This post is the first of what I hope and expect to be many such posts on Hawaiian history as I will be working this entire year on a Hawaiian history text. Iʻm just calling this series “Moʻolelo.”

Kumulipo is a cosmogonic chant, one of several, that mark the kinohi, the origin, of the Hawaiian people. During Kalākua’s reign, the German anthropologist Bastian (who is cited by Joseph Campbell as an early authority on mythology generally), somewhat improbably was given access to Kumulipo, which previously was held in secret with a Hawaiian family. This made Kumulipo a matter of public interest. In 1951, the Hawaiʻi-born scholar Martha Beckwith published what most would consider the seminal work, The Kumulipo: A Hawaiian Creation Chant. In her book Finding Meaning, Professor Brandy McDougall is critical of both Bastian and Beckwith as outsider views of this sacred text, but I find her critique, at least of Beckwith, to be overly harsh – Beckwith was very well-trained and was a contemporary of Hawaiian luminaries such as Joseph Poepoe, and her knowledge of pan-Pacific folklore was formidable then and would still be today. This sheer breadth is one of the issues that makes her text difficult to read. Beckwith was also well-acquainted with Kumulipo scholar Theodore Kelsey, who was fluent in Hawaiian, worked on the chant for many decades and had 50 Hawaiian informants.


This is where my family steps into the picture. My mother, Leialoha Apo Perkins, wrote her dissertation for the University of Pennsylvania on Hawaiian oli, which brought her to an near-lifelong interest, bordering on obsession, with Kumulipo. She knew Kelsey well, worked extensively with him and even I knew him – in fact I lived with him for periods in the home of another scholar of Hawaiian culture, June Gutmanis. But I was a young child with no aptitude for Hawaiian folklore. I will never forget, however, driving through the intersection of Kapiʻolani Boulevard and Dole Street in our Volkswagon Beetle around 1977 and Mr. Kelsey proclaiming “I was born in 1893!”

Beckwith was one of the few scholars who managed to publish on Kumulipo, and I have the sense that her work was not as extensive as she would have liked it to be. Kelsey had no major publications on it and my mother struggled as well, though she did publish a short-lived journal that includes rare information on the chant. Rubellite Kawena Johnson published the first volume of a translation, but subsequent volumes never appeared. This gives one the impression that Kumulipo’s mysteries are perhaps meant to stay just that.

The chant itself is over 2000 lines. It begins:

O ke au i kahuli wela ka honua

O ke au i kahuli lole ka lani

O ke au i kuka‘iaka ka la

E ho‘omalamalama i ka malama

O ke au o makali‘i ka po

O ka walewale ho‘okumu honua ia

O ke kumu o ka lipo, i lipo ai

O ke kumu i ka po, i po ai

O ka lipolipo, o ka lipolipo

O ka lipo o ka la o ka lipo o ka po

Po wale ho‘i

Hanau ka po

Hanau Kumulipo i ka po, he kane

Hanau Po ‘ele i ka po, he wahine

Beckwith’s book is appropriately subtitled “Hawaiian Creation Chant.” Kumulipo is not the only origin myth (and use the term myth in Campbell’s sense of metaphor, not falsehood). Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa said in a class of hers that I attended that there were about ten such creation stories, held as chants. According to the great Hawaiian scholar Davida Malo:

ʻEkolu naʻe moʻokūʻauhau i manaʻo nui ʻia, ʻo Kumuulipo,  ʻo Palikū, ʻo Olōlo. ʻO kēia mau moʻokūʻauhau kai manaʻo ʻia no laila mai ko Hawaiʻi nei lāhui kānaka me nā aliʻi pū…

There are … three genealogical accounts that are highly regarded, those of Kumuulipo, Palikū and Olōlo. It is thought that the Hawaiian people derive from these three genealogies, and also their aliʻi (trans. Langlas and Lyon).

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

The State of the Hawaiian Union

As Trump evoked manifest destiny and used soaring and highly problematic rhetoric about how “our ancestors” built the greatest society the world has ever seen, it made me wonder: What is the state of the Hawaiian union? I almost called this post “The State of the Hawaiian Disunion,” but I realized Hawaiians are actually more unified than we have been since the attacks on the Hawaiian trusts (Kamehameha Schools’ admissions policy, OHA voting, Hawaiian Home Lands) in the early 2000s. Below I try to summarize this state that Hawaiians find themselves in.



