Local Mythologies, 1979-2000

Dennis Kawaharada


 Ho‘i hou ka i‘a i ke ‘ehu kai.
The fish returns to the foamy sea.

– Pukui, ‘Olelo No‘eau, No. 1027

After five cold, gloomy Seattle winters, I was sure I would never live anyplace in the world except Hawai‘i. These islands had a deep hold on my psyche – my sense of who I was, my place in the world. It had to do with family and friends; it had to do with the great experiences I had while growing up – memorable tube rides in the shorebreak at Ma’alaea and hidden mountain trails mapped in memory; fresh seafood (‘opihi, limu, sashimi’ed ‘ahi and aku) and fruits picked from the tree (mango, guava, ‘ohi‘a ‘ai); the cooling summer winds, the life-giving winter rains. Everything here seemed to suit my temperament and spirit.

But when I returned in 1979, I also saw more clearly the colonial nature of local society, the wannabe-white syndrome among local people with low self-esteem, the clannishness and inequities among the various ethnic groups, and the marginalization of native Hawaiians after Haole colonialists dispossessed them of nation, language, and traditions:

how we spose
feel Hawaiian anymoa
barefeet buying smokes
in da seven
eleven stoa…?

– Wayne Kaumuali‘i Westlake, “Native-Hawaiian,” in Hall, Malama, 109

The tourism industry had taken over from the sugar and pineapple plantations as the economic mainstay of the islands and was commodifying Hawaiian culture to sell the islands to tourists as a setting for adventure, recreation and romance. (See Trask’s “Love Hula Hands: Corporate Tourism and the Prostitution of Hawaiian Culture.”) Waikiki was growing hotels, and O‘ahu was turning into a mini-Los Angeles, with gridlocked roads and freeways and high rises and subdivisions spreading into places valleys and up ridges. The majority of locals were getting wealthier, and therefore happier and more content; but others began protesting, resisting, asserting themselves against the Americanization of Hawai‘i: the cancerous sprawl of suburban Kailua and Kane‘ohe was stopped from spreading up the Ko‘olau Coast by the farmers of Waiahole-Waikane valleys and their supporters; a resurgence of Hawaiian culture and language was occurring; a movement for native political self-determination had emerged; and Hawaiian activists went to jail to stop the U.S. Navy from using the island of Kaho‘olawe as a target for bombing practice:

I have always been a foreigner here
In my own country, I ko‘u mana‘o (In my mind)
‘O ke kukini o ka ho‘auhuli ‘ana (rebel)…

– Lino Kaona, “The Ho‘okalakupua (the drift),” in Hall, Malama, 134

I was hired to teach English at Kapi‘olani Community College on the backside of Le‘ahi, a volcanic crater named “Diamond Head” by Western sailors, dreaming of wealth, who thought the calcite crystals they found there were diamonds. (The more appropriate Hawaiian name means “headland of the yellow fin tuna” – perhaps a reference to an offshore fishing ground.) Rather than write my Ph.D. dissertation, I was planning to write some stories about growing up in Hawai‘i. I realized how books had shaped who I perceived myself to be: my readings had set me off on pilgrimages all over the world to visit the places I had read about – temples in Japan, museums and cathedrals in Europe, and colonial houses and skyscapers on the East Coast of America. Words and images had glorified these far-off places, and I had gone to pay homage to them. But the longer I stayed away, the more I longed to hear local voices. I realized I had read very few writers of Hawai‘i. I thought perhaps our stories had yet to be written. I began working on a couple of children stories with Pidgin English dialogue and planned to publish them, so that local kids like those I had once tutored at ‘Ilima Intermediate School would have some stories about home to read.

I met other writers who had come to the same realization. I began hanging out with a group associated with Bamboo Ridge Press (BRP), which publishes a literary journal called Bamboo Ridge, The Hawai‘i Writers’ Quarterly. The press was founded in 1978 by Eric Chock, a poet of Chinese-Japanese ancestry, and Darrell Lum, a writer of Chinese ancestry. The mission, Chock explains, was to publish “a representative array of the best writing about Hawai‘i by people of different ethnic backgrounds, a literary picture which was almost non-existent at the time. We set out to create this vision as an alternative to the mainstream, white literary canon” (Chock, “Neocolonialization” 12).

Several of the writers were producing stories and poems in Pidgin English as a way of reaffirming local identity. Pidgin, sometimes referred to by linguists as Hawai‘i Creole English) is a dialect of English unique to Hawai‘i. It developed in plantation communities as a lingua franca used by the multiethnic work force, mixing sentence structures and words from Hawaiian and immigrant languages with English. It expresses the common plantation heritage of the workers, the majority of whom were immigrants and their children. The works of Chock and Lum and other local writers began to reconnect me with my roots and my childhood growing up as a Pidgin speaker in Kane‘ohe.

Publishing local literature in Pidgin seemed vital to me in keeping the next generation of Hawai‘i students from losing their local identities to the powerful influences of mainstream American media and education, which portray Haole looks, ways of talking, and values as the standards toward which everyone should aspire. This media brainwashing has bizarre psychological consequences: one of my high school friends, who went to college in Connecticut and lived in a house with white roommates, told me he would stand in front of the mirror some mornings wishing he could wash off his Japanese face! Another friend, an aspiring actress of Chinese ancestry, had her eyelids operated on to make her eyes look rounder, more Caucasian, hoping to get more theater roles. Unfortunately, the surgery (by a young and inexperienced Jewish doctor) was only partially successful; one eyelid drooped, creating a weird effect of two different-sized eyes.

