Sunday, November 2, 2008

Musings: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Hunger, and the thunking-thumping, rustling-rummaging of a rat — which still has Koko whining and pacing — woke me up early, so we went out walking beneath a sky where Orion was directly overhead and the Big Dipper, handle down, had risen not much earlier in the east. It was a comforting celestial continuation of the sunset action of the past two nights, where flashy Venus has been cozying up to a golden crescent moon.

As we walked, the stars gave way to clouds and the struggling sun turned the sky above the still sleeping Giant the yellowish-purple of an old bruise. Sheets of traveling rain drew a thin curtain over Kalepa Ridge and drifted our way, dampening us, but not our spirits.

It was easy to feel the spirits of those who came before, as well as those who are here now, while sitting on the grass at Ka-ulu-o-Laka heiau at Ke`e yesterday afternoon. As a man chanted and tapped out a steady beat on a pahu (drum), traditional ho`okupu of ti, taro, sweet potatoes and a garland of lauwa`e fern were placed on an altar dedicated to the goddess of forest and dance. In the background, waves broke on the rocks and birds occasionally broke into song.

As a helicopter droned overhead and lifeguards shouted orders through megaphones to tourists on the beach below, I found it remarkable that Hawaiians have managed to hold on to their culture at all — the chants, the dance, the language, the rituals of protocol — amid the continuing crush of Westernization that nearly extinguished, and still threatens, their race.

It was heartening to see that a halau hula (hula school) had been there earlier, leaving its own offerings of ti-leaf lei. This is one heiau that is cared for and still used in traditional ways, although it gets its share of well-intentioned, but inappropriate, offerings like crystals, “rock laulau” (pohaku wrapped in ti leaf), oranges and heliconia.

At the end of the ceremony, one of the men spoke of the importance of caring for the ancient sites, the sacred places that serve as a physical representation of the culture and offer a link to the past. So many have been lost, and most are under the auspices of the state, which tends to have a different idea than Hawaiians on how they should be interpreted and maintained.

Several tourists were among us at the heiau, and many more had gathered earlier to watch and take pictures when the lua boys arrived with their offerings at the beach. All but two complied when asked not to take photos during the kava ceremony, where the offerings were dedicated, and they all joined hands, then sat in a circle with the rest of us. Afterward, many came forward when Dallas Watanabe, who manned the kava bowl, invited them to try the traditional drink.

It was nice that they were included, and it struck me that these tourists, in the Islands for just a few days or weeks, expressed more interest in and respect for the Hawaiian culture than many folks who were born here or have lived here for years.

Because it’s clearly a lack of respect that prompts people to build their homes on top of burials, to pursue developments that make it economically unfeasible for Hawaiians to remain in their homes and homeland, to promote unrestrained tourism that drives locals from their beaches, to pursue an ostentatious lifestyle so at odds with local culture.

I missed the dawn blessing that paid homage to the iwi kupuna, the bones of the ancestors, now encased in cement on the Brescia property, but I stopped by there on the way home and looked in and saw the offerings and lei that had been left on the burials, never mind the locked gate.

Aside from the foundation, no additional construction has been done on the house. I don’t know if they’re waiting for materials or the final decision of the Burial Council or what, but it’s obviously on hold, unlike the giant eyesore being built right next door. This used to be one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline on Kauai. Now it’s a rich person’s ghetto, packed tight with oversized, overpriced houses that completely miss the point of their stellar surroundings.

It’s become, like Ke`e, a place where what’s happened to it makes it a place where I no longer want to go, and I thought of how many desecrated places like this there are around Kauai now, and throughout the Islands, the world, and I wondered, as I often do, whether those resisting the madness, the disrespect, will be overwhelmed, or somehow prevail.

And then the lyrics of a Mana Caceres song came into my head:

They took the land, they took aloha, overtook the Queen even though they didn't know her, suppressed ikaika, evict kupuna from the `ohana, but they couldn't take the mana, but they couldn't take the mana.


Anonymous said...

no can take!

Anonymous said...

“crush of Westernization” [on Hawaii]

I was thinking about that some. A few things came to mind:

1) “West,” as used here, means ~ “Caucasians of European decent” I would imagine (and does not reference in any way philosophical schools of thought originating from ancient Greece).

