Hawaii is very different from anywhere else in the United States of America. This is not just true in the climate (60-90 F, year-round), the population demographics (only majority Asian state), or the location (not located in North America) – but also in terms of the religious beliefs and practices.
The ancient religion of the Hawaiians is mostly gone, though some practitioners practice something similar. The top religion in Hawaii wavers between Buddhism and Christianity depending on which data you look at. In the case where Christianity is defined as any religion that views Jesus as the son of God – it is a clear majority. Buddhism is defined as any religion that considers the teachings of the Buddha as the main source of inspiration. So, Christianity based religions will include Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses, Protestants, Catholics, Quakers, and many other small sects. Buddhism will include Mahayana, Thereveda, Soka Gakkai, Zen, and secular Buddhist organizations.
Interestingly, on the most recent census data I was able to find where religion was a question – close to 60% claimed no religion – making ‘none of the above’ or ‘no answer’ or ‘no religion’ the dominant choice. So, when looking at the Buddhist/Christian majority, it is good to keep in mind that in general this is no more than 20% of each.
As a guide, the breakdown that I usually share is the following – among those who claim a religious faith (40% of the population) – roughly
10% Pagan, Indigenous, & Other (including B’ahai, Sihkism, Zoroastarianism
It’s important to note that the breakdown above does not include 60% of the population who claim no particular religious affiliation. So, when looking at the true breakdown:
60% No religious preference
22% Christian based religions
18% Non-Christian based religions
There is no other state or city in the USA which has demographics like that. When you come to Hawaii, you can visit Buddhist temples for morning chanting, have lunch in a Hindu temple, visit the Kauaihao Church (protestant), and then go to evening mass at the Saint Damien church and then head to Laie to go to the Mormon temple the next day.
Many visitors to Hawaii are curious about the ancient and traditional religion of the Hawaiian people. They want to know where it is practiced, how it was formed, who the gods are, and what the rituals are. The first thing to know is that the ancient religion of Hawaii was overthrown and abandoned by Queen Ka’ahumanu in the years 1819 and 1820. She overthrew the religion (called the Kapu System) and adopted Christianity when missionaries showed up – not because she was in love with Christianity, but because she understood that the overthrow of the Kapu System would never work unless she could fill the void created with a new system of belief. Christianity showed up at an opportune moment. Since that time, the Hawaiian religion has been dead as a coshesive societal force.
The Kapu System was both polytheistic and animistic with belief in a wide range of gods and a number of nature spirits and forces in animals and natural phenomenon like waves and wind. The religion was born from an even more ancient Polynesian set of beliefs but during one thousand years of isolation in Hawai’i developed many unique characteristics. It’s important to note that there are modern Hawaiian religions which claim descent from the ancient practices of the Kapu System, but which are very different in both practice and belief. Most notable among them in Huna, which is a new and modern invention which many claim as cultural misappropriation.
The four main gods of Hawaiian religion were Ku – the god of war, Kane – the god of the sky, Lono – the god of peace and fertility, and Kanaloa, the god of the ocean. In addition there were the ‘parent’ or ‘creation’ gods of Papa (Mother Earth) and Waikea (Father Sky) as well as elemental gods and goddesses such as Madam Pele of the volcano and the demi-god Maui. Families, clans, villages,and other groups had protector spirits called ‘aumakua and there were literally hundreds upon hundreds of lessor gods and goddesses.
The ‘priests’ of the ancient system were known as kahuna. They were learned men, healers, and scholars. Kahuna played a large part in all aspects of ancient Hawaiian life including birth, mating, death, and burial practices.
The entire kapu system was a prohibitive system, meaning that it was more about what you could not do than what you could or should do. The word kapu comes from the tahitian word ‘taboo’ which literally means forbidden. The things forbidden were vast – everything from women not eating bananas or pork to men and women not eating together to times and places when fishing or hunting were prohibited. There were literally tens of thousands of things forbidden. The punishment was most often death but there was a relief valve built in which allowed for escape and exile for a set amount of time into a city of refuge, a pu’uhonua. There was an element of human sacrifice in ancient Hawaiian religion and ritual cannibalism was practiced (as it was in many other times and places such as ancient Scotland).
Among the forbidden things were a few practices that were proscribed, chief among them was Malama Aina – or caring for the land. The world land in Hawaiian is aina and it means ‘that which provides for us’. Hawaiians considered kalo (taro) as their older brother. Much of the ancient Hawaiian system revolved around an invisible force called mana. Mana came from the land, was strong in pohaku (stones) and was distributed to living things, it was passed to the people and then given to the chiefs or kings. The leaders would use the power of mana to take care of the land and the cycle would begin anew. The motto of the Hawaiian kingdom was translated as ‘The life of the land is perpetuated in the righteousness of the leaders’.
Prayer played a huge role in ancient Hawaiian religion and constructed many stone temples (heiau) on the islands. In addition there was the practice of hula which was considered sacred. Many of the practices and beliefs of the ancient Hawaiian religion are still with us – though with the meaning and context changed.
Hawaii has a rich history of conquest, betrayal, love, adventure and romance. That history doesn’t start with the coming of Europeans or even with the uniting of the Hawaiian Islands under the first King Kamehameha – it goes much further back and it is those ancient times when you find the excitement, romance, and adventure. The later kings and queens of Hawaii were fairly domestic in terms of their rule (with the exceptions of King Kalakaua and King Kamehameha). Queen Lilioukalani, of course, was beloved as the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom and because of the injustice done to her and the Hawaiian people in that act and what followed – but the early Kings and Queens – to me – it was they who truly represent who the Hawaiian people really are – and of course, King Kamehameha I (below) represents incredibly well.