Afer I finished my small kid time stories and published one of them in a special children’s literature issue of Bamboo Ridge (1982), which Lum and Chock permitted me to edit, I stopped writing in Pidgin. It was a powerful tool for creating small-kid time, public school, and working class personas and characters, but I found I couldn’t write comfortably from any of those perspectives. My education, reading, and travel had changed me. I was no longer a small kid or in public school, and I never was working class. I didn’t mind speaking Pidgin to people who actually spoke it in their daily lives, but writing in Pidgin to college-educated readers seemed fake. I began writing non-fiction prose, instead, and published some pieces in Hawai‘i Herald: A Journal for Hawai‘i’s Japanese Americans; “Images of Local Culture” (May 28, 1983) contained some early ruminations on the subject of Local culture.

In 1984, I became managing editor and grants writer for Bamboo Press. Chock and Lum said they were burning out, and the press was running out of money. They were thinking of quitting. During the next two years, I wrote about $10,000 of grants; when I left the press in 1986, it had a fairly healthy bank account and solid sales.

I left on good terms with the other editors and writers, but I could also see in them the clannishness typical of local Asians of their generation. BRP held a “study group” once a month, where writers brought in their works and had them critiqued. The group consisted mainly of college-educated, middle-class writers of Asian ancestry, like myself. A little narrow for a press aspiring to represent all of Hawai‘i’s people. During my years at BRP, no Haole was ever invited to the study group – a not uncommon practice among ethnic nationalists of that era (e.g., Black Separatists), who felt a need to consolidate their identities apart from Whites. On the other hand, no one invited any writers of Hawaiian, Filipino, or Pacific Island ancestry, either.

While BRP was preaching multiculturalism, the literature it was creating was a reflection of this small middle-class group of Asian ancestry. It has published writers from a variety of ethnic groups, but writers of Asian ancestry (Japanese, Chinese and Koreans) are always over-represented in numbers.

BRP literature also represents a conservative middle-class perspective. The stories and poems celebrate the success story of immigrants from Asia and their descendants – generally feel-good versions of the American Dream. The immigrants arrive in America, meet with hostility, work hard on the plantations for one or two generations, prove that they are Americans (e.g. by fighting in a war), go to college, fall in love, get married and have children, succeed modestly in some career or business, buy a house, send their children to college, retire with grandchildren, etc., while holding onto (or in some cases, feeling bad about not holding onto) some aspect of their Asian heritage (e.g. popping firecrackers on New Year’s Eve, cooking gau or pounding mochi, wearing a kimono, visiting the family graves, going to O-bon dances, etc.).

Lum describes what he considers a typical island life in “Local Literature and Lunch,” his introduction to The Best of Bamboo Ridge (1986): “A plate lunch of curry stew poured over two scoops of rice alongside a scoop of macaroni salad and a bit of kim chee will run you about three dollars. Then you can drive home to a nice little house in the suburbs: a modest twenty-year old single wall, three bedroom, two bath place with a carpet going for $150,000 or so …on leased land.” Lum wants us to feel sympathy for this “typical” islander because his $150,000 house is on leased land; another response might be “At least he has a three-bedroom, two-bath house; the majority of islanders can’t afford that.”

The function of this middle-class literature is to reassure readers that the local community is wholesome, just, well-fed and harmonious – despite the occasional individual trauma or tragedy and despite a few misfits and losers (usually, and stereotypically, Hawaiians or Filipinos, mirroring white prejudices against dark-skinned people.) I grew up in a local middle-class Japanese family and community which shared the beliefs, values, and prejudices of BRP. But my father, an electrical engineer, had a hostile attitude toward the middle-class lifestyle and values that he had to adopt because he was married and had three children. I got the feeling he wanted to escape. His favorite place was on his boat deep-sea fishing, far from land; he wanted to quit his job and become a fisherman to support his family and catch what we ate from the sea. He took us camping every summer at the beach called ‘Oneloa at Makena, Maui, so we could live in tents and fish, bathe, and body surf in the ocean. In the 1960’s this beach was deserted in mid-summer; we were the only ones there. The development of resorts, golf courses, luxuries homes, and parking lots for sun-bathers, along the coast from Kihei to Papakakai (La Perouse Bay), was still two decades in the future.

In the year following my departure from BRP in 1986, the new Chinese-Korean managing editor of Bamboo Ridge cut off complimentary subscriptions and sent me a form letter asking me to purchase a year’s subscription for $25. I discarded the letter.


Ua lehulehu a manomano ka ‘ikena a ka Hawai‘i.
“Immense and immeasurable is the knowledge of the Hawaiians.” 

