The Ten Most Pervasive Myths about Hawaiian History

10. Hawaiian women in the Kingdom could not vote, so the constitution, and the country, was sexist

While it’s technically true the women couldn’t vote, this needs to be put into context: Lunalilo was thinking of universal suffrage in the early 1870s, but did not live long enough to achieve it (he did achieve universal male suffrage). Had he lived longer, Hawaiʻi may have been the first country to grant women the right to vote, because the official first country to do so was New Zealand in 1893! So, yes, women couldnʻt vote in the 1870s and 1880s – they couldnʻt vote anywhere in the world! In fact, women in the Hawaiʻi legislature (House of Nobles) could vote as early as 1840 – this is calmly reported in the main Hawaiian history textbook as if itʻs not a big deal, but it means that one might be able to argue that Hawaiʻi was, in fact, the first country to allow women (certain women) to vote.

9. Missionaries overthrew Hawaiʻi

Anyone who knows their Hawaiian history well at all knows this isnʻt true – not technically. None of the leaders of the overthrow were themselves missionaries. They were the sons and grandsons of missionaries, and often called the “Mission boys” – the “boys” of the missionaries – and colloquially “missionaries.” But none of them were actually missionaries because that wasnʻt the thing to do in their generation – they all became businessmen in sugar and related industries. The only exception was Hiram Bingham’s son, who became a missionary, but went to the South Pacific, and had no involvement with the overthrow. A related misconception (among those who have only a cursory knowledge of Hawaiian history) is that missionaries helped abolish the kapu system. Since they were climbing aboard a ship in Boston harbor when that happened, it’s impossible for them to have done so.

8. Hawaiians did not resist the overthrow or annexation

OK, this one is pretty well known to be false by now, but itʻs worth remembering that in the 1980s, Haunani-Kay Trask had to defend the idea of Hawaiian resistance, and could only refer to the lyrics of “Kaulana nā Pua” in support of the idea. Now, with the Kūʻē petitions, we see that not only did Hawaiian resist, they resisted nonviolently and violently (with the Wilcox rebellion). In other words, Hawaiians did everything possible to prevent annexation.

Aloha Betrayed by Noenoe Silva depicts the gathering of the petitions against annexation

Aloha Betrayed by Noenoe Silva depicts the gathering of the petitions against annexation

7. Kalākaua was powerless after the 1887 Bayonet Constitution.

Historian Ronald Williams Jr. has uncovered strenuous debates between Kalākaua and the legislature in which he pushes hard for returning power to the throne – quite a different King from the one commonly portrayed as a broken man.

King David Kalākaua (1874-1891)

King David Kalākaua (1874-1891)

6. The 1893 overthrow was “US-backed”

Louis “Buzzy” Agard has found evidence that the US planned the overthrow ahead of time. Agard found an encoded message (and then found the key!) from the State Department telling the USS Boston to attack ports in Hawaiʻi, ending in Honolulu. That makes it a straight-up US overthrow.

5. Kamehameha V was a despot

According to A. Grove Day in History Makers of Hawaii:

[Lot Kapuaiwa] believed that the example of his grandfather, KAMEHAMEHA I, gave him the right to lead the people personally, and favored a stronger form of monarchy that verged on despotism.

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 7.56.18 AM

This description comes partly from the period, when in 1864 “it appeared that a new constitution could not be agreed on, he declared that the Constitution of 1852 should be replaced by one he wrote himself” (Day, 1984, 70). But the power to do that was in the old constitution, and if one looks at the new Constitution, that power is absent. In other words, Lot had reduced his own power rather than increasing it. Members of the legislature thanked him afterward.

4. Pauahi was the last of the high-born Kamehamehas

The last of the high-born Kamehamehas was Albert Kūnuiakea, son of Kamehameha III. Albert seemed to be a persona non grata since he was “illegitimate” as the son of Kauikeaouli and Jane Lahilahi Young. This made him Queen Emma’s cousin, and the black sheep of that family. He was literally “the man would be be king,” that is, if the missionaries hadnʻt brought the notion of illegitimacy with them.