2) Yet the Asian culture (and bloodline) impacts Hawaii as well – is that viewed as a 100% benevolent and productive phenomena? I ask as I am reminded of a Hawaiian girl who once shared with me her dismay that persons of Japanese decent seem to have largely captured Hawaiian civil service jobs to the exclusion of Hawaiians (and of course feel free to claim otherwise; I don’t claim to know either way).

3) It would be interesting to map out the ~ “state of affairs” of the various “Polynesian” islands. Has “western” (as defined above) society/rules/technology/etc had a net positive or negative effect on them? (And leave out disease, thanks). Has the longevity rate gone up? Are persons less healthy now? Perhaps I am unrealistic in getting an informed response on that, but I am hopeful.

4) Would modern medicine, consumer products (cars, cell phones), and/or infrastructure (roads, sewer) be seen as ~ “a western development” or just the trappings of any “modern society”? If these things are viewed as a net good, are the dynamics that bring them here also them good? Or is that unfairly pitting (and measuring) a small geographic area against one vastly larger?

5) Seems to me that one of the current lasting impacts of anything “Western” in Polynesia is that there are so many Christians out I do follow the “crushing” parallel to some extent, at least in the Salem, Massachusetts sense.

6) Economic gentrification is due to a “lack of respect?” News to me. I thought it had to do with public policy (planning), the body politic (informed voting), and space on the one hand, as well as varying degrees of economic opportunity/luck combined with hard work and freedom of choice.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts on the above.

Katy said...

A new book, "Asian Settler Colonialism" is due to be released in November.

According to the invite to the launch party at Native Books in Honolulu (which I wish I could attend), in the book
"contributors from various fields and disciplines investigate aspects of Asian settler colonialism to illustrate its diverse operations and impact on Native Hawaiians. Essays range from analyses of Japanese, Korean, and Filipino settlement to accounts of Asian settler practices in the legislature, the prison industrial complex, and the U.S. military to critiques of Asian settlers' claims to Hawaii in literature and the visual arts."

Contributers include Haunani-Kay Trask, ku'ualoha ho'omanawanui, Healani Sonoda, Momi Kamahele, Kyle Kajihiro, Karen Kosasa and
Ida Yoshinaga.

I think that Anonymous above might want to read this book to gain a nuanced understanding of the topic.
I certainly look forward to reading it myself.

In my opinion, the historical context of migration from Asia to Hawai'i compared to migration from the US cannot be ignored in the discussion, particularly when accounting for questions of class and capital. And I believe an examination of the type Anonymous calls for would benefit from nuance, instead of what I believe is implicit in the questions above: that somehow by pointing to the actions of other people we can absolve ourselves of our unique responsibility.

The fact remains that we cannot know how Hawaiian society would have evolved over the last few hundred years in the absence of colonialism, because the process was interrupted as soon as settlers imposed a new set of social norms upon the existant society here.

That imposition through force is the issue - not the merits of I-Pods or other trivialities.

Of course, the development of a hyper-consumerist society based on profit is taking an undeniable toll on our ability to thrive, so calling modern or western values into question where they contribute to this is, in my opinion, a valid endeavor.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (November 3, 2008 2:00 AM) makes interesting points -- but leaves out the concept that overarches them all: the disenfranchisement a peoples' culture. The disassembly of the threads that weave through generations. The dispossession of the values that frame a world view. The replacement of majority with marginality, of mana with money, of pride with shame.

From Kokopelli on cheap coffee mugs to kupuna covered in mansions, that is disrespect!

Joan Conrow said...

#1 Yes, West as used here means Europeans generally and America specifically, since it's the occupying nation.

#2 Certainly Asians have had an impact that isn't entirely benevolent, but not so much as the West.

#3 I think you would find throughout Polynesia, and in Hawaii, that Western food has resulted in significant health problems that probably have shortened many lives.

#4 Remember, Iolani Palace had electricity before most of the US, so I imagine Hawaii would have all the trappings of a modern society, even if it hadn't been colonized by America.

#5 Yes, the Christian influence has played a very big part in the crushing effect.

#6 I don't object to economic development. But I do see gentrification as often — but not always — being disrespectful because it tends to promote a way of life that isn't compatible with what I know of Hawaiian values, in terms of showing off, being ostentatious and holding oneself apart from the community.