As far as the statistics Iʻve seen point out, the DOE continues to have a 9% college graduation rate for its products of Hawaiian ancestry, a number that should be better known and yet another cause for outrage. Even with Hawaiians attending Kamehameha and other private schools, the total percentage rises to only 15%, compared to 29% college completion in the US as a whole. Yet there is cause for optimism. My daughters’ immersion school routinely puts out graduates who are at grade level in two languages – no one else is doing this. Meanwhile, Kamehameha Schools is going “dual immersion” with half of a studentʻs classes in English and half in Hawaiian, starting with next year’s kindergarteners. UH also had a record number of Kanaka graduates last year, far up from the days when only 8% of their students were Hawaiian (this was often compared with the more than 40% of the incarcerated being of Hawaiian ancestry).


We are more likely to be sent to prison, and for longer periods of time, than nearly every other racial or ethnic community in Hawai‘i. OHA strongly supports a fair justice system and this study sets the course for change.” Additional key findings in the report include: Of the people serving a prison term in Hawai‘i, approximately fifty percent are housed in facilities on the mainland. Of this population, about forty-one percent are Native Hawaiian, the most highly-represented group. While incarcerated out of state, these people are further disconnected from their communities, families and culturally appropriate services for re-entry. Native Hawaiians do not use drugs at drastically different rates from people of other races or ethnicities, but Native Hawaiians go to prison for drug offenses more often than people of other races or ethnicities. Once released from prison, Native Hawaiians experience barriers that prevent them from participating in certain jobs, obtaining a drivers license, voting, continuing education, obtaining housing and keeping a family together. Without a sufficient number of culturally appropriate services, Native Hawaiians are not given the best chance at achieving success upon re-entry into the community. “In two thousand and nine the OHA Board submitted concurrent Resolutions to the 25th Legislature noting that a study would be helpful in determining the extent, nature and impact of perceived disparities. The U.S. Senate urged with the House of Representatives concurring in HCR27HD1, that OHA should contract a nationally respected and objective consulting firm to conduct a study of disparate treatment of Native Hawaiians in Hawai‘i’s criminal justice system.


In 2000, eight large trusts owned 23.8% of all the land in Hawaiʻi, leaving little for average Hawaiians, who increasingly find themselves among the houseless and diaspora to the US Southwest. Developments in Kakaʻako have added about 6500 units to the housing stock, but the few “affordable” units are priced well above $500,000 (and are usually too small anyway), while many developments have nothing under $1 million. Since the average lifetime income of a high school graduate is $800,000, and the average Hawaiian has that much education, homeownership is out of reach for the majority.

Mauna Kea


It seems that, perhaps despite appearances, Hawaiian protectors are winning the Mauna Kea struggle. If they werenʻt, the State Attorney General would not have to stoop to gathering frequent flyer mile records from Hawaiian Air, and seizing the financial records of very small nonprofits that helped fund the Puʻuhululu operation. Meanwhile, Ige is tied for least popular governor in the US.* And this in spite of the false missile alarm. Perhaps the Hawaiʻi Independent was right when it compared local residents to battered spouses, accepting without question or outrage the fact that missiles are aimed at us in the first place.

*Mahalo to Kiope Raymond for pointing out my error – I misread a headline that I thought said Ige was tied for most popular governor.


1 Comment

Filed under Education

Hauʻoli Lā Kūʻokoʻa:  Hawaiian Independence Day

November 28th is Lā Kūʻokoʻa, Hawaiian independence day. In 1842, seeing that Pacific Island nations were succumbing to imperialism, Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) sent three envoys to Europe and the United States to secure recognition of Hawaiʻiʻs independence. 



Haʻalilio is thought to be the first Hawaiian to be photographed – this picture was taken in Paris


Timoteo Haʻalilio was the Hawaiian Ambassador, the Reverend William Richards was his secretary and Sir George Simpson of Britain agreed to assist the mission. Haʻalilio was a Lahainaluna graduate born on Oʻahu of aliʻi rank and the son of Haʻaloʻu, the governor of Molokaʻi. Richards was a former missionary who left the mission to become a teacher of political economy to the chiefs. Simpson was the former governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada. Haʻalilio and Richards went through Mexico to Washington DC while Simpson travelled to Europe via Siberia. Between the three of them, they circumnavigated the Earth in pursuit of recognition of Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty. 