Albert Kūnuiakea (1852 - 1901)

Albert Kūnuiakea (1852 – 1901)

Think about it: he could have been Kamehameha IV, rather than Alexander Liholiho, and Albert lived into the twentieth century. So the son of Kamehameha III could have been king for 40 years by the time of the overthrow, making such an event much less likely. He is buried at Mauna Ala, recognition that he was a royal in the 20th century.

There are also many other descendants of Kamehameha – see the book Kamehameha’s Children Today.

3. Hawaiians lost their land in the Māhele

My own research, as well as that of Donovan Preza, Robert Stauffer and Keanu Sai, shows that Hawaiians co-created the “Western-modelled” land tenure system along with advisors, and that many Hawaiians learned the system, and had land (this is why Kamehameha V’s property requirement for voting is not as bad as it might look otherwise). Stuffer shows that they lost land mainly due to foreclosure after 1874 due to the non-judicial foreclosure law, which eliminated judicial oversight. Preza (The Empirical Writes Back, 2010) shows that the Māhele was a “necessary but not sufficient” condition for land dispossession. My research (Kuleana: A Genealogy of Native Tenant Rights, 2013) suggests that the land tenure system embedded Hawaiian rights in land rather than alienation Hawaiians from it.

2. A great majority of Hawaiʻi residents supported Statehood in 1959

Ron Williams wrote that Lamar Alexander, in 2006, expressed the commonly held view: “In 1959,94 percent of Hawaiians reaffirmed that commitment to become Americans by voting to become a State” (Williams, 2). He also shows that, while it may be true that the vast majority of Hawaiʻi residents who voted supported Statehood in 1959, only 132,000 people actually voted for Statehood – about one-fifth of the population at the time (20.7% to be precise). This is a far cry from 94%.

(See Williams, ʻOnipaʻa ka ʻOiaʻiʻo: The Truth is Steadfast)

Dean Saranillio also tracked anti-Statehood sentiment in his dissertation (Michigan, 2009) Seeing Conquest, noting that Kamokila Campbell had opposed statehood and in fact become a kind of mouthpiece for those who opposed it, but feared for the loss of their jobs or other repercussions. Campbell, who was part of the Kawananakoa family and became famous for saying “I am Hawaiʻi,” opposed “forfeiting the rights of natives of these islands for a thimbleful of votes” in Congress.

1. Annexation

That it happened. Without a treaty. Legally or illegally. This isnʻt as widespread these days as the others, but whatʻs at stake is obviously much, much greater than with the others. Those who say there was an “illegal annexation” neglect the fact that annexation is precisely the legal aspect of a conquest, thus it’s an oxymoron. Those who point to Supreme Court decisions neglect the fact (as I said in my debate with Ian Lind) that there were two countries involved, and one country’s court, no matter how supreme, simply does not have a say in the legality of their action – it is an international issue. Those who say international law does not exist fail to consider what other countries think when its understandings are violated (as with Iraq in 2003): could we be next? Whatʻs to stop the US or China from taking us over if there are no rules? That’s why these international norms are in place. China, in fact, seems to be on to the US occupation – in 2011, they said “we could claim Hawaiʻi,” to which then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton responded “weʻll prove we own it,” showing that she understood it was a challenge to the US occupation, not a threat to simply invade.

While some misconceptions have more impact than others, the cumulative effect of these, and many other myths (when combined with a plain and complete ignorance of Hawaiian history on the part of many) is to distort courses of action and decision-making processes. This is true even, and perhaps especially, among Hawaiians themselves.

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The Five Most Pervasive Myths about Hawaiian History

In this post, I start with the five most egregious misconceptions about Hawaiian history (some are admittedly debatable) – Iʻll be expanding it to ten in the next couple of days.

5. Kalākaua was powerless after the 1887 Bayonet Constitution.

Historian Ronald Williams Jr. has uncovered strenuous debates between Kalākaua and the legislature in which he pushes hard for returning power to the throne – quite a different King from the one commonly portrayed as a broken man.

King David Kalākaua (1874-1891)

King David Kalākaua (1874-1891)

4. The 1893 overthrow was “US-backed”

Louis “Buzzy” Agard has found evidence that the US planned the overthrow ahead of time. Agard found an encoded message (and then found the key!) from the State Department telling the USS Boston to attack ports in Hawaiʻi, ending in Honolulu. That makes it a straight-up US overthrow.

