Saturday, August 22, 2009

Steal-hood rather than Statehood? Fifty years ago yesterday HI became a state

(Let me preface all of this by saying 1. I typed this yesterday, while my internet was melting, so couldn't post it until now, and 2. I’m talking about words and concepts as I remember them from childhood. I won’t claim any of these meanings are 100% accurate now.)

I moved to Hawaii when I was six, because my dad was in the military and after he retired, my mother wanted to stay here. In elementary school, we had a kupuna (the simplest definition is teacher, although my understanding was that it tended to be an older person, like a grandparent teaching a younger person, in a vaguely master/apprentice relationship) come every other week, or every month. She taught us about the colors, numbers, and various other vocabulary words in Hawaiian, as well as traditions in Hawaii. I remember the tune and some of the words to a song for the colors (ula ula, melemele, poni, polu, ele ele, -something- eo eo [?],…). Granted, I missing some colors in there. In order, those are red, yellow, blue and purple (don’t recall which of these two is which) and black. It’s been years since I remembered what orange, green and brown are in Hawaiian, although I’m fairly certain I have some notes from around that time somewhere.

I also remember a visit from the kupuna when we made poi, a paste made from the taro plant. I have never cared for taro.

Jumping to freshman year of high school, I learned more about how Hawaii, or rather the southernmost 8 of the 108 Hawaiian islands, became a state. I can still picture the text box on the bottom half of a page with the title, “Bayonet Resolution.” Looking back now, I wish we’d been required more than just one semester of Hawaiian history out of four years of required social studies. Even after studying it over the years, I still can’t recall all of the facts. I remember names, I studied similar issues of assimilation, hegemony, and agency, but the one thing I know is that many Native Hawaiians didn’t want to be a state. For a time, the Hawaiian language was illegal—it wasn’t taught in schools, and I believe a child could get in trouble if a teacher heard them speaking it. The bayonet resolution refers to Prince Kuhio, if memory serves me correctly [and I don’t have time right now to double-check, ech] and the story goes that he was held at bayonet point to sign over the annexation decree. Despite the royalty of Hawaii making diplomatic trips, the islands were annexed as a strategic point in the Pacific (for a number of countries, but the U.S. moved first), Queen Lili’uokalani was overthrown, the monarchy ended and fifty years ago today, August 21, 2009, Hawaii became the 50th state of the U.S.A.

Around 3 [yesterday] this afternoon, there was a news brief on KGMB where the reporter mentioned some people called today Steal-hood Day, rather than Statehood. There are many Hawaiians today who are angry at the US government, feeling they should be granted sovereignty, and lands should be returned to Native Hawaiians.

As someone who has lived here most of her life, but has not a drop of Hawaiian blood, I have been annoyed by the number of commercials touting Hawaii’s statehood. They’ve been on television for months. In many ways, I feel that the government’s action in 1893 and 1959 were wrong. But at the same time, I don’t want to be forced out of the place I call home (even if summers have always been a killer for me), and I’d like to think myself as a local.

I suppose that I’m just trying to express how today, especially prompted by that news brief, I am jolted back into awareness of issues that some people around me deal with every day.

As a writer, I think it’s important in world-building, especially when a world/kingdom/country is populated by more than one people, to examine who invaded whom, or how one tribe/culture might have overpowered another. Was there a culture even earlier than the ones present in your story, and if so, what happened to them? (There are plenty of creation myths in Hawaiian culture, but the general consensus is that Polynesians came from other Pacific islands a millennium or more ago. I don’t recall much about possible cultures before that point.) Do the multiple cultures get along, seem to get along, or actively and pervasively loathe one another? It might be details that never make their way into the story, but they should be details the writer knows.

In the meantime, I’m going to brush up on my Hawaiian history and culture.

Happy writing,


writtenwyrdd said...

I was stationed in Hawaii in the 80s while in the Army, and I had never heard, growing up on the mainland, the story of how the US farmers in Hawaii basically shanghaied it and made it a protectorate of the US without their consent (because they had the guns and money and connections.) It is a sad tale repeated over and over throughout the globe, and I don't blame native Hawaiians for being angry about it.

Thing is, times have moved on, and there really isn't going back without a lot of difficulty. Which makes for a lot of grumbling and an impasse.

Sabrina said...

Yeah, Dole and the rest. I'm not sure how they could go back to being a sovereign nation now, though I can't help but feel there are compromises that could be made between Native Hawaiians and the government, but aren't, for a variety of reasons.

It is interesting to think about how, outside of the military (I didn't really have any HI edu in the schools on military bases) there were those lessons, but they were pretty short and not often. Even now, one semester out of eight devoted to HI history in a HI high school? But that's still more than a student gets on the mainland.