“Underwater Bubbles” by Duncan Rawlinson via CC BY-NC 2.0
Independent Hawaiian futures: Bring on the EA-rator
In college, I competed in 3-meter springboard diving. We trained regularly at the Rose Bowl aquatics facility in Pasadena, but when one of us was pushing our limits and attempting to nail a new dive with a higher level of difficulty, our coach would take us to a pool that had a big aerator, also called a sparger, at the bottom. At the moment when the diver begins their approach, someone on the ground hits a button, signaling the aerator to release thousands of bubbles. These bubbles quickly rise and break the surface tension so that if the diver lands in a flat position, the impact won’t hurt so bad or be so damaging to the body. Without the bubbles there were times when I bruised up my thighs so seriously that the backs were completely purple and it was painful to sit down. Once after the familiar “smack,” I lost my vision for a few minutes after landing face first on hard, unbroken water. The aerator allowed us to attempt new feats with significantly less fear. These thousands of air pockets enabled me to push my body to achieve multiple somersaults and twists while flying through the air at 30 miles per hour.
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“The question yes or no to independence…has in fact brought about a popular mobilisation for radical social change unlike anything we have seen in these islands for a generation.”
Adam Ramsay, Forty Two Reasons To Support Scottish Independence
As a Kanaka who has supported Hawaiian independence for all of my adult life, I watched last year’s referendum on Scottish independence from the UK with great interest. I’ll admit I felt an initial connection because my father was born and raised in the UK. My grandparents are buried there. But what intrigued me and kept me watching the historic vote unfold was how different the debates in Scotland were to the main arguments our movement has been putting forward about Hawaiian independence for the last twenty years or more. To put it in a nutshell: The arguments for Scottish independence are more focused on how independence would make the lives of everyday people in Scotland better.
Adam Ramsay, a Scottish independence advocate who identifies as a non-nationalist, writes that the concrete choice—independence: yes or no?—provoked “the sudden birth of new political imaginary” among his people. For instance, the largest party advocating independence, the Scottish National Party used the opportunity to articulate visions for “a greener Scotland,” in which the people of rural Scotland would be better supported, and for a “a smarter Scotland” in which high-quality, public education from pre-school all the way through university would be free. Smaller, but still well-networked, groups such as the Radical Independence Campaign used the question of independence from Westminster government to emphasize their opposition to UK wars, social austerity and privatization that benefits corporations rather than Scottish people. They explicitly aimed to raise the expectations and imaginations of what is possible, calling, for example, for an end to poverty-level wages. In the midst of the public discourse about independence, Ramsay further explaines that the referendum became an “invitation…to say no to decades of social injustice and sacrifice at the altar of the global market by Conservative and Labour Governments at Westminster, for which Scottish voters did not vote.” The possibility of wresting control from members of Parliament “too distant to be accountable” gave the Scottish people “an opportunity to imagine the kind of society” they could build with independence.
This kind of “new political imaginary” is like an underwater aerator. Thousands of bubbles arise from below and break the surface, what we ordinarily see as a hard line between “reality” and the seemingly ridiculous ideas that might be beneath it. This essay is an invitation for Hawaiians to expand our collective political imaginary. Let us generate visions for Hawaiian independence, of ea, so that they may rise to disrupt the surface tension of settler colonialism and release our people from fears of getting hurt by our own liberation.
“In Hawaiian, the past is referred to as Ka wā mamua, or “the time in front or before.” Whereas the future, when thought of at all, is Ka wā mahope, or “the time which comes after or behind.” It is as if the Hawaiian stands firmly in the present, with his back to the future, and his eyes fixed upon the past, seeking historical answers for present-day dilemmas.
-Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa, Native Land and Foreign Desires, p.22
“The future is fundamentally plural and open–an arena of possibilities, and not of discernible inevitabilities”
-Jim Dator, “The Future Lies Behind”
Around the time that Scotland was gearing up for their referendum, I sat in a two-day symposium at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Various Hawaiian independence folks had been invited to come and share mana‘o. During one presentation, an older Hawaiian man (whom I won’t name) representing one of the Kingdoms said that the deoccupation of Hawai‘i would be like a corporate takeover: nothing would change except the government in power. He seemed to say this as a way to allay fears that those of us who support independence often encounter. Now, putting aside the fact that corporate takeovers frequently create violent and disruptive change, his statement struck me as profoundly unhopeful. It let our imaginative capacities off the hook far too easily. Why would we want independence if the deplorable conditions for Kanaka Maoli and for underprivileged settlers in Hawai‘i under US occupation wouldn’t change? In that moment, I longed for an aerator. We should expand our political vision and nurture a profusion of visions for independence, bubbling up so as to break through the anxieties that stifle various possible futures.
