What's Your Story?

Readers often have more to offer than a quick comment. This is the place to share your thoughts, anecdotes or even column-length submissions. If you prefer, you may also e-mail your story to connections@civilbeat.com.

Thank you for your submission!

1,000 word max
0 used
Westerners Feel at Home, Hawaiians Feel Lost
To understand the cultural disconnect playing out in the TMT controversy, consider first how Western values have supplanted Hawaiian values.

About the Author

  • Williamson Chang
    Williamson Chang
    Williamson Chang is a professor of Law and member of the faculty senate at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Professor Chang has been teaching at the University of Hawaii School of Law for 37 years. He specializes in water rights, Native Hawaiian rights, the legal history of Hawaii and conflict of laws.

The following passage is drawn in part from “The Life of the Law is Perpetuated in Righteousness: The Jurisprudence of William S. Richardson,” published in 2010 in the University of Hawaii Law Review by Williamson B.C. Chang.

The connection between Hawaiians practicing their religion in 1770 and Hawaiians having almost lost their most sacred mountain, Mauna Kea, in 2015 may not be readily apparent. But the system by which the Hawaiians understood the world and ordered their daily lives 245 years ago was interpreted by outsiders to their detriment. In time, though, the outside interpretation gained authority as a series of extraordinary political, social and economic events in Hawai’i placed outsiders in a position to make conclusive assumptions about the Hawaiian.

Simply thinking and acting as a Hawaiian accelerated the downfall. An inability to reject the West, as the West becomes a larger and larger part of one’s life, renders the individual vulnerable. Not understanding how one’s own actions are interpreted, one faces a choice between a loyalty to one’s own culture at an unknown cost or meaningless imitation of Western forms at the cost of alienation from one’s own self.

TMT Mauna Kea overall site2.  9 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The snow-topped summit of Mauna Kea, the most sacred mountain for native Hawaiians both in ancient times and today.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Unexpected consequences befall ordinary Hawaiian actions and experiences: lands are lost, paper and “title” supplant traditional duties and responsibilities. … An effective and real Hawaiian order centered on a Hawaiian cosmology chaotic to esteem is now displaced by a Western order chaotic to Hawaiians. Westerners come to feel at home in Hawai ‘i, while Hawaiians come to feel lost.

Central to the Western order is its centuries-old Eurocentric legal system. Hawaiians act as Hawaiians at their peril, since Hawaiian actions will have unintended meanings when evaluated in terms of the Western model. The “reasonable man,” in short, does not act like a Hawaiian. As the Western model becomes the consequential model, one eventually cannot afford to act as a Hawaiian, since the Western (and only operational) legal system in Hawai’i penalizes “unreasonable men.”

One may still sense that one is a Hawaiian and have Hawaiian thoughts and emotions, but since one’s intuitive actions will be evaluated incomprehensibly, action itself is discouraged. One is then chastised for laziness. That is, a rational strategy for avoiding danger and pilikia is perceived as indolence.

When Westerners serving as Her Majesty’s Cabinet members (i.e., Hawaiian subjects engaging in treason) plotted to overthrow the monarchy, Hawaiians were instructed by Queen Liliuokalani not to resist; she urged them to have faith in the U.S. government. A responsible government would never ratify this violation of international law by its pied noirs. The subsequent submission of Hawaiian militants to the will of their ruler would ultimately appear to have been submission to the annexation of Hawai’i by the United States, i.e., to the disappearance of Hawai’i as a country off the face of the earth.

The collision of values over the future of the most sacred Mountain in the Pacific reveals how law, politics and the insatiable need of Westerners for more and more knowledge, reconstructed the Hawaiian’s own beliefs in their view of creation and the cosmos to the benefit of Westerners and, incredibly, to the detriment of Hawaiians themselves.