I am a life-long writer. Words are my clay, my oils, my musical notes. I truly treasure the massage of syllables in the creation of message. For the past twenty years, the form and focus of those words, paragraphs, stories, and books have been directed at awakening a sleeping world to two things: the sacred and profound wisdom within the ancient Native Hawaiian culture - and the horrifying results of colonial occupation (read. the United States) on that culture and those Native people. That has been my sole intention - my only job.
But this week I confess to the limit of what my words can say - or even more - do. And never has that limitation been so apparent.
This week I encountered the visual artist Daniel Finchum’s newest project, “Bruises in the Garden” - and I am humbled.
My husband is a Native Hawaiian. ‘Iokepa’s words are quoted in this post’s title. He speaks them with a profound sense of grief - and a barely hidden anger. He struggles with those divergent sentiments. He knows that to speak his mind is to court accusations and dismissal as, “Another angry Hawaiian.” And yes, there is a great deal to be angry about.
But ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani knows that ears close when words are daggers. The last twenty-two years of his life have been about crafting words so that ears remain open, and hearts receptive.
Change is inevitable, whether we welcome it - or vigorously oppose it. 'Iokepa and I have attempted for these past twenty years to actively surrender to those forces. We look for guidance, and try not to let our whims impede the larger purposes. It's not always easy. We're human and the temptation to impose our own will is so very...enticing. I smile as I write those words, because I'm reminded of an acquaintance on our most recent tour saying: "I may not always be right, but I am always certain."
Okay, we get it, many Americans are deeply attached to the nice round number on our national flag - fifty states, fifty stars - and the unchanging thirteen colonial stripes. We celebrate, as the Fiddler on the Roof did, "Tradition!"
But over dinner the other night, some anguished, equally-colonized, indigenous Hawaiians offered a somewhat tongue-in-cheek solution to the flag issue, as a microcosm of their much larger heartbreak.
During the five Winter and Spring months when we are not home on our Island, it is pretty darned obvious how we fill our days. We drive through snow, ice, and sometimes sunshine to the disparate locales where we've been invited to speak - invited to share the empowering truth of the Native Hawaiian people and their ancient culture. We ask for nothing except the hospitality of our sponsoring hosts. We encounter widely diverse audiences. Every Return Voyage gathering is as unique as the faces in the front row. We're pretty darn agile.
Preamble to the Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation "We, the indigenous peoples of Hawai'i, descendants of our ancestral lands from time immemorial, share a common national identity, culture, language, traditions, history, and ancestry. We are a people who aloha Akua, aloha 'aina, and aloha each other. We malama all generations, from keiki to kupuna, including those who have passed on and those yet to come. We malama our 'aina and affirm our ancestral rights and kuleana to all lands, waters, and resources of our islands and surrounding seas. We are united in...
At this very moment in time - yesterday, today - the Native people of Hawai'i are choosing their course. These inveterate ocean voyagers are: summoning the strength of their ancestors; owning the cultural practices that were outlawed for a century; and reclaiming their birthright connection to the land, the ocean, and to every living bit of creation, Churning in, around, andamong the original inhabitants of these tiny Islands is a veritable ocean of potential change. It has caused many of our friends to scratch their well-meaning heads in confusion; ask for an explanation; beg for understanding.
This is the one story that I've been struggling to tell, More to the point, it's the one piece that I've been painfully trying to shrink to website-size. It is the incredibly exciting story of the Native Hawaiians cohering into a formidable traditional nation - and reclaiming the culture (the world) that was stolen first by Calvinist missionaries, next by their sugar cane baron sons, and finally by Capitalism and it's off-spring tourism - the rape of indigenous peoples across this earth. And now, the kanaka maoli - the aboriginal Hawaiian people - are re-discovering that which unites them.
I am not young. I have lived long enough to know something about massive throngs of mostly young people marching shoulder to shoulder down city streets, adrenaline pumping, boisterous chanting, punctuated with fists and V-signs - protesting. I have marched; I have protested. My first memory: the University of Wisconsin, 1967, assembling under a shower of tear-gas, when, ironically, Napalm and Agent Orange manufacturer, Dow Chemical, stepped on campus to recruit their future scientists-researchers. Chemicals heaped on chemical protesters.
