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The opening of the 2018 Hawaii Legislature and the 125th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom shared a lot of things besides the same day on the calendar.
Both featured heartfelt speeches, gorgeous music, promises to help the people and an obvious devotion to a beloved land.
The Wednesday events even included some of the same participants (including the Native Hawaiian members of the House and Senate) and partially took place on the same grounds of the Hawaii Capitol — although the onipaa kakou, as it was called, was also held at Iolani Palace.
But there were unmistakable differences, the main one being that opening day was held by a sitting government now in its 59th year while the onipaa was attended by supporters honoring the last leader of Hawaii’s 19th century government, some of whom would like the sitting government to leave.
While the 50th state does not appear anywhere near seceding from the union, the onipaa kakou (“to be steadfast, established, firm, resolute and determined,” according to the event’s website) demonstrates that there are still many Kanaka Maoli who maintain the overthrow was illegal and that the U.S. is an occupier that should be expelled.
The onipaa kakou was organized by Kamehameha Schools, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Royal Order of Kamehameha I and several other organizations.
On Jan. 17, 1893, Queen Liliuokalani was forcibly removed from her throne and later imprisoned in the palace, the only royal residence in the United States and the center of governance for the territory and state of Hawaii until the Capitol opened in 1969.
Speakers, including Walter Ritte, Mililani Trask, Jon Osorio and Timothy Bailey, reminded an audience that numbered in the thousands that the U.S. betrayed the queen in helping with the overthrow.
They said that there is growing awareness and education among Hawaiians about what really happened to the kingdom, and this is contributing to greater unity that could lead to ka lahui — an initiative toward national self-governance.
Even John Waihee, who was Hawaii’s first governor of Native Hawaiian ancestry, said he was not aware of the suffering of his own people when he was growing up.
He said that the media like to talk about how much Hawaiians disagree and argue. He joked that ancient Hawaiians probably argued in the canoe on their way to the islands.
But Waihee declared, “What they don’t talk about is that once we know the truth, once we know the truth, you can open our heart and you will find the queen. You can open our heart and you will find a flag. You see, we may have discussions, we may have disagreements, but we are all one lahui and we are moving in one direction and that direction is out the door. Out the door.”
Waihee said he looked forward to returning to the Capitol next January for the 126th anniversary, and that maybe then there would only be one flag flying — the Hawaiian one.
The Hawaiian flag was raised earlier that day atop Iolani Palace. It followed a march from the Royal Mausoleum at Mauna Ala in Nuuanu filled with Hawaiian flags, more than a few flying upside down. Conch shells blew, people sang and chanted, and there were lots of signs, including ones that read, “I’m Hawaiian, and I vote” and “I am not an American.”
By the time the procession reached the palace, it filled the expanse of King Street and back up along Richards and Beretania streets. While it was not as large as the 100th remembrance in 1993, it was an impressive show.
“This is history,” a father remarked to a son.
It was also an occasion for many who were there 25 years ago to reminisce.
Osorio, a Hawaiian studies professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa, noted the frightening events of just a few days earlier, when for 30 minutes or so it seemed as if Hawaii might be hit by a ballistic missile.
“We need to continue to define who we are in this very strange world that has been made in large part by the United States,” he said. “This is a world that has become confused and dangerous, and we are all reminded of just how dangerous this past Saturday.” He said it was “insane” that missiles might be pointed at the islands.
Osorio contrasted the Hawaii of today with the Hawaii of yesterday.
“We in Hawaii, we have never threatened anybody, whose record as a kingdom reflects our determination to have peace and to protect all who live here, native and foreign, and who have now lived through two warnings that we were under attack.”
The first, of course, was real: the Pearl Harbor attack of 1941.
“But this last one we will remember that it should be clear by now that if any nation is threatening our security, it is the United States,” Osorio said.
In the view of many Hawaiians, Hawaii did well under the queen’s rule and her overthrow was a matter of pure treachery. The onipaa kakou included a stop at the queen’s statue, which stands on the sidewalk between the palace and the Capitol.
Bailey and Trask were among those stating that the struggle to address the injustice done to Hawaiians — one that resulted in an official U.S. apology in 1993 — will continue. It includes the meetings of experts, referred to as commissioners, who are expected to present their findings before the International Court of Justice in the Hague in the Netherlands.
It was Trask’s older sister, Hawaiian studies professor Haunani-Kay Trask, who electrified the 1993 gathering at the palace by shouting, “I am not an American.” Poet Jamaica Osorio, daughter of the UH professor, repeated the words in her performance at the palace bandstand.
Mililani Trask pointed out that Hawaiians have increased in number from just 44,000 at the turn of the 20th century (the population then tragically depleted largely from disease introduced by Westerners) to more than half a million today, in the islands and on the mainland.
For now, the main message, as Ritte put it, was to honor the alii and the queen and to come together for a shared purpose.
“Today is a day of unity,” Ritte said, a message that he said should be heeded at the Capitol.
The portion of the onipaa held in the Capitol Rotunda ended in mele:
All Hawaii stands together, it is now and forever
To raise your voices, and hold your banners high
We shall stand as a nation
To guide the destinies of our generations
To sing and praise the glories of our land.