– Pukui, ‘olelo No‘eau, No. 281

In 1989 Esther “Kiki” Mookini, a scholar of Japanese ancestry, asked me to help her edit a translation she and Sarah Nakoa had done of a traditional Hawaiian story by Moses K. Nakuina concerning Paka‘a, a personal attendant of the ruling chief of Hawai‘i, and Kuapaka‘a, son of Paka‘a. From “Kiki” I learned about and began to read through an extensive body of Hawaiian literature recorded and published in the 19th and 20th centuries, works previously unknown to me because they were rarely referred to or taught in local schools. In 1990, I started Kalamaku Press and published the Mookini-Nakoa translation under the title The Wind Gourd of La‘amaomao. What first attracted me to this story about descendants of the wind god La‘amaomao was the new vocabulary – fish names, plant names, wind names, place names describing the island world that I thought I knew, yet did not really know. The story names over 30 local winds of the island of Hawai‘i, over 45 winds of O‘ahu, over 45 winds of Kaua‘i, over 100 winds of Maui, Moloka‘i, and Lana‘i. Kuapaka‘a chants the names of these winds to call them forth from his magical gourd, which contains all the winds Hawai‘i. While English offers only a general vocabulary to describe winds (e.g., “trade wind,” “sea breeze”) the Hawaiian language has names for specific kinds of winds – winds that stir up dust or sea spray, lift kapa, swirl around or tear down houses, rustle flowers and leaves, shake off dew, play hide and seek, make the nose cold. There is a morning wind and an evening wind, a dry wind and a wind full of rain, an offshore wind scented with hala and an onshore wind scented with limu, a squally wind over the ocean and a squally wind that comes off the mountain. Natives of the islands were so enamored of their local winds they wrote articles for the Hawaiian language newspapers naming the winds of their home districts and explaining the character of each. P.R. Holi of Halewela, Ni‘ihau, cites twelve winds of Ni‘ihau (Ke Au Okoa, July 24, 1865); S.W. Nailiili of Pamoo, Honolulu, describes nine winds of Hilo (Ke Au Okoa, July 10, 1865); L.S. Kailiehu of Honokalani, Maui, gives eleven winds of Hana (Ke Au Okoa, June 12, 1865). When Thomas Maunupau visited Kaupo, Maui, in 1922, he asked a local resident for the names of winds there and published a description of thirteen winds of the district (Nupepa Kuokoa, June 15, 1922; see Maunupau’s Huakai Makaikai a Kaupo, Maui: A Visit to Kaupo, Maui.; 22-23, 103-104).

At the seashore, in a valley, on a mountain ridge, when one recognizes a wind by its name, it is no longer just the movement of air molecules or the generic “trade wind” which carried European sailing ships and diseases around the world; it’s a particular spirit of a locality, a familiar friend, a sign to the traveler.

The wind chant of O‘ahu in The Wind Gourd of La‘amaomao names the following places and winds along the Ko‘olau coast of O‘ahu where I grew up:

Kahuku (“The Jutting Out”): The northernmost point of O‘ahu. The wind of Kahuku is “Ahamanu,” which might be ‘Ahamanu, “Gathering of birds,” perhaps a wind on which seabirds soar.

Hau‘ula (“Red Hibiscus Tree”): The hau is a valuable plant whose bark can be used to make cordage and hula skirts; its wood was used for floats and fire-making, its flowers and sap for medicine. The wind of Hau‘ula is a strong one – Lanakila, “Prevailing”

Punalu‘u (“Spring Dived For”): This place name perhaps refers to a spring in the ocean where freshwater was obtained by diving with gourds; such undersea freshwaters springs are common in Hawai‘i, as waters from reservoirs in the mountains flow through underground lava tubes that open onto the sea bottom. The UH Geology department, analyzing satellite imagery, once reported their “discovery” of such well-known undersea upwellings of water along the Kona Coast of the Big Island. The wind of Punalu‘u is Moa‘e, a strong, but pleasant wind; the trade wind.

Kahana (“Cutting,” or perhaps “The Bay”): The second largest bay on the coast after Kane‘ohe Bay. The wind ‘ahiu (“Wild, Untamed”) blows at Kahana.

Ka‘a‘awa (Ka a‘awa, “The Wrasse” or “Hogfish”, a common fish of coral reefs ; or Ka‘a awa, “Turning Passage”): “Turning Passage” could be a reference to the channel through the reef at the mouth of Ka‘a‘awa stream. Holopali, “Running Along the Cliff,” is the wind that blows across the face of the high cliff of Paliku, that separates Ka‘a‘awa and Kualoa.

Kualoa (“Long Back”): The name is perhaps a reference to the backbone-like ridge of Paliku that extends out toward the sea from the Ko‘olau mountains and dominates this land section. Backbone was a traditional metaphor for genealogy, and the face of the cliff on the Kualoa side is called Mo‘o kapu o Haloa, “Sacred genealogy of Haloa,” with each vertical ridge on the cliff representing a generation of chiefs.

Waikane (“Waters [of] Kane”): A reference to Kane, the god of life-giving water, and the springs and streams of this fertile valley. The wind Kiliua is associated with “Fine, Gentle Rainfall.”

Kua‘a‘ohe (“Stand and Wait”): Perhaps a lookout point on Ulupau crater at the tip of Mokapu Peninsula where one stood and waited for canoes coming from the eastern islands. Here the wind Mololani whirls (“molo”) to heaven (“lani”). Mololani (“Well-kept”) is also a crater nearby, the site of a creation story by Kamakau (Tales and Traditions 130).

Kane‘ohe (“Bamboo Kane”): Another reference to Kane, the god of life-giving water, and to the bamboo that flourishes in this wet windward area. ‘Ohe was a kinolau, or bodily form, of this god. It was used to make knives (split bamboo has a sharp edge), musical instruments (nose flutes, pu‘ili, ka‘eke‘eke), kapa decoration sticks, and water containers. The Ulumano, “Blowing Hard,” is the wind here.

