Misunderstood: Prince Kūhiō

#212 in the Moʻolelo series

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#211 in the Moʻolelo series

At the Hawai’i State Capitol hangs a large  medallion emblazoned with the Hawai‘i state seal. On the top of the disk it says “State of Hawaii.” At the bottom it says “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono.” This phrase, first stated by Kauikeaouli, King Kamehameha III in 1843 is usually translated as “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness,” but in the Hawaiian language dictionary, the word “ea” means life or sovereignty. When Kamehameha III first uttered these words, the sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom had just been restored after being ceded to Britain. The slogan was adopted as the motto of the Kingdom and after the overthrow of 1893 and the statehood vote of 1959, continued as the state motto. But this motto is a slogan affirming the continued sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom from the era of Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III. Kauikeaouli was a prophetic name that meant “placed on a dark cloud.” The name was prophetic because there was a dark cloud over his reign – the cloud of Western imperialism. Kauikeaouli responded with a strategy of Westernizing the Kingdom, Thus, the theme of his reign was Westernization as a means to preserve sovereignty.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that imperialism is often used as a synonym for colonialism. My own view is that the slight difference is that while colonialism is concerned with the ideology behind making colonies, imperialism, it seems, is concerned with the overall project of building an empire. It was said, for example, that the sun never set on the British Empire, as Britain controlled 25% of the Earth’s land surface and so it was always day somewhere in this imperial territory:

At least since the Crusades and the conquest of the Americas, political theorists have struggled with the difficulty of reconciling ideas about justice and natural law with the practice of European sovereignty over non-Western peoples. In the nineteenth century, the tension between liberal thought and colonial practice became particularly acute, as dominion of Europe over the rest of the world reached its zenith. Ironically, in the same period when most political philosophers began to defend the principles of universalism and equality, the same individuals still defended the legitimacy of colonialism and imperialism. One way of reconciling those apparently opposed principles was the argument known as the “civilizing mission,” which suggested that a temporary period of political dependence or tutelage was necessary in order for “uncivilized” societies to advance to the point where they were capable of sustaining liberal institutions and self-government.


When the British runner Roger Bannister, the first man to break four minutes in the mile spoke to Australian John Landy, the second man to do so, he brought up the New Zealander Edmund Hilary, who had recently scaled Mount Everest. “Great empire effort,” said Bannister, trying to form a bond with the Aussie Landy. That two men, rivals on opposite sides of the Earth could form such a bond shows the power of imperialism as a ideology.

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#210 in the Moʻolelo series

“For a colonized people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.” 
― Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Colonialism is the set of ideas behind the process of taking over other peoples’ lands militarily, culturally and economically. It was the mindset behind the process of Colonization, which was a widespread process in the nineteenth century as European powers made much of Africa, Asia, the Pacific and South America into colonies. Often, missionaries unknowingly acted as a first wave of colonial activity, followed by merchants and finally the military. Only five countries outside Europe avoided this fate, while some places – French Polynesia for example –  remain colonies of European countries. Some scholars today point out that Hawaiʻi was not literally colonized. As the Hawaiian Kingdom was a recognized sovereign,  independent country from 1843 until at least 1898, what occured in 1898 was occupation, not colonization. But “colonization” has a cultural component, in which the colonized is made to feel inferior to the colonizer in their own land. This cultural process certainly did occur in Hawaiʻi, and is touched upon in the fascinating Sahlins-Obeyesekere debate of 1985-1995. The Martinique-born psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon, who worked in Algeria and supported them during their war for independence from France, made a devastating critique of the psychological effects of colonization on the mind of the colonized: “The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.” 

Frantz Fanon

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines colonialism:

Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. One of the difficulties in defining colonialism is that it is hard to distinguish it from imperialism. Frequently the two concepts are treated as synonyms. Like colonialism, imperialism also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory. The etymology of the two terms, however, provides some clues about how they differ. The term colony comes from the Latin word colonus, meaning farmer. This root reminds us that the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory, where the arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to their country of origin. Imperialism, on the other hand, comes from the Latin term imperium, meaning to command. Thus, the term imperialism draws attention to the way that one country exercises power over another, whether through settlement, sovereignty, or indirect mechanisms of control.

The legitimacy of colonialism has been a longstanding concern for political and moral philosophers in the Western tradition.