Fierce, loyal, independent, and ambitious….The history of Hawaiian Kings and Queens was transmitted by oral history so in some cases we know almost nothing and in others we have celebrated deeds. Written language didn’t come to the Hawaiian Islands until the 1800’s – at which point most of these monarchs were long gone. I’ve tried to piece together some of the lineages from online sources and Ross Cordy’s excellent Rise and Fall of the Oahu Kingdom – but have certainly made a few errors as there are differing accounts – none of which are backed by written history.
First of all – understand that there were four main islands which all had ali’i nui (monarchs) – Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii. Lanai and Kahoolawe were typically under Maui control and Molokai was often under Oahu control though sometimes under Maui and sometimes independent.
The first known King of Oahu was a man named La’akona in about 1400 A.D. His line ruled from ‘Ewa until the 1600s when Queen Kala’imanuia came into power. She was a productive and peaceful Queen who focused on building fishponds and expanding wetland agriculture. Her three sons split the island and some chaos reigned until her grandson Kakuhihewa reunified the island. He was a renowned ruler and ruled from Kailua on the windward side. Four generations after him, the greatest Oahu King came to power. Kuali’i conquered Kauai, Molokai, parts of the Big Island, and attempted to gain control (unsuccessfully) over Maui, Kahoolawe, and Lanai. His eldest son Kumuhonua inherited the Oahu Kingdom. His younger son Moiheka was the King of Kauai. It is possible that his daughter became the kahina nui of Molokai. King Kumuhonua’s descendent Kiing Kahahana, was conquered in 1783 by King Kahekili II of Maui who King Kamehameha acknownledged as his biological father. The legitimate heir of Kahekili II was Kalanikapule – the same who was thrown from the cliffs of Nu’uanu Pali by the conquering King Kamehameha (his half brother) in 1795.
Kahekili II had one side of his body tattooed black so that he would resemble his namesake the Hawaiian God of Thunder (Kane Hekili). Kahekili II was the first great conqueror of Hawaii – he controlled all of the Hawaiian Islands except the Big Island of Hawaii. His conquest of King Kahahana of Oahu was a bloody affair where most of the Oahu royals were executed and their history erased. He had a house constructed of their bones!
When Kahekili II died his brother and son went to war for control. Eventually Kalanikapule was victorious but it left him weakened and his kingdom was conquered by King Kamehameha less than a year later. Kamehameha himself was said to be a descendent of Umi-a-Liloa, the first monarch to conquer the entire island of Hawaii. He was the son of a beautiful commoner and the high king Liloa. The king had left royal insignia that only those of high birth could possess…the boy was born and his mother hid his identity until the man who thought he was Umi’s father (her husband) was beating the boy, at which point she demanded he stop since the boy was actually his king! From here, Umi traveled to the Waipio Valley where the king lived and presented himself. He found great favor but was regarded jealously by his half-brother who he eventually overcame and made serve him. He married many high ranking women and through diplomacy and war eventually united nearly every district of the Big Island. His descendent Keawe’ikekahiali’iokamoku was the great-grandfather of King Kamehameha. For typing sake, we will refer to him as KIng Keawe.
King Keawe built alliances with all of the Kingdoms on all eight islands and built strong alliances based on marriage to high ranking chiefs and royals. His main problem during his reign was controlling the chiefs of Hilo but through war and diplomacy he managed to keep them from declaring independence. He was the common ancestor of both the Kamehameha and Kalakaua dynasties.
One of the most powerful monarchs in Hawaiian history was also one of the wives of King Kamehameha the great. Queen Regent Ka’ahumanu of Maui was the favorite wife of Kamehameha (he had many) and when he died, she was co-ruler of the kingdom over the next two reigns. It can be argued that not only did she conquer Kauai for him, but she also overthrew the entire religion of the Hawaiian people, and ruled longer than any other monarch. It is said that in private, the kings were forced to bow to her.
She was born in a sacred cave on Maui and died in the Manoa Valley on Oahu. When Kamehameha I died, she married King Kaumuali’i of Kauai to prevent the kingdom from splintering. She was the mother of Kamehameha II and ruled his kingdom and that of Kamehameha III with an iron fist. Her lineage was said to be one of the highest in the islands. She was the child of a fugitive prince of Hawaii and a princess of Maui. She married Kamehameha when she was thirteen and from that point pushed her husband to unify the Hawaiian Islands. At his death, she announced that he had wanted her to be co-ruler with the new Kamehameha II (Liholiho) and no one was willing to argue with her.
When Kamehameha II died, she retained power as her step-son Kauikeaouili became Kamehameha III. She was a fierce advocate of women’s rights. She was also a notoriously large woman who broke the kapu (rules) about what women could and could not eat. She singlehandedly overthrew the ancient Hawaiian religion and invited missionaries to teach a new religion in Hawaii.
Her second husband was the King of Kauai. Kaumuali’i.
Kaumuali’i and his island of Kauai were never conquered by Kamehameha but instead were conquered by Queen Ka’ahumanu and her intelligent diplomacy (and the threat of a bloody invasion by King Kamehameha’s vast armada). He offered a bloodless surrender and reigned as a vassal until 1821 when he was kidnapped by Ka’ahumanu and married to her. When he died, she forced his son into marriage with her as well.
Kaumuali’i’s first wife was the Queen Regent of Oahu – thus when the royals of Oahu were exterminated by Kahekili II, the Kauai royals were the last of the Oahu nobles.
Now – a quick look at the monarchs of the Unified Hawaiian Kingdom. We’ve already discussed Kamehameha I. He died in 1819 and was succeeded by his son, Kamehameha II (Liholiho) and his widow Ka’ahumanu. Kamehameha II ruled for only five years and died at the age of 24. He was an extravagent spender and a drunk. Ka’ahumanu was the actuall ruler. He died in London on his first trip abroad. He was married to his half-sister, Kamamalu, who stood over six feet tall. The two contracted measles in London and died.
