The Value of Hawaii: Hawaiian Issues by Jon Osorio
UH Professor of Hawaiian Studies writes that while independence from the U.S. may have been considered absurd less than two decades ago, the idea is gaining traction as people become disaffected with global modernity and international consumerism.
At some point, it may be necessary for people to accept that independence from the U.S. is a logical and necessary step toward protecting the amazing society that matured in these islands, and which is now threatened by runaway land prices and an almost total dependence on the global market system for its survival.
This assertion would have been considered an absurdity less than two decades ago, and its growing traction in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement is not simply a result of a better understanding of the history of the takeover. In fact, it may have more to do with a blossoming disaffection with global modernity and the international consumerism that drives it.
The problems, not just for native people but for communities in the Pacific, are not simply related to climate change or environmental degradation. The overarching problem is that Pacific Islanders are less and less in control of our own destiny as we become more integrated into the global economy. Careful conservation, sharing resources, cooperation and consensus, honoring ancestors, protocols that demonstrate respect for one another, and a definition of wealth that is indicated by family relations, healthy lifestyles, and community connections along with monetary security — these are all Pacific Islander cultural hallmarks that have been assaulted by a Euro-American ethos of individual achievement and profit, and a reliance on the marketplace not just for trade, but as the foundation of its values.
The near collapse of the largest banks in America, and the economic crises that emerged from the mortgage-backed securities failure in 2008, have not led Americans or some Hawaii residents to question the reliability of an unchecked capitalist society. In fact, Hawaii’s sudden vulnerability has not spurred a call for a diversified economy and more careful management of our resources, but a kind of panic in the governor’s office and the Legislature that created Furlough Fridays in the public schools, a level of unemployment that was unimaginable three years ago, and a public that seems convinced that returning to the high point of seven million tourists a year is the only thing that can save the economy.
In February of 2010, the House finance committee actually considered a bill that would set a minimum price of three quarters of a billion dollars for the sale of several properties controlled by the State. These specific properties are part of the Ceded Lands — Hawaiian Kingdom and Crown Lands — whose ownership has been contested politically and in court by the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, and the sale of which this very same Legislature had agreed to impede in legislation a mere two months before.
The State seems to believe that it is easier to sell these lands off to meet this year’s budget deficit through one big yard sale, than to do the hard work of really managing these lands. No one would argue that this is not a difficult and demanding task. But consider this: in the ancient days, that is precisely what konohiki — the chiefly land managers in the Hawaiian ahupuaa — did. They managed human and natural resources by knowing everything about the land division over which they were responsible. Some of today’s lawmakers may be able to read a spreadsheet, but they have practically no understanding of how to make the land really productive again.
Kanaka Maoli still know how to make the land a treasure and how to give people a chance to work productively. In taro gardens and fish ponds, young people from charter schools and expensive private schools are taught how to maintain an auwai, plant and harvest taro, inventory and utilize the resources of a shoreline, build and navigate a canoe using traditional methods, and harvest fibers that can be used for cords to thatch a house or create an intricate work of art. Perhaps we could call it basket weaving with a vengeance — young people returning to a kind of personal and purposeful creativity which may just save us all. But for that to happen, a form of subsistence and land management will need to be protected by the most powerful government agencies from real estate speculation, zoning that requires urbanization, large-scale agribusinesses that create their own protective infrastructures, the transfer of water from an agricultural watershed, and ultimately, from a market system that would require a profit. What we need is a puuhonua from the market system, and it needs to be large enough and capitalized enough to give people the opportunity to live a life directly nourished by the land.
This is what the pig farmers in Kalama Valley were trying to do in 1967, and what the taro farmers in Waiahole and Waikane were trying to do in 1974, and in the end, it is what the sovereignty movement is really about. We have seen what determined guerilla mahi ai (farming) can do to resurrect taro in urban places like Kanewai and Ānuenue, and to rebuild fishponds along the Molokai shores, where the only government assistance required was that it not prosecute mahi ai for growing taro on public lands. Imagine what a partnership between government, the Bishop Estate, and people who want to grow food and live where they work might produce. Imagine homelessness addressed by a vigorous back-to-the-land movement, with training and housing and employment all located in ahupuaa that were naturally designed for growing taro and harvesting fish.
The Hawaiian sovereignty movement has also been about challenging our assumptions regarding the ways we live with one another by continually asserting a culture of sharing and interdependency with all of the life around us. This is why we must end the military occupation of Hawaii, not just because military use poisons our lands and waters, but also because the mission of the armed forces so fundamentally opposes our values of inclusion and aloha aina. It defends a very particular definition of a people, and we Kanaka Maoli are focused on a much larger society than the American nation. Indeed, we have nurtured and will continue to uphold a community that is larger than humanity itself.
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