3. Kamehameha V was a despot

According to A. Grove Day in History Makers of Hawaii:

[Lot Kapuaiwa] believed that the example of his grandfather, KAMEHAMEHA I, gave him the right to lead the people personally, and favored a stronger form of monarchy that verged on despotism.

Screen shot 2011-12-27 at 7.56.18 AM

This description comes partly from the period, when in 1864 “it appeared that a new constitution could not be agreed on, he declared that the Constitution of 1852 should be replaced by one he wrote himself” (Day, 1984, 70). But the power to do that was in the old constitution, and if one looks at the new Constitution, that power is absent. In other words, Lot had reduced his own power rather than increasing it. Members of the legislature thanked him afterward.

2. Pauahi was the last of the high-born Kamehamehas

The last of the high-born Kamehamehas was Albert Kūnuiakea, son of Kamehameha III. Albert seemed to be a persona non grata since he was “illegitimate” as the son of Kauikeaouli and Jane Lahilahi Young. This made him Queen Emma’s cousin, and the black sheep of that family. He was literally “the man would be be king,” that is, if the missionaries hadnʻt brought the notion of illegitimacy with them.

Albert Kūnuiakea (1852 - 1901)

Albert Kūnuiakea (1852 – 1901)

Think about it: he could have been Kamehameha IV, rather than Alexander Liholiho, and Albert lived into the twentieth century. So the son of Kamehameha III could have been king for 40 years by the time of the overthrow, making such an event much less likely. He is buried at Mauna Ala, recognition that he was a royal in the 20th century.

There are also many other descendants of Kamehameha – see the book Kamehameha’s Children Today.

1. Annexation

That it happened. Without a treaty. Legally or illegally. This isnʻt as widespread these days as the others, but whatʻs at stake is obviously much, much greater than with the others. Those who say there was an “illegal annexation” neglect the fact that annexation is precisely the legal aspect of a conquest, thus it’s an oxymoron. Those who point to Supreme Court decisions neglect the fact (as I said in my debate with Ian Lind) that there were two countries involved, and one country’s court, no matter how supreme, simply does not have a say in the legality of their action – it is an international issue. Those who say international law does not exist fail to consider what other countries think when its understandings are violated (as with Iraq in 2003): could we be next? Whatʻs to stop the US or China from taking us over if there are no rules? That’s why these international norms are in place. China, in fact, seems to be on to the US occupation – in 2011, they said “we could claim Hawaiʻi,” to which then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton responded “weʻll prove we own it,” showing that she understood it was a challenge to the US occupation, not a threat to simply invade.

While some misconceptions have more impact than others, the cumulative effect of these, and many other myths (when combined with a plain and complete ignorance of Hawaiian history on the part of many) is to distort courses of action and decision-making processes. This is true even, and perhaps especially, among Hawaiians themselves.

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Reflective Practice #5: History Day

If you havenʻt heard of National History Day (NHD), think of it like science fair, but for history. There are NHD competitions in all the US states and territories, and even foreign US military bases. Hawaiʻi’s History Day program is considered one of the stronger competitions, with students placing high at the National competition most years. Right now the district fairs are happening – Honolulu district History Day was last week. I first competed in NHD in 2004, but there was a long learning curve for me – NHD has its own criteria for which projects move on to the state and national competitions.

This yearʻs NHD theme is "Leadership and Legacy in History"

This yearʻs NHD theme is “Leadership and Legacy in History”

Kamehameha has been an up-and-coming school over the past few years, made up of a core team of teachers including myself. We gained ground on perennial NHD powerhouses Mililani and Kahuku. Last year, KS-Kapālama won first place at state in four of the five categories (research papers, documentary videos, websites and exhibits – the final category is performance) This year, we had our fourth school-level fair with about 300 projects entered. Of these, 40 moved on to the Honolulu District fair. At the fair, Kamehameha took 10 of the 15 available slots to move on to Hawaiʻi History Day (states) – two of those were my students.

