The Iolani Palace in Waikiki is a beautifully restored building where old Hawaiian royalty used to live. Surrounded by towering monkeypod and banyan trees that have been growing for generations, the palace was built by King Kalakaua and passed down to his sister Queen Liliʻuokalani. The atmosphere is somber and respectful; the Hawaiian flag ripples high in the sunshine.
Yesterday I visited the Iolani Palace in Waikiki for the first time. Hawaii’s history is long and complicated, and the people here really connect with it. THEIR history, not necessarily American history in the broader sense. The inscription outside the palace says: “Iolani Palace is a living restoration of the official royal residence for the Kalakaua Dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1874 to 1893. King Kalakaua, who reigned for 17 years, built the palace in 1882 as a symbol of Hawaii’s civilized and enlightened leaders as well as its sovereignty.”
There were some interesting books for display at the museum gift shop, which has been converted from the palace barracks. Among other Hawaiian memoirs, historical fiction and non-fiction, there was a book titled: “The Betrayal of Queen Liliʻuokalani, Last Queen of Hawaii 1838-1917: A woman caught in the turbulent maelstrom of cultures in conflict.”
Homi Bhabha, a professor at Harvard University and an expert in post-colonial studies, suggests that crafting a perfectly fashioned history of a nation is “gained at the cost of those ‘others’ – women, natives, the colonized, the indentured and enslaved – who; at the same time but in other spaces, were becoming the peoples without a history.”
I have lived here in Hawaii for a little over 2 years and I’ve had many encounters with local Hawaiians: at the grocery store, my son’s preschool, doctor’s appointments (Auntie’s going to take your temperature!) Most encounters range from very friendly, especially to my son, to quiet passiveness. Being from the Pacific Northwest, this is comfortable for me.
Drivers tend to be relaxed here and often seem to be in no hurry – aloha time, all the time. Someone will often let you in while driving in traffic, and if you get cut off the driver usually throws up a shaka to show his thanks (or in some cases an apology). In my experience, the fastest way to piss off a local Hawaiian is to be in a huge rush to get something done, and make a big fuss of entitlement for the urgency. I asked local Hawaiian Chalynn Domingo-Panoke (21) if she agreed with that statement and she laughed and nodded her head yes. “It’s hard to explain, but sometimes they just act like they think they’re better than people here.”
I have heard stories of local Hawaiians being less than kind to non-locals (especially white people), being aggressive and calling them names, among them “haole,” which has varying definitions, most of them derogatory. This has never happened to me, and maybe that’s why I don’t have any negative feelings towards local Hawaiians. Perhaps they have called me haole behind my back, but I wouldn’t deny them this harmless way of feeling connected to each other as a culture, as long as they aren’t actually mean to me.
Being the last state to join the union in 1959, many of the older generation here in Hawaii have the unique perspective of being able to remember Hawaii’s status as a U.S. territory that held on to many of its customs. I recently spoke with a 27 year old white male (who wanted to remain anonymous) who has married into a Hawaiian family. His in-laws are in their early 50s and he says, “They don’t hate all haoles, but mainly military, white people have come here with entitlement and give all haoles a bad name.”
Domingo-Panoke, whose family has lived in Hawaii since well before the time of Hawaiian royalty and sovereignty, recently answered a few questions for me:
Jamie: How do you feel about the Kingdom of Hawaii being taken over by the US?
Domingo-Panoke: Well, I don’t know the whole story, but I don’t know why they did that, why they locked the Queen in her room.
Jamie: What are your thoughts on Hawaii becoming its own nation?
Domingo-Panoke: Only native Hawaiians want that.
Jamie: But you ARE native Hawaiian! Did you grow up somewhere else?
Domingo-Panoke: No, I grew up here. I guess I just meant the HAWAIIAN Hawaiian people want that.
Jamie: Do you indentify with HAWAIIAN Hawaiian people or no?
Domingo-Panoke: I kind of identify with them. I wasn’t raised that way.
Jamie: “Raised that way” as in it’s a bad thing?
Domingo-Panoke: No, my parents just never really talked about it. They aren’t into Hawaiian politics.
There seems to be a divide between the younger and older generations of Hawaiians. Some older local Hawaiian’s feel anger towards the U.S. for essentially taking over. Although there was no bloodshed as with many Native American take overs, it was a group of mainly American and European businessmen that overthrew the monarchy in 1893, imprisoning Queen Liliʻuokalani in her own home, the Iolani Palace, for months until the provisional government was established. What if the Hawaiians that were loyal to the monarchy had fought? Every choice, whether that of an individual, or of an entire society can affect the course of history. But that choice created their history, their choice of being peaceful.
Sheena Iyengar’s TED talk brings up interesting differences in how Americans and other cultures view choice. She says: “When it comes to choice, we have far more to gain than to lose by engaging in the many translations of the narratives. Instead of replacing one story with another, we can learn from and revel in the many versions that exist and the many that have yet to be written” (19:16).
There has been a growing movement since Clinton’s 1993 apology to the Hawaiian people for taking over, that is trying to make the kingdom of Hawaii an internationally recognized nation state again. this movement seems to be more popular with the older generations of local Hawaiians. My anonymous source said emphatically that his in-laws “are all about it.” But clearly not all local Hawaiians feel the same way. With the younger generation feeling somewhat disconnected from the past wrongs that the U.S. committed to their people, I wonder how much longer the movement to regain Hawaiian sovereignty will last?
Bhabha suggests: “The scraps, patches and rags of daily life must be repeatedly turned into the signs of a coherent national culture” (145). It seems that a new Hawaiian culture is emerging, one that may not mind being American, but still honors the traditions of its ancestors.