On Development: At What Cost?

By Louis Kunane Hillen

At what cost do we have development? A definition of "development" from the New Oxford Dictionary defines it as the "process of turning land to a new purpose by constructing buildings or making use of its resources." What will the price be towards the land, people, and culture? Development itself is not bad, or evil,and often it is necessary. It is necessary to build more homes for people to live in, or to build an airport for people to travel. But often it will come with a hidden price.

Living in Hawaiʻi on the island of Oʻahu, there is constant development. As a native Hawaiian, I look at the city of Honolulu and am saddened by many of the developments upon the land.

There was once a thriving fishing village in Honolulu. Parts of my family lived there. After much development, which included the building of an airport and the making of a harbor, everything changed. The native Hawaiians living there were evicted in the 1970's, and the fishing village was all but destroyed over the years. As the land was altered, the reef and the thriving sea life were destroyed. The small islands that made up the fishing villages are nearly gone now, and the culture of the fishing village was lost.

This was the cost of having an airport and harbor. And there are many more such examples of developmental costs.

Was this developement worth it? Oʻahu needed an airport, otherwise people would not have been able to fly in and out of Oʻahu. Perhaps a better question is: could it have been done a better way? Development must be done while stewarding the land and while considering the people of that land, which is loving our neighbor.

We are called as Christians to steward the land and called to love one another. Yet, development may happen in spite of those who inhabit the land. In this case it was native Hawaiians who had little control over such development. Development may also continue regardless of what happens to the land--destroying the natural resources that may feed an entire community, as it did in this case.

A major native Hawaiian value and responsibility is taking care of the land. Taking care of the land is the same as taking care of a loved relative in Hawaiian culture. Disregarding this cultural value is not loving the native Hawaiians. Rather, it ignores an entire indigenous cultural value system and the livelihood of the inhabitants in the name of development.

There is a bigger picture than just a particular development. Building an airport affects much more than just the airport. Yes, It affects the ability to improve life. But there is a cost. We must look at all aspects of development to truly try to achieve justice.

Both the developers and inhabitants must work together and wrestle with each other concerning issues of development and its affects. This is the difficult part. I do not have the answer for what's right or wrong in development because each development is particular to its situation. This is no easy task, but it is necessary for developmental justice, for loving people, and taking care of the land.  


Louis Kunane Hillen is from Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. He is a student at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in the Master of Divinity in Theological Studies program. He is of Hawaiian, Filipino, German, Irish, and English ancestry. His passions consist of theology and Hawaiʻi/Hawaiian culture.