Kamehameha III (Keaikeaouili) was the third king of the unified kingdom. He had the longest reign unless you consider Ka’ahumanu’s time as ruler. He changed the form of government from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. He also created the division of land which allowed private ownership – both moves paved the way for the wealth and control of the descendents of American missionaries and settlers which eventually led to the overthrow of the kingdom.
He was succeeded by his nephew Alexander Liholiho who became Kamehameha IV. He was a good and beloved king who focused on the health and education of his people. He and his wife Queen Emma (granddaughter to John Young, English advisor to Kamehameha I) were loved by the people. He sought to protect Hawaii from growing American influence. He only ruled foer eight years. Disease was the great killer of the Hawaiian monarchs.
His brother Lot became Kamehameha V. Lot ruled for nine years. He had no heir. He continued the policies of his brother but with little success limiting the influence of missionaries and American migrants. His sister, Bernice Pauahi Bishop refused the throne on his deathbed which led to a constitutional crisis where a new line of monarchs had to be elected. The main candidates were the step-son of Kamehameha I, William Lunalilo, Queen Emma, widow of Kamehameha iV and David Kalakaua – descendent of King Keawe – common ancestor of both he and Kamehameha the Great.
The first elected King of Hawai’i was William Lunalilo. He was popular and known as ‘The People’s King’ but only ruled for a year and left no heirs. Once again there was an election.
The winner of that election was King David Kalakaua .He was a remarkable man who excelled in writing, architecture, music, design, and more. He was an adventurer and had grand aspirations for building a Pacific Kingdom with Hawaii in the center and all of the other islands of the Pacific in liege. Sadly, he died with his ambitions unfulfilled – a victim of the weak Hawaiian immune system (a result of 1000 years in isolation from the diseases of mankind). His wife Queen Kapiolani (left side), was the grand-daughter of King Kaumuali’i of Kauai. She was evicted from Iolani Palace after the overthrow of the kingdom and lived out her days in Waikiki. She bequeathed lands and hospitals to the people of Hawai’i.
King Kalakaua’s sister, Queen Lilioukalani (right side) inherited the throne after his death and was overthrown by sugar planters, missionaries, and American treachery. She fought peacefully and valiantly with politics and diplomacy to restore her kingdom but she was the last of the Hawaiian monarchs.
The last true heirs to the Hawaiian Throne were Princess Victoria Kaiulani – daughter of Kalakaua’s sister, David Kawananakoa, son of Queen Kapiolani’s sister, and Prince Jonah Kuhio, the adopted son of Queen Kapiolani and King Kalakaua. Since the kingdom was overthrown, none of them ever ascended. Today, there are descendents of David Kawanakoa who are considered the true heirs to the now non-existant Hawaiian throne. It should be noted, however, that some Native Hawaiian people reject such claims and point to the extended family of Kamehameha the Great as the true heirs. Through the years, there have been several attempts at re-establishing a Hawaiian monarchy – Honolulu Magazine has detailed those attemps in a series of excellent articles.
The first place that most people step onto the Hawaiian Islands is the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. The airport is named for Daniel K. Inouye, one of Hawaii’s deceased U.S. Senators and a World War II medal of Honor winner. Located on the western edge of Honolulu, the airport was known as Honolulu International Airport for much of its life. The theee letter airport identifier is HNL. We get nearly 22 million visitors and residents stepping onto Hawaiian soil each year through HNL brought by more than 278,000 flights! This makes it one of the busiest airports in the United States. One thing for sure – it’s the busiest airport on Oahu!
HNL is the home hub for Hawaii-based Hawaiian Airlines and it serves all of the Hawaiian Islands (Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, Lanai, Molokai) and has flights to the mainland USA as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Tahiti, American Samoa, Guam, and several other Pacific Rim destinations.
HNL opened first in 1927 as John Rodgers Airport. Keehi Lagoon was where the majority of planes landed in those days and most of the traffic was seaplanes. As the lagoon was dredged the dredgings were used to fill in what is now the reef runway as well as some of the land that modern day HNL sits upon. During WWII (after the bombing of Pearl Harbor) it was one of the largests airports in the USA with a land area of 4019 acres and a total of seven runways (4 on land and 3 on sea). In 1947, the airport was renamed Honolulu International Airport – poor John Rodgers was lost to history and very few Hawaii residents today have ever even heard of him. This is unfortunate since Rodgers and his story are absolutely awesome. He was the first aviator to try to fly to Hawaii from California. His aircraft was a flying boat and when it ran out of fuel, he and his crew were forced to improvise sails and after a week without food – finally managed to make it to Honolulu Harbor. It’s an absolutely epic story.
In any event, HNL became the third busiest airport in the USA by 1950 and had the longest runway in the world in 1953. With the age of jet travel, flights started coming from abroad. Over the course of many years the terminals have been changed and upgraded – though the airport still feels quite dated. Poor John Rodgers lost the terminal named for him too. HNL was the transpacific hub for Pan Am (Pan American Airways) until the airline ceased operations. Pan Am is an amazing story in itself from the founding and innovations of transport to the glamourization of the Asian flight attendants – then called stewardesses.
Through the years, a series of fare wars and airline rivalries have left Hawaiian Airlines the only survivor in Hawaii. It has defeated Aloha, Pan Am, Go, Mokulele, Interisland and many others. While it’s always great to see the fare wars…the inevitable defeat of other airlines and then the rise of interisland fares is never fun.
There are currently three terminals with a fourth terminal being built. Quite honestly, the airport is a mess and it feels like it is stuck in the 1970s with terrible concrete architecture and a dull and boring mix of high end tourist shops, duty free shopping, and mediocre restaurants. There is a nice garden in the center – but beyond that – not much to entertain, educate, or amuse those who are stuck there for any length of time.
The majority of flights are to the USA mainland with a majority of those going to the West Coast cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and San Diego. Las Vegas is not far behind. About two thirds of international flights are to Japan but Chinese flights are growing in importance. Vancouver and Sydney are also important international flights.