The duo in Washington were able to garner recognition from President Tyler in December 1842 and travelled to Europe. Simpson, meanwhile, travelled first to Belgium, where its King Leopold had just received recognition eleven years earlier. Leopold was related to both King Louis-Phillpe of France and Queen Victoria, and could put in a good word for the fledgling new state on the international scene. Simpson then met Haʻalilio and Richards to pursue recognition from Britain and France. The trio first received recognition verbally, but waited until they could secure written recognition. On November 28th, 1843, the three envoys from the Hawaiian Kingdom obtained written recognition of Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty from the United Kingdom and France. The date became a national Hawaiian holiday beginning in 1844. 

Richards kept a journal that gives stirring accounts of their travels. In the Mexican desert, the two men experienced scorching heat during the day, and bitter cold at night, and rode part of the way on mules. The reason for the ignominious nature of their journey, was that it was kept secret so as not to upset diplomatic relations. The pair reached Washington and secured verbal recognition from President John Tyler, who promised to bring the issue up with Congress and work toward a written recognition.

In the meantime, Haʻalilio was experiencing the kind of discrimination that Prince Alexander Liholiho would later experience in the US while travelling with Reverend Gerrit Judd. In one letter, Richards tells of Haʻalilio being refused entry to a dining room, and having to eat with the servants. Richards’s protests, that Haʻalilio was the Hawaiian ambassador fell on deaf ears.  Out of respect, Richards joined Haʻalilio in the servants’ dining area.

In Hawaiʻi, the Paulet Affair, an overthrow by Britain had occurred in February, but was reversed in July. So Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty on the international level was being challenged just as it was being recognized. It took a few months to get a joint proclamation from Britain and France, but that was made on November 28th, signed by Lord Aberdeen on behalf of Queen Victoria. With their successful mission behind them and the sovereignty of Hawaiʻi secure, Haʻalilio and Richards returned to Hawaiʻi. But the trip had taken a toll on Haʻalilio. Richards’s journal has daily entries on his health, with good days and bad days, and one can feel the affection Richards had for his traveling companion, upon whom Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty literally depended. On December 3rd, 1844, Haʻalilio died of tuberculosis on board the returning ship at the age of 36. 

Kupuna Mel Kalahiki, one of those who revived the observance of another Hawaiian holiday, Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea (along with Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell), described Haʻalilio as “one of the unsung heroes that you don’t often hear about,” the first martyr for the cause of Hawaiian sovereignty.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Ta Nahisi Coates in Honolulu

Written originally for Letters: The Life of the Mind

Ta Nahisi Coates began his talk with a disarming humility. He says “if you have some success in a particular area like writing a book people overestimate [the knowledge you have.]” And “I don’t just come here as someone just dispensing knowledge but as a consumer too.” He also admitted that he does not know Hawai’i’s history. Most people here don’t either (the bain of my existence), so how could he? Merely bringing up this knowledge gap, for me, is a step forward. He says, without false modesty, that he was a really bad student, but always a deeply curious person. This was apparently genetic: his father cut school to go to libraries and museums, then joined the Black Panther Party. He dropped out of school but eventually went back and got his college degree. The academy has become more open. Usually people who do what I do have PhDs or are similarly situated. “I’m not.” This is the virtual definition of the working class intellectual. What stays with me most about Coates breakthrough book Between the World and Me  is his imagined dialog with Saul Bellow who famously quipped “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans?” Coates responded that “Tolstoy in the Tolstoy of the Zulus” evoking a global intellectual heritage of the kind that this site is all about.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Defending the Mauna

This is another piece I wrote for Letters: The Life of the Mind, so it was written for a general (not local or Hawaiian) audience – it is slightly amended here.

When measured from the sea floor, the tallest mountain on Earth is Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai’i. Decades ago, a telescope was proposed for the summit. There are already a dozen telescopes there, but this is the very large Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The construction of TMT on a summit that Hawaiians consider sacred has provoked the largest protest movement in recent years, rivaling the mass movement to stop the Navy’s target practice on the island of Kaho’olawe. A few weeks ago, Native Hawaiian activists blocked the entrance to the road to the summit, creating an encampment.  In July 2019, Native Hawaiians began to make national news over their efforts to block the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea, Hawai’i Island. NBC news recently covered the emergence of a school. Named Pu’uhuluhulu University, it offers free classes, taught mainly by Hawaiians. NBC’s headline read that protestors (who call themselves “protectors”) started the school to teach “local culture and values.”