Kailua (“Two seas” or perhaps “two currents”): Malanai is a gentle breeze here.

Waimanalo (“Potable Water”): If one is traveling from Honolulu around Makapu‘u to the windward side of O‘ahu, there would be no running streams or good freshwater sources between Kuli‘ou‘ou and Waimanalo. Limu-lipu‘upu‘u is the wind here, a wind scented by a seaweed.

Pahonu (“Enclosure for Turtles”): A rock pen near shore, where sea turtles were fattened for food which was kapu for the ali‘i. Alopali (“Cliff Face”) is the wind, blowing along the high cliffs nearby.

Makapu‘u (“Bulging Eyes”): A lookout; this high bluff at the east end of O‘ahu was named for a magical rock that attracted uhu (parrot fish) to the area; the rock had eight bulging eyes – black stones that protruded from the head of the rock. The wind from either direction (Kona, or southerly; or Ko‘olau, or northeasterly) turns or wraps (“huli”) around the headland of Makapu‘u.

Like a riddle, each place name and wind name challenges the reader to figure out why it was given, and leads to discoveries about the special character of that which is named. Such knowledge of geography and weather was essential to the success of those who lived close to the land and sea and depended on them for their survival and well-being. I had traveled up and down this windward coast of O‘ahu many times in childhood; but only after I became familiar with the meanings of the place names and wind names did I begin to see the land in all its complexities, full of life and life-giving. Pahonu became more important and precious to me than Paris.

I also studied the traditional Hawaiian calendar to understand the seasons. In school, we were taught that every place was supposed to have four seasons; Hawai‘i was somehow deficient because it didn’t. We wrote poems to celebrate the first flowers and leaves of spring sprouting from snowy earth and autumn leaves turning red, mimicking the emotions of the seasonal poetry of New England, Europe, and Asia, without having experienced the events that evoke those emotions. This fakery was the result of a neurotic disjunction between the colonial language and reality – the same neurosis that makes local people put up fake cardboard chimneys and Santa Clauses, plastic reindeers on fields of cotton, and Christmas trees decorated with fake icicles in December, when the temperature in the towns rarely drops below 60 or 70 degrees. People worship these hollow icons of Capitalism brought from America and Europe, unconnected to the winter rains, the runs of ‘opelu and akule, the spawning of the ‘anae.

We were also told that Hawai‘i was perpetual summer, as in the Garden of Eden Before the Fall. Such was the perception of some of the colonists and immigrants who came to Hawai‘i from places like New England and Asia, where climate changes are more extreme.

These foreign views of Hawaiian climate alienate students from the real climate of Hawai‘i: Hawai‘i has seasons, just different ones from those in temperate climates. The days are longer, hotter, and drier during the season called Kau, then shorter, cooler, and rainier during the season called Ho‘oilo. The rising and setting points of the sun moves north, then south, the sun arcing higher in the sky, then lower. Sunlight changes; golden afternoons become silvery and pale. The winds, currents, and surf change; the temperature of the ocean changes; the fish, birds, and plants change.

The year begins with the six-month long season of Ho‘oilo, when a cluster of little stars called Makali‘i (“Little Eyes” or “Little Stars”; the Pleiades) appears above the eastern horizon just after sunset. Previous to this time, Makali‘i rises later in the evening. Six months later, toward the end of the Ho‘oilo, Makali‘i is on the opposite side of the sky at sunset, lost in the light of the sun, and the season of Kau is about to begin. Makali‘i, a stingy chief, is said to have pulled up all the food on earth into his net; astronomically, Makali‘i appears higher and higher in the sky at sunset as the rainy months, associated with a scarcity of food, progresses. When Makali‘i disappears into the sun after six months of the rainy season, the six-month season of vigorous plant growth begins; at the end of the six months of growth, Makali‘i appears again above the eastern horizon just after sunset, and the harvest festival of Makahiki takes place. The story goes that a rat nibbles through the net of Makali‘i, and the food in the net is then scattered across the land; it is around harvest season when rats appear in the lowlands, driven from the mountains by the cold and rain. During Makahiki, symbolically, a net is lifted up and filled with food, prefiguring the ascent of Makali‘i in the evening sky and the six months of scarcity to follow; the net is shaken and, if the food falls through the eyes of the net, the next year would bring a good harvest; if not, famine. A string figure (like a cat’s cradle) creates a net with eight eyes, each one representing a kind of vegetable food – “taro, sweet potato, plantain, yam, arrowroot, fernroot, smilax, and another.” When one point is cut, the whole figure falls apart (Beckwith 433-435).

Farmers, bird-catchers, fishermen, and sailors depended on knowledge of the seasons to anticipate weather and sea conditions and the movement and growth stages of animals on land and in the air and water. Studying the Hawaiian calendar while observing weather and plant and animal life, I began to understand the seasonal cycle of these islands, which allowed me to live more in tune to its rhythm, anticipating conditions at each turning of the sun and planning activities and actions accordingly. (Researchers have found that awareness of the passing seasons stimulates brain rhythms and contributes to a sense of well-being and purpose.) Such knowledge and observations also made me more aware of changes caused by human actions – when streams had less water in them because of agricultural diversions, or had more silt run-off during the rainy season because of housing developments; when fish, birds, or plants once found in an area (perhaps hundreds of years ago) no longer appeared; when birds, plants, and fish never seen before suddenly appeared. We become better caretakers of the land and sea when we can see changes, for better or for worse, taking place in them.

