Ua mohala: Notes on Remembering our Queen

Ua mohala: Notes on Remembering Our Queen

by Noʻu Revilla

On January 17, 1893, Queen Liliʻuokalani and the Hawaiian Kingdom were illegally overthrown by a group of American thugs. Our Queen faced not only this Provisional Government but also more than 150 armed American soliders, who had landed with the American warship USS Boston after U.S. Minister and annexationist John L. Stevens claimed that American lives were under threat. To avoid bloodshed, Queen Liliʻuokalani temporarily yielded her authority to the judgement of the United States – not the Provisional Government. I repeat, not the Provisional Government. Queen Liliʻuokalani’s formal letter of protest against the overthrow is but one of many documents that testify to the resistance of Kanaka Maoli against American colonialism.

To commemorate our Queen’s protest in a raw, public manner, I wanted to organize a performance on UH Mānoa campus. As an instructor of first-year compositon in the English Department, I am aware of how many students do not know about the overthrow, how many students confuse Hawaiian activism with unprincipled rage, and worse, how many students truly believe that resistance is un-Hawaiian. Inspired by Samantha Thornhill’s collective Poets in Unexpected Places, I asked a handful of Kanaka Maoli to join me in a pop-up reading of the Queen’s letter of protest against the Provisional Government:

liliu_nyplFigure 1 The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Liliuokalani, Queen of Hawaii, 1838-1917.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

“I, Liliʻuokalani, by the grace of God and under the constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom. That I yield to the superior force of the United States of America, whose Minister Plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu and declared that he would support the said Provisional Government. Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces and perhaps loss of life, I do, under this protest, and impelled by said forces, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”

One hundred and twenty four years ago, January 17 was a day of great loss and mourning. Indeed the hewa of American colonialism in Hawaiʻi continues to be a heavy and heartbreaking burden. Yet on the steps of the Queen Liliʻuokalani Center for Student Services at UH Mānoa, we six Kanaka Maoli women decided to embrace aloha instead. Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker, Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, Brandy Nālani McDougall, Makana Kāne Kuahiwinui, ʻIlima Long, and myself embraced aloha for our Queen, our lāhui, and our history of aloha ʻāina. Like Liliʻu, these mana wahine embody leadership in our community as artists, scholars, educators, and activists.

We are the multitudes we contain.

Appropriately, our performance began with a mele inoa for Liliʻuokalani, which was chanted by Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua. Next, each of us made claim to our Queen by reading the first words of her letter in succession:

NOE: I, Liliʻuokalani

ʻILIMA: I, Liliʻuokalani

HAILIʻŌPUA: I, Liliʻuokalani

NOʻU: I, Liliʻuokalani

NĀLANI: I, Liliʻuokalani

MAKANA: I, Liliʻuokalani

Liliʻu was the last reigning monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The dead do not like to be forgotten.[1] Inside us, our queen.

After her name, we embodied Liliʻu’s rhetorical wisdom as she strategically identified her Christian faith as well as her constitutional right as sovereign to appeal to the U.S. government.

ALL: by the grace of God and under the constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen,

NOE: do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself

ILIMA: and the constitutional government of the Hawaiian Kingdom

NOʻU: by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom.

Our reading also wove excerpts of poetry by Haunani-Kay Trask, another honorable mana wahine leader in Hawaiian history.

Specifically, Makana Kāne Kuahiwinui read excerpts of “Chant of Lamentation.” According to notes recorded in Light in the Crevice Never Seen, Trask explains, “This poem is a lament for my ancestors, long dead, and for my land, scarred by American greed and cruelty” (25). Throughout our performance of the Queen’s letter, Trask’s repetition of “I lament” provided a haunting refrain: “I lament the abandoned / terraces, their shattered / waters, silent ears / of stone and light” (lines 1-4); “I lament the wounded / skies, unnourished / desolate, fallen drunk / over the iron sea” (8-11); “I lament the black / and naked past, a million ghosts / laid out across the ocean floor” (15-17); “I lament the flowers / aʻole pua” (21-22). Significantly, the imagery of Trask’s lament is ʻāina-based: taro patch, sky, ocean, and flowers.[2]

In Hawaiian composition, the pua, or flower, is a common metaphor for a child. In the beloved mele lāhui “Kaulana Nā Pua,” pua symbolize all those Kanaka Maoli nationalists who supported Liliʻuokalani after the overthrow and opposed annexation to the United States. “Kaulana nā pua a ʻo Hawaiʻi, / Kūpaʻa ma hope o ka ʻāina (Famous are the children of Hawaiʻi, / Ever loyal to the land).”

