Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Hawaiian papers reveal native pride

Some 75 newspapers of the
day embody protests

By Noenoe K. Silva
Special to the Star-Bulletin


E Hoi Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono.

So read a Jan. 20, 1893, headline in the Hawaiian-language newspaper Ka Leo o ka Lahui: "The Sovereignty of the Land Should Be Returned As Is Just." It topped an editorial that spoke strongly for Hawaii's continued independence, and thus, against the overthrow of the monarchy.

Ka Leo o ka Lahui is among more than 75 Hawaiian-language newspapers preserved on microfilm. Many political in nature, they comprise a rich archive of Kanaka Maoli, or native Hawaiian, thought which has often been ignored. And forgotten.

During my doctoral studies in political science, I reviewed how Hawaii's history was written, and discovered that history books did not concur with what I had seen in the Hawaiian newspapers. In fact, Kanaka Maoli rarely appear in these books.

Histories are mainly the stories of Europeans and Euro-Americans in Hawaii using mostly English-language sources. But these describe only one side of what has been a continual struggle, from the arrival of explorer Capt. James Cook until now. From the Kanaka Maoli perspective, the newcomers have always sought to exploit the land and subjugate the native people. And the Kanaka Maoli have always fought back in varied ways, mainly nonviolent.

The anti-annexation struggle is a prime example of how Kanaka Maoli have been made invisible.

The fight against the annexation treaty was carried out by three large organizations: the Hui Aloha 'Aina for Women, with about 11,000 members; the Hui Aloha 'Aina for Men, about 10,000; and the Hui Kalai'aina, 17,000-20,000. In 1893, these groups protested the overthrow of the monarchy to James Blount, the United States' representative.

Protest documents that include some of the above appear in English in the 1894 Blount Report. But U.S. historians have displayed an astounding lack of curiosity. Apparently, they consider a political force of 11,000 women in 1893 to be of no importance.

Even if they were interested, American historians would not have learned much more from archive documents since none could read Hawaiian. The stories of the huis were written only in Hawaiian in the newspapers.

The U.S. takeover of Hawaii also caused Kanaka Maoli to lose their native language. Most of them today cannot read the large archive of newspapers so cannot contest the invisibility of their ancestors in the history books. It is only through efforts to revitalize the Hawaiian language that more and more are able to read what our kupuna wrote.

It is essential we keep that movement alive so that, among other things, we can recover our true histories.

One devastating result of the absence of our ancestors from history books is the impression left that the Kanaka Maoli passively accepted all the harm done to them: the loss of land, of language, of national sovereignty. This then feeds the negative stereotypes of this century: that Kanaka Maoli are lazy or incompetent, or as John Dominis Holt put it, are simply "cute, all-abiding nincompoops certainly inferior as humans and in need of being looked after by superior beings."

Research of our native-language archive proves those negative stereotypes false.

If children can be taught the true story of the struggle of the Hawaiian people, they will learn that nearly the entire population pulled together to fight annexation; that the leaders of the huis were educated, literate and eloquent in both Hawaiian and English, and that they have a long history of nonviolent resistance of which they can be proud.

Noenoe K. Silva, born in Honolulu of Kanaka descent,
was raised in Kailua and in California. She is teaching this summer
at the Center for Hawaiian Studies at UH-Manoa, and has a
Bachelor of Arts degree in the Hawaiian language and
a Ph.D. in Political Science.

About this Series

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin is counting down to year 2000 with this special series. Each month through December, we'll chronicle important eras in Hawaii's history, featuring a timeline of that particular period. Next month's installment: July 12.

Series Archive

Project Editor: Lucy Young-Oda
Chief Photographer: Dean Sensui

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