Sunday, September 28, 2008

Musings: Lessons from the Past

Stellar, stunning and spectacular would not be superlatives in describing what Koko and I experienced this morning as we walked beneath a sky that was star-dotted and clear, and Waialeale’s summit, too, although clouds were hovering around its mid-section and blowing in from the east, where the light turned first yellow and then fiery red-gold as the sun made a dramatic appearance.

Waialeale was tinted mossy green in the dawn and mist pooled in the valleys of a cool, damp pasture, my favorite place on our walk, because it’s possible to see all the cinder cones and Kalepa ridge and even Ha`upu range. I was admiring the stillness and the beauty when I ran into my neighbor Andy, and his dog, Momi, and we were talking story beneath a tree when suddenly small black carpenter bees began to attack, stinging him in the arm and back, and nailing me on my neck, right above the spine. Koko was unscathed, apparently because she’s so low to the ground.

Neither of us had ever been swarmed by bees before, and we could only surmise that we were either too close to their nest or they didn’t like our politics, which at that point were still on the mayoral race — how did Baptiste capture the Filipino vote and would Carvalho get it this time? — and had not yet touched on his encounter with a woman who was actually going to vote for Sarah Palin just because she hadn’t aborted a Down syndrome baby.

I mean, yeah, yeah, that’s admirable and everything, but since when is it sufficient qualification for holding any office, much less the second-highest in the land?

I’d had the pleasure of hearing Andy deliver an entertaining and informative talk yesterday afternoon on the history of Kapaa, and I was reminded again of how the land, the people and the power structure of this place have shifted over time, yet most of us remain clueless as to what came before.

It seems there are two consistent themes in post-contact Hawaii history: racism and the consolidation of money/land/power into the hands of a few.

The first big money/land/power grab came in 1895, just two years after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, when the sugar planters who had performed the dirty deed and then formed a new government, the Republic of Hawaii, decided that since there was no monarchy, there was no longer any need for crown lands, and so allowed those lands to be sold.

That’s how so many folks ended up with property in Hawaii, and while I imagine they don’t want to think it’s stolen, when you look at the facts, it essentially was.

The second big money/land/power grab came with the adoption of the Hawaiian Homes Act, which set aside for the Hawaiians some crummy lands that the sugar growers didn’t want. This ended homesteading opportunities for many of the non-Hawaiian working class folks who had managed, through previous homesteading initiatives, to get land up mauka, hence the creation of the Kapaa and Wailua Homesteads.

More importantly, it ensured that all land currently in sugar would remain in that use, and ended a restriction that prevented any single entity from owning more than 1,000 acres. And with that prohibition out of the way, it was easy for the plantations to gobble up land to form the vast holdings they still control today.

Finally, those of us who were appalled when the Coast Guard pointed a machine gun at Superferry protestors at the harbor last year might be interested to know that wasn’t the first time that the big guns were called out to put down the people.

Seems the National Guard, which was brought in to suppress striking sugar cane workers, set up a machine gun in downtown Kapaa and trained it on the Hee Fat building — now home of Olympic CafĂ© — where some 400 striking Filipino workers had gathered.

This was during the same strike that resulted in police killing 16 strikers on the Westside back in 1924 in what is known as the Hanapepe massacre.

Never underestimate the power of big business in Hawaii — and government's willingness to accommodate it.

Or the single-minded determination of bees, which were far too busy collecting pollen from the mock orange blossoms to even notice me as I hung laundry on the line, although I, with my neck still smarting, was certainly keeping an eye on them.


Anonymous said...

My sense is that there was a waxing and waning in property control.
In pre-contact, land was entirely centralized in the control of whoever was king.
Then Westerners helped bust the monopoly with the Great Mahele, and the king gave up a vast portion of the islands. The commoners got several thousand kuleana. Chiefs got vast tracts of land. And the crown kept a pile.
My sense is not so much that property transferred from the many to the few, but rather, that the chiefly holdings passed from the Hawaiian chiefs to the Western owners of plantations. In the process, they also took title to a lot of the kuleanas, but these never amounted to a great deal of land (7,000 or so awards, I seem to recall.)

But my sense is that the history was not so much the many to the few, but rather the Hawaiians to the haoles.

