Famous Are the Flowers: Hawaiian Resistance Then--and Now | The Nation


Famous Are the Flowers: Hawaiian Resistance Then--and Now

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Elinor Langer
Elinor Langer, a member of The Nation editorial board, is the author of Josephine Herbst and A Hundred Little Hitlers:...

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Accustomed to trampling democracy at home, jingoists cannot be expected to see its virtues abroad.

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In mid-1845 King Kamehameha III and his legislature received petitions from the common people of several islands warning that the sale of land to foreigners, their appointments to government offices and their induction as citizens should all be stopped. "The selling of lands to outsiders is not a wise course," said a petition from Kona. "If you wish to sell or lease the lands you should sell or lease them to your own people. By so doing the lands will remain as your own and you will continue to reign over the Hawaiian people and the country and everything in Hawai'i will not be taken away." "It is not proper that any foreigner should come in and be promoted in your kingdom, among your Chiefs and your people," argued a petition from Lāhainā. The whole idea of foreign citizenship was called into question. "What is to be the result of so many foreigners taking the oath of allegiance?" the Lāhainā petitioners asked. That "this kingdom will pass into their hands, and that too very soon," they answered themselves. "We, to whom the land has belonged from the beginning, shall all dwindle away."

What is remarkable about these petitions is not only their indication of the strength of the connection between the people and their sovereign, nor even their prescience in anticipating the effects that the incorporation of so many foreign elements would bring; it is that only twenty-five years after the New England missionaries began the work of creating a Hawaiian alphabet from the sounds of their unwritten language, the petitions were all in writing and that a mere six years after a declaration of principles of government informally known as the Hawaiian Magna Carta had begun to spell out the rights of ordinary citizens and limit those of the monarch, the rudimentary constitutional government to which they were addressed was well in place. While much of what came in with the foreigners has often been rejected or repudiated, the tools of literacy and democracy were quickly put to use.

The society the Native Hawaiians were seeking to preserve with their petitions was a stable, well-ordered hierarchical world in which the sense of belonging was so natural that no one could ever have noticed its existence until the way of life everyone had so naturally led had disappeared. It has been described in a recent comparative anthropological study as having the "most complex [social organization] of any Polynesian chiefdoms and probably of any chiefdoms known elsewhere in the world" at contact. From the first settlements, now generally thought to have been by voyagers from the Marquesas or Tahiti who arrived around the time of Christ, the small populations of all the islands gradually expanded in terrain, from the windward coasts into the leeward areas, and in numbers, until somewhere around 1100, when they were joined by a second migration, from Tahiti, which continued for a few hundred years. It is from this mix, during the period roughly between 1100 and perhaps 1600 or 1700, that the society now referred to as ancient Hawaiian civilization--with its distinctive technological accomplishments in aquaculture and agriculture, its distinctive cultural achievements in oral poetry and dance, and its distinctive combination of religious and political power--gradually solidified.

Described variously as feudal or communal, depending on the preconceptions of the observer, Hawaiian society as it existed at the time of European contact appears to have had one particularly notable feature: that however specialized and stratified social functions and social relationships might be, they were intrinsically reciprocal. This was particularly true of the relationship between the ali'i, the chiefs, and the maka'ainana, the common people, whose rights to the land were guaranteed regardless of changes in the fortunes of the high-ranking konohiki, or overseers, or even of the chiefs themselves, as a result of wars or other familial or political challenges. "A stone that is high up can roll down, but a stone that is down cannot roll" was the saying that articulated this principle. One of the many sources of the bond between the chiefs and the people was, as it always is, war. Although the dates are not firmly established, it appears that at least by the beginning of the eighteenth century a process of consolidation of separately ruled chiefdoms on each of the major islands, by war, was largely completed and by the end of the century the four separate island kingdoms of Ma¯ui, Hawai'i, O'ahu and Kaua'ī, but particularly Māui and Hawai'i, were each trying to consolidate the whole. It was a long, ambitious effort, involving major movements of men and supplies, taking place on both sides of European contact and before and after the incorporation of European weapons and ships. It was also exceedingly bloody. As most visitors today know from the signs atop the pali where it took place, about 10,000 warriors died in the 1795 Battle of Nu'anu alone, in which Hawai'i conquered O'ahu .