Modern life has cut us off from the natural world; we buy our food in supermarkets rather than grow, raise, or catch what we eat. Hawaiian literature was a way to understand and appreciate the natural environment more fully.

The literature also taught me a fuller appreciation of the Hawaiian community and their cultural achievements and values. In these traditional stories, we don’t find the colonial stereotype of the lazy, dumb Hawaiian, created by Haole bosses angered that Hawaiians did not take to working as wage-slaves on their plantations, and Haole and Asian school teachers upset that Hawaiians were not compliant in a racist public school system that discouraged the use of their native language and demeaned their culture. Instead we find figures like Paka‘a and his son Kuapaka‘a, who exemplify ideals like loyalty, humility, wisdom, wit, intelligence, foresight, courage, and righteous action and who succeed because of their knowledge of the natural world, their ability to farm, fish, build, and sail. We meet cultural heroes like Ku‘ula Kai and his son ‘Ai‘ai, who taught fishing to the people, established ko‘a (fishing grounds), taught conservation, and encouraged the generous distribution of a catch. What I found valuable was the deeper understanding of the islands and their first people, a perspective on how to live in an island environment different from the perspective of the modern colonial system driven by the desire for ever greater accumulation of wealth and property.

At a Hawai‘i Literary Arts Council (HLAC) conference on Hawai‘i’s literature in 1994, I presented a paper about the importance of knowing Hawaiian culture and literature as a foundation for a new literary vision of Hawai‘i (“Toward an Authentic Local Literature”). I argued that Haole colonizers and Asian immigrants and their descendants needed to acquire this knowledge, if they wanted to call Hawai‘i home and write about Hawai‘i, not as a native Hawaiian might, but with a consciousness of local history and culture: “I don’t think a writer can claim a place as home unless he has knowledge of human habitation and traditions from the very beginning of the place; unless he is familiar with the traditions that were here even before his ancestors arrived; unless he knows how his arrival and presence has affected others who were here before him.” Such knowledge would reveal how different the indigenous Hawaiian culture is from the “local culture” that developed on the colonial plantations and towns during the 19th and 20th centuries.

I also argued that the colonial curriculum in Hawai‘i’s schools had to be changed in order to teach the next generation of children about the indigenous heritage of the islands: “The teacher training program at the University could be changed; an in-depth knowledge of Hawaiian language and culture could be required for any teacher going [to teach in] the public schools. That means requiring fewer English literature courses and hiring fewer English professors; and hiring more Hawaiian professors for the Hawaiian Studies and Hawaiian Language programs. Only then will we begin to lay the foundation for an true modern literature and culture of Hawai‘i.” Writer and publisher Richard Hamasaki backed up my argument with a presentation on the Hawaiian literary canon that was already available to be studied – classical and contemporary Hawaiian literature that had been published over the last two centuries. (See Hamasaki’s “Mountains in the Sea: The Emergence of Contemporary Hawaiian Poetry in English”).

Those like myself who had received a colonial college education and were not inclined to go back to school, could study and do research on their own to acquire this knowledge. Those who did not acquire it, for whatever reason, would continue to have a colonial, or more precisely, a neo-colonial perspective, because while shaping a new local identity, they would still be perpetuating the Western world view. Understanding the Hawaiian world view, I argued, was fundamental to the well-being of the future of the islands because this world view developed in our islands, not on continents far away: “While we no longer depend on the ‘aina for our food or on the winds of Hawai‘i for travel between islands, the values of Hawaiian traditions still make sense for living in the islands and for insuring survival for future generations.” I could see that given the finite space and resources of the islands, the steadily increasing population, the steadily increasing number of cars, the steadily increasing number of stores stocking and distributing ever increasing amounts of unnecessary “goods” that ended up in steadily increasing piles of garbage would be disastrous in the long run. Was there an alternative?


Lanalana, pa i ke Kona, huli pu
“Insecurely rooted, it topples over in the Kona winds.”

– Pukui, ‘olelo No‘eau, No. 1948

I thought my argument for the study of Hawaiian literature and culture was self-evident and that people who professed to believe in multiculturalism would want to learn more about the indigenous culture and language of Hawai‘i, to find alternative ways of looking at local culture and society. I thought they would embrace a project to change the curriculum in the public schools and universities, so that a new generation of local writers would emerge less colonial in outlook. I was wrong.

One writer of Japanese ancestry responded with “Why you like be Hawaiian? No try for be someone you not.” Her response was based on her belief that studying Hawaiian culture or language is equivalent to wanting to become Hawaiian in blood and that one should stick to studying exclusively the culture of one’s ancestors. The ridiculous provincialism of this belief becomes clear when you apply it to other kinds of cultural knowledge: “Why you reading James Joyce, you t’ink you Irish?” “Why you studying Shakespeare, you t’ink da British like you be one of dem?” “Why you listen to reggae music, you part-black or what?” (An actual quote from a clerical worker of Asian ancestry at my college. For a literary expression of this provincialism, see “A Scolding from my Father” by Juliet Kono in Growing Up Local, edited by Chock et al [210-211]; in this poem, Kono portrays her father as a local idiot, who believes that because his daughter wants to learn hula, she is “one Japanee / who like be something / [s]he not”; ironically, the daughter is even dumber than her father and has to be told that her flat nose cannot become a “tall nose” just by her dancing hula like her Hawaiian friend, and furthermore, her friend’s “tall nose” is not from her Hawaiian ancestry, but from “her mother side,” which, its seems, is Haole. The reader is left to wonder: “Can local Japanees really be that stupid?”)

