The Hawaiian Memory of Rainstorms

The focus of my group blog post was the 1992 Hurricane Iniki, which devastated the Hawaiian island of Kauai, slamming the island with until-then record rainfall, which in turn resulted in landslides, mudslides, and floods. The impact of the hurricane cannot be overstated, as six residents were killed, 1/3 were left homeless, and $3.1 billion worth of damage was done to the island. In the conclusion of our blog post, we talked about the storm, and the governmental ineptitude that came with it, as a harbinger of the true destruction that would come to pass with Hurricane Katrina 13 years later, but we were also sure to talk about how the people of Kauai used the natural disaster to galvanize their reconstruction and preparations for future storms. Interestingly enough, I came across an article on NPR about recent flooding in Kauai a couple of days ago, and I wanted to take this opportunity to examine how this communal memory of Hurricane Iniki figures into the ongoing relationship between Kauai and the storms that strike it.

According to NPR, “on Saturday [April 14th] and Sunday [April 15th], Kauai experienced a record-setting storm, with the [National Weather Service] describing the rate of rainfall as ‘unprecedented.” The use of the word “unprecedented” was very surprising to me, as label seemed to erase even the catastrophic flooding of Hurricane Iniki, which would put to waste the lessons that were learned in the aftermath of that storm. In fact, the floods of the most recent storm has broken both the State and National records for single-day rainfall, a fact which further problematizes the position of Hurricane Iniki within the context of Hawaii’s relationship with the Pacific Ocean and its storms. However, after thinking more about this subversion of expectation, I came to a realization which took me much longer than I can believe: this is part of the dynamic of the relationship that any community will share with its environment.

A community is never a static environment, and this is due to both its internal mechanics and its external interaction; or, to put it more simply, its autochthanous aspects and its allochthanous aspects, respectively. Roach addresses a similar dynamic in Echoes in the Bone, declaring, “diaspora tends to put pressure on autochthany, threatening its imputed purity, both antecedent and successive” (43). While Roach may be using this quote to reference the ways in which performances are changed by the importation of foreign performances, the partnership of autochthany and allochthany working in tandem to create new autochthanies extends to all areas of human society. Including the realm of disaster preparation, survival, and recovery.

This is the conclusion that I made about Hurricane Iniki and its relationship with Hawaii. As devastating as the storm proved to be decades ago, it is still only one storm in the long history of the island of Kauai, and because of that its legacy is impermanent. It may have caused record amounts of flooding in 1992, but now, in 2018, its record has been broken by a deluge which does not even bear a name. In the face of this impermanence, it can be easy to forget the facts about a storm such as Iniki, but, because of the nature of autochthany and allochthany’s relationship, its impact can still be felt, if not necessarily labelled. Because the lessons learned during Iniki informed the preparations, survival, and recovery of this last rainstorm, and it will, in turn, inform those processes of the next major storm to hit Kauai.

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