ʻOnipaʻa: To move while rooted to this place
Dr. Jon Osorio's remarks delivered at yesterday's ‘Onipa‘a Kākou event inside the Capitol rotunda commemorating the 125th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
I had a wholly different notion of what I wanted to say last Friday evening. I had wanted to talk about Ea and independence and how these two concepts, while mutually supporting of one another, are very different things. I wanted to talk about how often our people express our frustration that we have not made the American government leave, how every year at this time we point back to those few days in January 1893 as the infamous time when the United States betrayed its commitment to law and peace by seizing our country by the throat. We reenact those few days several times a year to demonstrate American treachery and to illuminate the honorable and courageous Queen, who bore those betrayals with such grace.
It is important that we do this e kuʻu mau hoaloha, because we need to continue to define who we are in this very very strange world that has been made, in large part by the United States. This is a world that has become confused and dangerous and we were all reminded of just how dangerous this past Saturday when we were notified that a missile was enroute to Hawaiʻi and warned to take cover. In all of the attention that the governor and the HEMA agency has received about the panic that was caused and the effects on tourism, I wonder how many of us stopped to think about how insane it is that missiles are pointed at us in the first place.
We Kānaka Maoli, who have never threatened anyone, whose record as a kingdom reflects our determination to have peace and to protect all who lived here, native and foreigner, have now had to live through two warnings that we were under attack, and that these were not drills; once on December 7, 1941 and then again on January 13, 2018. And it should be clear by now that if any nation is threatening our security, it is the United States.
As we relive the incidents that took place in that 2 year reign of our Queen, there are things that clarify the differences between the Hawaiian Kingdom, mocked by American journalists and politicians as backward, oppressive and even characterized as a brutal regime, and the United States, a nation that prided itself as a civilized defender of democratic rule and a lover of peaceful trade and coexistence with other nations. In reality, the character of our two nations was totally misrepresented. The Hawaiian people were in fact the more civilized of the two nations by today’s moral standards. Our people did not brutalize others because of their ethnicity, and while our nation was ruled by Hawaiian constitutions we liberally offered up the right to vote to any man regardless of his ancestry or nation of origin so long as he was willing to swear allegiance to our sovereign. During her reign Liliʻu made plans to extend the voting rights to women, laid the groundwork for building the University of Hawaiʻi, called for a woman’s bank and aimed to offer a generous leasing of her Crown lands to small farmers as a way of creating economic options against the powerful plantations in Hawaiʻi.
Needless to say, all of these initiatives were shuttered when the provisional government took charge 125 years ago, and the focus of their political work went to streamlining resources, water and available land including Crown and government lands to the plantations, and a long-term strategy to keep laborers from improving their economic and social situations in Hawaiʻi. The plantation led political society, dominated by Republicans, had no use for good public education and even less use for encouraging Asian and Kanaka workers to improve their lot in life. And that is one important reason why it is difficult to find an elected Republican in this building today.
We mourn the taking of our government in 1893, but the truth is that we should be proud of what we Kanaka Maoli have managed to do without a government that cared for us and in fact took our birthrights of land and water in order to empower and enrich a select few. We could have given up our own identities. We could have bowed to the power and wealth of American culture and its pretensions of superiority. We could have conceded that the disappearance of out language, histories and way of life was inevitable and joined the other families of Asian and European laborers determined to succeed in pursuit of the American dream.
Some of us did. But when we look around our islands today and hear our language spoken in so many quarters, and find ourselves gathered together to celebrate our history, share our stories and raise our voices in protest, it is clear that our culture, not just our language, not just our arts, but our values and our essential character as a people have survived. It was not the generosity of the state of hawaii that created Pūnana Leo or Kula Kaiapuni. It was the contributions of the older manaleo as well as the determination and incredibly hard work and sacrifice of thousands of young people that has brought ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi back from the brink of extinction. And in those contributions, and in that hard and dedicated work, more than our language has been rescued. A spirit, a breath of life, a determined and upright pride has returned to our people. These are our dictionaries’ definitions of Ea, sovereignty.