History Day is fairly brutal competitively, with many excellent projects left behind as they move up through the rounds. But the skills that are learned along the way, we feel, make it well worth the effort. Students prepare a 20-source annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and gain a level of expertise on their topics that few ever reach. They gain skills in graphic design, computer applications such as Adobe Illustrator, video production skills, acting  and writing. One of the judges at the Honolulu fair on Saturday said she couldnʻt wait to get the NHD students in her classes as they were “light years” beyond the average college freshman in terms of research skills, whether they made it to states or not. If you have a child in 4th to 12th grade, consider having them do a History Day project – the benefits are long-lasting. The future depends on citizens with a strong grasp on history, regardless of the fields they enter. As one of my former NHD students, now in college, stated:

In the two years I participated in History Day, it prepared me for the intensive college research I am currently doing. It takes a lot of detail and attention to formulate a project that encompasses a lot of information into a concise, coherent, and complete argument.

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The State of Hawaiʻi – Part 4: The State without History

This is part four of a series of articles I’ve been drafting for my students in Hawai’i Politics and other courses. Part one deals with rail and other issues andpart two with race and the Democratic machine. The third installment looked at the psychology of development. This fourth installment examines the problems with the transmission of history in books and schools.

In the recently-published book Captive Paradise by James L. Haley, the author essentially brags that he consulted no Hawaiian historians or Hawaiian language sources because doing so would simply be “political correctness.” He claims that English language sources are adequate.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.25.30 PM

An independent scholar published by St. Martin’s press (a major publishing house), Haley launched another assault on Hawaiʻi’s history from outside, along with Julia Flynn Siler’s Lost Kingdom. Lost Kingdom was not as blatantly anti-historiography, but contained mistakes, which the author admitted (confusing Liholiho and Alexander Liholiho). One problem was that after four years of research, the author and her research assistant failed to even come across the argument that Hawaiʻi was illegally annexed. It makes one wonder what universe they live in (certainly not the umiverse;). As Makana Risser Chai wrote on Amazon and the umiverse in her review of Siler’s book:

The author gives two sentences to the petitions against annexation sent by tens of thousands of Hawaiians. She makes no mention that as a result of this and other opposition, the treaty of annexation was defeated on February 27, 1898, when only 46 senators voted in favor. She states (284), “a joint resolution on annexation passed Congress with a simple majority,” without noting that annexation, under the U. S. Constitution, cannot take place by resolution. It was a procedural move by Republicans who could not get the two-thirds majority they needed for a treaty.

The worst failing of this book is that it makes the fascinating history of Hawai`i a dry, boring read. If you want to read an accurate, entertaining introduction to this particular part of Hawaiian history, I highly recommend Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes.

Locally, things are not much better, as I’ve repeatedly written. Think of the process of becoming a Hawaiian history teacher in the public schools: you have to pass the Praxis test, which is 40% history (no Hawaiian history) and 60% a wide variety of other social sciences. The chances that someone will know all this and have a deep understanding of Hawaiian history is quite unlikely, though by no means impossible. At the very least, it would take time – a lot of it. And given that the average teacher leaves the profession within five years, those left with a deep understanding of Hawaiian history are quite rare indeed. According to a DOE teacher I know who reviewed the new version of their textbook, the book reflects little, or none of the scholarship from the past 25 years.

This trickles up to politicians with very little understanding of Hawaiʻi’s history. For this reason I support the effort to train politicians in Hawaiian culture. I’ve also suggested to historians that a committee be formed that would give a stamp of credibility to works on Hawaiian history. This would be voluntary, but not  having the stamp could eventually throw such works into question

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The State of Hawaiʻi – Part 3: The State of Development

This is part three of a series of articles I’ve been drafting for my students in Hawai’i Politics and other courses. Part one deals with rail and other issues and part two with race and the Democratic machine. This third installment looks at the psychology of development.

Plans for a military research center at the University of Hawaiʻi underscore the reality highlighted by the approval of the Koa Ridge and Hoʻopili zoning changes: that Hawaiʻi is really a state of development. The driving force in Hawaiʻi is the consensus between developers and unions epitomized by Pacific Resource Partnership, the SuperPAC that crushed any effective opposition to establishment candidates in 2012. That the military lab will be named for the late Senator Daniel Inouye shows the status with which he presided over this consensus and his position as the “King of Hawaiʻi,” as the Wall Street Journal called him.

