For those of you who didn’t really pay attention in history class when you learned about American imperialism, Hawaii is a different country. Or was. But, unlike Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, etc., Hawaii is quite isolated from the rest of America and it seems as though a lot of people haven’t quite gotten the memo that Hawaii has been conquered. And to the conqueror go the spoils. There have been more than a few times here when, as haoles (white people or foreigners), we have felt like intruders, unwelcome outsiders. At times we wondered if the “spirit of aloha” only stretched so far and that maybe it didn’t quite reach our end of the skin color spectrum. We have since come to enjoy being part of the minority and like to watch the cultural game as it plays out in front of us. Invariably the most interesting players are the native Hawaiian groups who eschew and protest the Western influence on their culture. They vary in the degree to which they want to return to their roots, some demanding that the United States restore the monarchy and get out of their lives, others wanting to be able to practice their traditions more easily
Here are some of our favorite instances of Hawaiian nationalism:
A woman called the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) after visiting one day, truly upset that they billed themselves as “authentic” in their portrayal of traditional Polynesian culture. How could they do such a thing, she wondered, when none of the women were topless? It was indecent that the culture should be modified in such a way, just to make it more palatable to the public. Speaking of decency . . .
One website we stumbled across in our quest to find out more about what is going on here was concerned by the way Pres. Bush apparently answered the question, “What about Hawaiian sovereignty?” He was curt and impolite. He said that “he did not want to talk about that.” Really? He didn’t want to talk about Hawaiian sovereignty? I mean, its not like there’s a war going on or anything, and this is definitely a national crisis. It should be given the President’s undivided attention.
A drive down Kamehameha Highway will take you past many displays put up by what we affectionately refer to as “the sheet brigade” who are intent on shaming everyone from Sen. Daniel Akaka and the US Supreme Court to t-shirt companies for their role in depriving the Hawaiian nation of its “inherent sovereignty.” While we do not know the name of this organization (they don’t seem to care that anybody knows who they are) we do know that they are strongly in favor of returning to the traditional Hawaiian ways and eschew the Western influence that has deprived them of their rights. They recently held a rally on the grounds of Iolani Palace–one of the most European buildings in Hawaii– which was built by their hero, King Kalakaua–whose major goal was to bring Hawaii into the modern world.
Last week a bill was heard that would make a national monument out of a sandbar in Kaneohe Bay. At low tide the sandbar is a nice place to anchor a boat and play beach volleyball. Last year there were a few concerts on the sandbar and things got a little rowdy, so this year a Senator proposed restricting activity on the sandbar, arguing that it is a sacred place in Hawaii because a chief died there (which there is no evidence of) or because when hula was banned, people used to go there to dance, away from prying eyes (an equally unsubstantiated claim). The bill certainly brought out some passionate debate, including a few Hawaiians who couldn’t express their thoughts in English and spoke in Hawaiian instead (which is perfectly acceptable since Hawaiian is an official state language–but they certainly didn’t convince me of anything).
The PCC received a lot of criticism from native Hawaiian groups for having tikis out in front of the Center. “You can’t just carve tikis,” they complained. Pres. Orgill, president and CEO of the PCC, agreed to meet with them in order to try to resolve their concerns. After listening to them talk about the sacrelige of wooden tikis, President asked them if they realized that the tikis in question were made of styrofoam. Styrofoam is, apparently, an acceptable medium for non-religious tikis. The meeting ended amicably once this was revealed.
On the news last week there was a story about a protest going on at the University of Hawaii by some native Hawaiian groups. They were outraged at the study of genetic modification of taro, the purple tuber that in Hawaiian mythology is the son of the gods or the staff of life. Taro, they believe, is their older brother, and he should not be tampered with by science.
There are a surprisingly large number of people who still refer to Hawaii as a nation, who use any opportunity they can to remind Americans that they don’t own the land (the “aina”), it belongs to their ancestors (who, if I’m not mistaken, were actually Tahitian immigrants). However, we just sit back, smile, and watch the drama unfold.
Disclaimer: These are merely the observations of two cynical haoles. We do not claim to know anything about the issues at stake. We apologize for any and all hypocritical, offensive, or insensitive material.