There have been an amazingly low number of fatalities or incidents involving HNL or flights coming to or going from here. In 1962 a Canadian Pacific flight crashed and killed 27 passengers. On August 11, 1982 a small bomb went off on a Pan Am flight from Tokyo as it approached Honolulu – it killed one person. The most interesting incident is the Bojinka plot which was foiled in 1995 in the Philippines but ultimately developed into the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the USA. If you are interested, the whole thing reads like an epic adventure story. Through the years there have been small incidents and hopefully that is all there will ever be.
In any event – I hope you aren’t trapped in the airport for long. Almost all of the fun stuff is outside. There are city buses, taxis, Uber and Lyft, as well as car rental opportunities. If you really want to, you can walk from the airport to Honolulu or Waikiki but it will take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to get anywhere you want to go on foot.
Sometime around 1736, a child was born who would change the world. He was a big infant born on a big island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The world didn’t even know that he, his people, or his islands existed – but they would learn. He is one of just 101 statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington D.C – and he was never an American – a distinction shared with very few of the stautes there.
That man was Kalani Pai’ea Wohi o Kaleikini Keali’kui Kamehameha o ‘Iolani i Kawiwikapu kau’i Ka Liholiho – which is a very long name – the world knows him as King Kamehameha I or King Kamehameha the Great – uniter of the Hawaiian Islands and founder of the United Hawaiian Kingdom. He lived from 1736 to 1819 and saw his entire world change – but didn’t let that stop him from building a modern nation state that dealt with the rest of the world as an equal.
He was the child of high chiefs on the Big Island of Hawaii. He was one of many chiefs who saw the world change when Captain James Cook sailed into Kealakakua Bay in the late 1700s. There are many facts that are hard to verify about his childhood, youth, and birth, but we know that he was one of the many chiefs who met Captain Cook because Cook mentions him in his journals.
Kamehameha was given the family war god (Ku-ka-ili-moku) when his uncle Kalani’opu’u died. While this didn’t give him the chief title, it made him powerful and it made him the priest in charge of the Hawaiian War God. His cousin inherited the Chief (or King) title for the majority of the lands his uncle had ruled. It’s said that Kamehameha fulfilled a prophecy by lifting an impossibly large stone called the Naha Stone – and that act foretold that he would become the uniter of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s a bit like King Arthur. In any event, it set the stage for terrible family reunions and eventually, Kamehameha and his war god killed all of the relatives who oppossed him.
He intended to unite ALL of the Polynesian Islands including Tahiti, New Zealand, Easter Island and everything in between. It was a bit much in the end but he did conquer all of Hawai’i with the help of British and American traders who sold him guns and cannons as well as providing him with tactical, political, and other information that helped him to establish, rule, and deal with other nations. Two of the most important of these were Isaac Davis and John Young, Englishmen who trained his troops and helped him deal with other nations. They also married into his family – Davis and Young are two important Hawaiian names today. They were both crewmen on the ship Fair American which was captured by Kamehameha after it’s sister ship Eleanora massacred a Hawaiian village on Maui. Davis and Young were the only survivors of the revenge – but rather than punish them, Kamehameha married them into his family and made them noblemen. A very smart move as the two helped him navigate the treacherous waters of building a modern nation from a group of islands.
In 1795, Kamehameha set out to conquer the other islands. He ran into light resistance until he hit Oahu where his forces fought a bloody battle against Kalani’kapule – the son of the Maui chief who had conquered Oahu a decade before. After taking control of the cannon placed on the Pali lookout – Kamehameha took control of Oahu. In 1810 – he established control over Kaua’i and thus became the sole sovereign of the unified Hawaiian Kingdom.
And that’s when the heavy work began. Kamehameha unified the legal system, established treaties and tariffs with the United States and Europe, set up a system of taxation. His greatest law was his simplest – “Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside in safety”.
Kamehameha I had about thirty wives, half of whom bore him children. There are certainly descendents of the King walking about Hawaii today. There are many statues of him but the most important are the ones in the Hall of Statuary, the Honolulu Historic Districe near Iolani Palace, and the statues at HIlo and his birth place on the Big Island of Hawail.
There are many reasons to love Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing. Watch here as he breaks his own Olympic swimming record in Antwerp, Belgium. Or maybe you’ve seen him in one of his starring Hollywood roles back in the 1930s. Maybe you’ve eaten at Duke’s restaurant, or surfed at Duke’s beach? Maybe you know that he was the Sheriff of Waikiki or that he was the guy who gave surfing to the world!
Or maybe you don’t know all that.
Surfing: The Ancient Sport of Hawaiian Kings
Ancient Hawaiians perfected board riding. Tahitians did it in a way, but the Hawaiian people, who descended and became very distinct from the Tahitian people changed it. They made longer boards, they developed style and technique, and they made it the exclusive sport of the ali’i. The high ranking or royal people of ancient Hawaii. For nearly a thousand years, this amazing sport belonged to the Hawaiian people alone. When Captain Cook came to Hawai’i in 1793, he and his men witnessed it and wrote about it. When missionaries came and gained too much control in the next century – they tried to ban surfing all together – but with no success. The main reason seems to have been that they were scandalized by nude Hawaiian surfers (they also created mumus to cover the Hawaiian women). In the 1870s, King Kalakaua made a determined effort to bring back surfing, hula, and other Hawaiian traditions that the uptight missionaries had tried to ban.
Surfing Gets Some Fans – Duke Goes Olympic
In the early 1900s, a few visitors would try their hand at board riding. It’s said that both Mark Twain and Jack London gave it a try. It’s also probable that King Kalakaua got Robert Louis Stevenson to give it a try a bit earlier. In the early territorial days, the visitors who came to Waikiki would mostly watch the locals ride the waves. One of the best surfers at this time was also one of the best swimmers – Duke Kahanamoku. His full name was Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, and Duke wasn’t a title. Duke surfed Waikiki on a 16 foot board that weighed 114 pounds. He qualified for the U.S. Olympic Swim team in 1912 and proceeded to break nearly every world record for events he competed in. There was only one swimmer who ever beat him – Tarzan – the actor Johnny Weismuller.
