Find out why Walter Ritte Jr. makes time to get closer to Moloka’i even as he works to protect it.

What I’m Reading | Walter Ritte Jr.

Q&A with Christine Thomas

–What are you reading?

When I went to college I took literature stuff every semester because I knew when I got back to Moloka`i I wouldn’t read because I’d be too busy. Then I never got a chance to read until I got thrown in jail for trespassing on Kaho`olawe. I spent those six months reading, and I read everything I could get my hands on about Hawaiian history and culture. Now I only read something when I have to get something done.

–What is something you’re currently doing?

One of the issues is genetically modified organisms, so I do a lot of reading on that—biotechnology, all those things—to understand what I’m getting involved with. Then of course I have to do a lot of reading on the Hawaiian side so I can tie all these newfangled things to make it relevant to Hawaiians. If I talk about biotechnology it’s not going to go anywhere. If I talk about biodiversity they’re not going to know what that means. So when I read, it’s to make a tie in so they can understand what the issues are.

The book that I’ve read three times already is called Molokai: A Site Survey by Catherine Summers. It has all of the legends, background, historical sites, maps.

–How did you discover it?

Somebody told me about this lady Catherine Summers who was working at Bishop Museum. When I was in jail I tried to get the book and they got it for me. I read it three times and I still don’t remember all of the bits that are in there. And I use it when we do work with kids, at the learning center. We use this as a reference book and have copies for all the kids.

–What brings you back to it?

It’s almost like a way to become really close and get to know Moloka`i at a personal level. Moloka`i is not that big, and when you’re traveling along the roads you get to know, oh that site is up there–it makes Moloka`i more human. Moloka`i is the child of Hina, so this is the child we need to take care of. When you read this book you see, wow this child has grown…it’s an intimate relationship with the island. This might explain why we’re so crazy about this place.

–So even though it’s not for pleasure, reading actually keeps you connected?

We call it homework. You cannot get into an issue without doing your homework.