Sunday, August 23, 2009

Musings: A Pono Thang

My former neighbor Andy and I took a walk on the mountain trail this morning, which meant that Koko got to run free with Momi and we got to see ohia still in bloom and uluhe fern clinging to the steep slopes and kukui trees dense in a stream valley and other remnants of the landscape that once was before alien species and agriculture knocked it way back, but not out — not yet, anyway.

Fine rain drifted through occasionally, adding a layer of slick to the clay trail, and thin, misty clouds twined themselves around the jagged slopes of Makaleha. In the distance, a squall could be seen blowing through between Haupu and Kalepa.

When we got back to the road we were treated to a full, arching rainbow, then Jimmy Trujillo drove by, with a big wave and smile, and I thought it was too bad he couldn’t have stopped and joined in the conversation, which at that point had wound its way around to sovereignty again.

Andy and I have different views on the issue, but one reason I like talking to him is I know that while we may not always agree, we at least share core values. As he observed, while some of the comments left on this blog advance good arguments against independence, there’s often an edge to them that’s ugly and alienating.

I was more blunt.

“Yeah, some of them make me think, yes, and you’re one of the reasons why we need an armed revolution, you f*****.”

But those are only fleeting thoughts, since at heart I’m a pacifist, although as Andy noted, Queen Liliuokalani might have had a chance at preserving her kingdom if she would have fought back. Just 5% of the population was haole, he said, and only half of them supported the overthrow.

While I argued that she was obviously aware of America’s superior firepower and didn’t want to endanger her people, Andy thought it more likely she was recalling the brief British occupation of 1843. In that event, which also carried the force of a warship in the harbor, Kamehameha III surrendered, but lodged a formal complaint with Parliament, which repudiated the action and restored the king.

It’s likely that both factors played a role in Liliuokalani's decision to yield her throne:

Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do, under this protest and impelled by said forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

The Queen did appeal to President Grover Cleveland, who supported her restoration on the condition she pardon those who had conducted the coup. She initially balked at that, so Cleveland turned the matter over to Congress, which dithered, as it has a way of doing. The delay ultimately worked against her, as the annexationists were successful in lobbying Congress against the restoration.

In short, she put her faith in the rule of law, but American politics failed her. The rest, as they say, is history.

But as Andy and I discussed, history isn’t static. The independence movement was still going strong in 1897, as evidenced by the Kue petitions, but by the time the statehood vote came up, Andy said, sovereignty wasn’t even being discussed. It didn’t emerge again until the 1970s, as part of the Hawaiian Renaissance.

When statehood was proposed, Andy reminded me, the primary opponents were racists and rich haoles who didn't want to lose power. They liked having an appointed governor who was one of them and could be counted on to do their bidding. Many of the disenfranchised viewed statehood as a progressive thing, a way to gain access to political power.

As Andy sees it, Hawaiians were first taught not to want independence, then they were taught to want it. And you can’t be changing important things like statehood just because a different viewpoint has emerged over the years.

But under that reasoning, we’d be stuck with old, bad decisions forever, I argued. And we’ve made other political changes because people have been taught to change their attitudes toward African-Americans and women.

And that’s why we ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, Andy countered, tongue in cheek.

Sigh. Yup, no doubt about it, such changes are often slow, or incomplete, in coming. But still, if you believe in something, you’ve got to go for it.

Besides, I’m not convinced that the desire for independence was shut on and off like that. I think it’s long been a part of the Hawaiian consciousness, and ironically, it’s even expressed in the
state motto:

Kamehameha III proclaimed "Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka 'Aina I Ka Pono" - The SOVEREIGNTY of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness.

"Ea" doesn't just mean life, it means "Sovereignty, rule, independence"—in fact that definition comes first. Our "state" motto comes from this event in 1843, the first time Hawai'i was illegally occupied. It celebrates the restoration of Hawai'i's sovereign independence, and calls for it to be preserved through pono action.

pono 1. nvs. Goodness, uprightness, morality, moral qualities, correct or proper procedure, excellence, well-being, prosperity, welfare, benefit, behalf, equity, sake, true condition or nature, duty; moral, fitting, proper, righteous, right, upright, just, virtuous, fair, beneficial, successful, in perfect order, accurate, correct, eased, relieved; should, ought, must, necessary.

But what is not "pono" is the state itself since it derives its power from the bad, underhanded, immoral, unjust, unfair, false, incorrect procedure by which the U.S. has acted as though it has acquired but actually occupied Hawaii, while all the time carrying on the motto through the "republic" and through the "territory" and through the "state" that each were the living denial of, the opposite of, the contradiction of.

That’s the core belief that drives so many who support independence. And that’s why it really doesn’t matter whether the movement is popular, likely to prevail or anything else. Cuz it's a pono thang.


Anonymous said...

Well, at least you can comfort yourself with your "moral victory" since no physical victory is ever likely.

Whatever makes you happy...

I, for one, don't see the pay-off in supporting lost causes when there are more productive things I could do with my energies.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that no one chose to address the "Fat of the Land" comment of August 22, 2009 2:02 PM which basically opined, what if everybody knew, but nobody cared?

Comparing this situation to others "fights for rights" in America which involved most of the country's population seems to be apples and oranges.

Maybe Joan addressed it here at the end, where she said acting "pono" was correct no matter if the issue was likely to prevail or not.

I somehow can't see clearly the wisdom of fighting a losing battle, or more appropriately a battle generally unseen and uncared about on the American or world scene.

nowondertheyhateus said...

August 23, 2009 2:32 PM

That is simply because you are an amerikan with an amerikan ╩╗mind╩╗.?

Anonymous said...

“Yeah, some of them make me think, yes, and you’re one of the reasons why we need an armed revolution, you f*****.”

-- good luck on that

"American politics failed her"

-- yep, and the politics of HI during and prior to her time


Katy said...

"I, for one, don't see the pay-off in supporting lost causes when there are more productive things I could do with my energies."

Like trolling, I guess.

Dawson said...

"I, for one, don't see the pay-off in supporting lost causes when there are more productive things I could do with my energies."



Anonymous said...


to have hope and instill

in others the same

to breathe freedom

to share

space,time, love, life, laughter, light
food, shelter, solidarity, liberty, concerns, tears, hugs, walks, stories,secrets,knowledge,truth, children, responsibility, respect,



Anonymous said...

The day that the Hawaiian Islands are no longer strategically or economically significant to the US is the day that sovereignty will have a chance. It could happen, but who would live here if it did?

Anonymous said...

Still, everyone pokes at the low-hanging fruit of the first comment but no one is addressing the first two paragraphs of August 23, 2009 2:32 PM.

Harder to refute, eh?

I know, I's a good fight anyway...the right thing to do...hope springs eternal...etc.

I hear no viable plans though. What specifically has to happen and, of much greater importance, how are you going to engineer it?

Anonymous said...

In reading about the horrible release of the Lockerbie bomber, this snippet came up:

"Some Scottish lawmakers hoped to distance themselves from the decision by Scotland's nationalist administration, which advocates full independence from Britain."

I didn't know that. Scotland, a very loose analogy of a "state" in the "nation" of the UK, has an entire "state government" seeking full independence.

How many in the world know/care about that? What are its chances?

And you "true believers" in Hawaii think anything will change??