not so happy Hawai’i

Hawai’i was beautiful!

Sunshine.

Warm ocean.

Fun with family.

It was the almost perfect vacation!

Just one thing marred my experience.

No, it wasn’t the reality of having to come back to the Polar Vortex ravaging our Pure Michigan.
Nor was it the faint recollection of all the schoolwork I was not getting done while on vacation.

Since we would be going to Hawai’i for Jo and Johnny’s wedding,, Arch thought it’d be a great idea to watch a documentary related to the islands. So we watched Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau. It was a captivating watch and Eddie’s story is inspiring. But by the end of the documentary, I no longer wanted to go to Hawai’i.

A thread running through Eddie’s story, as told in this documentary, is the loss of and fight to maintain a sense identity for the Hawai’ian people. Eddie dies in an effort to save the lives of his crew mates on the Hokulea, a ship symbolic of native Hawai’ian heritage. His career as a surfer is portrayed as part of the Hawai’ian’s attempt to assert their identity. In short, the native Hawai’ian is depicted as a disenfranchised people whose land and culture is still being exploited by the West.

This perspective of the islands has haunted me since, and hung as an unwanted skeleton in the closet of my consciousness. Everywhere I went on Big Island or Oahu, my eyes were open to spot the natives. I wanted to see how they live…where they live…if they’re really unhappy or if the Western domination has settled in for them.

But I couldn’t find them (except as the person driving my boat through the hotel and resort in Kona, or the server at that dingy Zippys on the outskirts of Honolulu). Ok, so if you take into consideration, the parenthetical statement, I did see some natives. But I wanted to see them enjoying the things tourists come to the island for…patronizing their own resorts and beaches.

My problem was that I placed myself in their shoes. If Hawai’i were Zimbabwe…and you only ever saw non-Zimbabweans at the Victoria Falls or the Zimbabwe Ruins or Chimanimani…There was a time when a native-ancestry Zimbabwean was a rare sight as a patron at our national treasures. But that was during colonialism!

Hawai’i?

Our tour guide through the Big Island (and Archie’s uncle by marriage) is part native, so I did get to hear a bit of the native perspective. For one thing, he told me of an island designated  for the preservation of Hawai’ian culture – Ni’ihau. He said you had to prove native Hawai’ian ancestry to live there with no power lines, no paved roads, no plumbing etc. Something  about Ni’ihau made me feel a bit better. But only a bit.

I’m not concerned with rejecting Westernization in whatever form at any cost. No. It’s about the freedom to govern one-self that bugged me about the whole situation with Hawai’i. Freedom is the value I feared has been denied the native Hawai’ians.

With their freedom, they may still have chosen to become the 50th state. They may have chosen to turn their islands into one big tourist resort. And perhaps they would have decided to put themselves and their culture on display as a means of making money. But it would be their choice!

There’s nothing I can do about it, I suppose. But that won’t stop it from bothering me. And I want it to bother me. I want to be bothered by exploitation and injustice anywhere I see it. Then, wherever God grants me opportunity, I want to be on the side that brings an end to it.