Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Musings: Belonging

The world was transitioning from night to day when Koko and I set out walking this morning. Overhead, Orion’s belt still shone alongside stars whose names I do not know, while in the east, above the Giant, smoky pink was streaking a baby blue sky.

We walked toward and through pockets of sound: the baying howls of hunting dogs in the valley, the muted roar of wind through the tops of tall ironwoods, the whining hum of an electrical transformer. And as we walked, the heavens turned gold and the birds sang out and Jupiter slipped into a bed of pearl grey fleece that had been laid atop the summit of Waialeale.

It’s hard to describe why I like this time of day so much. It’s partly due to the freshness, the marked absence of human sounds, the undercurrent of excitement that accompanies a new start. But it’s also because I can lose the edges of myself as I move, feeling almost invisible, through the murky light, unseen, yet still a part of what’s unfolding.

In short, I’m at ease in that place of half-light, half-dark, that world on the brink of becoming something else. That’s where I feel most that I belong.

My sister was struck during her recent visit by all the discussion about who belongs here and who doesn’t. She heard people talking about haoles and locals, malihini and kama`aina, residents and visitors, rich and poor, Polynesians and Hawaiians. She heard locals worrying about being mistaken for tourists, and tourists trying to pass themselves off as locals, and she commented on how people seemed preoccupied with sorting one another out, figuring out where they and others belong in the nuanced social circles of modern day Hawaii.

She was particularly amused when the talk turned to who is attracted to whom, like when a local guy asked her, “How is it possible that the local brothers have ignored you?” and one of my Hawaiian friends sang a song about how the fair skinned wahine tempt the local kane. "It's like there's attraction and rejection going on simultaneously," she observed.

On her way back to America, she stopped in Honolulu to visit an old friend from grade school, a man who had lived on Oahu for 25 years and was married to a Chinese-Hawaiian woman. Yet he was still an outsider, he told my sister, and he always would be. They were joined by one of his daughters, who attends Kamehameha Schools, as did her mother, and the girl spoke at length about hapa haoles and Eurasians and the ethnic composition of her classmates, and who was pairing up, and the obstacles and opportunities presented by one’s skin tone.

“Belonging seems to be such an issue there,” my sister reflected when we spoke on the phone, “such a major topic of discussion.”

I wondered about that, and when I saw my neighbor Andy yesterday, I asked him why.

Being a historian, he looked to the past and thought some of it stemmed from Hawaii’s plantation heritage, and the way that different ethnic groups were housed in distinct camps; indeed, they tended to want to live apart, and took pride in preserving their culture, which was reflected in their gardens, their food, their religious worship, their lifestyles and languages.

Though some of that has softened over time, it hasn't disappeared, and it still informs the way people look at one another, especially on an island, where family ties are strong and the borders are fixed and it's more easily determined who is grown here and who is flown here.

But I wondered, too, if this question of belonging isn’t rooted in the uneasy knowledge that Hawaii is an occupied nation, a place that America and its citizenry have claimed, but don’t really own. And even deeper than that, if it’s based in the recognition, deeply buried though it may be, that the ones who truly belong are the plants and animals that evolved here — the endemic species that we’re slowly and surely destroying in our desire to belong.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

How in the world did you grow up to be so "different" (weird)?

What were you like as a child?

Casey said...

Andy's theory makes sense to me. It is a peculiarity of race relations seen throughout the country. After so much effort to integrate people, we still tend to self-segregate.
Secondarily, I think the popularity of Hawaii creates resistance to newcomers. Everyone wants to be local in Hawaii. People who are already "local" have an interest to resist new "locals", since it dilutes the value of the identity.

Anonymous said...

On her way back to America

Corny.

Anonymous said...

Right up there with "The South Will Rise Again!"

Anonymous said...

Hey, You got to live and die somewhere! Might as well be here.

Anonymous said...

Or as the "great one" said, "I have a 'Play the melody' philosophy. It means don't over-arrange, don't make life difficult. Just play the melody -- and do it the simplest way possible.”

