Response to Gerald Smith’s “Host Culture in Hawaiʻi is just a Myth”

Gerald Smith was right and wrong in his Civil Beat article “Host Culture in Hawaiʻi is just a Myth.” Hawaiians may not be the “host” culture, and it’s true as he says, that neither Hawaiians nor other non-indigenous groups are here by choice, nor by invitation. In fact, Kamehameha II gave the first group of foreigners to ask permission, the Congregationalist missionaries in 1820, a probationary period of one year. The deadline for reviewing their stay was neglected and within a generation they were entrenched in government and the economy. I often wonder if the term “host culture” is merely a convenient one for the tourism industry, as it creates the impression – a questionable one – that tourist are welcome guests. Smith is wrong, however, on several counts. His claim that “Many Native Hawaiians would like us all to leave and restore the kingdom that was taken away by the United States,” is unsupported by any evidence. Just as the Hawaiian Kingdom never ejected even its most troublesome residents, the Hawaiian movement has not called for non-Hawaiians “all to leave.”


Kūkaniloko march opposing Stryker brigade, 2006. Thatʻs me looking in the wrong direction as usual. Photo by Michael Puleloa

What is problematic is Smith’s assertion that everyone in Hawaiʻi is equal in the eyes of the law. Putting aside the quite valid claims of independence advocates for the moment, the State of Hawaiʻi recognized Hawaiians as the Indigenous people of Hawaiʻi in 2011. Over one hundred pieces of Federal legislation, beginning with the 1921 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act do the same. To simply brush aside these forms of recognition that Hawaiians are unique in the eyes of the law, is troublingly close to what has been called “white indigeneity.” What can be said of narratives of white indigeneity is that they are widespread. Such claims are seen in New Zealand, Australia, the US and elsewhere. What cannot be said is that they are taken seriously. I happened to observe the phenomenon in the New Zealand parliament: one conservative member cited the respected historian Michael King to support his contention that pakeha (Caucasians) were Indigenous. To this another member asked if the “honorable member” was familiar with the UN definition of Indigenous.

Smith establishes his kamaʻāina credentials by stating that he observed the attack on Pearl Harbor. If this is the case, he certainly did not take Hawaiian history in school, even if he went to school here, as it wasnʻt required until the 1970s. So one is left to wonder where his understanding of Hawaiian history comes from. Likely its from Gavan Daws’s Shoal of Time, still the most read general history of Hawaiʻi. The book’s chapter on Statehood is entitled “Now we are all Haoles.”

Smith’s contention that “the people who live here voted to become a state, so some will never accept their fate.” was roundly and very publically critiqued on its 50th anniversary in 2009, with very little in the way of counter- arguments.  The link in his article that ostensibly supports this “fact” takes the reader to – as Hawaiian history is not well-known in Hawaiʻi, citing an external source does not inspire confidence in the reader. This was taken into consideration by the UN; in 1996 the Star bulletin headline read “UN may find statehood illegal.” It was even tacitly recognized by the local majority. There are fireworks in Waikiki every Friday, but none on the 50th anniversary of statehood. Apparently Friday is a more important event.


Filed under Environment, Hawaiian history, law

2 responses to “Response to Gerald Smith’s “Host Culture in Hawaiʻi is just a Myth”

  1. Leialoha Perkins

    Contemporary use of the term “myth” is 1. a lie, which in print is 2. fiction, because a “story,” one “made up” for convenience (the usersʻ) without “facts” (theirʻs mainly) or “evidence.” MYTH is a religious term, historically, less of what is called “facts” today but of “truth” according to the traditional, oral accepting peoples of countries that are older than the babydom of the U.S.
    There is nothing like “Myth” if one is into truth-telling about age=sustaining beliefs in certain life sustaining ideals and practices. But it takes the equivalent of ideals that are greater than observers of the JustNowJustMe so actually not applicable to many. Hawaiians are believers in certain ideals.
    Their myths are in their tradition, so alive. Extending it by courtesy to others who ridicule it, and by that scorn Hawaiians for their belief in their ideals, is a mistake. It was the Cornell bred economist Dr. George Kanahele that offered to tourists a way to understand that Hawaiians and Hawaiʻi peoples are not living to be treated as invisible in their own land, which I had said in 1975 an an East-West Centre publication to which he responded positively. He found Hawaiians like Peter Apo advocates to bring the newcomers and the Hawaiʻi “locals” (Hawaiians and Hawaiians at heart) today. Gerald Smith need not accept it. It obviously wasnʻt intended for him. Thatʻs fine. It was for Dr. Kanahele, Peter Apo, etc., in their Hawaiian Hospitality enterprise. A gesture of Aloha and Mahalo. Cultures are for sharing or they are dead.


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