Hawaii is one of the major tourist spots in the world and if you spend all of your time in Honolulu and Waikiki, a tourist experience is exactly what you will have. Waikiki Beach is just one and one-half miles long and this small strip of sand attracts over five million visitors each year.
However, when you travel outside of the blatantly tourist areas, you begin to discover another Hawaii. You find islands of breathtaking tropical beauty, a slower speed of living, a quiet grace, and inevitably you are introduced to the spirit of “aloha”. If you dig even deeper beneath the surface, you also learn of an issue that runs deep in the hearts of the Hawaiian people. This is the issue of sovereignty and freedom.
First, it is important to understand the concept of aloha. At a very basic level aloha means hello and goodbye, however this one simple word runs much deeper than these superficial meanings. In the Hawaiian culture, words have mana (pronounced: mah’ nah, meaning spiritual or divine power), and aloha is among the most sacred. Aloha is a divine word and it is a greeting of love when expressed with sincerity.
To introduce you to the basic background of the sovereignty issue in Hawaii, here is a quote from an article called “Hawaiian Sovereignty and the Native Hawaiian Vote”. Ppkp Laenui, who at the time was Director of the Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs, wrote this in October of 1996:
“There is another side to the picture postcard of the hula girl swaying in her grass skirt under the coconut tree with the American flag in the background. It is the picture of a proud, hard working, intelligent, and honest Hawaiian people whose ancestors crisscrossed the Pacific ocean long before Columbus came upon the Americas, whose literacy rate was at one time the highest in the world, whose nation had almost a hundred diplomatic and counselor posts around the world, whose leaders signed treaties and conventions with a multitude of states of the world, and whose King was the first Head of State to circle the globe traveling to America, Asia, and Europe before returning to Hawai’i.
“In five quick years, Hawai’i moved from independent nation/state to a colony of the United States of America. Following an armed invasion in 1893, by 1898, the U.S. claimed Hawai’i, without the consent of its constitutional monarchy or the Hawaiian nationals. For a time, Hawai’i was lost from the arena of international presence other than as a historical footnote.
“In 1946, the General Assembly of the United Nations through Resolution 66(I) noted Hawai’i as one of seven territories over which the United States was to administer pursuant to Article 73 of the U.N. Charter. By 1959, Hawai’i was removed from that status and considered a State of the U.S. The process under which this changed status happened is now under serious scrutiny for its failure to meet basic standards of self-determination.”
In that same fateful year, on May 20, 1959, a baby called Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (nicknamed “IZ”) was born on the small island of Oahu, Hawaii. He was raised with the knowledge of his Polynesian heritage, found the music inside, and eventually wrote songs that lamented the destruction of the land and the loss of sovereignty among the Hawaiian people. He gave voice to a desire to take back the land that was stolen from the Hawaiians. So say some of the words from IZ’s song “Hawaii ’78”:
Cry for the gods, cry for the people
Cry for the land that was taken away
And then yet you’ll find, Hawai’i.
Sadly, IZ passed away on June 26, 1997, while his star was still on the rise. However, the words of this musical icon had already captured the admiration and imagination of thousands of followers, as it continues to do even today.
The issue of sovereignty in some ways seems complicated and yet it is simple. It is has now existed in Hawaii for over one hundred years and many people here debate whether the land will ever be returned to the native Polynesian people. No matter what the future holds, however, a love for the land will always be held in the hearts of the Polynesian people, as well as anyone else that settles here and understands and lives the spirit of aloha.
The music of IZ is haunting and compelling. He speaks to the souls of not only the Hawaiian people who had their land stolen, but at a deeper level to anyone who has felt the bite of injustice and control. (That would probably be most of us, at some time and in some way in each of our lives). The music of IZ cries out for a return to the principle of aloha, so that we all may connect to the beautiful spirit of the land living deep within the soul of each of us.