It also serves to reinforce the more-bigger-better message pushed by America, so it further overwhelms those traditional/local values.

But mostly it's disrespectful when it fails to take into account burials, access ways, view planes, or even such simple things as the effect of building a big two-story house that looks down on, and crowds, the simple, small one-story house next door, and drives up their property taxes to boot.

I guess it all comes down to what kind of attitude the economic gentrifier has.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

"...such simple things as the effect of building a big two-story house that...drives up their property taxes to boot."

That's really not correct, Joan. Building improvements are valued separately from the land. It's the land that been inflating tremendously. The building of homes is only the symptom, and result, of the increased demand for land. It's this increased demand that moves the prices/values up not the building of a house or a mansion which only increases the property value by the cost of the improvements. The improvement costs have zero effect on the value of neighboring properties which are valued using what improvements they bear. So, it’s the demand for land that effects the older smaller houses and drives up their values and, resultantly, their property taxes.

Joan Conrow said...

Yes, but the high land cost and big house go together. When people buy expensive land, they feel compelled to max out the structure they put on it. So together, it does work to drive up property values.

To Katy and Anon. 7:29 pm -- sorry it took so long to post your thoughtful comments. This comment moderation function is often annoyingly delayed.

Anonymous said...

Joan, I respectfully submit that you missed, yet made my point. The building of the mansion has no effect on land values which have already escalated due to a high demand and a limited supply. That is reflected in the inflated price paid for it. If a rich newcomer pays a high price for a neighborhood lot then builds a shack or nothing at all, the buyer has still upwardly effected the values of surrounding lots. The building of a mansion on that lot does not effect neighboring values. The improvements are not in demand. Any one can build a mansion. Contractors and building materials are easy to obtain. But the supply of lots (land) is limited which causes the land price to rise. Recognizing this key difference is important to understanding some of what's going on here.

Joan Conrow said...

I understand what you're saying about the limited land supply, and how demand increases/inflates prices. And I must confess that I don't really know anything about how the county assesses property values/taxes, since I am not a property owner. So I will defer to you on that.

Don't you think, though, that land prices would be driven even higher in a neighborhood where people had built mansions, as opposed to one with shacks?

Anonymous said...

1) The term “occupying nation” is accurate terminology? Surprising.

3) Have the longevity rates increased, as measured against 1900, 1800? (and if reliable states are available from 1800, that would be impressive). I wonder how it compares to the stats on Native Americans (as the "western" fast food diet has certainly not done them any favors).

4) Is anybody suggesting that if Hawaii were still an independent monarchy, or something similar, that its infrastructure would be comparable to what which exists today? I am curious as to how that would have been financed. Tourism? Off-shore banking? I give those two examples as they are plausible, especially the latter (though offshore banking I do not think was as popular/profitable from 1900-1960 as it was from 1970 onwards). And yes, I recognize this is a heck of a thing to guess on, but I would like views on it. How one would replicate the federal monies a state gets...I dunno (but hey, small jurisdictions like Singapore and Cayman have done quite well so...)

5) I notice the missionaries usually only go where it is warm. I find this very funny.

6) If a group of persons (or a developer, as they tend to plan this) want a small, enclosed, quiet, secure, and isolated place to live with just a few homes around which are out-of-sight (ie, big lots separated by trees) I do not see the problem with that. It is a matter of choice. I suppose if one wanted to they would extrapolate out the phenomena and claim it will lead to “this” and “that"...though I was under the impression I could live in the sort of neighborhood I wanted to. Is this not seen as a reasonable view?

Otherwise way-to-go poster on being aware of the "Asian Settler Colonialism" book...that is a heck of a radar you have.

And I hope my comments are not seen as taking shots at anybody/group etc (as doing so is pretty easy, but not nearly as fun and interesting as poking around in search of brutal accuracy).

Thanks for the responses.


Anonymous said...

Joan said, "Don't you think, though, that land prices would be driven even higher in a neighborhood where people had built mansions, as opposed to one with shacks?"

I quite agree since as the neighborhood becomes increasingly desireable with newer and larger homes, the folks with kala tend to bid up the prices to acquire one of a limited supply of lots.