Futurist Jim Dator encourages us to think about the future(s) as “an arena of possibilities,” rather than a pre-determined path ahead. His brand of futures work begins with taking history seriously, and here’s the thing: “The future” truly is behind us, in the sense that we cannot see “it” as an empirically measurable reality.
So, how can we stretch our imaginations about possible futures, especially because such visions impact the conditions of the present? Kameʻeleihiwa offers a useful starting point with her metaphor that shows how Hawaiian perspectives of time reverse dominant American ways of orienting oneself to past and future. What if we were to alter and extend her metaphor (and put aside the part about how Hawaiians rarely think about the future)? Rather than standing still, we might think of Kanaka moving, walking backward into possible futures, ka wā mahope.
As people who honor our kūpuna, Kanaka ʻŌiwi know that to lose sight of our ancestors is to lose our way. So, we keep our eyes fixed on those mo‘olelo, those figures, those kūpuna of ka wā mamua—the time we can see—to provide direction while backing carefully across a landscape of possible, but not unlimited, futures. Thinking about such movement, we can see how small shifts in our view point(s) into ka wā mamua can create major change in the possibilities for ka wā mahope. An almost imperceptible turn to the west might not be so noticeable now, but it can mean a significant change in course when extrapolated over a long journey into ka wā mahope. Think of the way a canoe makes a tiny adjustment in direction, and after a few days of sailing the difference in destination is hundreds of miles. What I am proposing here is one such small shift. Let us put more energy toward envisioning the kind of lives we want to live in a self-governing Hawaiʻi, rather than focusing so heavily on the legal aspects of sovereignty and recognition.
For example, within the independence movement, I have seen discussion stall and relationships break down because of disagreements over which constitution from the Kingdom era is the legally “right” one to restore. Or within the larger community of those who support some form of Hawaiian self-determination and sovereignty, the debate is often framed as a binary choice between independence and domestic dependence as a “nation-within” the US. This polarizing frame has stymied richer, and I believe, more important discussion about questions of what we want our governing processes and structures to look like, no matter what external power recognizes them.
As an advocate for independence, I would like us to first be asking questions like: What will Hawaiian independence mean for the young man who currently works landscaping for the wealthy? What will it mean for the senior in Hawaiian Studies who loves her class on Hawaiian fishponds but doesn’t yet see a career path that utilizes this knowledge? What will independence mean for young parents thinking about their kids’ education? What will it mean for the family dealing with substance abuse and a houseless loved one? What will it mean for the kupuna who has just retired but deals with regular health costs to treat her diabetes? How can we craft visions and arguments for independence that start with these people?
What I am asking is that we focus more of our collective energies and conversations as Kanaka on articulating the futures that we desire, in full color detail.
“The future has been colonized. It is already an occupied territory whose liberation is the more pressing challenge for the people of the non-West if they are to inherit a future made in their own likeness.”
-Ziauddin Sardar, Rescuing All Our Futures
Thinking about our futures does not mean forgetting our past, ka wā mamua. In fact, for peoples who have been forced to live under settler colonial and imperialist regimes that enforce their realities upon our lands and bodies, our pasts provide vast resources for re-imagining and reclaiming our futures. The remainder of this essay describes one example of community-driven futures thinking that draws heavily on ka wā mamua.
For 50 years from 1843-1893, ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea celebrated Hawaiian national independence on July 31st each year. After a rogue British captain claimed the islands for Great Britain, Hawaiian emissaries secured the restoration of sovereign government. The occupation that had lasted for five months ended with Union Jack’s being pulled down and the Hae Hawai‘i restored, along with legitimate government. After a formal ceremony at the newly-named Thomas Square, King Kamehameha III proceeded to Kawaiaha‘o church and famously proclaimed, “ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono ” “The sovereignty of the land continues through justice and proper acts.”
Following this historic proclamation, the first festivities of Sovereignty Restoration Day lasted over a week the Hawaiian nation annually celebrated Ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea as a national holiday. But this national holiday was purposely squelched as the US attempted to naturalize its occupation of the islands. According to Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, the celebration of Ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea in Honolulu was revived in 1985. Uncle Kekuni was one among a new generation of aloha ʻāina, including others like Uncle ʻĪmaikalani Kalāhele, and Auntie Terrilee Kekoʻolani, who worked to bring this holiday from ka wā mamua back into view. In 2005, Uncle Kekuni passed the kuleana of lead LHE organizer to teacher and community organizer, ʻĪmaikalani Winchester (who also happens to be my love and kāne).
