Shared Histories Between Filipinos And Hawaiians

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For many Filipinos born and raised in Hawaii, there is a sense of shame of being Filipino with such terms as “bukbok,” “pinoy,” and “Flip” existing. This is accentuated with the horrid ethnic jokes on the radio and the perception that Filipinos in Hawaii speak with accents.

But there is more to it than that. In the Philippines, skin whitening is a multi-million dollar industry. Being “kayumanggi” or brown-skinned is seen as not being as attractive as the mestizo or fairer skinned Filipinos.

This comes from the internalized colonization from over 400 years of Spanish and American rule. Unfortunately, some of internalized self-hate and sexism makes it into our local Filipino community to the point that some local Ilocanos resent being called Filipino.

But Filipinos have a proud heritage in the Philippines and in Hawaii — a heritage that often runs parallel to the experience of Kanaka Maoli. Like the shame felt by local Filipinos, there was a point too in Kanaka Maoli history where even the term “kanaka” was associated with being backwards (read: brown).Bronze statue of Queen Lili'uokalani stands on the makai side of the State Capitol. Honolulu, Hawaii. 19 nov. 2014. photo Cory Lum.

The bronze statue of Queen Liliuokalani on the makai side of the State Capitol. Native Hawaiians and Filipinos have an intertwined history.

While many Filipinos here might be acquainted with the Sakadas or sugar plantation worker history, many may not be aware of the deeper connections that existed prior to the arrival of the Sakadas. Filipinos may have been in Hawaii around the same time as the Japanese and Chinese merchants began to come to Hawaii during the reign of Kamehameha I due to the Spanish trade (particularly the Manila Galleon Trade).

During that time, the Spanish East Indies (now the Philippines and Micronesia), the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Malaya were considered part of “Greater Polynesia.”

As “Greater Polynesia” became more integrated into colonial empires, “Greater Polynesia” became “Oceania.” But the fact that Greater Polynesia / Oceania was composed of related peoples and languages was not lost to Hawaiians like King Kalakaua, who created the “Star of Oceania” royal honor.

In the 20th century, however, with the effects of colonization and the Cold War, Oceania became a bordered region and this shared sense of Oceania / Austronesian / Pasifika / Pacific Islander identity was largely suppressed until the revival of navigation under such people as Mau Piailug. With that suppression, the pre-Sakada interaction between the mutual nationalism and shared experiences of Filipinos and Native Hawaiians was largely forgotten.

Naturalized Subjects

We know from naturalization records, there were Filipinos who naturalized as Hawaiian subjects in the 1850s and there were Filipinos in the Royal Hawaiian Band. One member in particular was Jose Sabas Libornio. Libornio is a forgotten hero.

When Queen Liliuokalani was deposed, members of the Royal Hawaiian Band were forced to take an oath to the new government. But most refused and Jose Libornio became leader of the new Hawaiian National Band, who then went around the U.S. and Europe promoting Hawaiian independence and popularizing Hawaiian music.

The refusal of Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians like Jose Libornio inspired Ellen Prendergast to compose a mele for a hula called “Mele ‘Ai Pōhaku.” In fact, Jose Libornio was one of the two people specifically mentioned by Ellen Prendergast to write a mele for them because he was “loyal to Liliu.”

In turn, Jose Libornio turned the lyrics into a musical composition and thus the song, “Kaulana Nā Pua” was born. Libornio was at one point arrested for his loyalty and eventually moved to Peru due to the heartache he felt at having both of his countries — the Philippines and Hawaii — absorbed into the United States. But in his photos in Peru, he still proudly wore the medals he was given by the Hawaiian Kingdom.

On the other side of the ocean at the same time period, Filipino nationalists such as Apolinario Mabini saw people such as King Kalakaua as a forerunner of a Pan-Malay movement and the Hawaiian Kingdom as proof that a progressive democracy could exist under a native Pacific Islander regime. In essence, Hawaii’s very existence was a threat to the propaganda that Spanish authorities insisted that the so-called indios or native Filipinos were incapable of self-rule.

People such as Libornio would have been aware of the events concurrently happening in the Philippines which while Hawaii was suffering under Republic of Hawaii, the Philippines launched the first successful anti-colonial revolution in Asia — and many in Hawaii was supportive of that. But as events unfolded, 1898 became not only a painful year for Native Hawaiians but also for Filipinos as both peoples lost their hard won independence to the United States within three months of each other.

