'King' leaves paradox untouched


POSTED: Thursday, May 21, 2009

One of the most puzzling questions of Hawaiian history is why Kamehameha named his son Liholiho as his political heir in 1819 but bestowed custody of the war god, Kukailimoku, to his nephew Kekuaokalani.





        » Place: Kumu Kahua Theatre

» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 7


» Cost: $16 general (discounts available)


» Call: 536-4111 or go to www.kumukahua.org




Kamehameha's uncle, Kalaniopu'u, had made similar bequests a generation earlier when he named his son, Kamehameha's cousin Kiwala'o, as his political heir, while giving Kukailimoku to Kamehameha. The result was a lengthy civil war that ended with Kiwala'o dead and Kamehameha taking by conquest all that his uncle had given to Kiwala'o.

With that as precedent, why did Kamehameha do the same thing?

Three Hawaiian activists—two of the them radicals, the third sufficiently moderate that one of the others tauntingly calls him “;haole”;—explore that question in “;Waiting for a King,”; one of two one-act plays that opened last week at Kumu Kahua.

Wil T.K. Kahele gives the story its foundation as the dying king. In Kahele we see a great monarch struggling to ensure the survival of his people and their nation. Which of three would-be successors is best suited for the task?

» Kekuaokalani (Moses Goods III), staunchly traditionalist, wants to enforce the kapu, resume human sacrifices at the heiau and keep the haoles at arms' length, by force if necessary.

» Liholiho (William “;Kal-El”; Murray) wants to learn about the haoles' technology and culture. He seems aware that he is not ready to rule, but is willing to do his best.

» Ka'ahumanu (Annie Lokomaika'i Lipscomb) is out for herself. The first item on her agenda is destroying the entire religious-based kapu system that restricts her access to the highest levels of political power.

Kamehameha describes his nephew as being “;of the past,”; his son as “;of the present”; and Ka'ahumanu as being “;of the future,”; and makes his allocations of power and influence accordingly. Unfortunately, despite the modern characters' heated discussions about how Kamehameha “;saw the future,”; playwright Krystal H. Ontai doesn't explain how he didn't “;see”; that Liholiho would be marginalized and die young, and that Ka'ahumanu's reign as kuhina nui would set in motion the chain of events that resulted in the Great Mahele, which made private land ownership in Hawaii possible, resulting in alienation of Hawaiians from their land.

“;Waiting for a King”; is a fine showcase, however, for Goods and Murray. Goods plays the voice of reason, self-improvement and multiculturalism in the role of the moderate activist but as Kekuaokalani plays a man so filled with love for his people and hatred for the haoles that his rage is palpable. Murray goes in the opposite direction, first playing a man who blindly blames everything on haoles and the Hawaiians who emulate them, then touching the heart as Liholiho, a young man determined to do his best even with the awareness that it might not be good enough.

THE SECOND one-act, “;Kalua'iko'olau,”; by Kemuel DeMoville, is more stylized. Moses and Murray return as hikers who meet an old Hawaiian woman in Kalalau Valley and gradually realize she is the ghost of Pi'ilani, the wife of Kalua'iko'olau, the man known to history as “;Ko'olau the Leper.”;

Pi'ilani's account of her family's experiences, originally written in Hawaiian and in the first person by Hawaiian journalist Kahikina Kalekona a century ago, is the touchstone of an inspirational tale of love and resistance. As expanded by DeMoville and directed by Harry Wong III, the story is told in bold visual style with hula and Hawaiian chant as well as English dialogue. Anyone not fluent in Hawaiian will miss much of Pi'ilani's narrative, however, and might want to read the English translation of Kalekona's story.

Lipscomb portrays Pi'ilani as both troubled spirit and loving wife and mother. Kahele has a supporting role as a modern-day valley resident who warns the newcomers that the streams are polluted.