The celebration of ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea has become an important tradition in the life of our family and our extended ʻohana of friends and lāhui-lifters. This year, I hoped to use ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea as an opportunity to nurture the kind of “new political imaginary” that Ramsay witnessed in Scotland. I wanted to hit the ea-rator button and to release some bubbles of our ea up from the depths.
For the last two years, a loose collective of poets and musicians has participated in a community-building event in conjunction with ka Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea. We call this annual gathering in the malu of the Ko‘olau mountains, Nā Hua Ea. For us, this name signals the living, breathing words/fruits of our political, social and cultural autonomy. By sharing our mele, our spoken word, our vulnerabilities, our strengths and our stories over lots of ‘awa, we renew our love for Hawaiian independence, for our ʻāina and for each other. This year’s event included some amazing collaborations, including a collective reflection on Ea and Mauna a Wākea by Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada, Aiko Yamashiro, Ellen-Rae Cachola, Noʻu Revilla and Jamaica Osorio; a mother-father-and-daughter call to aloha ʻāina by Maile, Hanohano and Kapili Naʻehu from Molokaʻi; and an intensely rousing and hopeful rendition of Hawaiʻi ʻ78 by Kaumakaʻiwa Kanakaʻole, Shawn Pimental, and Paula Fuga.
Throughout this year’s Nā Hua Ea event, we asked people to contribute ideas to a collective dream board that invited “reasons for Hawaiian independence.” My goal was for us to hit forty reasons. We asked folks to avoid legal reasons, focusing instead on ways that ordinary peoples’ lives would/could be made better by independent governance. Inspired by the power and potency of the poetry and music we heard, performers and audience members contributed a host of beautiful reasons. As I transcribed these hua from bright-colored post-its onto the computer, they began to form a poem unto themselves:
Reasons for Hawaiian independence
To become whole again
We will value and care for our ancestors again
E Hoʻoulu, e mohala
Ancestors breathe free
America has FAILED to honor Aloha ʻĀina
Because stealing is wrong
Because you can’t have a continental mentality on an island
Reimagine & recreate our communities ❤
We will remind each other of our vastness
We are not islands in the sea. We are a sea of islands.
We will raise our children with moʻolelo & aloha ʻāina education.
Health of the land
No nā keiki
To keep the sacred sacred
Hoʻomana ka poʻe Hawaiʻi
So that we can love differently
To learn liberation & teach our families
Prioritize the health of the people & the health of the land over profit
We will become gardeners again & grow our own food J
We can create an economy based on human needs
We will govern ourselves from the ground up
To show the world what happens when Aloha ʻĀina & Kapu Aloha are upheld & honored
Peace & Growth
A week after Nā Hua Ea, the 172nd annual Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea was celebrated at the historic Thomas Square. This event offered a second opportunity to stretch our collective political imaginary. For the last several years, MANA movement for aloha no ka ʻāina has organized and run a discussion tent at LHE. Typically we hear reports from the front line of various struggles, or we debate current issues impacting Hawaiians, or we share relevant histories. This year, MANA ran workshops to prepare people for action on various fronts, namely Mauna a Wākea and Haleakalā.
As part of this series, Tuti Baker and I co-facilitated a session on envisioning Hawaiian futures, so that we could extend the independence reasons board to include more detailed visions for independent Hawaiian futures based in specific ʻāina. We invited the 24 participants to form small groups and design objects from their preferred futures. (This activity was inspired by the Situation Lab’s imagination-strengthening game, The Thing from the Future.) Each group’s scenario began with the prompt, “The US has withdrawn from Hawai’i…” Each group then randomly selected different timeframes and different environmental conditions related to climate change, for which they would be designing. The groups also collectively selected a particular ʻāina in Hawaiʻi, usually a place where at least one of the group members reside and/or work. It was in this place-based context that they would embed their design and story about the object they imagined. The participants included both Kanaka and friends from other lineages and ethnic backgrounds. It included young folks in their 20s and silvery-haired elders. Some were excited about the possibilities. A couple outright refused to play along. Tuti and I held our breaths.
By the end of the hour, the designs and the visions for preferred futures blew our minds! One group created a water wheel that would be used in conjunction with the traditional ‘auwai system in Mōkapu. A community warning system was embedded into the wheel’s multiple functions, since they anticipated more frequent and heavy storms. Another group created a diagram showing their preferred economic system for the Kapālama ahupuaʻa in which precipitation patterns had changed. Another group rejected our instruction to design an important object from ka wā mahope. Instead they presented an oli (chant) and argued that what will be most transformative is the new vibration created by our future voices in connection with our gods. One commonality that ran through all the groups’ conversations and visions was the central importance of water in our collective futures.