Duke Gives Surfing to the World
From this time until his passing, Duke traveled the world for swim meets and surfing exhibitions. He introduced surfing to California and the Gold Coast of Australia. It took off in both spots. Duke moved to Newport Beach, California where he worked as a lifeguard and popularized the sport further. While he was there, he acted in film and television. He didn’t have big speaking roles, but he was a heart throb none the less.
Sheriff of Waikiki
We like to say that Duke was the Sheriff of Waikiki – but actually, he was the Sheriff of Honolulu. He served 13 consecutive terms in the elected role. He died in 1968 but his memory lives on forever. Surfers today still pay homage to him at statues and monuments dedicated to him around the world. In Waikiki, his statue on Duke’s Beach off of Kalakaua Avenue is nearly constantly draped in leis put there by admirers.
Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to ride a surfboard, owe’s a debt of gratitude to Duke Kahanamoku.
When I first came to Hawai’i – I was at the beach in Waikiki and met a couple of locals. They asked where I was from, how long I was staying…the usual questions locals ask people on vacation. It was a friendly talk-story conversation – until they found out that I intended to stay in Hawai’i. At that point, I started to hear another word in the conversation – ‘haole’. I’ve thought about this a lot through the years…it’s all tangled up with colonialism, whiteness, brownness, localness, Hawaiiness…
I want to be clear…the guys were never unfriendly or threatening – they wre just a couple of brown skinned guys who grew up here – I have no idea what their ethnicity was – at the time, I probably thought they were Hawaiians – and they may have been – but looking back, it seems more likely they were ‘locals’ of Filipino or Japanese descent. The funny thing about the conversation was how it went cold when they found out I wanted to stay in Hawai’i. As a visitor, a tourist…I was a welcome guest, but as a person staying…I was something else…I became a haole. Instantly.
It occurs to me that I can’t describe what a haole is without giving some other definitions first:
Hawaiians are people who are descended from the Polynesian voyagers who settled these islands a thousand years ago. If you can’t claim ancestry, you aren’t Hawaiian. Period.
Kama’aina are people who are ‘of the land’. People who live here, who have roots here, who are a part of this place but usually not Hawaiians (though Hawaiians are certainly kama’aina).
Local is a word that carrys a racial weight. Essentially it means brown, Asian, grew up here, not Hawaiian but people who feel they belong here. Generally, if you can’t say what high school you went to (in Hawai’i) then you aren’t local. And if you are white you may be local haole, but you aren’t local.
And that brings us to Haole.
In it’s simplest form a haole is a white person. European or American heritage. Pukui and Elbert’s Hawaiian Dictionary says that a haole is a white person of foreign origin, but that’s not the whole story. As mentioned above, at a certain point, you become a ‘local haole‘ (though some would argue this is an oxymoron and something only haoles would say).
There are other types of haole though – tourist haole (generally just called a tourist). They’re not staying and they don’t matter to people who live here, they just need to spend and support the economy. Harsh but true.
Mainland Haole would be an American who moved here. Military and university students often fall in this category. Coast Haoles get a little more respect – generally from California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska – we share the Pacific. Local haoles might have been born here, went to high school here, or have lived and worked here for enough time to understand the culture, how things work, and have been ‘localized’ with habits, dress, language, etc.
Then there’s Hapa-haole. Hapa means half in Hawaiian and in it’s pure form it means half Hawaiian and half haole – just hapa could mean half Hawaiian and half Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, or other Pacific Islander. Sometimes hapa is used just to indicate half but locally, it’s understood that at least part is Hawaiian.
For those wondering, there is a racial connotation to the world haole. In previous times, local grade schools had ‘kill haole days’ when local kids would pulverize white kids and mostly not get any trouble over it. There are still neighborhoods on most islands where if you are a haole, you are a target. There’s a simmering resentment that sometimes comes to the surface for past or present discrimination of whites and for the plantation heritage, the overthrow of the Queen of Hawaii, and the colonization of Hawai’i. There are people who hate all haole. But mostly, that’s just not true any longer.
The story I’ve heard most says that when Captain Cook and his men arrived, they refused the traditional Hawaiian greeting of touching foreheads and exchanging breath – this is the ‘HA’ in Aloha – the breath of life. Hawaiians called Cook, his men, and the many white foreigners who came afterwards HA-ole which translates as ‘no breath of life’ or even ‘ghost’ or ‘not living’. Eventually, the word just came to mean foreigner – a person not from Hawaii and since most of those who came here initially were from Europe or North America -it came to mean white.
I’m going to go a little further though – I’m going to add on a little distinction that I’ve discovered. When you come to love and understand Hawai’i – to really feel it in your bones – it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is. Local people, kama’aina, locals, Hawaiians – they recognize it. You may still be a haole, but you are a local haole, you (in a sense) belong to the people here. You belong to this place and it is understood that you belong in this place.
For those who never get it, however. The white people who come here and disrespect the land, the people, the culture, the unique way of doing things here – they have a different distinction which, if you hear it and it’s applied to you, you need to get out of that area – the facking haole or effing haole. If someone is calling you that, you need to leave because you aren’t safe and you’ve been put in a category (rightly or wrongly) that puts you in danger. There are people who simply hate all haole and there are people who deserve to be hated – that’s all I can really say about that.
When I lived on Kauai I used to hang out in a little marina in Kapa’a. There were a bunch of local fishermen who I’d talk story with. One of them, who some guys said was the direct descendent of King Kamuali’i of Kauai, we became friendly. We were barbecuing and drinking beers one day and a rather angry young guy had a few too many and sort of spat in my direction “What’s that facking haole doing here?” I was very aware of a lot of stink eye and anger being pointed my way all of a sudden…then George, the descendent of the king, he walked over to me with a murderous look in his eye…”This haole?” He roared…”This guy, he’s a haole…but he ain’t no facking haole!” And he put his arm around me and everyone laughed and it was all cool. It’s wierd, but it stands as one of the proudest moments of my time there. If you get it, you get it – if you don’t – well…no big deal.