It is also true that when young Kanaka men and women fought the U.S. Navy over Kahoʻolawe in the 1970s, fought with words and ideas, with courage and aloha, they were showing us what Ea means. When our people fought their own eviction from Sand Island, from Kalama Valley, Waimanālo, Waiahole Waikane and Mokuleʻia, they were showing us what Ea means. When the Hōkūleʻa sailed to Tahiti and then around the world, and in fact when every Hawaiian voyaging canoe carries our people again on the waters, they are also demonstrating that our sovereignty is more alive and more potent than ever. And when our people journey to the summit of Mauna Kea to cherish that ʻāina and to protect it from the latest violation of her serenity, that is the Ea of our nation rising.
Is this what our Queen envisioned for us when she commanded that we ʻonipaʻa, when she admonished us, “never cease to act because you fear you may fail”? As proud as we are today of her and her personal courage and great love for her people, do you not think that she was also proud of us and confident that we would prevail? I think that Liliʻuokalani knew that her subjects would not let her down because of her faith in her own ancestors. It was Kamehameha II who said “Na wai hoʻi ka ʻole o ke akamai, he alanui i maʻa i ka hele ʻia e oʻu mau mākua.” (Who would not be wise who travels on the familiar path of our elders?)
I believe that we Kānaka Maoli are among the finest people on the face of the earth. We have tested and proven our value over the worst holocaust known to humanity and the loss of more than 95% of our population between 1778 and 1893. We have survived a horrific American assimilation that was determined to erase our language, our sense of history, our principles and beliefs, and we stand here today as our ancestors stood outside of ʻIolani Palace 125 years ago to assure our beloved Queen that we are still here and that we will carry forth the legacy of her remarkable and all too brief rule.
And we know that the survival of our culture is not enough. We know that we must secure the resources that have been taken from us and we must extend the protection of our Queen to all of our people, to those without houses, to our people incarcerated, to our people dying needlessly at early ages because of malnutrition and the near absence of health care. That kind of protection comes with governance . And so on this day, we pledge ourselves to govern ourselves again.
The weekend scare drives home the dangerous situation we are in as a client military base for the United States. I almost laughed when I read the message that we should seek immediate shelter. For these islands have always been our shelter, have they not? When we Kānaka say that we are tied to the land, that comes with an acknowledgement that if the land is obliterated, so are we. And so if fairness and social justice, if the rule of international law were not enough reasons for us to seek separation from the United States, then how about simple survival? How many of us found the missile warning credible? And how many of us fear the irrational behavior of the American president as much as we fear the leader of North Korea?
I am reminded how our Queen was characterized in the American press as a bloodthirsty savage and I wonder about our willingness to believe that Kim Jong-un is as insane as the press makes him out to be. On the other hand, we have all read the president’s tweets and have actual evidence of how his mind works. How could there be a better time for us to gather as a people and plan for the government that we need to mālama our lands, to care for our people and to remove the military bases that threaten our survival? The evidence of what can happen to a people who do not control their own resources, who do not speak their own language in their own homes, who are taught not to honor their ancestors but to honor the achievements and agendas of an occupier, of a colonizer, who are encouraged to think of themselves as out of place in their own homeland, is all around us. We see it in the faces of our people struggling with the unreal cost of living. We see it in the sad farewells as our young people leave Hawaiʻi to find a place they can afford. We see it in the prisons.
I want to encourage our young people to take on the mission of strategizing and achieving our own government again. And I say to you that you should not stand by and wait for the US to hand over the government to the Kingdom. I urge you to find opportunities to learn the art of government wherever you can: in public agencies that care for our people or guard our natural resources; in non-profit agencies that provide relief to our children, our poor, our ailing and elderly. But I also urge you to enter the very belly of government—the counties, the state government and even the feds with the strategy of learning what can work, of finding common cause among non-Kanaka, of conceiving a future government that will not look anything like the one that oppresses us. I urge you to carry that Ea in your bellies, the one that keeps us breathing and living and working to be the society that our kūpuna envisioned and to which our Queen was dedicated.
It is a long journey, that began when Liliʻu stepped down as Queen and one which has carried so many of our Aloha ʻĀina through lives of service and brought them to ʻaumakua with dignity and hope. It is what the Queen meant for us. To move while rooted to this place. ʻOnipaʻa