As the closing activity for this design session, we asked the partipcants to contribute a reason for independence. Here are the forty reasons for Hawaiian independence that we generated.
- Life, land and work/labor will be sacred, thriving and abundant.
- Each ahupuaʻa will work harmoniously in trade/barter honoring, respecting and appreciating each other.
- We can live within the lifecycle, find alternatives to capitalism, a system which threatens all in a greater context, and evolve a larger concept of reason and logic which takes on a bigger concept of reality than the current rubrics.
- We can live and build communities that put care for the land at the center.
- We will know deep love for our neighbors and ourselves.
- We will produce more water by restoring loʻi-constructed wetlands.
- We can honor our ancestors.
- We will have our own health systems.
- We will rediscover ourselves and in this way rediscover our place in the world.
- Hawaiians can call Hawaiʻi
- We will be sustainable and GMO-free.
- We can be self-sufficient again, just like our ancestors were.
- We can love and obey Ke Akua by feeding and healing our people.
- We will purge our land of foreign Gods who choose to have dominion over the ancient landmark of our Sovereign Gods.
- We can make an ahupuaʻa 100% self-sustainable again. Free energy. 100% food production. We can make each homestead 100% sustainable.
- Social & environmental transformation faces too much inertia in the current US system.
- Hawaiian values will be re-centered, versus trying to push from the periphery.
- We will have our own fishponds.
- We will not pay rent or land tax in the form of money.
- We can trust the wisdom of our kupunas, regarding land and people.
- We can live together in a way that holds in view our impacts on each other.
- We will share the surplus (abundance)
- Holistic healing and nutrition will be frontline in our health care future, with surgery and pharmaceuticals as last resort.
- We will produce our own energy.
- We can own up to the truth and begin healing.
- We will have autonomy to determine how to relate to our land, our people and other peoples/nations.
- We will have a better quality of life without all the unnecessary development and high cost of living.
- We will be self-sufficient AGAIN!
- IRS will be obsolete in our government.
- We will be able to end colonialism and restore respectful relations between people.
- We as kamaʻāina, as Hawaiian nationals, not only as Kānaka but especially as Kānaka, will be healthy and happy as people.
- We will end the diaspora and brain drain.
- We can create opportunities for youth and all ages to create an economy of place.
- We shall follow the wisdom and knowledge of our kupuna who were able to sustain a population of nearly a million without Matson.
- We will be able to reconnect our cultural foundation and true stewardship to this ʻāina, because once this connection returns the ʻāina will return.
- We will not have to struggle with money.
- We will value labor with livable wages so folks only need one job instead of two or three.
- We can convert US military housing into affordable housing to address the issues of houselessness currently seen in our islands.
- We can create a health care system that truly values ʻohana by providing ample family leave for infant/toddler and elder care.
- We can break from the US’s serious and inherent problems with racism.
When I posted these reasons on Facebook, people immediately began identifying and discussing items that they liked and ones they questioned. Success! The point isn’t to create a list of bullet-proof reasons but rather to provoke debate, reflection and action.
As Hawaiians, we have come a long way since the early 1990s, when the reaction one would get from uttering “Hawaiian” and “sovereignty” together in the same sentence was as though you were cussing. I recall back then hearing people literally gasp if someone said “the s-word.” Although the broader public in Hawaiʻi today is much more conscious of the injustices of history there is still palpable tension, even within our own communities, when we speak of political independence as a possible future. Kanaka have been battered and silenced, so its not surprise when we fear being further bruised, broken or blinded by that tension.
This should only renew our resolve to exercise and expand our collective political imaginary. We must keep challenging ourselves to envision and create a self-determined wā mahope. Some further questions we might ask toward that end can include: Who is our political community? What resources and issues are we governing? What would self-governance processes look like, and would they look the same for all different kinds of resources and issues? What do we think about “home rule” at the island, or moku, or ahupuaʻa level? Are we satisfied with representative government, such as in a republic like the US? Are there ways to create direct democracy for certain issues/resources? What do we think about organizing the islands as a confederacy? Or do we prefer a federation? What other alternatives have we not yet imagined?
In the summer of 2015 we may have come up with only forty reasons, but these will multiply. May four hundred, four thousand, forty thousand, four hundred thousand visions for Hawaiian independence bubble up and burst through the surface into the freedom of our ea.