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What/who is a Hawaiian/Kanaka Maoli? [video]

#209 in the Moʻolelo series, #19 on the Moʻolelo Channel on YouTube

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What/who is a Hawaiian/Kanaka Maoli? [text]

#208 in the Moʻolelo series

In 1964, the Hawaiian writer John Dominis Holt wrote the essay “On Being Hawaiian” – this essay is seen as a catalyst for the nascent Hawaiian movements: the renaissance and sovereignty of later decades. In it, Holt – a descendant of both Hawaiian and European royalty – asked whether “Hawaiian” was a matter of blood or ʻsentiment:”

Holt wrote:

 I am, in depth, a product of Hawaii–an American, yes, who is a citizen of the fiftieth State, but I am also a Hawaiian; somewhat by blood, and in large measure by sentiment. Of this, I am proud.

As the Poetry Foundation described him:

John Dominis Holt is recognized as one of the leading voices of the mid-century “Hawaiian Renaissance.” Descended from Hawaiian royalty and European ancestors, Holt navigated the competing claims of pedigree and genealogy in postcolonial Hawaii…

I posit here three ways of defining “Hawaiian”

  1. Genealogy – the debate on this is basically settled. To be Hawaiian is to have a Hawaiian family, and to be able to trace their lineage back to what Kealani Cook has called the time of ʻoiwi wale – when there were only Kanaka ʻOiwi
  2. Hawaiian citizenship – in a more modern context of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the term “Hawaiian” connoted Hawaiian subjects, who could be and were multi-racial – Willy Kauai informs us in his dissertation The Color of Nationality that between 1840 and 1887 there were “3200 people from numerous other place who became naturalized Hawaiian subjects.” Kauai writes:

3. A set of values – this is of course much more nebulous and subject to being stretched and even abused, but it does seem that values such as aloha, lokahi, lokomaikaʻi and others (George Kanahele established a set of 25) are foundational to being Hawaiian.


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#207 in the Moʻolelo series


  1. the theory or practice of mercantile pursuits COMMERCIALISM
  2. an economic system developing during the decay of feudalism to unify and increase the power and especially the monetary wealth of a nation by a strict governmental regulation of the entire national economy usually through policies designed to secure an accumulation of bullion (see BULLION sense 1), a favorable balance of trade, the development of agriculture and manufactures, and the establishment of foreign trading monopolies (see MONOPOLY sense 1)

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“Mercantilism is economic nationalism for the purpose of building a wealthy and powerful state. Adam Smith coined the term “mercantile system” to describe the system of political economy that sought to enrich the country by restraining imports and encouraging exports.” 


Many contemporary scholars and observers deride the contact between Hawaiians and capitalism as a devastating, even genocidal encounter. But the Hawaiian encounter with Western economies predates widespread capitalism practices, and is roughly contemporaneous with Adam Smith’s articulation of the capitalist political economy. Hawaiian engagement with Western economies (and also China) was squarely in the little-understood period known as mercantilism.

Mercantilism was an economic system that preceded free-market capitalism, and differed from it in that in a mercantile system, the goal of nations was to increase its capital, which was represented by gold and silver bullion (usually coins) through a positive balance of trade. This was accomplished by favoring export of goods and discouraging imports and by the use of government (usually royal) monopolies on traded goods.

The sandalwood trade in particular was a mercantilist trade, as its purpose, through a series of trades, was the accumulation of precious metals in European national coffers. Traders would exchange sandalwood cut by makaʻāinana for various, usually luxury, items, such as silks, cloth, even vessels. Kamehameha had a warehouse full of this cargo at Honolulu Harbor. The traders would take the sandalwood to China and exchange it for metals, usually gold, and the return the gold to the sponsor of their royal monopoly.

Indeed, when William Richards became the reluctant teacher of capitalism for the chiefs, he was somewhat at a loss as to how this system was to work in its details. The line that became the subtitle of Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa’s book Native Land and Foreign Desires, “pehea lā e pono ai?” was the question the chiefs put to Richards – what is the right (pono) thing to do? Richards admits he was not able to satisfactorily answer the well-put question. This may be in part because capitalist practice was still very new.

