THE HAWAIIAN SANDALWOOD STORY
We begin in the late 1700s and the first discovery of Hawaiian Sandalwood by the outside world. It is said that John Kendrick, an American commercial trader in search of seal fur in the North Pacific, was the first to learn of the fragrant woodʻs existence in our islands. By the 1800s more American travelers visited the islands in search of ʻIliahi (Hawaiian name for Sandalwood) and the potential for trade in the Asian market had become quickly recognized.
In 1810, King Kamehameha the Great had successfully unified the Hawaiian Islands and established a monopoly on the Sandalwood trade. Prior to which, Hawaiians used sandalwood mainly for scenting Kapa (cloth) and few medicinal purposes. They had no concept of business or material value. They owned only what was essential to survive, nothing more. With the discovery of ʻIliahiʻs value, enticing Western material goods soon became readily accessible through trade. Fine silks & satins, war munitions, diamonds the size of a coconut and weathered useless ships were all purchased with sandalwood money. The barge Cleopatra purchased for $90,000.00 was by far the most extravagant purchase. Trade turned into advancements, debts were inevitably accumulated and the exploitation of Hawaiian Sandalwood had begun.
To pay such debts, Hawaiian villagers were tasked with harvesting wood and ordered by the King to go out into the mountains to cut and transport the logs back to the beach for export. 6,000 trees were required to fill one shipload. Often gone for days and weeks, villagers died from over exposure to natureʻs elements, fatigue and famine. Kua-leho (callused back) was used to describe such villagers from the frequent transport of heavy logs. Kamehameha eventually realized what was happening to his people and land and quickly placed a Kapu (ban) on the young ʻiliahi in attempts to protect it.
(Sandalwood Pit on Moloka’i filled by villagers measuring a ship’s full cargo load before transport off mountain to the coast)
With the passing of Kamehameha I, his successors fell into greater debt. In 1826, Hawaii’s first tax was established to pay the $500,000 owed to American traders. Forests were intentionally burned to diffuse the sweet scent of sandalwood trees. With the harsh methods of finding ‘iliahi, the young seedlings simply had no chance to survive. By the 1840s Hawaiian Sandalwood trade was nearly over. After years of extensive trading, Hawaiian Sandalwood populations were exhausted, and nearly became extinct.
Trade alone was not the only factor to the decimation of Hawaiian Sandalwood and our native forests. Plantation farming destroyed thousands and thousands of acres while the introduction of cattle and other ungulates posed possibly an even greater impact. Land clearing for grazing, constant trampling preventing regrowth, and seed predators continue to threaten our native forests to this day.
As we fast-forward two centuries the Pacific islands of Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and New Caledonia work to sustain their species of Sandalwood. Plantation farms of Indian Sandalwood (S. album) are planted in Australia that span as far as the eye can see. Strict regulations created by the government in India and Africa continue to protect sandalwood exploitation. Hawaiian Sandalwood has been flourishing high in the mountainous region of Hawaii Island with the help GIS, private reforestation, and preservation of the land. However, because of history and the lack of awareness, the mass population believes Hawaiian Sandalwood is extinct.
Of the 16 species of sandalwood existing in the world today, 6 of them are found in our islands. From the coast lines of Makapu’u to the montane regions of the Big Island, Hawaiian Sandalwood can be spotted if you know what to look for. In the Keauhou district of South Kona, amazing things are happening. Haloa Aina, a Native Hawaiian forestry and education group, has dedicated its efforts to restoring its native dry land forest. Through the removal of ungulates and the replanting of over 5 million new Hawaiian Sandalwood and equal native host trees over the past four years, they have redefined sustainability. Hawaiian Sandalwood (S. paniculatum) is the only species which contains no farnesol, has some of the highest alpha and beta santalol levels tested in the world by the ISO, and is the only USDA certified organic sandalwood available. S. paniculatum, endemic to Hawaii, is by far one of the best species of sandalwood available. It is this unique tree that helps fund their ongoing education and forestation efforts.
(blue tubes used for planting of young ‘iliahi in attempts to revive this native forest for future generations)
As descendants of the Kings and Queens who came before us, we understand the importance of taking care of our ‘aina (land). We have witnessed the successes and failures of previous generations and recognize the importance of these efforts to ensure sustainable and culturally aligned sandalwood forestry. Ultimately it is all about the land, we are simply blessed to live in it. By taking care of the land, it will in turn take care of us. Mamo Essentials is dedicated to supporting this endeavor. We strive to educate, expose and share Hawaiian Sandalwood with the world. Our products help to plant new trees, fund further research, educate our keiki (children) and rejoice to the world that Hawaiian Sandalwood exists and it is amazing!
(Mature Hawaiian Sandalwood tree, ‘Iliahi – Keauhou, Hawai’i 2015)