Two Fledging Democracies

The fact that the United States had taken over two fledging democracies that shared ancestral links and was part of Oceania was not lost on Native Hawaiians. Robert Wilcox for example was in touch with the Philippine Independence Missions to the United States and wrote to General Antonio Luna in 1899 and again in 1900 that “I have already made up my mind to join with you and your country against America in the case they insist to ignore the right [of independence], the justice of your cause…”

Wilcox even had given though of raising a Hawaiian volunteer battalion to go to the Philippines to support Filipinos in their quest for recognition of their independence from Spain and the United States.

It was also an open secret at the time that Princess Kaiulani had supported Filipino and Cuban nationalists, hence a reason for her involvement in the Red Cross. Filipinos have been allies of Kanaka Maoli and Kanaka Maoli had been allies of Filipinos especially in the 19th century.

Filipinos in Hawaii have enriched our island’s history and likewise, there has been Hawaiians who had supported Filipinos in their quest for national liberation and democracy. Filipinos have also been at the forefront of activism and in the labor movement here (think Pablo Manlapit) and many Hawaiians — myself included — have Filipino blood. Even outside of activism and within establishment circles, there has been successful Filipinos in politics, in healthcare, in education and in the military.

“We are Mauna Kea” is more than a slogan.

Filipinos should not be ashamed of who they are and should be proud that they do have a rich history in Hawaii and people such as Libornio were aloha aina like their Kanaka Maoli cousins. Likewise, Kanaka Maoli should be proud of Kanaka Maoli leaders such as Robert Wilcox who understood the need for solidarity.

If anything, the recent actions on Mauna Kea have affirmed this history and it is fitting that a Filipino flag flies near the kupuna tent, as the Filipino flag was once banned by American colonial authorities and it serves to remind all of us in order to heal, we need to understand that we are who we once were.

While opponents may argue that that the TMT is needed for humanity, the Mauna has shown itself that it is humanity itself bringing back the peoples of the canoe from the Philippines to Micronesia to Fiji to Tonga and to all the indigenous peoples throughout the world.

“We are Mauna Kea” is more than a slogan. It is re-imagining Hawaii not as merely the “Aloha State,” but as the “Aloha Nation.”

Jose Libornio, Filipino Bandmaster of the Hawaiian National Band

Few may remember him now especially in the Hawaiian and Filipino communities but in his time, he was one of the most respected people in the Hawaiian Islands.

Maestro Jose Sabas Libornio Ibarra was born in Santa Ana, Manila at the time that colonized by Spain. He originally was supposed to be part of the Manila Symphony Orchestra but due to the racism by the white Spaniards of that time, he left for Hawaiʻi.

Eventually he found himself in Hawai’i where he became part of the Royal Hawaiian Band and worked directly under Maestro Henry Berger. He was decorated by both King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani.

In February of 1893, he and other Royal Hawaiian Band members refused to take the oath to the Provisional Government. The ones who refused, formed a new bang, the Hawaiian National Band or Bana Lahui Hawaii. He became its bandmaster and he and the band continued to refuse to take the oath of allegiance to the Provisional and later Republic of Hawai’i. Supposedly Henry Berger discouraged this and told them that they would be eating stones.

The refusal of him and others to take the oath became the inspiration for the lyrics of the mele, “Mele ‘Ai Pohaku”, by Eleanor Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast. Prendergast was a friend of Libornio and Liborio and two other Hawaiians talked about their financial predicament to her while still asserting that they will “never take the oath to the haoles”. It is believed that she composed it as a chant or may have used a melody from another song. But Libornio was so moved he created an entirely new melody.

That song became “He Inoa No Ka Keiki O Ka Bana Lahui: He Lei No Ka Lahui Hawaii” as the name implies, a song for the band. The band then traveled to the US where the song became popular especially among the Hawaiians in the diaspora. Around the time of the 1895 Uprising against the Republic, the song title changed to “Kaulana Na Pua”.

But in Hawaiʻi, which was a separate country with its own copyright laws, Libornio maintained Prendergast because the lyrics were her own. She was the haku mele after all. Libornio wrote other nationalist songs including a march for Queen Liliʻuokalani.

