johnson the first and only question I might ever ask him in front of numerous video cameras and tape recorders:
Me: I’m here from The Surfer’s Path. I’m impressed by all of the music groups here using biodiesel and promoting environmentally friendly ways of your products such as your wallets and shirts. But do you feel that because of the prohibition of crops such as hemp that are used overseas as opposed to in the United States, that hemp might be a more beneficial biofuel as opposed to less biodiverse crops such as corn or sugar cane? If so, do you think that the prohibition has potentially caused increases in climate change because of alternative fibers such as plastic being used? I’ll just throw that out there on 4/20 I guess.”
Jack Johnson:“It is 4/20, isn’t it? You guys got an answer for that (Jack looks at the Girlas, and they giggle). That’s a pretty good question. I’m not real knowledgeable on that kind of stuff. I’ve heard the argument that there is greater agricultural land that could be growing food, and we have to be careful about not using that land for producing crops for biodiesel. First we could be using all the vegetable oil left over from restaurants and things. But I believe you can get it from all kinds of sources such as corn or whatnot. But I can’t claim to be overly knowledgeable about hemp. Kaliko, are you good at that stuff?”
Kaliko Amona:“I don’t know enough about the specifics. But I think it’s something that definitely needs to be looked into as far as which is the best to use, and which is going to take the least fuel, the least cost in the production process, definitely.”
So with that response from Jack and Kaliko Amona of the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation, I spent the rest of the festival investigating hemp. Out of respect for the plant, out of respect for Jack Johnson, and out of respect for the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation, the remainder of this article will focus on information about hemp, and responses from interviewees of Kokua Festival 2007 with one goal as an investigative reporter: to relay the truth about hemp to provide Jack Johnson and the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation with answers to their questions, and you the reader with a story to tell.
Background Hemp Information for Jack Johnson and the Kōkua Hawai’i Foundation:
Noted expert Jack Herer wrote a 20th century classic book entitled The Emperor Wears No Clothes about Hemp (Cannabis sativa subsp. sativa), a woody, herbaceous plant that grows in diverse climates and soils. Hemp uses the sun more efficiently than most plants and can reach higher than 20 feet in height in one short growing season. In 1619, America ordered all farmers to grow hemp. From 1631 to the early 1800’s, most of America made their money out of hemp. Van Gogh and Rembrandt painted on hemp canvas. America consumed so much hemp for about 200 years well into the 1800’s that about 80 percent of the U.S. hemp consumption came from Europe, Russia, and elsewhere. America even fought Great Britain for access to Russian hemp in the War of 1812. Until 1883, the global majority made paper from hemp. Henry Ford built an original car body out of hemp fibers shown via video on YouTube that supposedly withstands destruction 10 times better than steel cars. In the 1940’s, the U.S. Government distributed about 400,000 pounds of hemp seeds to American farmers who produced about 42,000 tons of hemp fiber annually until about 1946 when WWII ended.
Reality struck U.S. citizens when the Marihuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937 eventually made it too risky for most farmers to grow hemp legally. In 1969 in Leary v. United States, this act was found to be unconstitutional since it violated the Fifth Amendment, since a person seeking the tax stamp would have to incriminate him/herself. The U.S. lobbied internationally for decades to make hemp illegal via the United Nations, and they succeeded, as the logging industry for paper rages on over sixty years later, even though some research shows that approximately 1 acre of hemp can create the same amount of paper as about 4 acres of trees. The lack of research and development on Cannabis sp. in the U.S. lies in attaining permits to cultivate the plant on a large landscape level scale from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). At one lost point in history, the U.S. government recognized the distinction between hemp and marijuana. Today, hemp cultivation remains prohibited in the U.S.
Kokua Festival 2007 Hemp Interviews at Waikiki Shell (4/21/2007 and Earth Day on 4/22/2007)
Nursing a hangover on 4/21 due to a 4/20 night of partyin’ at the Hawaiian Hut to film local star Sashamon for www.surferspath.com sing about Jah Roots; I hit Tongs surf and went to Waikiki Shell for Kokua Festival 2007 armed with good karma, three cameras, a microphone, and some tasty Guinness. Upon entering the festival to interview experts who had set up information booths around the concert grounds, I found the following out about hemp:
Jeff Mikulina of the Sierra Club: “To be honest actually I don’t know if Sierra Club has an official national position on the use of hemp for industry or biofuel. But I know where we are at, particularly here in Hawai’i, is that we are open to exploring all the different biofuels. But what it comes down to is the energy balance: how much you put in versus how much you get out. And it’s unclear so far with ethanol and some of the other ones that are really popular, as to what is that energy balance. Whether it’s avocado, hemp, or growing some sort of oil crop, it’s all up to the energy balance. That’s what we’re looking at.”