The unification of the islands at the same time that they were discovered by the West is the central fact of modern Hawaiian history, for it meant that just as the nation was coming together, the culture that made it one was coming apart. From the weapons demonstrations provided by the first white sailors who ended up staying on the islands, which helped King Kamehameha win the wars, to the diplomatic guidance provided him by British navigator George Vancouver, which helped him get his bearings in the world, the establishment of the united Kingdom and the influence of Westerners were intertwined. Everything that happened occurred against the backdrop of the European and American presence, including the famous events of 1819 celebrated throughout Christendom when, shortly after the death of Kamehameha, his chiefly successors renounced their native gods without ever having seen the first missionaries, who arrived the following year. By that time Western commercial traders had been flooding the country for more than a quarter-century, and their impunity from the tabus of the Hawaiian gods as well as their immunity from the diseases decimating the people were hard to miss.

As gaping as the religious void was a political void. With the previously unknown islands suddenly at the center of a burgeoning tricontinental trade in fur, sandalwood and whale oil, there were tasks to be performed for which the Hawaiians in their self-contained development could not possibly have been prepared. When the legislative council responded to the Lāhainā petitioners' request that the foreigners in the government be dismissed with the question, "If these shall be dismissed, where is there a man who is qualified to transact business with [other] foreigners?" they were not simply being self-serving, they were also being practical.

The most important business involving foreigners around the middle of the century--probably more far-reaching even than the treaties initiating the new Kingdom into the web of nations--was the introduction of private property, the conversion of the ancient system in which the land was used rather than owned into a system in which it could be bought and sold, a transformation known as the Māhele. Both the rationale and the process of the Māhele, whose aftermath is still in dispute, are too complicated to be briefly summarized, but it is the cornerstone of the subsequent development of the islands. When the initial land awards were completed, 70 percent of the maka'ainana had lost the rights to the land they and their ancestors had long enjoyed, and the acquisition of land by foreigners on which the great fortunes of the islands rest even today was well under way. It is difficult to imagine anything harder to bear for a people already bearing so much than the loss of their land. In the roughly fifty years between the Māhele and annexation, the native population approximately halved again, from 88,000 to about 40,000. In addition, with the expansion of the sugar industry beginning around the same time and the deliberate importation of foreign labor to keep the new plantations going, particularly the Chinese in the 1850s and the Japanese in the 1860s, Hawaiians were soon a much smaller percentage of the population as a whole--about half in the 1880s, about a quarter at annexation. Without a place in their own society, many natives who did not die of disease died of despair, a phenomenon noticed by European and Hawaiian observers alike. "The people dismissed freely their souls and died" was the Hawaiian way of putting it. It would be wrong to oversimplify the relationships between Europeans and Hawaiians. Among the Westerners from many different countries who left their mark on the new Kingdom were those who respected Hawaiian civilization as well as those who mocked it, those whose learning helped preserve some of its cultural treasures for later generations as well as those whose actions hastened their decay, those with genuine feeling for their Hawaiian wives, mistresses, friends and colleagues and those whose only feeling was for themselves. Whatever the character of individuals, however, the consequences of their collective presence--Hawaiian losses and haole gains--remained the same.

