Gathering Places


Sunday, July 14, 2002

The King: Kamehameha I had great intelligence, military prowess and political savvy.

The Rocky and
Kamehameha Show

Before the incriminations and deep cultural misperceptions settle in over the development of a film on the life of Kamehameha I ("Hawaiian Studies head fears Hollywood motive," Star-Bulletin, July 4), we could at least consider some cultural precedence.

For instance, Hawaiian scholar Davida Malo praised Kamehameha's sense of fairness, saying, "There were a few just ali'i like Kamehameha I; for he was a just and caring ali'i."

In today's terms, part of the king's "greatness" was due to good public relations. We know this from the commentary of historian Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau, who wrote, "Kamehameha was known as a good provider ... He did this in order that the people might speak of his kindness and of the pains he took to care for the chiefs and people; the orators were instructed to speak of his kind acts."

This is not to belittle the multitudes of acts of kindness, generosity and caring for which Kamehameha is known, but we must recognize that it has been the nature of chiefs to have their lives made "bigger than life" to emphasize their godly descent and mana; their extraordinary powers of strength and wisdom.

The Rock: The man who would be king -- but what kind of legacy would he leave?

With this in mind, the opportunity to have his legacy reach a worldwide audience would be immeasurable. After all, Kamakau surmised that the sight of "a steam engine ... would delight Kamehameha as a result of changing old things for new." However, the justifiable apprehension and fears of this Hollywood production are derived from the motion picture legacy of sensationalism, convenience and pandering to audiences by drawing on themes of violence, overt sexuality and vulgarity.

The legacy known to Kamehameha's descendants and the Hawaiian people is of his great military prowess and strength. But Kamehameha was more than that. He was politically shrewd and understood how alliances worked. He listened to advice and sought the best counsel. He ensured stability by making laws, enforcing them and regulating a governance so that "it was possible for old men and women and children to sleep in safety by the wayside." So great were his accomplishments in achieving the elusive unification of the islands that his deathbed words to Kaikio'ewa were actually a taut to future usurpers of this legacy: "E oni wale no 'oukou i ku'u pono, 'a'ole e pau. Try to undo my legacy of good (pono), you will not succeed."

Will the script writers choose the sensational images of Kamehameha lifting the "Naha stone," or having his head bashed with a canoe paddle when his foot was caught in the rocks at Kea'au, or the infamous human sacrifice of his nemesis and relation, Keoua Kuahu'ula, at Pu'ukohola at Kawaihae, or the so-called pushing of the defending O'ahu chiefs and warriors off Nu'uanu Pali? Probably, because they all have a lot of action.

Will they forget the more important events that propelled Kamehameha to his destiny, such as sending his aunt, Ha'alo'u, to seek the priest Kapoukahi at Kamoku on O'ahu to gain the knowledge of how he might conquer the island of Hawai'i, which led to the building of the Pu'ukohola heiau? So great was his counsel that Ha'alo'u gave the priest her family genealogy as "payment" for the information. The script writers probably will not choose this because it is too cultural.

The film production also will be challenged to strive for authenticity of locations, clothing, mannerism, maneuvers of traditional warfare, and most important of the anachronisms: language. This production, if it chooses authenticity over convenience, may be a tremendous employment and financial incentive for traditional artisans, craftsmen and weekend warriors. If they choose otherwise, it may be more entertaining for local audiences to count the historic anachronisms throughout the film.

We also have seen, with the same apprehension and fear, big-budget films portraying the traditions of Pacific islands that have come and gone like a traveling circus, with much hype and little substance. If the writers and producers take a lesser road, they also may provide the opportunity for Hawaiians to protest; the likes of which we have not seen since the 100th commemoration of the overthrow of the kingdom.

At a time when Hawaiian survival is stuck in legal fights and legislative politics, it might be fortuitous to have a culturally inappropriate film to galvanize Hawaiian organizations and opinions, attracting worldwide attention. What the movie moguls might discover is a different kind of curse, not of the Scorpion King, but of the Warrior King.

Malcolm Naea Chun is a cultural specialist
at the University of Hawaii.

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