Anonymous said...

Speaking of history......other countries got the same "raw deal" being "invaded" (including raping and pillaging plus enslavement)by other races and cultures. It's a Natural phenomenon of the human race.....looking for a better place.

Nothing new under the sun or moon. We have to evolve beyond the hate and now learn to live with each other.

Perhaps we need to practice more Ho opono pono and forgiveness daily?

Dr Shibai

Anonymous said...

As if "belonging" someplace - anyplace - isn't just some construct imposed by somebody with a big fat opinion. Whatever is here at the moment "belongs."

Anonymous said...

mahalo for the reflective post joan

got me thinking of tune i left unfinished....

bury me when i'm dead and gone,
take me home where i belong
where the nights are cool
and the days are long

bury me when i'm dead and gone
cry for me but don't cry for long
you won't miss me when i'm gone
take me home where i belong
and bury me when i'm dead and gone

Anonymous said...

"From the masses to the masses" the most / Revolutionary consciousness is to be found / Among the most ruthlessly exploited classes: / Animals, trees, water, air, grasses . . .

--Gary Snyder, "Revolution in the Revolution in the Revolution"

Anonymous said...

As if "belonging" someplace - anyplace - isn't just some construct imposed by somebody with a big fat opinion. Whatever is here at the moment "belongs."

But do you really belong here, or will you soon be gone? How do you belong here, because you had enough $$$ to buy a piece of Kauai, or do you have roots in the commonunity?Do you care about the people, water and land, or just yourself? if just yourself, you don't belong here

Anonymous said...

But do you really belong here, or will you soon be gone? How do you belong here, because you had enough $$$ to buy a piece of Kauai, or do you have roots in the commonunity?Do you care about the people, water and land, or just yourself? if just yourself, you don't belong here

You prove my point. That's just your big fat opinion. Where, outside your big fat opinion, is there any authority for the notion that someone doesn't belong unless they "care about the people, water and land" or that they don't belong if "they'll soon be gone"? That's your own opinion about belonging. "Belonging" in your sense is just an arbitrary moral imperative that you impose. It doesn't contain any objective truth or reflect any profound insight. It just states your arbitrary opinion that people must share your ecological and social beliefs in order to "belong" and that they must not be nomadic or transient. So, under your regime, a truly nomadic person, one who moves all their life from place to place, actually "belongs" nowhere. Sorry, but your views are cramped and unrealistic.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear an *honest* discussion by joan about her feelings of being an outsider on kauai.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear an *honest* discussion by joan about her feelings of being an outsider on kauai.

I imagine she believes there's an exception for newcomers who exhibit "correct" thinking on an array of hot button issues.

Anonymous said...

The nice thing about living in the United States is that anybody else's opinion that I don't belong here just because I came to work on the construction of a resort property is completely irrelevant. I belong here because I want to be here. It doesn't matter what you think.

Anonymous said...

Most of the people living here know nothing of the "host" culture, except a few words such as "mahalo nui loa", which is written on every politicians/bank executive's letters to the public.

Let's think of it this way: Hawaiians were among a very small group of cultures in world history that never conquered anyone. How can we expect them to understand what it is like to conquer another, different culture? They have no historical reference to that idea.

Anonymous said...

Hawaiians were among a very small group of cultures in world history that never conquered anyone.

That's not true. Hawaiians came in two distinct waves. The second wave by the Tahitians conquered and subjugated the first wave from the Marquesas Islands. Plus, once settled they didn't represent a single polity. They warred and conquered one another throughout their history.

Anonymous said...

Oh, boo hoo for the damn hawaiians, again.

Money talks and "native culture" walks.

That successful agenda has been steamrolling from the east coast over to the west coast and beyond to AK and HI.

You're no longer who you were. You're American now.

Get with the program, or live in self-induced misery. You can do it. Many (most?) of your people have already done it.

Bend with the wind or break.