I originally posted this in mid-2008. I miss Obama. I respected him. I would have voted for him if there had been any question of him not winning in Hawai’i. I’m still pretty stoked that his brother-in-law was one of my instructors at the University of Hawai’i and his sister was someone I’ve chatted with at cocktail parties. Aside from working as a casting assistant when The Apprentice came to Hawai’i, that’s as close as I’ve been to a president, but then – even if I’d have met the current resident of the White House – I wouldn’t feel honored or special. There was something special about getting a shaka from Obama though…
Yesterday as I was driving the Oahu Nature Tours Van to pick up guests to take hiking, I was overtaken by a minivan, a black escalade, and eight police vehicles. As the Escalade went by, I realized it Candidate Obama and I threw a shaka hand sign at it. Even though I am voting for Nader and am disappointed at the concessions Obama has made towards moderates, I am rooting for him to win. The alternative is entirely too god-awful to think about. So anyway, the windows in the back of the Escalade were tinted pretty dark but I’m pretty Obama threw a shaka back at me. For those who don’t know, the shaka is a hand sign that looks like this:
The “shaka” sign is a common greeting gesture. It is often associated with Hawaii and sports such as surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, kitesurfing, skateboarding, skimboarding, snowboarding and skydiving. It consists of extending the thumb and pinky finger while keeping the three middle fingers curled, and raising the hand as in salutation with the back of the hand facing the person that is being greeted; sometimes the hand is rocked back and forth to emphasize the sign.
Hawaiian locals use the shaka for various meanings, like “all right”, “cool”, “smooth”, etc. Residents of states other than Hawaii who use the shaka may describe it as meaning “hang loose”. It is also used to convey what locals in Hawai’i call the “Aloha Spirit,” a gesture of friendship and understanding between the various ethnic cultures that reside within Hawai’i. It can also be used to signal a “hello”, “goodbye”, ” ’till next time”, “take care”, “Alright!”
The most common two places for the shaka are when people need to cross the road and a driver pauses to let them (it’s customary for the driver and the pedestrian to shaka each other in appreciation) and also when one driver let’s another get in traffic – both drivers will shaka each other.
Robert Louis Stevenson was an explorer, writer, poet, essayist and speaker. Stevenson was one of the great literary geniuses the world has produced, and everyone knows him because of his most famous works Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Of course, who can forget two of the strangest characters ever, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, who were also created by R L Stevenson. One thing that many people don’t know is that Robert Louis Stevenson was a good friend of the Hawaiian Royal Family and spent a long time in the Hawaiian Islands.
The world may never match the creative genius that Stevenson was. He was born Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson on 13 November, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland, to parents Thomas Stevenson and Margaret Isabella Balfour. His father was a lighthouse engineer, which was their traditional family profession as well.
Stevenson was the only child in the family. He was considered to be a bit odd by his friends and schoolmates because his behavior was eccentric, to say the least. In his younger years he made only a few good friends. As a result, he turned to writing, publishing his first ever work at a young age of sixteen with help from his father, who himself was fond of writing. Stevenson’s writing genius was recognized right away and his work found an audience of all ages. However, rather than writing, Stevenson was more interested in traveling, and he visited a cousin in England in 1873 and subsequently he settled there for a while.
Stevenson met his soon-to-be wife, Fanny Sitwell while in London and she shared his enthusiasm towards the fine art of writing. Stevenson visited his parents back in Edinburgh from time to time, and meanwhile he became more and more popular in London academic circles. In 1875, Stevenson visited France to take medical treatment because of weak health. He liked the French environment very well, and visited France several more times during his life. In 1879, he went to San Francisco and he also stayed there for a couple of years, all the time writing accounts of his travels and creating new stories.
Stevenson’s family suffered from a long history of weak health, and for this reason he searched for a suitable place to stay that would suit his weak constitution. He traveled to many places in Scotland, England and the US, but the environment didn’t suit him in any of these places.He needed a warm tropical climate, and he found it in the Pacific. Not only did he go to Hawaii and Samoa but also to Tahiti and many of the smaller islands of the pacific.
Stevenson resided in the Kingdom of Hawaii for a time and became great friends with King David Kalakaua and his sister Liliuokalani (who subsequently became the last monarch of Hawaii before she was overthrown by a consortium of U.S. businessmen and missionaries.)
There were rumors of a romantic affair with the beautiful Hawaiian Princess Victoria Kaiulani but one thing for certain is that they became great friends and had a wonderful friendship. He penned this poem for her before he left.
[Written in April to Kaiulani in the April of her age; and at Waikiki, within easy walk of Kaiulani’s banyan! When she comes to my land and her father’s, and the rain beats upon the window (as I fear it will), let her look at this page; it will be like a weed gathered and pressed at home; and she will remember her own islands, and the shadow of the mighty tree; and she will hear the peacocks screaming in the dusk and the wind blowing in the palms; and she will think of her father sitting there alone. – R. L. S.]
FORTH from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.
Her islands here, in Southern sun,
Shall mourn their Kaiulani gone,
And I, in her dear banyan shade,
Look vainly for my little maid.
But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwonted day,
And cast for once their tempests by
To smile in Kaiulani’s eye.
As the ship carrying Stevenson left Hawaii, King Kalakaua brought the Royal Hawaiian Band to play farewell to his good friend.
Stevenson finally settled on the island of Samoa, where he also breathed his last, on December 3, 1894. Though he lived for just 44 years, Stevenson has become immortal through his works which have inspired travelers, vagabonds, and adventurers .
