Opinion: Hawaii’s struggle with a modern-day identity crisis

Before the introduction of Western culture to the islands, Hawaii was a very modern society. From a technological standpoint, Hawaiians had become a society of way-finding sailors, skilled fisherman, and agricultural pros compared to other native groups.

After the turn of the 19th century, Hawaii became a hub for industrialization and tourism, and to increase profit for these industries, land was revoked from Hawaiians for bigger companies to move in (i.e., A&B, HC&S, Dole Pine, etc.). This type of activity still strongly reigns in present-day Hawaii, leading to the bigger questions: What should we protect in Hawaii, and is Hawaii in danger?

Kuleana (responsibility), malama (respect), and haahaa (humility) are all examples of important Hawaiian values passed down generation to generation. These have been especially important in the overall character of those representing the Hawaiian people and how they are viewed not only locally but also internationally.

As an alumnus of Kamehameha Schools, a school with preference to children of Hawaiian ancestry, I learned that there was a large emphasis on the importance of Hawaiian values and how they contribute to self-growth. This has given me the right push to knowing correct manner and how to act with all people. Although its different for all Hawaiians, the majority of them have grown up with the values integrated into everyday life. This alone shows that the values are very important and should always be passed down through the generations, teaching the keiki how to act.

A main point of the Hawaiian soverignty movement was the giving back of Hawaiian rights. During the period of annexation, Hawaiians’ rights to their daily activity, dance (hula), and countless other cultural aspects were taken away. Included in this restriction was the Hawaiian language. Learning and speaking of the language began to fall during the period of annexation and again during the large influx of plantation workers from other countries. Since the importance of English became crucial for becoming a US state, and other dominant languages presence became known in Hawaii by means of these workers, the Hawaiian language experienced a major decline.

Just recently, according to a 2011 census, 2,000 of the 24,000 fluent speakers of Hawaiian are native speakers (first language). This is actually some of the largest numbers Hawaii has seen in a long time. This is the projected revitalization of the language that will aid in keeping the culture alive, even when the percentages of native Hawaiians decrease.

However, the Hawaiian language came under threat as a Native Hawaiian speaker chose to only speak Hawaiian—an official language of the state—in his court hearing. On January 24, 2018, Kaleikoa Kaeo was in court facing misdemeanor charges related to the protests that took place during the building of the research telescope on Haleakala. The judge, not allowing for a translator, repeatedly asked for “Mr. Kaleikoa Kaeo.” Since he did not respond in English, Kaeo was issued a bench warrant for his supposed absence in the courtroom. This sparked a community outrage against the local justice system and created another movement for Hawaiians. This restriction of language was very reminiscent of the restriction of the language during the takeover and annexation of the kingdom in the late 1800s. It reminded the people of how important language is for a culture to have, not only in communication, but also in passing down history and keeping the culture strong.

“He aliʻi ka ʻāina; he kauā ke kanaka.” The land is the king, the man its servant. From the deep roots of the Hawaiian culture comes the creation story of Haloa. Haloa was supposedly the first Hawaiian. Wakea (the god of the sky) and Hoohokulani(the daughter of Wakea and Papa) came together to conceive a baby, which would be the first human. This baby came out to be stillborn and died just before birth. The family, naming the baby Haloa (eternal breath/life), buried the body in the earth. In time, from the burial site came up a kalo plant. This essential creation story is what connects the Hawaiian people to its connection to the land.

This connection is also why the people have always had a problem with the turning over of ownership to wealthy parties and the industrialization of the land by these larger outside entities. For example, on Maui, there has been much dispute over land rights in important places for Hawaiians. The main dispute has been over the telescope being built at the summit of Haleakala.

With the Haloa story also came the importance of water as well. As Haloa was planted in the ground, water was needed for him to grow. This also was the story that placed heavy importance on the water rights for the people. This importance became an issue during the introduction of cane and pineapple to the islands. Alongside the cane and pineapple was large-scale water diversion. As large companies, such as HC&S, Dole and A&B, bought land throughout the islands, they began to divert water away from the normal flow and into irrigation ditches which have dried out the streams and taken water away from the taro farmers of the streams.

Since then, water rights have always been disputed between small farmers/families of the river and large corporations who have since taken over majority of the land and irrigation. Lately, there has been much dispute over the releasing of more water to the streams again due to the shutting down of Maui Pine and HC&S on the island. With the inactivity of the irrigation ditches after the shutting down of these companies, Native Hawaiian parties have moved to bringing back more water to its original pathways and supplying the mauka to makai flow again. This would ensure a regeneration of freshwater creatures and Hawaiian wildlife back into the ecosystem.

The most important part of a culture is its people. This is because without the carriers of the values of culture, there cannot be a future. The people have not always been protected by the state government for their rights leading to a rise in right-related protests and different disputes. With the dilution of native Hawaiian blood, perpetuating aspects such as hula, the Hawaiian language, rights, and natural resources will keep the culture strong.