Friday, October 3, 2008

Musings: Walk Softly

Few things are more delightful than walking on a carpet of flower petals, which has been the case in my yard lately with the mock orange hedge blooming profusely and dropping its white blossoms onto the lawn enmasse.

It’s pleasing to both the bees, and me, although Koko took far more pleasure in the screeching chickens that worked her into a frenzy of thwarted chase during our short walk this wet morning, as small patches of sunlight peeked through puka in an otherwise gray sky.

I observed a few pinpoints of light at yesterday’s otherwise dark Burial Council, which turned into nearly five hours of impassioned, intense testimony that made it difficult to stay and impossible to leave. In the end, the matter of whether Joe Brescia should be allowed to build his oceanfront house at Naue atop burials that are encased in concrete was deferred to the Council's November meeting.

I’ll start with the most inane quote of the day, which was uttered by Pua Aiu, administrator of the State Historic Preservation Division, when several people asked why men with guns were in the room. She replied that she had requested DOCARE officers because of “unruly meetings in the past” and noted: “They come with guns. That’s how they come equipped.”

As Sharon Pomroy wryly observed, standing up and holding the traditional wood staff carried by Hale Mawae: “Guns are here because there’s a Hawaiian with a stick in the room.”

At the request of Chair Mark Hubbard, the three state enforcement officers did leave the Council Chambers and spent the rest of the day hanging out in the heat and humidity on the front steps of the Historic County Building. Some Kauai cops also showed up because people had called them to complain about the DOCARE officers. It was not only an utter waste of da guys with guns’ time and taxpayer money, but a tragic commentary on the climate of fear that seems to pervade the state when it comes to Hawaiians and their issues.

The last time I saw armed officers at a meeting was when Office of Hawaiian Affairs hit the road to explain to folks why its proposed settlement with the state was such a good deal. Strange, that the two state agencies that deal most closely with Hawaiian issues are so quick to call in the guns. Could it be because they know best how badly the kanaka are getting screwed?

As Tracey Schavone, who is not a kanaka, noted in her testimony to the Council: “It’s very disturbing to think, this is a Hawaiian issue, and oh my god, they think they need to have guns in the room.”

Yes, at times passions did run high and some of the speakers refused to obey the chairman’s three-minute testimony limit, but the worst thing that happened were some raised voices, and surely we can all handle that without armed intervention.

What mostly struck me about the meeting, though, was how this entire process is so anti-Hawaiian. The whole business of digging up burials and numbering them and discussing them in public is antithetical to the Hawaiian culture, as are burial treatment plans and such “preservation” methods as concrete caps and jackets.

Then there’s the business of proving that one is a lineal descendant in order to have access to burials. That process requires kanaka to write down their geneaology, which is then verified by a state geneaologist and becomes public record. As Jeff Chandler, a descendant of the Naue burials who has balked at the application process, explained at yesterday’s meeting:

“My family geneaology is kapu. It is not to be written down to be passed on to those it doesn’t belong to. The state’s idea of geneaology is not cultural practice.”

If the Burial Council needs to know his family’s geneaology, he said, he would bring in his nephew to recite it in Hawaiian, which is the only way it is supposed to be shared.

At the meeting, I was sitting next to Keala Kai, whose grandfather once owned land not far from the Brescia property, but was forced to sell it decades ago because of the rising taxes. He recalled childhood days spent on to the land, which the family used as a campsite for summertime fishing trips. They always followed the same paths to the beach, he said, and didn’t go off messing around in the bushes. They were especially careful of where they went to the bathroom, and his uncle had planted large trees in some spots to protect the burials and make sure nothing was built over them.

Keala said his grandfather always told him: “Walk softly, boy, get plenty ohana around here.”

And that, in short, is what's wrong today. The people who knew enough to walk softly, the people who co-existed with the remains of their ohana, have been largely displaced from the land, primarily due to economic reasons. What followed was wholesale desecration, including entire sand dunes dug up and replaced with resorts, until the Hawaiians finally reacted at Honoakhua, Maui and said: "Enough."

So the state, which view resources as commodities, created a process that allows the desecration to continue, so long as you have the proper permit. And the kanaka, meanwhile, have to jump through state-created hoops that are designed to deter them in order to gain formal access to the burials that they previously lived with in a natural, informall way.

It’s pretty disgusting, and distressing, when you look at the big picture. But after the meeting, when I was talking to some folks outside in the parking lot, one friend summed it up perfectly. Gesturing to the historic county building, he said, “You can’t be expecting justice in there. It’s set up for the perpetuation of commerce, and the protection of private property.”

So if the kanaka cry and raise their voices and pound their staffs and get a little bit loud and emotional at a meeting called to determine whether a vacation rental spec house should be built atop a cemetery, well, maybe now you can understand why.


Katy said...

This an marvelous post, Joan. Thanks.

Katy said...

Ooops - "...a marvelous post," I mean.

awolgov said...

Does anybody know if the Burial Council will expedite recommendations? That no house should be built over the burials, no cement encasements and activity to stop...activity must stop at this point; If it hasnʻt Brescia should be racking up daily fines for every day he continues.
Judge Watanabeʻs decision denied a restraining order for the burials that were already tampered with and desecrated, saying it was moot, but her decision did imply that what is occurring there is wrong so it goes to say that all activity should cease at least with respect to the remaining burials.
Maybe Murakami will be advising the council. I certainly hope so because judging from the lack of response by those people yesterday, theyʻd probably need a little push to get going.
Placing, procrastinating in a way, expectations on the next meeting in November to resolve anything is kind of dangerous I think.
Maybe at the same time Murakami could bring counter charges against Brescia. Reverse all charges against the Burial Protectors to Brescia, with more severe charges of course.
That would be partial justice.

Anonymous said...

> Strange, that the two state agencies that deal most closely with Hawaiian issues are so quick to call in the guns. Could it be because they know best how badly the kanaka are getting screwed? <

Buried bodies or superferries, it's the same psychological fear tactic from the same political elites that was used on the only professional journalist on the island to publicly side with protesters: a silent display of big guys with scary guns to send the message, "We're in charge. If you screw with us, do you have any idea what we'll do to you? We'll just let you imagine the consequences."

It's Fearmongering 101, prerequisite for political elites and makers of monster movies alike: never give your audience a clear definition of the threat. Keep them guessing. The more they use their imaginations to fill in the blanks, the more afraid they will be.

Katy said...

But luckily people can reject fear.

Consider the people of Argentina who were literally terrorized by their government in the seventies as the power elite sought to impose radical free-market policies on a society accustomed to decent wages and adequate public safety and services. Dissidents were taken away in broad daylight and torture centers were established in neighborhoods where people could hear the screams of pain. It was an open terror campaign, designed not to merely punish political dissidents but to intimidate others from speaking out. 30,000 Agentineans were "disappeared."

Yet, in 2001, Argentina's citizens were suffering under a colossal economic collapse, and anger was rising. The President declared a state of siege - a familiar terror tactic. Yet rather than buckling under to fear, which recent history would certainly have justified, the people revolted, and took to the streets in a massive and spontaneous uprising. Banging pots and pans in the Plaza de Mayo, shouting "Que se vayan todos," the people drove the president to flee the palace in a helicopter.

They rejected fear. If they can do it, we don't have an excuse not to ourselves.