In America, if you can buy your way in, you belong. Roots mean nothing.

No matter where you go, there you are. Ownership = belonging. Hence the phrase "my belongings" (what I own).

Anonymous said...

I imagine she believes there's an exception for newcomers who exhibit "correct" thinking on an array of hot button issues.

Or become local by the injection method.

Anonymous said...

Or go native.

Anonymous said...

"I got my mind right, boss!"

- Cool Hand Luke

Anonymous said...

"That's not true. Hawaiians came in two distinct waves. The second wave by the Tahitians conquered and subjugated the first wave from the Marquesas Islands. Plus, once settled they didn't represent a single polity. They warred and conquered one another throughout their history."

True: They came in two waves.

False: The Tahitians actually acclimated to the already developed Hawaiian culture.

True: They warred alot but it was intra-cultural warfare, not inter-cultural warfare. They didn't sail over and fight the N.A. Indians or anything.

Anonymous said...

A very small point.

I doubt the defeated "cultural segment" felt that only small changes were being imposed upon it by the victorious "cultural segment".

Didn't those fun-loving Tahitians introduce human sacrifice and the kapu system as well?

Anonymous said...

"Most of the people living here know nothing of the "host" culture, except a few words such as "mahalo nui loa"...."

My transplant neighbor was screaming "you are so pilau" at my other transplant neighbor yesterday - quite proud of her ability to misapply that word. Somewhere in there a nasty "aloha" was also shouted out - translation - "I hate you".

Nasty is still just nasty, and race and culture have nothing to do with nasty. Nice people almost always find a way to belong wherever they live. To me, its kindof that simple. Those who stew in anger, pick fights or disrespect the culture and society around them never really belong anywhere - even among their "own people". This I think the truly pono don't need to spend much time worrying about belonging.


Ah, angry people on an island where the restaurants are increasingly run out of tents and trailers. Calcutta with an edge.

Anonymous said...

As we say in NYC:

"I've got your 'aloha' right here!"

Anonymous said...

still you have to admit, it was a nice post. mahalo joan!

Anonymous said...

"They warred alot but it was intra-cultural warfare, not inter-cultural warfare. They didn't sail over and fight the N.A. Indians or anything."
Hey if your dead and their using your bones to make fish hooks inter and intra ain't going to make much difference.

Anonymous said...

"Belonging" is less of an issue to people. Nowdays, it's more like "I'm living here now for a while...maybe for the rest of my life...maybe not."

We, for example, have never felt the need to "belong". We're just "here", wherever "here" is at the moment.

Loners, I guess. Some people have the need to be surrounded by "community" and "roots".

We don't. Can't really understand those that do. Seems like being dragged down in quicksand more than any comfortable thing.

Anonymous said...

“I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member” - Groucho Marx

If I 'belong' to this group, would I be required to think that I care what you or other group members think of me?

Must I also have your eco-terroristist, pro-sovereignty, anti-government distrusting nature?

Anonymous said...

This is called herd mentality.

Just because everyone is saying something doesn't mean any of it is true.

Anonymous said...

Try LISTENING!

October 1st...Kaua`i Beach Resort 4:30pm; 6:30 pm
formal presentation.
"Na Lani"
Under the direction of
Kumu Hula Kehaulani Kekua.
A Historical perspective.
www.kaieie.org

Anonymous said...

Mahalo Joan for your mana'o.

I pray for aloha and reconciliation among all people on Kaua'i. I am a born and raised Kaua'i Kama'aina but lived on the mainland for many years...too many years of education. My ohana is a mixed bag of Hawaiian, Filipino, Portuguese, Haole, and Japanese.

There are many malihini who are are more "local" or "Hawaiian" than the locals and dare say nominal Hawaiian. There are also many who have no clue whatsoever regardless of race.

If someone truly respects the unique natural elements of Hawaii, respects & understands the history of all the island people, do not take advantage of others, and have true ALOHA they are all right with me regardless of race.

Aloha.