I recognize a difference between private and public knowledge, and that many Hawaiian traditions are private knowledge, passed on among chosen members of a family or a school; such knowledge is kapu, belonging to that family or school. And I understand why many Hawaiians feel that for traditional rituals and arts to be authentic, only someone with Hawaiian blood should practice them. I also recognize that other Hawaiians welcome non-Hawaiians to participate in traditional arts like hula. My personal rule of thumb is not to seek after kapu knowledge and to avoid rituals and arts. (This is a debatable subject: Chad Rowan, of Hawaiian ancestry, and Fiamalu Penitani, of Tongan-German and Samoan-Portuguese ancestry, became Yokozuna, or Grand Champions, in the traditional Japanese sport of sumo during the 1990’s; and Patience Namaka Bacon, of Japanese ancestry, was hana‘i to Mary Kawena Puku‘i and trained in the family tradition of hula. On the other hand, many traditionals around the world have opposed the participation of non-bloods in their rituals and arts. The rise of Rowan as Akebono, Penitani as Musashimaru, and a decade earlier, Samoan Saleva‘a Atisanoe as Konishiki to the top ranks of sumo led to protests from some traditional Japanese. In 1992, the Japan Sumo Association placed a moratorium on admitting new foreign wrestlers to the professional ranks, purportedly because too many foreigners were looking to get rich quick and did not have an adequate understanding of the traditions of sumo; the moratorium was lifted in 1998 to allow for more competition and the internationalization of the sport, which would “revitalize” sumo and make it more lucrative for stablemasters.)

However one stands on participation in traditional rituals and arts, some Hawaiian traditions have been shared through publications and other media and are part of a public legacy. This knowledge has been offered as a gift and made free and open to everyone. As Lilikala Kame‘eleihiwa writes in her introduction to her translation of the epic of the pig-god Kamapua‘a: “…we are eager to seek out and share with the world the literary gifts bequeathed by our ancestors” (viii). Such literary gifts include the published works of David Malo, Samuel M. Kamakau, John Papa ‘Ii, S.N. Hale‘ole, G.W. Kahiolo, Moses and Emma Nakuina, Lili‘uokalani, Mary Kawena Puku‘i, the stories and chants collected by Abraham Fornander and Thomas Thrum. This is a literary legacy open to anyone who wants to read and study; and studying these works has nothing to do with “trying for be Hawaiian.”

Another writer of Japanese ancestry responded nervously to my conference talk with: “How come you like me write about Hawaiians? I only know how for write about Japanees.” Who said anything about writing about Hawaiians? I said basic literacy in Hawai‘i should include knowledge of Hawaiian language and culture. The level of anxiety about things Hawaiian among non-Hawaiians is astonishingly high. Many want to claim Hawai‘i as home, but avoid learning things Hawaiian for fear they will be perceived as claiming to be Hawaiian. Their anxiety is different from the anxiety of some non-Hawaiians who cry “racism” whenever anyone mentions exclusively Hawaiian rights to self-determination or the gathering of native animals and plants for ceremonial purposes, etc. This reaction is emotional, from the hurt and rejection they feel when they discover they cannot become Hawaiian by moving here or living here, which they believe is their right as Americans, based on the cultural myth that a person is free to be anything he or she wants to be.

In a presentation to an Asian American Studies conference at Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1994, BRP co-founder Darrell Lum, apparently upset by the presentations at the HLAC conference, complained about Hamasaki and me talking about Hawaiian literature: “How come these non-Hawaiian critics are speaking for the Hawaiian community?” Who was speaking for the Hawaiian community? Hamasaki and I were speaking for ourselves, as writers and publishers of Japanese ancestry interested in literary traditions of Hawai‘i, and addressing an audience of mainly Haole and locals of Asian ancestry.

The few Hawaiian writers at the Hawai‘i Literary Arts Council conference hardly needed to hear an argument about the importance of studying Hawaiian language and culture…they were already doing so, perhaps from childhood as part of family traditions or perhaps later in life, in search of the cultural heritage about which the colonial education system had failed to teach them. But one Hawaiian publisher came up to me afterwards to say that she appreciated that we had spoken out to this non-Hawaiian audience, because they needed to hear the argument from someone other than a Hawaiian. More recently at a workshop on Hawaiian Self-Determination at the Center for Hawaiian Studies at UH Manoa (November 6, 2000), lawyer and political leader Mililani Trask explained that she welcomed non-natives speaking in support of Hawaiian self-determination, because when she makes the argument herself to non-natives, someone in the audience inevitably responds: “You want it because you are personally going to gain something from it,” implying her position is based on self-interest rather than a quest for fairness and justice or cultural preservation; on the other hand, when non-Hawaiians make the argument, they can’t be accused of self-interest and people have to focus on the merits of the argument itself. But, of course, non-Hawaiians have to deal with the idiocy of people asking them, “So how come you speaking for Hawaiians?”

