Instead of writing my unusual blog posts which is normally sprinkled with Hawaiian laws and other references, I thought I would write a more personal post. For an indigenous Hawaiian, its sometimes very difficult to maintain an emotional distance in talking about certain events in our past. Among these events is what happened in 1893.
I was fortunate growing up because I had my grandmother around. She spoke fluent Hawaiian and was born some either in 1900 and 1901. Her father was born during the reign of Kamehameha V and died sometime in 1910s. He had served in the Hawaiian government in various capacities and fought in the 1895 uprising. He was also the grandson of Princess Elizabeth Kina’u and Governor Luanu’u through their daughter Rebecca and so had a fairly privileged but very private life. His wife, Liliana Kinimaka, died sometimes in 1906 from leprosy. When he contracted leprosy and died, my grandmother was raised by her aunt, Keahialaka Alapa’i, who chanted at King Kalakaua’s Golden Jubilee though for the most part my immediate family stayed far away from King Kalakaua because they were supporters of Queen Dowager Emma and for most of the early part of the King’s reign, they worked under Princess Ruth. The irony is that he married a Kinimaka and the Kinimakas were strong supporters of King Kalakaua. I’m guessing their political differences helped make their relationship exciting as I know that my great grandparents were madly in love.
So growing up with my grandmother, I heard stories about ‘Umi and other ancient chiefs. I heard stories about her aunt and uncles. Despite my grandmother’s Mormonism, she also recounted stories about kupua, about the various akua, and the old Hawaiian religion. One of the stories I never heard about was what happened in 1893. My grandmother died one year before the ‘Onipa’a observance of the “Overthrow” happened in 1993. When the observance happened, it made me wonder why I never heard about what happened in 1893. I asked my mother and she said that perhaps she was too young when her own parents died so she didn’t hear the stories. I could recount the stories of ‘Umi but had no idea why my grandmother never discussed it.
Throughout the year that were lots of TV programs about the “overthrow”. But I could not simply watch it. Anything having to do with the “overthrow” was too emotional to watch and I could not simply explain why. I could not even watch plays about Princess Ka’iulani. Then five years later, Dr. Noenoe Silva found the anti-annexation petitions and I found the signatures of several of my family’s members including the great grandfather’s. I then began to ask questions from my mother’s oldest siblings. I remember the simple answer my aunt gave me and to which continues to haunt me today. She said that those things could not be discussed because “When something is too painful the only way was not to talk about it. We are Hawaiians. We were expected to always be happy, be entertainers and in my generation not to be smart, not to ask questions, to simply be happy. When we got sad or upset thinking about happened, we hide it inside because that’s what we were told we were supposed to do as Hawaiians. The haoles come, steal the land. We were supposed to be happy. Now they sell the land to the kepani and we still are supposed to be happy. The haole lifestyle, the haole laws, they no work for us but they keep saying Hawaiians got to be patient, be humble, try harder and you got to be happy because its the best for you. Well we ain’t happy. We haven’t been happy for over a hundred years. Maybe longer. That’s why so many drink. Me, I eat.”
It was then that I realized why for people like my grandmother, it was so difficult to talk about what happened in 1893 just as it is even difficult for me until now to watch any movie or play about what happened or to write this blog post. The pain of what happened in 1893 is just too deep for many of us. Its a pain that is too real for many of us. Those who lived in countries that have been that were occupied or invaded by another country or whose culture was continually either objectified or demonized for generations are really the only ones that can understand this feeling. I recall meeting a Greek some years ago and we were talking about history. He told me that for many Greeks, 1453 (the year Constantinople fell to the Turks) is still etched in their memories as if it happened last year because of the trauma it caused for generations. For many Americans, a hundred years or five hundred years years seems like very distant ancient time especially given that the United States is not a particular old country.
But for indigenous peoples like indigenous Hawaiians and for those who suffered under the thumb of an alien power, what happened a hundred years or five hundred years still feels like a pulsating wound in our souls especially when that wound has carried from generation to generation.
I would later find out not through spoken words but from diaries, letters, and court papers what happened to my great grandfather. After 1893, he sank into a deep depression. He was a man who served the Big Island of Hawai’i for most of his life either working under the governor or as a legislature during the Kingdom era. He spoke English, French, and Hawaiian fluent and was firmly a royalist. With what happened in 1893, he lost all of his positions as he refused to take an oath to the Republic. He fought in the 1895 uprising, was jailed, and then retired to Honoka’a. Its claimed that he was among those who were tortured for information because of the scars. During the Dole administration, some of his private ancestral lands were taken by the Territorial Government without compensation to build the highway. His wife, Liliana contracted leprosy while visiting relatives and was sent to Moloka’i. My great grandfather was not informed of this and searched for her for a year only to find out that she died. Officially she died of leprosy but others say it was actually TB. He then exiled himself to Moloka’i to work on the colony so he could be close to the grave of his wife and that’s where he himself died of leprosy. My grandmother and her two sisters would fight for thirty years against territorial and state governments and against certain sugar interests on the Big Island to reclaim some of the ancestral lands that belonged to their father. They went into so many courts hearings that they ended up being invited to retirement parties for some of the judges. When my grandmother died, the land dispute with the State and certain private developers was still going on. But all of this started with 1893.
These are the types of things that as Hawaiians we have been told to be “happy” about or to “forget it its the past”. But we can’t because they’ve happened so many times to so many other families. These are our stories. This is our history as Hawaiians for the last hundred years. This is what we still are going through. Every time we have to drop our kids off at school and see the flag pole with the American flag over our own flag, we are reminded of 1893. When we are doing genealogy work and looking at court papers, we are reminded of 1893. When people claim that anyone can be Hawaiian when in fact they never had to live through this history, to live through this pain, we are again reminded of 1893. No, we are not crybabies or victims and we can’t “get over it” because we constantly have to relive the events through our genealogies, through our history, through our stories, through each other, and through what has become of Hawai’i nei.
We are Hawaiians. We don’t want money. We don’t want sympathy. We don’t want some kind of quasi nation or special political status within the United States. We want our history back. We want our families back. We want our ‘aina back. We want to be free. We want to be happy.
Despite the centuries. Despite whatever clothes we wear. Despite whatever language we speak. Despite whom we marry. We are still Hawaiians and as Hawaiians, we still carry that wound within us and that we have yet to find words as a people to really express that pain–if that pain can be even be expressed.
“…Ke maopopo he Hawai`i au”