In the aftermath of the Uprising, the Republic of Hawaiʻi began to strip citizenship from naturalized citizens as well as deporting non-citizens who were found to have “royalist sympathies”. As a result of his band activities and his status as a non-citizen, he was a target for deportation by the Republic. Libornio moved to Peru but continued to wear the Hawaiian Kingdom medals, which can be seen in his official photo. Before leaving for Peru, fearing that Americans might copyright the song due to its popularity, Libornio submitted it to the US Library of Congress in 1895 as the “Aloha Aina” song.

Libornio continued to have a profound musical career in Peru and the “The Marcha de Banderas”, a composition he wrote, is still played during the raising of the Peruvian flag and considered the second national anthem of Peru. In many ways, “Kaulana Nā Pua” has also become a secondary national anthem for Hawaiʻi.

The Gold of Our Ancestors

One of the major assumptions even Filipinos make is that the Philippines has had no major artistic traditions before the Spanish colonial period and its a favorite subject of Filipino students (particularly Filipino-Americans students) to ask “What is Filipino culture?” It is true the Philippines does not have a Borobudur or Angkor Watt. It has no Great Pyramid of Giza or Great Wall. But then again, these monuments were often built by toiling masses of people who were told to build them for the pleasure and vanity of their rulers. Perhaps that is something that Filipinos can be proud of–having been a free people with no oppressive central government up until colonial rule. But the other thing that Filipinos can be proud of is that yes the Philippines has had a very long artistic tradition, particularly in pottery and gold going back to at least 6,000 years.

As far as gold is concerned (I will touch upon pottery in another article), the Philippines was and is a gold producing country. The early Spanish such as Fr. Pedro Chirino recounted how “even slaves wore gold” and Filipinos generally only admired gold for decoration. They placed more value on other things such as pottery, silks and jade. In the 1900s, a gold statue of the Bodhisattva, Tara, was unearthed in Butuan, northern Mindanao in the southern region of the Philippines (see red insert from the picture above). This statue was dated to the 10th century AD and due to the decorative elements, it seems to have been locally produced meaning made by Filipino artisans. This confirmed that Filipinos were influenced by the Hindu-Buddhist empires in what is now Indonesia and that that religions were making in-roads with Filipinos. In 1981, another major discovery was made in Surigao, not that far from Butuan, and was nearly melted but was saved by archeologists and today is part of the “Gold of Our Ancestors” Collection at the Ayala Museum–a bit ironic considering that Ayalas are Philippine-born Spaniards and that the ticket price is cost prohibitive for ordinary Filipinos to actually see the gold of their ancestors but its probably safer there than at a government owned museum but that’s another story–in Metropolitan Manila. It consisted of several golden objects including the wardrobe of a high ranking noble, possibly a king, and dated in the 10 to 11th century AD. The decorative elements included the naga (snake), the garuda (a half man half bird that the Hindu God Vishnu rides upon, see picture below), and geometric designs that can still be seen in textiles in Mindanao. Again, this points to the strong Hindu-Buddhist influence in the southern part of the Philippines and again points to the artistry of Filipino goldsmiths. Experts today say that even with our modern technology, it would be difficult to duplicate these pieces because of the intricate details.

One of the more unusual objects found were golden sashes. Sashes made of gold so far are only found in the Philippines and these particular sashes are the same type worn by Hindu deities in artistic depictions. This is quite unusual because no where else so far in South East Asia have these types of pieces of sacred wardrobe were actually physically created.

Normally, one simply sees them in drawings or in temple reliefs. So to have these pieces created from these images shows not a great deal of creative skill but also a great admiration to the power and semiotics of the ideas being presented in these philosophies. Due to the sheer weight of these objects, it probably that they were only worn during important state and religious ceremonies and/or were placed on a religious statue as part of veneration.

What is important about these objects outside of their form and their historical function is their function today. They are a testament to the creativity, industry, and pride of the ancestors. These objects refute what many Filipinos were brought up with–that Filipinos have no history prior to Magellan and that the Filipino has no achievements prior to the Spanish. It signifies the influence of Hindu-Buddhism in the Philippines and the deep connection to those ideas that Filipinos of that era felt–so much so they took the time to give form to these religious beliefs. It answers the questions “What is Filipino culture” by saying–in gold no less–“Look at us, remember us, you are from us”.