When ‘Iokepa wrote the original words on the homepage for our website, he wrote: “If you have a single drop of Native Hawaiian blood, we invite you to join the conversation.” The aboriginal Hawaiians never judged their relationship between one another by the amount of indigenous blood that had – or had not – been diluted by intermarriage. You were Hawaiian even if you were born red-headed, blue-eyed, and aboriginal – if you claimed it, accepted responsibility for it, and lived it.
Since 1921, however, there exists a divisive American government-imposed law measuring “Blood Quantum.” It is simply a method of eliminating native claims, and it requires “a fifty-percent blood quantum” to claim native ancestry.
This measurement is something that came to the Islands from elsewhere with the sole intention of politically diminishing the strength-in-numbers of these people. It was, and is, alien to the culture.
So when ‘Iokepa stepped up to assume the responsibility for Huliau–the Return Voyage, and he put together the words for the website, he was reminding his people of their inheritance, even if the ancestral blood was but a “drop.”’ He was reminding his people of their need to claim it. He was including the previously disenfranchised.
We could not have foreseen the response from those who are not aboriginal Hawaiians to “If you have a single drop of Native Hawaiian blood...” First, there was the flood of entreaties from people who had lived on these Islands for years. They feared that they were being refused entry to our gatherings – or even worse, were being nudged off the Islands by the very people they loved and supported.
Next, we heard from people across the continental United States and beyond, who were curious, interested, or simply wanted to know more about the Hawaiian people and their beliefs. They too read that their lack of a single drop of Native Hawaiian blood cut them out of the conversation.
Finally, there were the raging emails. These came from people calling us “hypocrites,” “racists,” and worse because they assumed that they were excluded. “I was born with white skin. Do you love me less? Examine your truth. Your reality keeps us separate.”
We were genuinely stunned. We immediately added a second line to the web-page, directly under the offending line and in the same boldface font. “If you have no Hawaiian blood and you want to experience the Return Voyage – come.”
Then ‘Iokepa answered every email.
“My ancestors welcomed each guest to the Islands with open arms, open hands, and open hearts. Huliau–the Return Voyage represents a return to what my ancestors lived: inclusion of all parts of creation – human, animal, and element.”
In other words, our website was intended to be welcoming. First, to the native people who have been disenfranchised by “Blood Quantum” legislation and told that they are no longer Native Hawaiian. Next, to every soul who can find it in his or her heart to value the truth within this ancient culture and the goodness within these indigenous people.
There has been no litmus test for attending our gatherings. I am ‘Iokepa’s wife and I am an observant Jewish woman from Baltimore. There is love between us, but there is also symbolism, and it is this: Human behavior echoes divinity most starkly in the reach across our differences – in our compassion for the stranger.
'Iokepa and I respect and support one another’s often quite alien cultural beliefs. How could we possibly live within this marriage of ours – and exclude strangers from the journey?