Friday, May 21, 2010

_KAILUA_ : The Book as Plural Pronoun

I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to un-link two intellectual and cultural movements now current at the University of Hawai`i. One involves the ongoing recovery of Hawaiian language, orature, literature, and culture, a project that has gained momentum since the 1970s. The other is a critique of Asian settler colonialism (by implication also White Settler Colonialism) set forth in Candace Fujikane's and Jonathan Okamura's recent anthology of essays, Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai`i. University of Hawai`i Press). When these two ways of thinking are linked, this happens: "You can’t talk about alliances between local non-Hawaiians and Hawaiians. If you’re not Hawaiian, you’re a settler and part of the colonial problem." If we cannot make alliances, then how are we to oppose the scourges of militarism, over-development, and an economy almost exclusively dependent on tourism, to say nothing of education, the losses of social services, and so on? If we cannot make alliances, then how can we celebrate culture(s) rather than argue issues of who came first? If the settler/native divide is seen as a permanent condition, then how can we together deal with Hawai`i's tragic and often criminal history?

A new book published by the Kailua Historical Society provides some clues as to how to celebrate Hawaiian culture, while decoupling that celebration (and grieving) from the divisiveness of "settler colonialism." In her introduction to the beautiful and incisive volume, Davianna Pōmaika`i McGregor describes the book this way: "There are memoirs and documents which introduce the reader to a succession of resident families who are Hawaiian, Haole, Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese, military, and multiethnic." She then discusses the mo`olelo retold by Kahikina de Silva, stories that are used to critique contemporary Kailua, describing "the underlying message of this work" as "those who live in and enjoy Kailua should work together to re-connect with and care for the land and water resources of their ahupua`a. This involves a respect for the indigenous spiritual knowledge of the land and the Native Hawaiian ancestors who provided stewardship for the `āina (land)."

There are myriad directions to go with this book, but the one that drew me in was linguistic. (Another worth taking is photographic; not only are the archival photographs amazing, but so are contemporary photographs by the team of Piliāmo`o, or Mark Hamasaki and Kapulani Landgraf.) While I'm accustomed to reading experimental poetry that uses several languages at once, while I sometimes listen to gypsy punk by Gogol Bordello delivered in American English and Ukrainian Russian, and while the linguistic field of my daughter's soccer team is mixed Pidgin and Standard English, most of the non-fiction books I read are in one language. This book is different. While most of the essays are in English, the mo`olelo are cited in Hawaiian (`oiwi) only, and vast stretches of de Silva's text exists in a between-language, one that assumes prior knowledge of Hawai`i. While some Hawaiian phrases are put in quotations, hence, "With our persistent endeavor to 'nānā i ke kumu,' we ensure that the ensuing ponds and tributaries run clear" (Kahikina de Silva), most are not. Gone are the italics of old, or the quotation marks. What remains are sentences in which many of the nouns (at least) are Hawaiian. In introducing the selections from a traditional epic, Makalei ka Laau Pii Ona a ka I`a o Moa-ula-Nui-Akea i Kaulana, or "the story of the sudden loss and slow restoration of pono to Kailua," de Silva writes sentences like this one:

"As a piko, then, Kawainui joined the people of Kailua with their gods, their neighboring ahupua`a, and their own ali`i and fellow po`e kānaka."

Non-translation goes both ways, of course, suggesting at once the inability of English to convey Hawaiian cultural markers, even as it invites the non-Hawaiian speaking reader to learn these markers by way of context, not via a rote exchange of words. (There are perhaps metaphors of economy to be found here, as translation-by-exchange more resembles capital, while translation-by-example is a less abstract condition.) These sections of the book, marked by their appearance on goldenrod colored paper, record problems in governance among Hawaiians who lived in the Kailua area. In her retelling of the mo`olelo, de Silva critiques contemporary capitalist practices--those that are transforming Kailua a generic town of adobe-colored store fronts and a Whole Foods-to-be, rather than essentializing them as belonging to Haole, or Asian, "outsiders." "'Makalei' reminds us that each boundary is in fact a point of connection as much as it is one of separation; that ahupua`a, though self-sustaining, are necessarily cooperative entities; and that simply living on the land does not make one a contributing, symbiotic part of the land." The boundaries that connect are the ones to hold close.

My in-laws live in Lanikai, a section of Kailua that has, over the past several decades, been "discovered" by the rich and famous and by tourists. Where the once wide beach could be walked in solitude even when I first moved to Hawai`i (1990), it is now covered with sun bathers at most hours. The beach has shrunk; sea walls have taken their toll. If you want to avoid the crowds, you have to get there early; my mother-in-law takes her hour long morning swim before 6 a.m. most days. While you can find out on-line that Lanikai means "royal sea," Kailua tells us that its original name was Ka`ōhao. Lanikai, it seems, is the "real estate name," rather like Hawaii Kai on the other side of Makapu`u. This word means "fishing ground," so much of what follows is about fishing, including an interview with Linda Mahoe, married for many years to Solomon Kalapawai Majoe, Jr. who fished the area for decades. (Kalapawai is a name familiar to anyone who buys wine, beer, sandwiches or coffee from the store just off Kailua Road and close to the beach.) Jiro Tanabe's oral history is called, tellingly, "Kailua: When I Knew Where Everybody Lived." The photographs from the early 1900s show us why; there are a few small houses next to the beach, and a road (still there), even a sign (LANIKAI), but little more than that. Now you would see a line of fenced off mansions along the shore, and older single-wall houses farther in, remnants of the pre-discovery days.

The book's last chapter (before the "Afterword") concludes de Silva's retelling of "Ka Makalei A Kawainui"; she acknowledges the "odd choice" of Ka`ōhao as a place to restore and perpetuate Hawaiian sensibilities. True to the history, the story ends before it concludes well; a mystery remains of how to find a missing boy, "reconcile him and his honorable lineage" so that "Kailua will be restored." While de Silva notes that Samuel Keko`owai, who published the mo`ōlelo in 1922, had a target audience of Hawaiians who still spoke Hawaiian and "who were still immersed in their identity and culture," this publication opens that audience up to those who now live in Hawai`i. De Silva makes the stories public to "promote an awareness of the history of this ahupua`a and our individual places in that history." I take the pronoun to be inclusive, her non-translations of Hawaiian word-concepts to be the very boundaries that hold us close. The pronoun "we" is inevitably fragile; that is why it is so worth defending.

Contributors to the book include John Culliney, Carol Silva, Paul Brennan, Maya Saffery, Jane Allen, Diane C. Drigot, Deborah F. Dunn, Sally-Jo Keala-o-Anuenue Bowman, Brett Uprichard, Kihe de Silva, Charles "Doc" Burrows, and others. They range from scholars of Hawaiian culture and language to scientists to linguists to long-time residents of the area. Design by Barbara Pope Book Design. You can order the book here, by following the "purchase information" link. I purchased my copy at Bookends, Kailua.

A side note that is not one: While reading the section on Maunawili by Paul Brennan, I came upon the story of Princess Lili`uokalani's 1881 accident in Maunawili. She was later taken back to Honolulu on the steamer owned by a Waimanalo friend. In 1893 that friend, along with her friends in Maunawili, opposed the overthrow of Queen Liliu`okalani. One friend (John Adams Aolani Kuakini Cummins) was tried for treason in 1895 and plead guilty. His great-great-grandson coaches my daughter's soccer team.

[my son and mother-in-law on Lanikai Beach; behind them are the Mokaluas]

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