Screen shot 2015-03-08 at 5.51.36 AM

Carleton Ching

With the nomination of Carleton Ching for head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), which manages the “ceded lands” (the Kingdom Crown and Government lands), this “state of development” is coming into focus. Ching spent years trying to weaken environmental protections as a part-time lobbyist for Castle and Cooke. All the outrage against Ching’s nomination (even the Star-Advertiser came out against it) is gratifying, but may overlook the fact that it’s business as usual. Ching may actually only stand out because of the contrast with his predecessor Bill Aila. He is nevertheless an extremely pro-development choice. According to Ehu Kekahu Cardwell:

As President of the Land Use Research Foundation, a pro-development lobby group, Carleton Ching advocated

– To weaken protections for public access to beaches.

– To weaken protections for traditional and customary practices.

– To remove permit requirements that protect shorelines from development.

– Against laws to address climate change.

– For the Public Lands Development Corporation (PLDC)

Carleton Ching Confirmation Hearings

WHEN – Wednesday, March 11th 10AM

WHERE – Hawai`i Capitol – Room 229

Canʻt Attend? – Submit Your Opposition Testimony Today!

Submit Your Opposition Online Testimony Here -http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx

Or By Email Here – WTLTestimony@capitol.hawaii.gov

All written testimony should indicate whether you will be testifying in person

Between Koa Ridge, Hoʻopili, the plans to sell pineapple lands in Wahiawa and Envision Laie, we are heading toward having no open space on Oʻahu along any of the major highways. Add Ching to the mix and even the mauka protected forest areas arenʻt safe. One can imagine that wealthy people would like mountain retreats along the lines of Tantalus or Palehua in the Waianae mountains (see the cover of Israel’s Kamakawiwoʻole’s Facing Future – thatʻs Jon DeMelloʻs Palehua house at 3000 feet, six miles above Makakilo).

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole at Palehua, Waianae Mts.

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole at Palehua, Waianae Mts.

Koa Ridge

How much more urban can Oʻahu get? You might think of Hong Kong or Japan, but even they have large protected forest areas. With Chingʻs nomination  thereʻs the potential to erode at that. Within the economic logic of developers, it’s a no-brainer to go on building high-yield developments until land runs out. We need to question this “logic” and show that its really a kind of psychosis.

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Russia (and Hawai’i) in House of Cards

I haven’t binge-watched season three of House of Cards so while there are some episode spoilers here there are no season spoilers. I’m on episode 3, which is about where any reasonable person would be…

Brian Schatz and Maizie Hirono must have been thrilled to be featured in the Netflix hit show House of Cards’ third season. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia is probably less so. A character based on Schatz offers President Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) right-hand man Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) a job at an “above the cap” salary. Stamper refuses though the new right hand says “Freshman Senator from Hawai’i?  he’s a nice guy.” “Who is the senior Senator from Hawai’i?” Stamper interrogates. He says he can’t remember, to which Stamper replies “It’s [a Japanese woman meant to be Hirono], so how would you know [Schatz] is a nice guy? The President is behind this.” Underwood may indeed be trying to keep Stamper at arm’s length because of a brewing scandal involving a prostitute paid to distract an errant Congressman who ends up dead.

Reviews of the new season have been luke warm – the thrill of chasing the Presidency has been replaced by the banality of the daily task of governing. But the depiction of Putin, by Lars Mikkelsen, is spot on: charming, deadly, and a “thug,” as First Lady (and now UN Ambassdor) Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) describes him. A pure political animal. His attitude is best summed up by a story he tells Underwood at the end of episode 3, which is his way of refusing a Middle East deal: “You what the best part of the fall of the Soviet Union was? The cars. Have you ever ridden in a Lada?” Underwood, taken in, says he hasn’t. “Putin” – the names have been changed to protect the guilty – describes the “worst car in the world.” “After the fall, we got the Lexus. Lots of room, AC… the first time I [expletive]d my ex-wife, it was in a Lexus – you could never do that in a Lada.” Underwood is now really taken in. “I want the Lexus. You’re offering me a Lada.”

