3 Essential Ways to Survive in the Wild, Hawaiian Style

Brother Noland teaches us how to use a rabbit stick, start a fire and throw a net.


Photo: Lorin Eleni Gill



As the recent Iselle and Julio hurricane scare demonstrated, Island life is always just one big storm away from disaster. If you found yourself woefully unprepared as the pair of hurricanes approached, there’s a new book that promises to show you the best survival techniques for Hawai‘i residents. And it comes from an author you might not have guessed: Hawaiian musician Brother Noland.


Yes, Brother Noland’s Hawaiian Survival Handbook covers a blend of Hawaiian, Aboriginal, and Native American tracking and survival skills. Forgot mosquito repellent? Look around for the laukahi flower to make a natural repellent. Get a blister on your hike? Try use that handy ‘awapuhi (ginger blossom) in place of antiseptic.


If you’re not ready to skin a deer just yet, Noland made the book easy to get through even for armchair adventurers. He says: “I could write one boring survival book, but they [Watermark Publishing] said, ‘Write it like how you write it, because you’re funny. So that’s why there’s some pidgin’ English in there, too. I had to think about how to keep it local, so when I was training in New Mexico, I took that knowledge, brought it back, and localized it.”


HONOLULU Magazine recently got the chance to learn a few tricks from Noland personally, including how to throw a fish net, how to start a fire, and how to use a rabbit stick to catch small prey. And we itched for more.


“It’s knowledge we all need to know,” Noland says. “It’s important to pass it down to the next generation. Plus it’s fun. Who else gets to play Boy Scout every day?”


Here’s what we learned in our session with Noland:


1.How to Use a Rabbit Stick:

Photo: Lorin Eleni Gill



Your bow-and-arrow skills are probably not quite on the same level as Katniss from the Hunger Games. The next time you’re in the mood to catch a varmint, or just want to hone your balance and hand/eye coordination, try using a rabbit stick instead. First, create a pyramid-shaped trap with branches that could topple on top of your prey. Then, practice throwing a heavy stick and hitting the trap from a distance. If you’re hoping to catch some prey, you’ll also have to learn stalking and camouflage techniques, putting yourself in the element as though you were a hunting animal. “It’s about the mindset,” Noland says, or “How not to look like a human.” Of course, Hawai‘i doesn’t have wild rabbits to hunt, so what should you be looking for? “Get a lot of chickens along Pali Highway—go for the nice big and fat ones, just like Costco,” says Noland.


2. How to Start a Fire:

Photo: Lorin Eleni Gill



You’ll actually need some supplies for this one, and probably a year of training. We weren’t able to test our skills, but we observed Hawaiian Inside Tracking program instructor and trainer Jenny Yagodich in action.


Gather two dry pieces of hau wood. Use one piece for a board, and the other smaller stick to be the drill. Shave the drill piece down to resemble a pencil point. In your board piece, cut a small hole. With either a bow-drill or your bare hands, turn the wooden drill piece back and forth as fast as possible. The friction should burn a hole into the wood. Once your hole is created, cut a notch in the wooden base to allow oxygen in. Repeat the drilling process. Any leftover fragments of the wood created by drilling will create a tiny coal. Carefully transfer the coal to a bundle of tinder, such as dry pine needles or coconut fibers. With some coaxing and air-blowing, you just might get the tinder to ignite.


3. How To Use a Throw Net:

Photo: Lorin Eleni Gill



This traditional fishing method was actually adopted by the Hawaiians from the Japanese. The net is weighted with fishing leads around the circumference. Gather the net from its piko, in the center, and hold in your left hand. Drape one third of the net on your left elbow, and another third across your right knee. Grab the remaining third of the net and add it to your left hand’s grip. Use your whole body to swing the net out from left to right in one swift motion. (Swap these instructions if you’re left-handed, of course.) And don’t throw the net too high in the air. “There aren’t any fish in the sky,” Noland says. Practice on land until you are able to throw the net out into a full circle.


In addition to the book, Noland’s Hoea Initiative brings the Hawaiian Inside Tracking program to schools including Ala Wai Elementary, Myron B. Thompson Academy, and Kamehameha Schools. Two junior trackers who have been with the program for four years joined the demonstration at Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden. The Hawaiian Survival Handbook, $16.95, is available at bookstores and other retail outlets, through online booksellers or direct from the Watermark Publishing at bookshawaii.net.