(BIVN) – Noah Gomes was honored with the second DLNR Citizen Conservationist award during a ceremony held Friday at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.
Gomes, a National Park ranger, conducted painstaking research in an effort to find the historical name for the endangered Hawai‘i Creeper. His conclusions led to the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee’s approval of the name ‘Alawī.
Gomes “pored through hundreds of pages of old Hawaiian newspapers and reviewed virtually every bit of literature he could find on the traditional name of the tiny forest bird,” stated a DLNR media release. His work was published in the ‘Elepaio Journal.
The DLNR detailed Gomes’ thesis:
The diminutive yellow and green ‘Alawī is one of four endangered forest birds found only on Hawai‘i island. Formerly widespread and common, this bird is now restricted to high elevation rainforest such as found in the 18,730-acre Pu‘u Maka‘ala NAR. It’s located in the Puna and South Hilo districts and is managed by DOFAW.
Superficially similar to the Hawai‘i ‘Amakihi, this species was overlooked by Western science until specimens of this “ʻAmakihi” made their way to taxonomists in England. But as its Western name indicates, this species differs from ‘Amakihi, most notably by its behavior. This insectivore favors koa trees (Acacia koa) where it creeps up the trunk of the tree foraging for insects. L. mana has been noted as a bird with a curious nature that leads it to approach humans in the forest.
Some of the evidence supporting this naming came from the Hawaiian language newspaper Kuokoa Home Rula. The earliest reference to the ʻAlawī is in the Kumulipo, a Hawaiian genealogical chant of the birth of the universe. Gomes also translated the June 13, 1863 entry of a series of articles on native Hawaiian birds in the Hawaiian language newspaper, Ka Nupepa Kuokoa.
From these descriptions, Gomes deduced that the ʻAlawī must be L. mana. The extinct Hawaiʻi island endemic Viridonia sagittirostris (another bird with no official Hawaiian name) could also possibly meet the description, but L. mana matches the C. virens size comparison and the M. obscurus plumage description much more easily. It was also historically much more common and easily observed, and therefore more likely to have had a name.
It is probably impossible to know with complete certainty that the ʻAlawī is in fact L. mana but there is unusually good evidence supporting this argument. There are not many other possible candidates that match the identity of a conspicuous small grayish green forest bird currently lacking a known Hawaiian name. As more and more native Hawaiian species become endangered and even extinct, it has become critical to not only understand their ecological importance, but also the roles they play in our lives and those of our ancestors. This discovery of the traditional name, ʻAlawī for L. mana reveals a new opportunity to preserve our Hawaiian cultural heritage and highlight the plight of this currently endangered species.
On May 31, Noah Gomes helped perform a naming ceremony for the ʻAlawī at Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve, which was filmed by the DLNR and shared with media.
A week later, Gomes was presented the Citizen Conservationist award by DLNR First Deputy Director Kekoa Kaluhiwa.
“As a graduate student,” Kaluhiwa said, “Noah chose to research and review major literature on native Hawaiian birds by important authors in the late 19th and early 20th century to try and find a specific Hawaiian name for the Hawaii Creeper. For more than a century there was no known Hawaiian name for this endangered bird.”
“We are grateful for Noah’s efforts and hereby present him with a DLNR Citizen Conservationist Award, for his efforts to preserve our Native Hawaiian cultural heritage; in a time when birds like the ‘Alawī are endangered and even on the brink of extinction. His efforts help us all recognize not only the ecological importance of the ‘Alawī, but also the role it plays in our lives and those of our ancestors,” Kaluhiwa said.
Gomes’ friend and bird specialist with the DLNR Natural Area Reserve program, Alex Wang, said “Noah has such a deep sense of place and appreciation for native Hawaiian culture and what it represents to everyone, Hawaiian or not, living in these islands today. He truly personifies the very best traits associated with the people of our host culture. In addition to what I expect will be many notable accomplishment in his future, he will be known in the history books as the person who named the ‘Alawī. and as Noah said how many of us are fortunate enough to marry a childhood fascination with a professional contribution to science and culture.”
Gomes remarked, “This joined my life-long love of birds with my passion for Hawaiian culture and our language. I’m thrilled and honored to have been involved in the naming of the ‘Alawī.”