Tamara Armstrong of Sustainable Saunders at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa: “I think hemp would be an excellent potential source for a biodiesel fuel because it has an extremely fast growth rate. Apparently it grows within a short time to full maturity. It’s extremely good for the soil, while eliminating toxins. I think hemp has potential for everything, not just biodiesel. We might as well be using a crop for biofuel that we can use for other things in industry, which hemp can do. If we can grow hemp, I think we are on a much better track.”
Joshua Cooper with Hawaiian Institute for Human Rights: “As far as hemp goes there are lots of alternatives for it. It’s important to see that we look at all the environmental possibilities that do exist and then make the decisions from there. Of course, in Hawai’i, things grow really well here. So we should of course pursue that. But not everybody knows enough about hemp, so I think there would be an exploratory phase. But first, it’s really an educational phase. It’s important for us to link everything, and the future is now.”
Bryan Collins of Pacific Biodiesel: “We’ve thought about it. Like you said, basically we’d just love to be able to conduct tests. Ultimately we are doing research right now in cooperation with University of Hawai’i to try to find the crops that are going to work best in specific areas. So, one of the things that is great about biodiesel is there are many, many crops all over the world that you can use to get vegetable oil to turn into fuel. So you want to find the right crop for the right area that’s going to grow the most efficiently with the least necessity for water and pesticides. So yes, hemp might very well be a solution for a lot of parts of the world where you’ll get a lot of oil out of an area of land with a minimal use of pesticides and water. So sure, we’d like to be able to do research on hemp just like any other crop, and find the best mix for different parts of the world.”
Done with interviews, I joined the Paparazzi in the photo pit where I learned from Eddie’s manager that he loves the Surfer’s Path, but generally avoids media. I also learned why many rock stars wear sunglasses at their shows as enough flashes flew to blind Flash Gordon two times over. So I partied on, clicked a bunch of flash free photos as Eddie passed out Kurt Vonnegut books he picked up during a concert break at a local book store. Done clicking, I returned to my front row seats to slug beers out of corn cellulose cups.
But soon enough, I left the rich and famous crowd in the front row and went driftin’ for the cheap seats in the lawn to join the party where I reminisced on past Kokua Festivals. In 2004 I saw Michael Franti from Spearhead tell the crowd he didn’t mind if everyone filmed him. In 2005 I followed Ozomatli around the lawn as they danced with the crowd and I clicked pictures. And in 2006 I buzzingly witnessed Willie Nelson’s rendition of Whiskey River which drove me into a perpetual running spree to and from the beer tent until Ben Harper played Burn One Down and inspired me to fire one up on the lawn only to awake to Damien Marley playin’ the best Kokua Festival song I ever saw with Paula Fuga and Jack Johnson, ‘Welcome to JamRock’.
So I levitate and walk around to meet the crowd. I see a dude smokin’ a menthol, and I approach him, “What’s your name, brah,” I ask him. The name is Gy, he says. I tell him my name is Guy. We laugh, and I think, he’s just me without the u. He comes from the Big Island, born and raised, as his ecstatic mood flies off the smile on his face. I tell Gy I came here to film and write for The Surfer’s Path website and magazine, and that if Gy lets me take his picture and interview him, I’ll trade him a press pass so he can sit in the front row in exchange for his lawn tix.
Guy: “Gy, So how much do you like Jack Johnson?
Gy: “I’ve loved him for quite a while. I was born and raised Big Island, and I’ve been hearing his voice for a long time. It’s such a special feeling to be here live and see him.”
Guy: “Have you ever seen him live before?”
Gy: “This is definitely my first time, and I think it’s an awesome experience. He’s so down to Earth, and he’s just as real if I were to hear him on a CD. That’s basically all I can say about him, he’s awesome.”
Guy: “So you are from the Big Island, how was that growing up?”
Gy: “It was beautiful. It’s country. And we try to keep the country country. That’s what we are all about.”
With that, I stick my press pass on Gy’s chest as he heads for the front row skins and I bolt. Eddie dedicates his performance to Jack and the Kokua Hawai’i Foundation. I sleep semi-hammered again, and wake up to work as a Watershed Protection Support Techician, where I go full-time to walk in the woods and survey plants and water. But I never find hemp in the woods of O’ahu, because it’s illegal.
So there you go Kokua Hawai’i Foundation, I dedicate this story to you. And to Jack, the man of the hour who I hope reads this article and learns more about Jah Mystical revealing truth which will help the children understand. After all, if Ben Harper Burns One Down while Hollywould burns down, why can’t I? Because it’s evolution, Nalu…
Guy Ragosta, M.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Management, lives in Hawai'i where he researches stream ecology and makes environmental film documentaries connecting surfing, water quality, and ethnobotany in Hawai'i, Jamaica, and Africa (see www.surfingmedicine.org).