 

Why a popup reading?

First and foremost, we present our bodies and voices as evidence, as sites of transgenerational memory. As kanaka privileged to have access to higher education and the opportunity to learn our history in relatively safe and stable spaces, we have a kuleana to share our knowledge. As artists and activists, we also have a response-ability to make the words we learn, create, and transform matter to our communities. Our women are fierce. Our aloha ʻāīna memory is resilient.

I also cannot help but gravitate to the poem “ʻCause” by Danielle Kaʻiulani Kauihou. Published in the second volume of ʻŌiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal, the poem is a declarative piece of just 21 lines. In the only single line of the poem, the speaker begins, “Sometimes I do tings jus’ cause I like” (line 1). In the quatrains that follow, the speaker explains in simple pidgin the motivation behind individual acts of pleasure and responsibility: “jus’ cause I like.” As the refrain for five of the six stanzas, “jus’ cause I like” develops as instinct. Instead of academic speak or overwrought platitutdes, the speaker plainly states that she goes to the beach, she cleans her house, and cares for her siblings “jus’ ‘cause I like.”

Why a pop-up reading?

Jus’ ‘cause I like.

Although simple, this is an important point. Staging a collaborative reading of the Queen’s letter can be done by any of us. Creating a pop-up experience to educate your community, to provoke the public, to transform the texture of an unsuspecting passerby’s daily pattern – this work can be done by any of us. So, yes, this performance will happen again. And again and again. Stage your own public readings of resistance and tribute. Be rupture.

Be rupture

For me, the associative power of today’s reading makes me rethink the concept of a pop-up performance. When you pop up in a public place, sprinkle story or poetry to the masses, and abruptly depart, what kind of relationship is cultivated between the words, the performers, and the audience? Of course, pop-up events have an exhilarating surprise factor and imbue spaces with now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t magic. At its most effective, a pop-up performance conjures a longing in its participants. Whether the performance is poetry, music, dance, or food, pop-ups keep people wanting and guessing.

Yet after today’s performance, I wanted an expression closer to the way I felt about transgenerational memory and resistance. In ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, the word “mohala” denotes a blossoming, from the physical blossoming of flower petals or an adolescent child to the metaphorical blossoming of an idea or the impact of a good question.  “Mohala” also describes a state of illumination wherein ideas, actions, or even bodies appear clear and developed. In other words, mohala signifies a spreading out, growth, unfolding.

Ua mohala. As a result of this performance, I am growing as a Kanaka Maoli poet, organizer, and educator. Reading Liliʻuokalani’s words with Kanaka Maoli wahine I respect and admire made me feel deeply connected. We were reading the words of our Queen, which meant that we were connecting the aloha ʻāina of our piko to the aloha ʻāina of her piko. Our performance was a means of connection. We are the multitudes we contain, and as we learn the intricate ways our different histories connect and illuminate each other, ua mohala mai.

Mohala as Genre

Under what genre does this collective mohala fall? Nonviolent direct action? Performance art? Prayer? On the heels of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it is important to remember the value of creative tension, which he celebrated in “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” King writes, “I am not afraid of the word ʻtension.’ I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth” (838). Performances like ours function as ruptures not only to institutional patterns of movement – in this case, those of students and faculty at a land-grant school – but also institutional memory.

How does memory, historical trauma, and consent shape each other?

In what ways and with what resources are we able to redefine the way we re-member our histories?