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks for your comment, and we are in agreement on the facts. I didn't mean to imply that land shifted from the many to the few -- it was never held by many -- but rather that once it became available for acquisition by outsiders, it was largely consolidated in the hands of the Big 5.

Ed Coll said...

I'm not convinced those are the complete facts since no written record keeping existed in early Hawaii. When Cook arrived Hawaii had already degenerated from a society without a state (the co-operative aapua`a system), practiced by the early settlers from the Marquesas (300 AD). I thought it was a later wave of immigrants from Tahiti(1000 AD), that introduced the chiefs, the Kapu system, and the building of heiau.

Katy said...

also, and just as important, was the radical shift in the way land was used , and the interpretation of "ownership" with the shift to western ways.

Larry said...

Machine guns (actually Gatling guns) were brought ashore and set up by the US Navy during the overthrow. There is/was a picture on the disk version of Microsoft Encarta showing Iolani Palace surrounded by a row of Gatling guns and then an outer row that looks like sandbags.

I'm a couple of computers away from the Encarta that had that pic, so I can't pull it out, but I remember it clearly. Perhaps it is still out there on the web someplace.

Anonymous said...

The Hanapepe situation also involved the kidnapping of established Visayan workers by the newly arrived and striking Ilocano workers.
The police seemed to have been trying to free the kidnapped workers and suppress the strikers when the ginfire broke out.
Linking everything to a repressive plantation structure is a stretch.

Those marginal Homelands you speak of included Anahola and Wailua on Kauai, not so marginal.

Anonymous said...

Joan said, "More importantly, it [the Hawaiian Homes Act] ensured that all land currently in sugar would remain in that use, and ended a restriction that prevented any single entity from owning more than 1,000 acres. And with that prohibition out of the way, it was easy for the plantations to gobble up land to form the vast holdings they still control today."

I'm not so sure about that, Joan. I beleive that the plantations acquired their lands from the Ali'i in the 1800s long before the 1920 HHA.

Joan Conrow said...

Yes, they did acquire lands from the Alii, but they expanded those holdings once the 1,000-acre restriction was eliminated.

Anonymous said...

You did a good job of sharing my comments except for one point: 1895 did not mark the beginning or even the high point of plantation control of Hawaiian lands. It did make more land available for plantation ownership and with the Hawaiian Rehabilitation Act (Hawaiian Homes Act of 1921) ensured their control of good sugar lands through lease if not through ownership

Several of your readers made good points, too. Certainly most of the land that got into the hands of the of haole was purchased directly from the chiefs as in the cases of Kealia and Waipouli. Most of the Crown Lands actually did not end up being owned by the planters [even after 1895], although some did, as in the case of some of the Kapa`a lands. Much Crown and Government lands remained in their control as leased lands, since these lands were not included in the Hawaiian Homes lands, but were no longer available for homesteading either.

The reader's comment that the Hawaiians got good land at Anahola is debatable. Those parts of Anahola that are Hawaiian Homes lands were, for the most part, not lands the plantations wanted. The lands at Wailua were good sugar lands, but they only became Hawaiian Homes lands in the last few years as a result of a land swap with the state--long after they stopped being used for sugar.

Larry's comment that he had seen a picture of the U.S. Marines surrounding Iolani Palace with gattling guns and sandbags is way off base. The U. S. Marines actually remained on the sidelines--a street away (kitty-corner) from Iolani Palace and the Hawaiian Government Building--although certainly near enough to be perceived as a threat and they did have gattling guns. The quite famous picture of the sandbags actually was taken in December of 1893, almost a year after the revolution, and the "soldiers" pictured are not U.S. Marines but supporters of the Provisional Government worried about a counter-revolution that didn't materialize until 1895.

A lot of the issues are really very complex and don't lend themselves to the kind of back and forth any blog provides.

Andy Bushnell

Anonymous said...

The Sinclairs bought Niiahu, well over 1,000 acres, in 1865. After that they bought the ahupua'a of Makaweli, again way over 1,000 acres, in the late 1860s. How does this square with the claim that they were limited to 1,000 acres? Please explain.

Joan Conrow said...

To Anon. 9-29 9:51 pm
The 1000 acre limitation was part of the Organic Act, the act passed by the United States Congress in 1900 that goverened Hawaii as a Territory. It applied to any purchases after that date. The 1000 acre limitation was not in force at the time that the Sinclair/Robinson clan made their purchases.