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Moʻolelo Pōkole: Vignettes of Hawaiian History – Liliʻuokalani and Wilcox

#206 in the Moʻolelo series, this is the second installment of the “Moʻolelo Pōkole: Vignettes of Hawaiian history”

When I used to teach and think about the trial of Liliʻuokalani, a sham, show trial by a “kangaroo court,” I thought it highly unlikely that Liliʻuokalani would have participated in allowing weapons to be hidden in her yard, of all places. I thought it equally unlikely that Wilcox’s “rebels” would choose that place to hide the weapons and uneccesarily implicate the Queen. But in the book Taking Hawaiʻi, by Stephen Dando Collins (and I do still need to check his sources – he claims to have uncovered new ones), it is claimed that Wilcox had possibly plotted with Liliʻu to oust Kalākaua, and even made an attempt on the kingʻs life.

Robert Kalanihiapo Wilcox around the time of the events described here

Wilcox and his Italian bride Gina, who was a Baroness, were given a place to live in then-Princess Liliʻuokalani’s Palama house, where she mainly lived. They dined with the Princess nightly. But Gina became suspicious of the constant meetings between her husband and the Princess – whether political or personal (she was fairly apolitical). And according to Collins, Wilcox came home one night and admitted that he had held a dagger above the sleeping King Kalākaua but hadnʻt had the heart to complete the deed.


Wilcox was promptly banned from the Kingdom on threat of death and fled with Gina to San Francisco, where they separated. She was given an annulment from the Pope himself, despite the fact that she had by then given birth to Wilcox’s daughter.

Wilcox ca. 1900

All of this complicates an already complex character in Wilcox, who was later accused of being a “turncoat,” when he became a Republican after annexation (and after representing Hawaiʻi in Congress as a Home Rule Party delegate). Likewise it complicates Liliʻu somewhat, who had publicly and repeatedly refused to support any effort to push the King to abdicate after a drop in confidence in him following the Bayonet Constitution. It is difficult, likely impossible, to know what was discussed in the pair’s meetings, but does tell us at the very least that they knew each other very well – this was something I wasnʻt fully aware of when thinking about the charges against her in 1895.

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The Shot Heard ʻround the Town: Beginning of the Overthrow

#205 in the Moʻolelo series, this post is the first of what Iʻll be calling “vignettes” of Hawaiian history – short, but I hope interesting, anecdotes that illustrate the Hawaiian past.

Depending on who writes the history books, a revolution is an act of treason, while a successful revolution is a turning point in history” – Stephen Dando Collins, Taking Hawaiʻi

On January 17, 1893, Hawaiian newspapers ran an installment of the moʻolelo of Pele and Hiʻiaka, as if anticipating the day’s events and harkening back to tradition to cope with them. That afternoon at 2 oʻclock, Castle and Cooke driver Ed Benner was driving a coach that contained arms meant to overthrow the queen in a violent coup dʻetat. He was recruited by John Good, who was determined to revolt against Queen Liliʻuokalani and had arranged the shipment, as this was not planned as a “bloodless revolution” as it was later described by its insurgent leaders. Hawaiian police were aware of the shipment, which had been approved in customs. So when officer Kealoha (as Act of War informs us his name was) attempted to stop the carriage, John Good was prepared and drew a pistol and shot him.

This shot was heard all over Honolulu town, and was Hawaiʻi’s version of the “shot heard ʻround the world,” as it initiated a revolutionary change that has set the course of Hawaiian history ever since.

The Honolulu Rifles club was in existence for years before its services were needed in the 1887 Bayonet constitution pseudo-coup. Lunalilo had disbanded them out of a rightful fear of overthrow. Kalākaua paradoxically allowed the group to reform. But their weapons would not be enough for an all out attempt on government, and an extra shipment was needed – this is what was in the carriage on that fateful day.

The coup had been orchestrated by “The Directorate” – a committee of leaders within the sugar-driven insurgents’ Hawaiian League (which, by definition, had no Native Hawaiian members – the oath of membership was to “protect the white community of this Kingdom”) .