To remember the Overthrow as conciliatory and not conspiratorial, or that our Queen, smiling, handed our country over – I do not consent.

To remember my ancestors as Happy Natives, dancing and singing the praises of American empire and annexation; to remember my ancestors as Vanished Natives, disappearing and dying without a trace – I do not consent.

To remember alone, to confine resistance to singular, private acts – I do not consent.

Without my goddesses-ancestresses-mōʻī wāhine-mothers-aunties-sisters-cousins-nieces-daughters-students, I have no precedent; I have no consequence. No history. If I consent to the erasure of my akua in the ʻāina or my Mōʻī wahine in the memory of Hawaiian resistance, I keep the sacred at a distance. Indeed remembering is a daily practice of the sacred, and as the movement to protect Mauna a Wākea continues to demonstrate, our decolonial future requires the sacred.

queens-letter_groupFigure 3 From left to right: ‘Ilima Long, Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, Tammy Hailiʻōpua Baker, Makana Kāne Kuahiwinui, Brandy Nālani McDougall, Noʻu Revilla. Photo by Māhealani Quirk.

In a similar argument, Xicana feminist Cherríe Moraga explains, “When I speak of origins, of re-membering, it is because the knowings that are most useful to us, as we look toward the coming transition out of this body, come from sites not fixed in time; for we are not fixed in time. We are future and past at once. So how can the re-collection of cultural memory as a strategy for future freedom be reduced to nostalgia? Does remembering not perhaps instead offer the promise of a radical re-structuring of our lives?” (93) To look backwards is not to be backwards.

Since the 1970s, feminists of color like Moraga have done the urgent work of illuminating the continuities between the past and present, critically engaging our histories of violence and resistance. Ua mohala nō.  In Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred, M. Jacqui Alexander poses many generative questions on the ways we engage bodies, stories, and justice. Two questions, in particular, are useful points of departure for understanding transnational feminism today: “Where do our visions for justice originate? How do we inhabit them?” (93)

In our reading of the Queen’s letter, I felt connected to multiple origin stories of justice. Each of us belong to our individual moʻokūʻauhau, which feature unique successions of memory, knowledge, and power. As I shared our Queen’s words with Hailiʻōpua, Noe, Nālani, Makana, and ʻIlima, I felt the strength of their families and the mana wahine who have shaped their voices. I also felt the strength of the genealogy of resistance we share as Kanaka Maoli women, a genealogy to which Trask and Liliʻu are central. Despite the continued work of the Provisional Government in the 19th century, subsequent annexation of Hawaiʻi to the United States, and statehood in the 20th century, our Queen remains a model of justice and leadership. Embodying her words on this January 17 was one way of inhabiting her story.

My veins pulse with gratitude to the mana wahine who stood with me in this tribute today; to the people who gathered and listened to these words of protest and love; to our Queen who protected her country; to our country, I am here, we are here. Ua mohala nō.

Works Cited

Alexander, M. Jacqui. Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations of Feminism, Sexual

Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. Durham: Duke UP, 2006. Print.

Kauihou, Danielle Kaʻiulani. “ʻCause.” ʻŌiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal (2): 2002. 94.

Print.

King Jr, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham jail.” UC Davis L. Rev. 26 (1992): 835 –

851.

McDougall, Brandy Nālani. “Christianity, civilization, colonialism, and other diseases.”

Jacket 2. Web. 17 Jan. 2017.

Moraga, Cherríe Moraga. “Indígena as Scribe: The (W)rite to Remember.” A

Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings 2000-2010. Durham: Duke

UP, 2011. 79-96. Proquest. Web. 4 Jan. 2017.

Trask, Haunani-Kay. “Chant of Lamentation.” Light in the Crevice Never Seen. Rev. ed.

Corvallis: Calyx, 1999: 23-25. Print.

[1] “The dead do not like to be forgotten” is a refrain in chapter seven of M. Jacqui Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred.

[2] For more insight on Trask’s poetry, see Brandy Nālani McDougall’s Jacket 2 article “Christianity, civilization, colonialism, and other diseases.”

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