Let me begin with an acknowledgement: Almost eighteen years ago, I arrived on Kaua'i for a ten-day vacation from Portland, Oregon. I journeyed here for much the same reason that almost every other visitor flocked to the Hawaiian Islands - sun, beach and respite. Two days later I met, a handsome Native Hawaiian, 'Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani. Six months later I packed up home and family and joined lives with this man. So the ground that I stand on to deliver this passionate diatribe is neither higher nor more holy than any other. I truly cringe at the "close the barn door behind me" defense.
I have lived in Hawai'i for seventeen years now. I have, for every one of those years, been profoundly engaged with my husband's indigenous people. And yet I have been blind-sided by what was flourishing directly in front of my apparently, shortsighted eyes. Of course, I knew about Hawai'inuiakea - the School of Hawaiian Knowledge - created in 2007 within the stereotypically western educational system that is the University of Hawai'i
Hawai'i is many things to many people. To my parents back in the early '60s, it was the most romantic interlude of their 58 year marriage. (So much so, that when I broke my mother's heart by falling in love with a Native Hawaiian that moved me 6,000 air miles from Baltimore, she resisted...but she understood.) To many a tourist, it feels like such a calling that they wind up packing up their homes in California or Oregon or Minnesota and relocating permanently.
Exactly as they are doing elsewhere on the continent this week, here in Hawai'i Americansare casting early-voting ballots in primary elections. We are voting for state offices - the governor, the legislature; we are voting for federal offices - the U.S. Senator. Unique to the Islands, we are voting, as well, for the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs - the only governing body for all things and anything Native Hawaiian.
For the last six months, we were on the road with our new book, The Return Voyage; we drove across the American continent and spoke out on behalf of my husband's people. We return home to witness the budding fruit of years ofloving-labor on behalf of the sorely oppressed Native Hawaiian people, and their inspiring culture.
September will mark seven years since 'Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani and I took this low-tech, low-profile, ancestral-driven show on the road. That is seven years since we packed up our ten years of grooming on the beaches of Hawai'i and took the Hawaiian Grandmothers' wisdom and our stories to those willing ears and hearts across the United States. In these years, 'Iokepa has repeated his Grandmothers' words often. He's been nothing if now consistent. When the good folks in our audiences raise their hands and ask, "What can I do to help?," he has answered always, "When you hear something positive happening on the Islands, please offer a prayer for the Hawaiian people."
I have written about destiny. ‘Iokepa has spoken of it. He calls it the promise we made when we took on life. Yet there is persistent bewilderment among moderns who have refused it. Echoing the Hawaiian grandmothers, I have written: no one of us is born with the same destiny; we’re gifted with individual and cultural gifts to help realize our specific promises.
We’ve been off Island long enough to see (without blinders) the changes. After more than a full year away, it has felt important in these past months to explore our old haunts, to revisit the paths we’ve walked together for fourteen years, the beaches where we’ve sunned and surfed, and the mountain where we’ve slept to the accompaniment of bird song. So when there is sufficient money for gas, and leisure time too, we do just that. We revisit; we reminisce.
There was a time on our Island, not very long ago, when there were independently owned bookstores. But maybe thirteen years ago, the chain store Borders set up shop in the dead center of the Island. One by one the independents dropped off the map. It is pretty near impossible for an independently owned small store to compete with the mega-store and its deep discounts.
There are two distinctly competing versions of this story. Both are equally true. In both stories, ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Īmaikalani and I have just returned home to Kaua’i – the northwestern-most Island in the Hawaiian archipelago – after more than a year on the American continent. In both versions we loved touring the U.S. with our new book and in both versions we were yearning for home. In the first version: last Thursday, we put up our great-in-the-rain-and-cold, but less-great-in-the-tropical-heat donated German tent. It is our fourteenth tent in thirteen years without a house on the beaches of Hawai’i.
The material and successful life that ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani surrendered fourteen years ago - to take up arms (heart and soul) against the deception, the greed, and the oppression visited upon his people and his nation - included a house on a lake, seven cars “and a hot rod.” Despite the fact that his lavish passion in these last years has been cultural - language, history and spiritual practice - for the first forty-six years of his life focused an equal dose of passion on cars that go very fast.