The really chilling part for me was that I had just watched a Frontline episode on “Putin’s Way” – the “Russian way” – depicting the unprecedented corruption and illegality which had helped secure Putin’s power as the successor to Boris Yeltsin in the late 1990s. The most enigmatic of countries, Russia under Putin has gone from the symbol of Communist [forced] equality to the most unequal country in the world. The average Russian now earns only $871 per year and 110 Russian “oligarchs” control 35% of the countries wealth. Putin, for his trouble, is estimated to be worth $40 billion, making him about the fourth or fifth richest men in the world (these are CIA estimates).

 My unrequested political analysis: Underwood’s “America Works” program is ludicrous – full employment? Even Obamacare recognizes that a few will always choose not to have healthcare at any price. Likewise, a few (probably very many) will always be unmatched for jobs no matter how unskilled. The star of episode one? Steven Colbert: “AmWorks? Is that what you’re calling this? Is it like Amway, some kind of pyramid scheme?”

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Reconciliation revisited

What I would have said at the Hoʻokuʻikahi Reconciliation service on Jan. 17 if I’d had more time:

The great psychologist Carl Jung said:

There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything to avoid facing their souls.

I noted in my talk at St. Andrew’s Cathedral that it felt strange at first to be addressing a topic as seemingly secular as sovereignty in that space. But I soon realized that reconciliation isnʻt secular at all – it is about consciousness. Reconciliation is about consciousness because it requires the taking on and consideration of other perspectives. This taking on of new perspectives, according to Integral theorist Ken Wilber, is the very definition of “cognitive,” which is why much of the anti-intellectualism that runs through the spiritual movement is misplaced.

When organizing the service, Kahu Dr. Kaleo Patterson used a phrase that caught my attention: “mindful nationalism.” It caught my attention because Iʻve always found the use of the term nationalism in the Hawaiian movement somewhat alarming. People who are familiar, or who can remember the horrors of the nationalist movements of the early- and mid-twentieth century would find the term even more alarming. So the descriptor “mindful” is absolutely crucial here – it makes clear that ours will not be the mindless nationalism of so many independence and regime changing movements. It sets into the record that we will not use easy lines of division to exclude people from the nation that is being built here (even OHA uses the term nation-building), or perhaps restored.

The consciousness required of such a mindful nationalism requires development: conscious(ness) change over time. Developmental psychology shows that people, given a reasonably healthy social environment, develop (or “evolve”) over time in predictable ways that begin to include larger and larger groups into their “circle of self.” The prevailing mode in the social sciences and humanities – postmodernism – deconstructs hierarchies, and being sequential, development could be considered a hierarchy. This “flattening” of the social landscape creates what Robert Bly has called the “sibling society” – a society in which everyone is on the same level. Without parents, there is no agreement in such a society that some people, over time, gain true wisdom. Our culture’s obsession with youthful bodies has as its parallel an obsession with youthful (immature) consciousness. Witness reality TV, in which self-serving avarice is considered a virtue.

Partly because of this flattening, both sides of the political spectrum have become materialistic, but in different ways. Thought it claims to be spiritual, and likely is (in its own strange way) the right is pretty literally materialistic: it is the party of business, and its God wants you to be rich (this explains why the US is the only developed country that is both wealthy and religious). The left is materialistic in a different way: there is a Marxist thread throughout it that sees historical materialism as a driving force of history. The material history of class struggle is  history itself. “History is the history of class struggle,” as Marx put it.

Because both sides are materialistic, progressive communities of faith are quite rare (religious but not materialistic in either of the ways described above). This is why, in my opinion, they comprise the majority of the small group of people occupying the “higher” levels of consciousness which we would all strive to reach, if only we knew they existed. In other words, science and modernity itself can put up obstacles to development. (This is not true in all cases, in fact, most of the notable quantum physicists were mystics).

When one can be driven by both the naʻau (literally “gut”, intuition) and the naʻauao (intelligence, enlightened consciousness), it is a profound state for effective decision-making and eventual reconciliation.

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