King David Kalakaua was a champion of Hawaiian culture, the last King of Hawaii, and is celebrated as the Merrie Monarch – but he also had dreams of a Hawaiian-Japanese empire and was the first monarch to circumnavigate the globe.
He was both a celebrated musician and composer and a dedicated archivist and writer. It was King Kalakaua who first gathered together the Myths and Legends of Hawaii. Friend of Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Edison, he was a technology geek, and all around cool guy – King David Kalakaua was an awesome monarch.
He had a passion for music, dancing, parties, and the finest food and drinks during his 54 years and he lived up to the title of Merrie Monarch. The king’s reign, however, was also marked by tragedy, pain and dark clouds hovering over the Hawaiian kingdom.
Born on November 16, 1836 in Honolulu to High Chief Kahana Kapaakea and the High Chiefess Analea Keohokalole. Per Hawaiian custom, the infant was adopted by the chiefess Haaheo Kaniu, who took him to the court of King Kamehameha III on the island of Maui. When Kalakaua was four, he returned to Oahu to begin his education at the Royal School.
He was fluent in English and Hawaiian when he began to study law at the age of 16 and by 1856, he was a major on the staff of King Kamehameha IV. He was also a leader of a political organization known as the Young Hawaiians who used the motto “Hawaii for the Hawaiians.” At the time, American business interests and missionaries had already subverted the Kingdom and begun the process of making Hawaiians 2nd class citizens.
In December 1872, King Kamehameha V died without having designated an heir and pursuant to Hawaiian law, an election was held to determine his successor. Kalakaua made his first bid for Hawaii’s throne in 1873. The Hawaiian legislature, comprised largely of native Hawaiians and haoles qualified by wealth or landownership to be either electors or elected representatives in the legislature, was presented with two choices: Kalakaua, who ran on a campaign slogan of “Hawaii for Hawaiians,” a sentiment that did not endear him to the islands’ white power brokers, and William C. Lunalilo.
Lunalilo won easily, but he died a year later, leaving no successor. Another election was held to determine Hawaii’s monarch. Buoyed by the support of the influential Walter Murray Gibson, Kalakaua was victorious in the 1874 election over Queen Emma, widow of Kamehameha IV – the bad feelings from this election lasted throughout the two candidates lifetimes. Supporters of the queen rioted and Kalakaua requested help from American and British warships in the harbor, and the uprising was quelled.
The triumphant Kalakaua toured the islands, stopping in every district to affirm his primary goals. “To the planters, he affirmed that his primary goal was the advance of commerce and agriculture, and that he was about to go in person to the United States to push for a reciprocity treaty. To his own people, he promised renewal of Hawaiian culture and the restoration of their franchise,” wrote Ruth M. Tabrah in Hawaii: A Bicentennial History.In late 1874, Kalakaua sailed to the United States amid much fanfare. In Washington, he negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875, which eliminated the tariff on sugar and other Hawaiian products. As a result, Hawaii’s sugar industry boomed and the kingdom enjoyed a period of economic prosperity. Ralph Kuykendall reported in The Hawaiian Kingdom that American minister to Hawaii Henry Pierce successfully argued that a treaty with Kalakaua’s kingdom would hold the islands “with hooks of steel in the interests of the United States, and … result finally in their annexation to the United States.” Kalakaua was the first King to visit the United States.
Upon his return, Kalakaua moved into his palace with his wife, Queen Kapiolani, the granddaughter of King Kaumualii of Kauai. He decided he needed a more luxurious home, however, and had Iolani Palace built at a cost of $350,000—an unheard of sum at the time. It was one of the first buildings in the US to have both electricity and indoor plumbing. Kalakaua’s friend Thomas Edison also came and made the first movies in history of Hawaiians and Oahu.
Many of his ministerial appointments went to native Hawaiians, a reflection of the king’s consistent loyalty to his core constituency. None of this made him popular with the haole community who loathed both him and Walter Murray Gibson, Kalakaua’s American premier, whom they viewed as a traitor. Kalakaua’s white opposition grew increasingly frustrated with their lack of power, and their rhetoric grew increasingly bigoted in tone as their anger grew. “Attempts to build a strong political party of opposition ran into the dismal fact that Kalakaua and Gibson controlled too many votes,” wrote Gavan Daws in Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands. The king though dominated the legislature.
Kalakaua was the first sovereign to circumnavigate the globe and he did it not just once (the first trip in 1881) but twice. On January 20, 1881 His Majesty David La‘amea Kalakaua departed Honolulu Harbor aboard the steamship City of Sydney on a nine-month diplomatic mission around the world. The voyage was one part of a strategic plan to achieve greater recognition throughout the world for the Kingdom of Hawai‘i as a legitimate and sovereign nation-state. Many of the American business interests who had backed Kalakaua in his election victory over Queen Emma were now quickly moving towards greater control of the government. The King also witnessed the loss of sovereignty by Native peoples in New Zealand, the Marquesas and elsewhere, highlighting growing imperialism in the Pacific. Kalakaua saw a formal procession of state visits from the King himself, along with the signing of treaties and conventions, as powerful steps in protecting his nation’s sovereignty.
As the ship carrying Kalakaua touched the landing, the Emperor of Japan had his military play Hawai‘i Pono , the anthem the King himself penned seven years prior. At a luncheon at the Imperial Palace on March 14, the Japanese Emperor conferred on Kalakaua the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Chrysanthemum, the highest honor in the Japanese Empire. In a later audience with the Emperor Meiji, Kalakaua proposed an Asiatic Federation to link the two countries, along with others, in mutual support that would attempt to balance British and American dominance. The King sought to further tie the two Nations through a proposed future marriage of the Princess Ka‘iulani and the Japanese Prince Komatsu. Neither of these efforts came to fruition though he was successful in his decision to welcome increasing numbers of foreigners (especially Chinese and Japanese people) to the islands. In 1883 a government representative delivered a speech in Tokyo in which he declared that “His Majesty Kalakaua believes that the Japanese and Hawaiian spring from one cognate race and this enhances his love for you,” reported Kuykendall. “Hawaii holds out her loving hand and heart to Japan and desires that your people may come and cast in their lots with ours and repeople our Island Home with a race which may blend with ours and produce a new and vigorous nation.” Thousands of Japanese families accepted Kalakaua’s offer, to the chagrin of white landowners and businessmen who feared further loss of influence.
