Friday, October 8, 2010

_The Value of Hawai`i_(Part Two), & other synchronicities

Just a few jottings, as we are preparing to host Jules Boykoff, Kaia Sand & their daughter, Jessi, for a few days . . . yesterday, my English 100A class finished discussing Jill Yamasawa's documentary book of poems about McKinley High School, Aftermath. The book is notable for the way it links McKinley's military tradition to the school's current militarization (recruiters just off campus, needing to fill the maw of the Iraq/Afghanistan war machine), as well as the way it shows us the confusing and complicated lives of its students. It contains a photograph of Daniel K. Inouye, famous graduate of McKinley, and such a war hero that the Washington Post recently referred to him as more important the Hawai`i's history than Kamehameha, whose armies united the islands. I notice the article has changed title from "King of Hawai`i" to "Hawai`i's Reigning Son."

I went nearly straight from class to the second installment of the English department-sponsored teach-in's about The Value of Hawai`i: Knowing the Past, Shaping the Future, co-edited by Craig Howes and Jon Osorio. I blogged about the introductory segment here. This panel, composed of Kathy Ferguson, Davianna McGregor, and Ramsay Taum, focused on militarism, tourism, and sustainability in rural communities on the neighbor islands. And so Daniel K. Inouye re-entered the conversation. Oddly, having just told my class that Sen. Daniel Inouye, not Sen. Daniel Akaka, gets the bumpersticker "Dan," I heard Ferguson say the same thing. He's that important here.

Kathy Ferguson (who co-authored an essay with Phyllis Turnbull) talked about what will happen when he is no longer Senator Inouye, when his considerable power to bring us military pork, is gone. The military will leave Hawai`i eventually, was her point, and we need to prepare for that time. Evidence of the military's increasing disinterest in Hawai`i is the move of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, where Ferguson claims there is less organized resistance to the military presence. (Ask Craig Santos Perez about that.) Ferguson referred often to a book she had written on the military, asserting, with some irony, that it is "sacred ground." As Taum later pointed out, that was a pun. The military operates on Hawaiian sacred ground, even as it makes itself inaccessible to researchers like Ferguson, or to journalists. While tourism has its own UHM department and attracts the attention of many scholars and writers, the military controls its own information, as well as a great deal of land on these islands.

Davianna Pomaka`i McGregor talked about communities built upon subsistence farming, fishing and hunting: places on Moloka`i, rural Maui, and Lana`i that are overlooked by the state's powerful politicians on O`ahu. Among the projects she sees endangering the cultural kipuka she talked about is a wind turbine farm on Lana`i, which would be composed of 200 towers, each on the equivalent of a 40-storey building. These would block access to sea and mountain, among their other aesthetic problems. The power would, of course, all be sent to feed O`ahu's hungry maw.

Then it was Ramsay Remigius Mahealani Taum's turn. If everyone in Hawai`i carries their paradoxes on their sleeves, then his are long and especially fascinating. He graduated from Kamehameha, where he was a member of ROTC. He was admitted to West Point and the Air Force academy, opting for the latter. (Kamehameha was himself a military man, Taum noted.) He is also involved in the tourist industry. From there things get more interesting. What he does is to work with big companies coming in to do projects--companies like Disney. He confronts them with the need to talk to local communities (not just native Hawaiians, but Hawaiians who live in the area where the project is being developed). Even as he is well aware that they will eventually leave, he tells them they have a responsibility to the place once their debt is cleared or their profit is made. So he spoke as someone quite militant about the need to support Hawaiian culture, but he spoke in acronyms and puns (kaona!) that made him sound like a military man delivering a power point. The combination was, at first confusing, and then started to make sense in the way so many such joining of opposites begin to come into focus.

Later in the day, in the infamous Kuykendall 410 conference room, Adam Aitken read from his poetry. I tried to give a sense of Australian poetry--where it is, how it got there--but fear I mostly just talked a lot about Frank O'Hara, about whom Australians seem obsessively interested. Adam's own poems are conversational, place-oriented, like O'Hara's, often witty, but engage a very different field--his inheritance as the son of a white Australian father and a Thai mother, his travels in Malaysia and Cambodia, his clear fascination with languages and film. Once his guard was down a bit, Adam's wit came through. "I wrote a poem for the King of Thailand," he announced at one point, as if it were the usual thing. And then there were the difficulties of translating one poem into Malay, where there is only one word for insect. How to translate a line that distinguishes between an insect and a "bug"? "This was not an insect; it was an insect."

Ah, language. Buy Adam's latest book here.

Better yet, seek him out. (He's on facebook.) The out of Australia book prices are very high, but I know he has some with him.


Adam Aitken said...

Thanks very much Susan for mentioning my book, but I wish I had gone to the Value of Hawaii session. I was caught up in my ongoing attempt to get a US Social Security number (so that the university can actually pay me) though my trek through downtown Hawaii and back gave me something to blog about in relation to my own strange status here as a Visiting Writer and as a tourist.

I do have discount copies for anyone who wants to buy one and they can order one from me (adam dot aitken @ optusnet dot com au)

Adam Aitken said...

Hi Susan

I just found out Amazon are flogging my book for $43.

Fuck that, get in touch with me and I will sell it for $15 plus postage.