Lum also expresses his resentment over Hamasaki’s comments that local writers should read the classics of Hawaiian literature: “Critics are insisting on a kind of cultural primer that every writer needs to make reference.” (What Hamasaki said was it would be powerful if local writers were able to allude to the rich body of indigenous literature as part of a truly multicultural tradition of Hawai‘i.) Then Lum asserts that he is not “culturally deficient” in his knowledge about things Hawaiian because he writes in Pidgin and “Pidgin has its roots in the structure of the Hawaiian language.” But Pidgin English doesn’t have the cultural insights, concepts, values, traditions, and richness of vocabulary of the Hawaiian language. Speaking Pidgin is not the same thing as knowing Hawaiian. While Pidgin borrows some phrasing, inflections, and words from Hawaiian, it’s a regional form of colloquial English. As Mary Kawena Puku‘i, author of the Hawaiian Grammar and the Hawaiian Dictionary, writes: “Pidgin never was, and today is not, a truly Hawaiian cultural tradition. It is an identifying mark of long-established Island residence” (Nana i ke Kumu 62).

Lum also claims that by writing about “family, relationships, and place,” he is using “the native Hawaiian way of identifying oneself.” The truth is that these kinds of identifications are commonplace in all literatures with traditional roots and can be derived from Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Samoan, or even American literary traditions. There is nothing particularly Hawaiian, or even “local,” about merely identifying a person’s family background or hometown, or writing about relationships between people.

In a more recent piece, “Local Genealogy: What School You Went?” (1998), Lum claims that the question “What School You Went?” “has its roots in the native Hawaiian way of identifying oneself by geography and genealogy much as Kamakau described people in Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii (Revised Edition)” (11-12). Then he asserts that questions like “What school you went?” or “What family you belong to?” or “Where are you from?”, like the ali‘i tradition of genealogy in Kamakau, are “fundamentally an effort to discover how we are connected.” These claims aren’t really accurate.

First of all, the question “What School You Went?” is not rooted in the ali‘i geneaological traditions described in Kamakau. I’ve heard the question (“Where did you go to school?”) asked in Seattle, San Francisco, and New York; it merely indicates one person is curious about the background of another person and wants to get to know him or her better.

Secondly, while ali‘i genealogies might be used to show how one chief was related to another and therefore deserved some special consideration, they were not cited just “to discover how we are connected,” but to distinguish one chief from another and establish rights and privileges by showing descent from the gods. In this hierarchical society based on bloodlines, genealogy placed a person above or below someone else. In The Wind Gourd of La‘amaomao, Ku-a-paka‘a disrespects the genealogy of the district chiefs of the island of Hawai‘i by calling them “kaukauali‘i” (chiefs of lower bloodlines) and makes fun of their home districts – Kohala is a land where people eat grasshoppers (famine food); Ka‘u is a place where there is not enough water to take a bath. Ku-a-paka‘a mentions their bloodlines and home districts not to connect himself to the chiefs, but to humiliate them and to glorify the ruling chief Keawenuia‘umi.

The ali‘i discouraged the maka‘ainana (farmers and fishermen, not of ali‘i blood) from keeping lengthy genealogies because ali‘i claimed the mana of the gods flowed down to them, not to the maka‘ainana. Kamakau explains in Tales and Traditions of the People of Old: “To commoners, genealogies were of no value because their parents forbade them to act like chiefs or to have children born in the back country who would trace their ancestry up to the chiefs (pi‘i aku i na ‘li‘i). So the children of the maka‘ainana were taught only the names of their fathers, mothers, and grandparents” (80). If a person was a kauwa, or outcast, he might hide his genealogy because it shamed him and placed him below even the maka‘ainana.

While the chiefs tried to maintain the social hierarchies through genealogy and intermarriage among themselves (brothers and sisters married to keep the blood pure and the mana strong), they competed for the right to rule. A chief held the right to rule only as long as he was pono – obedient to the life-giving gods, as reflected in his ability to maintain the health and productivity of the land and sea. Pono also meant that the chief was fair and just in his behavior toward his people. If a righteous chief of lower rank felt that a chief of higher rank had forfeited the right to rule by unrighteous behavior, he killed his rival: thus ‘Umi killed his half-brother Hakau and became ruling chief of the Big Island because Hakau was self-serving – “cruel to the common people” (9) and “lost in pleasures”; he “mistreated the chiefs, beat those who were not guilty of any wrongdoing, and abused the priests of the heiaus of his gods and the chiefs of his own government” (10). Hakau despised ‘Umi because ‘Umi’s mother Akahi-a-kuleana was of lower rank than Pinea, his own mother; but Hakau had forgotten the primary principle of maintaining his right to rule, taught to the chiefs of ancient Hawai‘i: don’t be self-serving; take care of everyone, the big man and the little man, the high and the low, lest one day you lose favor with the gods and the people rise up and kill you.

