Return Voyage spent the last week visiting, at the edge of the Everglades, in southernmost Florida. We were privileged to hike throughout this remarkable and exotic landscape, for the first time in our longish lives. In these past days, we saw all manner of bird life: Cormorant, Grey Heron, Peacock in the wild, Anhinga (a species I'd neither sighted, nor pronounced before then). I was pecked by a Pelican--nothing personal--he was after the fish in my bucket. For the nature-absorbed and absorbing Hawaiian by my side: There were all manner of mangrove, fern, and unusual growing trees and plants to commune with.
But the high point of our Everglades exploit was most certainly the prolific Alligators and their offspring. We spent hours--no, days--with them, in their habitat. I'm a city girl. I asked the obvious: What's the difference between...? And I was answered well. I will no longer confuse an Alligator with a the more sharp-nosed, toothful, aggressive Crocodile. I will not.
'Iokepa--and Return Voyage--are asking no more of us.
"The Hawaiian culture has been so misrepresented: It's been commercialized. The language has been anglicized. My people are numb."
Return Voyage reclaims the truth of these people, their land, and their culture.
'Iokepa says: "Our nation was never called Hawai'i. It was Lahui for 13,000 years. Lahui means: Nation, gathering, tribe. "
Hawai'i was, and is still, the name of a single Island (the largest one). These Islands needed no military, "Uniting" in Honolulu in the 19th century, for European and American economic interests. These were a single people, and they knew it.
It follows naturally that these people were never (and are not yet) Hawaiians. "My people are kanaka maoli," 'Iokepa says in these Return Voyage gatherings. That means: "The original people."
So often, it has been said: The victors write the history. That was no less true in Lahui, where the Calvinist missionaries, and the sugar cane barons, wrote (and continue to write) their version of the history of these people. But "Victory" is a funny, perhaps an elusive, thing.
As 'Iokepa has said: "Do you think the men who killed Martin Luther King won?" The victory was Reverend King's: His ideas and his ideals were magnified by his death--and they endure.
The missionaries and the land exploiters--the people who have cheapened and sold the kanaka maoli culture and the land of Lahui--have had their shot. They've done their best to kill a 13,000 year old culture, that never knew war for 12,000 of those years; a people who defined and lived their (and our) responsibility for one another and for all of Creation--the land, the ocean, the air.
These were a people who breathed in that responsibility, as the very definition of their culture. Aloha-- it actually means: In the presence of God in every breath.
Lahui is not Hawai'i. Kanaka Maoli are not Hawaiians. And an alligator is not a crocodile.