Knowing that what they were attempting was no mere play-acting, but a genuine act of treason, the oligarchy and its fellow-travelers were somewhat careful not to appear too brazen. But when four Hawaiian policemen charged the carriage, which had departed from the store of E.O. Hall and Sons, Benner whipped one of them and Good shot Kealoha, initiating the event which would first be nearly erased, then continually be debated over the next century as perhaps the main turning point of Hawaiian history. Whether the events of January 17th (and 16th) were successful, is likewise a matter debate. Those who say they were not point to the fact that external intervention was needed – a point that Grover Cleveland noted in his address to Congress requesting their support in reinstating Queen Liliʻuokalani.

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Kinohi: Hawaiian Origins

#204 in the Moʻolelo series, this could really be called “Part 1,” but I donʻt want to call it that until I write Hōkūleʻa – Part 2!

Hawaiian oral histories offer varying and competing answers to the questions of Hawaiian origins. These questions include the place of origin of Hawaiians, the first people to arrive or appear in Hawaiʻi, the first chief or chiefs, the first site of settlement, and voyagers who arrived in Hawaiʻi. In terms of the time of origin or settlement, Hawaiian oral histories offer a generational estimate (i.e., how many generations passed between settlement and a later time, rather than a year of settlement as in the western sense of time).

Hawaiian scholars David Malo, Samuel Kamakau and Kepelino all concur with Kumulipo that the place of origin of early inhabitants of HawaiʻI was “Kahiki” [or “Tahiti”]. As Malo (1951, 6) states, “it is thought that this people [early Hawaiians] came from lands near Tahiti and from Tahiti itself, because the ancient Hawaiians at an early date mentioned the name of Tahiti in their mele, prayers, and legends.” The meaning of the name Kahiki not necessarily refer to the island of Tahiti in the Society Islands, as the term means any foreign place. 

Davida Malo

            In addition, Malo names another source, a place called Lolo-i-mehani, which he makes clear was not in Hawaiʻi: “It is said that from Wakea down to the death of Haumea there were six generations, and that these generations all lived in Lolo-i-Mehani; but it is not stated that they lived in any other place; nor is it stated that they came here to Hawaii to live.”There are notable [disparities/differences] between Kepelino’s account and those of other Hawaiian scholars. Arista (1998, 90) notes that some “Hawaiians tried to bridge the gap between the two traditions [Hawaiian and Christian] by attempting confusion. The Hawaiian [Roman] Catholic Zepherino Kepelino altered Hawaiian traditions so that they would better fit his new Christian paradigms.” [citing Beckwith, 1932]. Later the archaeological and other evidence that points to an origin in the Marquesas Islands will be discussed (in Part 2!).

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John Papa ʻĪʻī

#203 in the Moʻolelo series, I’ve begun looking at ʻĪʻī to fill in a review of various early Hawaiian scholars’ accounts of Hawaiian creation, such as Malo, Kamakau and Kepelino.

John Papa ʻĪʻī lived from 1800 to 1870, in that time becoming one of the most trusted advisors of the aliʻi nui and a noted authority on Hawaiian scholarly matters. In a famous story about Kamehameha, the chief (not yet king at the time) had six spears “hurled at him at nearly the same instant.” Peter Young recounts the story from Williams:

John Papa ʻĪʻī (source: wikimedia commons)

Kamehameha became the most skillful of all the chiefs in the use of the spear. Captain George Vancouver later wrote that he once saw six spears hurled at Kamehameha all at the same time.  Kamehameha caught three with one hand as they flew at him. Two he broke by hitting them with a spear in his other hand. One he dodged.

Peter Young, Images of Old Hawaiʻi, citing Williams

Marie Alohalani Brown, in her book Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ʻĪʻī, relates ʻĪʻī’s repeating of the same feat, showing his place in a lineage of Hawaiian warriors into the modern era:

Typical of the renaissance men of the Kingdom era, among ʻĪʻī’s positions were; member of the aliʻi council of Kauikeaouli, hānai father to Victoria Kamāmalu, Kahu of the Chiefs’ Children’s School, treasurer of the Kingdom, Superintendent of Schools for Oʻahu, and privy council member for Kamehameha IV (Brown).

ʻĪʻī retired from government service in 1868. He wrote the series known as “Fragments of Hawaiian History” in 1869 and 1870, and died of scarlet fever that same year. These writings were published as a book of the same name in 1970. Among his land holdings was Anapuni, which was sold in 1879. IN 1907 a tablet was placed at Kawaiahaʻo Church in his honor (nupepa.org).

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