tiki tiki

I lived in Hawai'i for about a year while attending graduate school on Honolulu. Apart from suffering from island fever after settling in, I was struck by how few native Hawaiians I saw apart from the workers at a car wash near Ala Moana Mall, a few women dressed in muumuus downtown or the residents in the poorer neighborhoods around Makaha or the wet side of the island far from the tourist and civic centers, except when performing. I was shocked by how many churches or temples there were around the small area of Makiki where we rented an expensive, cinderblock apartment below an apartment where Mormon missionaries lived. Every day, I would walk past the illustrious Punahou School started by missionaries in the nineteenth century. Then I learned that even the most prominent and lavish luau on the island was run by and for the Mormon Church. The most expensive homes were to be seen in Nu'uanu and Manoa Valley where if you encountered residents at all, they were typically white and Japanese. In class at the University, resident students who I thought of as Asian identified as Hawaiian rather than Chinese, Korean, Japanese or some combination of these or other groups as I was used to from living on the mainland where boundaries are more important. I could not find a concise, cogent work to explain these phenomena to me so, after a return visit to the Islands some years later, I set out to write one myself. This essay, or more precisely in places, edited work does not attempt to cover the plantation era in any detail but lays the groundwork for understanding how Hawai'i changed during the nineteenth century from a group of islands dominated by native peoples to becoming an unique appendage of the mainland United States. The title makes clear that this is a work based on sources from “outside” because it is not based on the voices of native Hawaiians, rather from those who came later or influenced them. Still, the tone of this piece is to be sympathetic to a culture that had recorded its ideas orally in mele rather than the written word.
Requiem for the Island People
Before European explorers,
Before merchant seamen,
Before American missionaries,
Hawaiians knew not innocence
They fought,
Yet they played
And they loved
As foreigners could only imagine
They arrived carrying--
Materials, we could not imagine
Weapons, we could not imagine
Ideas, we could not imagine
--in floating treasure chests
For these things,
We had no mele
So they gave us,
Their written words
We seduced them
Their treasures seduced us
We were pulled
like `ami (moths) to the flame
And we were scorched
Our people
Our ways
Like weightless ashes
Floating away into the air