Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Kaona of the City

Hawaiʻi Research Adventure: Days 18-22

Eating a Dole Banana on the Palace Grounds.

I have had a wonderful week in Honolulu. As mentioned in my previous dispatch, I am staying at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, living on campus and riding the bus everywhere. Each day I take the bus downtown to conduct research for my dissertation. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I visited the State Archives, and on Thursday I visited the Mission Children's Society Library. On Tuesday I stuck around Mānoa to do some writing as well as meet with my ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) translator helper and good friend.

Although I arrived in Honolulu on Sunday afternoon, as early as Monday morning I began to witness the kaona of the city. Ke kaona refers to the "hidden meaning" in Hawaiian song lyrics—a meaning behind the meaning that is only revealed to those who strive to understand the context and deeper symbolism of a song's lyrics. Such as, for example, the mele inoa (name song) that I once translated (badly) for my dissertation chapter on whaling history: I thought the song was actually about whaling labor, but a professor at the University of Hawaiʻi read over my translation last January and quickly announced to me that this mele inoa was not about whaling at all, but rather the whale imagery had a kaona—a hidden meaning—revealing what was actually a sort of sexually suggestive lyric. Incidentally, I am no longer using this mele in my chapter about whaling labor! 

In the nineteenth century, some Hawaiians began to use the term ke kaona to also mean something else: the "town." Looking for a Hawaiian word to describe the Western idea of a "town"—something that apparently did not exist in pre-contact Hawaiʻi—some began using the word kaona to stand in for the English word "town" because they sound very similar. So, strangely, when I refer to the kaona of the city, I could just as well say the kaona of the kaona! But let's not make this more confusing than it has to be! :)

The kaona I'm talking about are the "hidden meanings" all around the city of Honolulu. Most mainland U.S. visitors to Honolulu see a very ahistorical city. First of all, many do not leave Waikīkī, and so "Honolulu" to them means Waikīkī. They do not see ʻIolani  Palace; they do not see Kawaiahaʻo Church; they do not see the many sites relevant to nineteenth-century Hawaiian history that give this city its kaona, its hidden meanings.

For example, who would think twice about eating a banana on the ʻIolana Palace grounds while waiting for the archives to open at 9 a.m.? I didn't think much about it at first. I had rushed to a Starbuck's to grab coffee and a scone for breakfast. But I also needed $2.50 in exact change for the bus from Mānoa to downtown Honolulu, so I decided to add a banana to my order. I didn't even look at the banana until I was downtown, on the palace grounds, waiting for the archives to open.

At that moment I took the banana out of my bag and, as I was about to begin peeling the banana, I noticed the sticker on the banana: "Dole." For the first twenty-five years of my life, I ate tons of "Dole" products and I never thought twice about it. But ever since beginning my study of Hawaiian history, of course I now know "Dole" as the name of many important people in this archipelago's history. There was Daniel Dole, the Christian missionary who came here from Maine in the early nineteenth century to convert Hawaiians. Then there were his sons, including George Dole (whose papers I use extensively in my dissertation) and Sanford Dole. Sanford infamously was part of the posse that helped overthrow the sovereign Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1893. Not only that, but he was elected the first President of the new Republic of Hawaiʻi founded by white men in 1894. And after the United States annexed Hawaiʻi in 1898 and organized the archipelago as a territory in 1900, Sanford Dole was appointed the first Governor of Hawaiʻi under U.S. rule. It was at this same time that one James Dole, a cousin of George and Sanford's, arrived in the islands to found the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (the future Dole Company as we know it!). 

So here I was about to bite into a banana brought to us by the corporate descendants of the cousin of the guy who helped overthrow Queen Liliʻuokalani and usher in U.S. colonialism. I thought also, at that moment, that the word "Dole" was engraved elsewhere, just a few blocks away at Kawaiahaʻo Cemetery in Honolulu where Sanford Dole the great Kingdom-overthrower is still buried. What I should have done was take my "Dole" banana peel and leave it on his grave!! (j/k) But really—because all I really wanted was to start my work in the archives!—I decided to take the photograph above immediately before eating my banana, and that was my small moment of kaona. 

In the photograph you can see my white haole hand, the imperial "Dole" banana, and the 1880s ʻIolana Palace in the background, built by King Kalākaua, the Hawaiian monarch who had a new Constitution forced upon him by white men with bayonets (the so-called "Bayonet Constitution" of 1887) and who eventually died in San Francisco in 1891, leaving the Kingdom to his sister Liliʻuokalani who was overthrown by Dole et al in 1893. Many centuries of history are wrapped up in this scene—a scene with a deep and traumatic kaona to it, no?—a scene that surely plays out on a daily basis somewhere in this city, but how many people stop to notice it?

Tourists and History.
Here's another photographic scene with some kaona to it. Throughout the day, everyday in Honolulu, Japanese tourists take pictures of themselves in front of the King Kamehameha statue outside of Aliʻiolani Hale, just south of the palace grounds. Kamehameha, of course, was the the one who united the Hawaiian Islands for the first time under his rule. He was the original mōʻī (ruler; monarch) of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. But more interesting is the building behind Kamehameha. How many tourists notice the text engraved on the exterior of Aliʻiolani Hale? The text, in Hawaiian, contains a hidden meaning. It reads "Kamehameha Elima. Ka Moi," meaning "Kamehameha the Fifth, the King." Folks might recognize this language as it is similar to that on Lunalilo's tomb just outside Kawaiahaʻo Church which reads "Lunalilo. Ka Moi." Between Lunalilo, Kamehameha V, Kamehameha the first (in statue-form), and Kalākaua, represented by the beautiful ʻIolani Palace, tourists are simply surrounded here on King Street—yes, ke alanui o ka mōʻī—by Hawaiian monarchs. All of this—ʻIolani, the statue, Aliʻiolani Hale, Lunalilo's tomb, and more—should be an in-your-face reminder to those who pass by that throughout the nineteenth century this was a sovereign, independent kingdom. All this kaona, this hidden meaning, is in my face, yet I wonder how much it is really in other people's faces as they wander these streets.

Anyway, above "Kamehameha Elima. Ka Moi." it also reads: "Ua Mau Ke Ea o Ka Aina i Ka Pono." Folks might recognize this as the "State Motto" of Hawaiʻi since 1959. But the phrase dates back to 1843, the year in which Great Britain unilaterally annexed the Hawaiian Islands, only to be forced to give back the archipelago to Hawaiian rule just a few months later. After Hawaiian sovereignty was restored, Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) declared that "ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono" = "the life/sovereignty of the land is perpetuated in righteousness/justice." This phrase was, and continues to be, the clearest articulation of ka pono (the righteousness) of indigenous sovereignty. Now how many tourists possess photographs of Kamehameha's statue that just so happen to include those words in the background on the exterior of Aliʻiolani Hale? There's the kaona, the hidden meaning. Whenever and wherever you see or hear those words, remember that the "hidden meaning" in those words, still relevant today, is Kamehameha III's call for the perpetuation of Hawaiian sovereignty. 

Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.

So there you have it. This city just drips with history, if only our eyes are open enough to see it. Besides eating bananas and taking photographs, my archival research is coming along very well, and best of all, I have had the pleasure of sharing many good meals with many good friends here since arriving on Sunday.

This weekend I intend to borrow a friend's car and explore more of the island of Oʻahu. I hope to have stories and photographs to share with you all when I get back to Mānoa on Monday.

No comments:

Post a Comment