The white landowners were also not very keen on Kalakaua’s plan to grant universal suffrage to women and the poor. Such a move would have made the wealthy white male votes far less significant.
Although Kalakaua’s visit to Japan was one of the trip’s highlights, it was certainly not seen as the only success. On this first circumnavigation of the globe by any monarch, the King of Hawai’i met with leaders of nations that included China, India, Egypt, Italy, Germany, Wales, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and others.
The second trip was an incredible journey that began in 1887 and took the King to the Unites States of America, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Siam, Singapore, Malaya, India, Egypt, Rome, London, Belgium, Vienna, Spain, Portugal, France, and back to Hawaii through the United States again. A unique and insightful glimpse into these states and elites at the end of the nineteenth century full of fascinating events, encounters, and stories can be found in Around the World with a King.
The Hawaiian culture enjoyed a revival under Kalakaua, including hula and chants, surfing and indigenous handicrafts. In July 1887, however, an organization called the Hawaiian League which was made up of mostly disgruntled American planters and missionaries forcibly took control of the government and presented the king with a new constitution. Called the “Bayonet Constitution” (for obvious reasons), Kalakaua had no choice but to sign it. The new constitution severely restricted his powers and signaled the end of the monarchy. It also destroyed his dreams of a Hawaiian-Japanese empire in the pacific. When you consider all of these events, it causes one to severely rethink the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hawaii, after all, was offered to the Japanese but stolen from Kalakaua’s sister and successor Queen Liliokalani by the U.S. government.
In November 1890,after sailing to California for medical treatment. He died at a hotel in San Francisco on January 20, 1891. His final words were, “Tell my people I tried.”
He is remembered fondly in Hawaii with festivals such as the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival. The main street in Waikiki – which is Hawaii’s busiest and most expensive street is named for King Kalakaua – a state of hom stands at the western end of the street and greets visitors as they enter Waikiki. In pop culture, Officer Kono Kalakaua on the popular series Hawaii 5-0 carries his name, though there are no direct descendents of the King living today.
When a person died in pre-contact Hawai’i – a kapu was imposed (kapu is taboo) during the time between death and burial. A couple of days for a regular person and ten days or more for a chief or chiefess. So the house and family of the dead became taboo for this period and were not to be touched or interacted with or the interactor would be defiled – in Hawaiian HAUMIA. A haumia person was also kapu until the defilement was lifted. Lots of loud weaping and tears and those most pained would show it by cutting their hair. Not a nice style or fancy do, but an ugly cutting that showed the grief and pain. A tooth might be knocked out with a stick. Ears might be cut off and tattoos might be placed. Personally, the tattoo and the hair sound reasonable to me, ears and teeth, that’s pretty extreme grief. There was also a sort of blistering branding with the ends of burning sticks. Ouch.
The dead were sometimes wrapped in kapa (tapa aka barkcloth). Sometimes the bodies were laid out extended and more often they were put in a fetal position. Some bodies were salted and if the cause of death was sorcery (which happened a lot more than you might think), then a kahuna kuni was brought to cut out the liver, chop it up, put it in dogs and birds, and then burn them to ashes. After this, the body was clean enough to be buried.
Hawaiians were also known to keep the long bones and skulls of their loved ones as momento-mori. The other bones would usually be burned with the flesh. Chief bones were especially valuable because they contained the mana (spiritual power) of the chiefs and so these bones were hidden by trusted retainers who in some cases were said to then kill themselves so that no one would find the bones or know the location.
All of the above explains why it’s not uncommon to find a tooth or a bone disarticulated from the rest of the body. Bone bundles were wrapped in kapa and sometimes tied with a braid of human hair – possibly from the head of the deceased. It is said that Captain Cook was treated this way and confusion over the custom led to the belief that he was eaten – in point of fact, he may have been eaten as it was not unknown to eat a tiny portion of a powerful enemy or ally in order to gain their mana. We will never know if Cook was eaten raw, cooked, or not at all.
In Hawaii, human bodies were sometimes burned, sometimes dessicated and distributed, sometimes buried in the sand, sometimes buriend in the earth, sometimes fetal – sometimes laid out, and occaisionally buried in stone cysts – piles of rocks to mark grave sites. Faces were usually pointed upwards. There are various cave burials scattered through the islands and also a number of royal mausaleums – mostly from the post contact period. Two known mausoleums were moved or destroyed after Queen Kaahumanu forced the abandonment of the old Hawaiian religion on her people in 1830.
The creepiest and coolest of the burials of old Hawai’i are the sennit caskets which are a sort of woven casket reminiiscent of the Egyptian sarcophagi. There are only a few of these that have ever been found. And of course, when you have something like that – you are not far from making your kings and queens into immortal gods. One of the most striking implements associated with Hawaiian death and burial are the tall feathered staffs known as Kahilis – it is believed they evolved from fly swishers but they came to signify important and powerful mana.
This small photo shows a large number of artifacts that were plundered from Hawaiian burial caves in 1905. A hundred years later they were repatriated and returned to the cave only to be taken from the cave again at a cost of several million dollars. They are currently back where they were before they were put back in the cave – at the Bishop Museum where no one can see them without cultural reason and a lot of red tape. When I was working as an archaeologist in Hawai’i it was both a blessing and a curse to find anything that might be Native Hawaiian remains because the regulations, the process, and the cultural impact were all so severe on whatever project the reamins might be found in proximity to.