When David Kalākaua--the first monarch not of the direct Kamehameha lineage to rule the islands-- became King in 1874, he took as his motto Ho'oulu Lāhui: Increase the Nation. "I shall endeavor to preserve and increase the people that they shall multiply and fill the land with chiefs and commoners," he said in one of his first public speeches. Kalākaua is the most controversial figure in Hawaiian history, more so even than the Queen, his sister and successor. He is applauded and condemned in different quarters today almost as passionately as he was when he lived, in part because his legacy is so complex. Not only did he strengthen the Kingdom abroad through an unprecedented round-the-world voyage during which he impressed dignitaries from Tokyo to London with his intellect and sophistication--he also weakened it at home, where he undermined the balance between native and foreign power maintained by his predecessors by capitulating, under threat of force, to the aptly named 1887 Bayonet Constitution, which expanded the power of the latter at the expense of the former. Not only did he strengthen the nation's identity through such unifying symbols as the 'Iolani Palace and the statue of Kamehameha the Great, which still grace Honolulu today, he also weakened its security, particularly by the 1887 renewal of the 1876 sugar-inspired reciprocity treaty with the United States, which involved the first official abandonment of Hawaiian territorial sovereignty: the cession of Pearl Harbor. Controversial financial charges against Kalākaua, ranging from reckless extravagance to personal corruption, have also never gone out of circulation. Undoubtedly the principal reason for the continued debate about Kalākaua's place and stature is his continued relevance. He is one of the major links between the old Hawaiian civilization and the contemporary sovereignty movement. When he brought the missionary-outlawed hula back into public performance, when he set up a genealogical board to verify and record the true family histories of the endangered ali'i, when he created the semi-secret society Ka Hale Nauā--Temple of Wisdom--to preserve traditional forms of knowledge of the earth, sea and sky, he was giving his people back their interupted history. When he held his formal coronation and other public celebrations on the palace grounds, he was reinforcing a connection between the monarchy and the people that would help give them something to hold on to. While it is Lili'uokalani who is generally credited with leaving behind the legal framework that has made it possible for later generations to challenge the legitimacy of her successors, it may well have been Kalākaua who kept alive the love of the Kingdom that accounts for the outpourings of the 1993 centennial in the first place. The identification of the Hawaiian people with the monarchy is very strong. A few weeks after the coup, a musical friend of Lili'uokalani's was asked by members of the Royal Hawaiian Band who had refused to sign the new government's petition for annexation to the United States to write them a song that would express their loyalty to the Queen. You will not be paid... You will have to eat stones... is what they were told. The result was "Kaulana Nā Pua," Famous Are the Flowers, the "pua" frequently also translated as "children" or "descendants" but always meaning something growing out of and belonging to the land:

Kaulana nā pua a'o
K ū pa'a mahope o ka 'āina
Hiki mai ka 'elele o ka loko
Palapala 'ānunu me ka

Pane mai Hawai'i moku o Keawe.
Kōkua nā Hono a'o Pi'ilani.
Kāko'o mai Kaua'i o Mano
Pa'apū me ke one

'A'ole 'a' 'kau i ka pūlima
Maluna o ka pepa o ka 'enemi
Ho'ohui 'āina kū 'ai hewa
I ka pono sivila a'o ke kanaka.

'A'ole mākou a'e minamina
I ka pu'ukālā a ke
Ua lawa makou i ka pōhaku,
I ka 'ai kamaha o o ka 'āina.

Mahope mākou o Lili'u-lani
A loa'a 'ē ka pono a ka
(A kau hou 'ia e ke kalaunu)
Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana
Ka po'e i aloha i k

Famous are the children of
Ever loyal to the land
When the evil-hearted messenger
With his greedy document of

Hawai'i, land of Keawe, answers.
Pi'ilani's bays help.
Mano's Kaua'i lends support
And so do the sands of

No one will fix a signature
To the paper of the enemy
With its sin of annexation
And sale of native civil rights.

We do not value
The government's sums of
We are satisfied with the stones.
Astonishing food of the land.

We back Lili'u-lani
Who has won the rights of the
(She will be crowned again.)
Tell the story
Of the people who love their

Soon the new government's demand that the band members sign "the paper of the enemy" had become a rallying call. In 1893 the people of Hawai'i had not yet lost their language--that would happen under the Territory--but even as they did, they kept this song. When it was revived by a leading popular musician near the beginning of the cultural revival in the 1970s, it fit right in. When it was sung--in Hawaiian--to the great throngs on the 'Iolani Palace grounds in the 1993 commemoration, the crowd knew the words.

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