Last Sunday, several thousand people gathered to sing and dance hula in opposition to TMT


Native Hawaiians are involved in the building of infrastructure that could lead to greater things. I’ve written before about the need for a Hawaiian college here. The university established during the occupation is as grassroots as it’s possible to be, and seemed to emerge spontaneously out of the lava rock. It included lectures on decolonizing religion, “stepping into sovereignty,” water law, Hawaiian language classes and training for hula that would be performed during protocols. My lecture was titled “Nonviolence and Land” – two topics I know well, allowing me to speak extemporaneously without notes. But the organization of this occupation included medical services, a fully operational kitchen, and a protocol area in addition to the school. Many groups appeared with offerings for the leadership of the movement, on the day that I was there offerings were made from the Native American tribe from Standing Rock.

At one point, when the movement seemed to build steam, I thought to myself: “where were these people when the permitting process was happening?” This occured mainly in the 1990s, with some friends of mine (about my age – in their 40s and 50s now) being very active in that process. But I realized that many of the current protestors were in elementary and high school at that time. But here’s the rub: many were in schools that were started as part of the larger Hawaiian movement: Hawaiian Language Immersion schools, Hawaiian Culture-focused charter schools, as well as the school that I teach at (Kamehameha Schools, exclusively for Native Hawaiians). For example, Kaho’okahi Kanuha, who many consider the leader of this movement, is the first graduate of Punana Leo, the Hawaiian immersion preschools, as well as a graduate of Kamehameha. In the 1970s Native Hawaiians had a cultural renaissance, and in1990s and 2000s they built institutions, from which the current crop of protectors has mainly emerged. So viewed from a larger social perspective, the presence of millenial-aged protectors is a product of the institution building of previous two generations, and thus a case study in social movement building.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Thought in a Time of Climate Change

This is from my new site Letters: The Life of the Mind

In 2016 I was a keynote speaker for an institute at Cornell. One night I found myself riding in a Volvo 850 with three professors, talking about Volvos. Every person in that car had, or previously had, a Volvo (I had a V70). Volvos match the intellectual’s personality; safe, long lasting, high brow but not so high as to alienate the lumpen proletariat. But they are definitely not fuel efficient.

As it is when it comes to money, the academic culture is ambivalent about day to day environmentally sustainable lifestyles. We drive gas guzzling Volvos but once on campus, we walk. More importantly, we teach, often esoteric, subjects in safe spaces while the world burns. Bill McKibben tells us that the major impacts of climate change are not 50, but 10 to 15 years years away. The usually upbeat Professor Skip Fletcher of the University of Hawai’i, a major scientist studying climate change, states that he finds it all very depressing and that what’s needed is not hope but courage.


Environmentalist Bill McKibben

Recycling is institutionalized in most campuses, but conference travel casts a huge carbon footprint, but is necessary for tenure and promotion. Back in 2008 The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story entitled “Academic travel causes global warming,” but admitted:

OK, the headline is a stretch. However, it is true that air travel puts large amounts of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, soot, and even water vapor directly into the atmosphere, all of which makes an inordinate and unsustainable contribution to global warming. And academics do fly — a lot. As the environmental writer and activist Mark Lynas argued in the New Statesman: “Probably the single most polluting thing you or I will ever do is step on a plane.”

Around Harvard, I’d hear about (but never saw) Noam Chomsky riding around on his bicycle, but I’d stop short of saying we should all be like him. Though there is a bike path from his home in Lexington to Cambridge, it doesn’t really reach the far end of the city where MIT is, so I doubt he rode this distance daily.

Still we could all do more. I commuted by running for about six years, distances of three to six miles. Living in Hawai’i has its perks – I don’t mean the ones you might think. We have a major convention center and so major academic conferences come here. I was on a panel at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) conference in 2017 here and I’ll be on another panel at the American Studies Association (ASA) this November. Next year, the International Studies Association (ISA) is also here in Hawai’i. All without boarding a plane. Of course, most attendees will have flown 2500 or more miles, but focusing on regional conferences this way could help shrink the footprint academic life makes on the planet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Images: Watch Picasso’s “Guernica” Emerge — Human Pages

Scroll through this selection of preliminary studies & photos of the canvas as it was worked on & completed. Pretty astonishing, & all done in about five weeks.

via Images: Watch Picasso’s “Guernica” Emerge — Human Pages

Leave a comment

May 23, 2019 · 7:40 pm

Privatizing ‘Aina: Iolani Palace Speaker Series

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

The Lecturer’s Tale

The writer and teacher of creative writing James Hynes wrote a novel called The Lecturer’s Tale, a sardonic look at the life and absurdities of university teaching at the proletarian level. As a lecturer myself (at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa), I’ve been hesitant to cast my hat into the debate over the state of adjuncts – I appreciate the position I have, enjoy my department (the Institute of Peace) and feel valued there. This position also works with my schedule and the rest of my life. I teach in the evenings, online and in the summer and it allows me to keep a university affiliation that I otherwise would not have – this is important for publishing, conferences and other academic activities. They also pay me well as lecturing goes. For some the lecturership makes sense.

But the outcry is getting louder that something needs to be done about the two-tier system within academia. Seventy percent of college teaching faculty are now lecturers, which seems to signal a decline in the desire of universities to have research-producing faculty. Some lecturers soldier on and produce research seemingly against all odds.

A particularly poignant article in the New York Times depicted a lecturer who died destitute after a promising beginning to her career – she landed Visiting Assistant Professor positions, which are all too often carrots that dangle with nothing beyond them. Some are asking how the tenured and tenure-track faculty can sit by and watch the situation go on. Others say don’t blame tenured and TT faculty for the plight of adjuncts, blame admin. Fair enough. But the two-tier nature of the university system seems to ignore the fact t

writing notes idea class

Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

hat most lecturers have the same degrees as the tenured professorate, and if they aren’t, or cannot develop into, senior members of the academic community, it is precisely because they have become the epitome of the “overworked and underpaid” cliche. As one lecturer put it: “how can I inspire my students if I’m not making it myself?”

I originally wrote this piece for my new website – Letters: The Life of the Mind – check it out!





Filed under Education

How to become an intellectual

Yes it’s a very pretentious title, but a student of mine has been asking me to write a blog on this topic, so I enlisted my friends – undisputed intellectuals – to help me come up with a list of steps, so here they are:

1. Read: Richard Nixon, when asked how to succeed, said “Read, read, read.” I wouldn’t suggest taking all of his advice but this is a good one.

2. Read seminal texts: Reading alone won’t help if what you’re reading is 50 Shades of Grey. Many reading lists are available including mine16634 and depending on your goals they can add structure to what could be an overwhelming task.

3. In the movie The Squid and the Whale, Jeff Daniels’s character calls his wife’s boyfriend a “philistine.” His son asks what that is, and Daniels responds, pretentiously, “You know, someone who doesn’t read good books and watch great films.” Use other media to force feed knowledge into your brain: classics comics, audio books (you can’t read and drive), blinkist, documentaries, Alain de Botton’s School of Life and of course art films are all fun ways to build your knowledge base.

4. Recognize that you will never master this – it’s an ongoing  process and your education is a work in progress.

5. Focus on six areas to be a general intellectual: Philosophy is first, then literature, and then in no particular order, history,  art and art history, science (a cliff notes level understanding at least), and current events.

administration ancient arches architecture

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

6. Mid-Pacific history teacher, former archaeologist and Low Brow Salon member Serge Avery had this to say:

students today could use a primer in how to be a thinker/critic/intellectual.  My contribution is that I try (as do you) to model that in the classroom and push the students to push past their comfort zones and wade into the heavy stuff. The moment we history teachers go for the sound byte for the sake of speaking the millennial language -we’ve shortchanged them.  [Prestigious American prep school Phillips] Exeter is not moving to tweeting about history-they still have Harkness discussions https://www.exeter.edu/exeter-difference/how-you’ll-learn.

I like the idea of writing some sort of “thinking manifesto” for students in the 21st century-something you give to students upon entering your class or school.
Serge also recommended the following as a way to begin “thinking about thinking:”
Chris Lydon discussed this very topic with a Stanford proffesor who basically has a radio show salon for intellectuals called Entitled Opinions.
Then check out Entitled Opinions https://entitledopinions.stanford.edu/

Leave a comment

Filed under Education