The rigidly hierarchical society described by Kamakau was apparently brought by Tahitian ariki who migrated to Hawai‘i with Pa‘ao and Moi‘ikeha; outside of the royal court, the community was organized as ‘ohana. Extended families living in sections of land called ahupua‘a produced all the goods and food needed for their survival and well-being; those of the mountain shared or bartered their production with those of the sea. So closely attached to the land was the ‘ohana, that the mountains, streams, winds, rains, animals, and plants of the area, in the form of nature spirits, became ancestors. The ‘ohana, led by a haku (elder male of the senior branch) and a family council made up of the kupuna, or old folk, were responsible for remembering and passing on the stories venerating the achievements of the ancestors and for maintaining the health of the land and sea for future generations. “[T]he haku was no dictator but was subject to the advice and opinion of householders and of all other members of his ‘ohana concerned in or affected by decisions and enterprises” (Handy and Pukui 7). Unlike the ali‘i system, the ‘ohana system was relatively democratic; it is a more likely foundation for local community than the hierarchical society based on genealogy described in Kamakau.

In our fissured society today, hierarchies are based not on bloodlines, but on ethnicity, education, income, gender, geography, and sexual orientation, among other factors. Lum acknowledges that “‘What school you went?’ might easily become a question used to perpetuate public / private school distinctions, socio-economic differences and divisive stereotypes” (“Local Genealogy” 13). You might find yourself praised or put down, accepted or not accepted, given a job or not given a job, placed in the smart class or identified as remedial, based on prejudices against your origins or background, not your ability or character. In one of my local literature classes, a Hawaiian student, studying to become an educator, recalled that her “Oriental” teacher in elementary school placed all the Polynesians in the slow group on the first day of class, before testing anyone. It was not the first time I had heard such a story. Perhaps the ‘ohana system of traditional Ka‘u could serve as a model for today’s community – but only after injustices, past and present, have been acknowledged and redressed, and prejudices overcome. There can be no reconciliation (ho‘oponopono) without first an admission that wrongs have been committed.

While Lum acknowledges the social divisions, he claims that there has been a “cultural accommodation on the part of native Hawaiians and immigrant labor” (12) and that these groups share “common values, common history, and common language (Pidgin, or more correctly Hawai‘i Creole English)” (13) . While it’s true that immigrants and their descendants share some common family values and the historical experience of the plantations with Hawaiians, to say there has been a “cultural accommodation” based on this “common history” isn’t true.

Poet and scholar Haunani-Kay Trask points out, “indigenous people – including Hawaiians – are defined as those who have a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories” (“The Right to Self-Determination” 2-3). History for Hawaiians doesn’t begin with the plantations, as it does for the immigrants and their descendants; it goes back to voyaging canoes from the South Pacific, back to wa kahiko (ancient times), back to po (the darkness at the beginning of creation). For immigrants arriving much later from Asia and elsewhere, the plantations were roads into America; for Hawaiians they were roads to the end of their traditional way of life. (See “Disintegration” in Pukui’s Polynesian Family System in Ka‘u, 15-16.) Poet Dana Naone Hall laments the change from kalo ponds to sugar plantations during the last 100 years by describing the enforced change in the flow of water, the life-blood of the ‘aina (“streams” vs. “ditches”):

The way it is now
Few streams still flow
Through lo‘i kalo
To the sea.
Most of the water
Where we live
runs in ditches alongside
the graves of Chinese bones
where the same crop has burned in the fields
for the last one hundred years.

 (“Hawai‘i ’89,” in Balaz, Ho‘omanoa 74)

For Hall and other Hawaiians, identity is rooted not in the plantation experience, but in the mythic world of nature and ancestral gods, where “Kanehekili / flashes in the sky / and Moanonuikalehua changes / from a beautiful woman / into a lehua tree / at the sound of the pahu” (75). A series of parallel similes connect this identity to the ‘aina:

…we’re still here
like the fragrant white koki‘o
blooming on the long branch
like the hairy leafed nehe
clinging to the dry pu‘u
like the moon high over Ha‘iku
lighting the way home. (75-76)

While Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian workers were both oppressed as plantations workers, when immigrants and their children moved off the plantation and into small business and later government and education, they became part of the colonial system that displaced and oppressed the Hawaiian people and undermined the culture and language. To ignore these historical differences and claim a common history is self-deception.

For some reason, Lum and Chock don’t seem to recognize that Capitalist bosses and immigrant labor were both part of the colonial system; the fact that laborers worked hard, suffered discrimination, and led strikes against the plantation doesn’t make them anti-colonial. No one denies the important work of many immigrant workers and their descendants toward social and political equality in Hawai‘i. But the work was carried out to improve wages and working conditions and promote democracy within the colonial system; the workers were not revolutionaries who sought to overthrow the colonial system or re-establish the Hawaiian nation. Chock finds its ironic that “a literary venture started with the logo of contract plantation laborers is now called, by some, neocolonial” (“Neocolonialization” 17). I don’t find it ironic at all.

The different histories of indigenous peoples and immigrants explain conflicts over political power like the one between native Fijians and the descendants of East Indian immigrant laborers in Fiji. In Hawai‘i, of course, the political situation is different from that in Fiji, complicated by, among other things, a mixed population in which no group is the majority, and miscegenation, which makes ethnic divisions less sharp. A person might have the blood of colonists, immigrants, and natives in his or her veins and wish to acknowledge the heritages associated with all of his or her ancestors. But it’s clear that what defines a person as Hawaiian is ancestry from pre-contact times. Haunani-Kay Trask writes: “Historical continuity [for indigenous people] is defined by: a) occupation of ancestral lands; b) common ancestry with original occupants of these lands; c) culture, including membership in land-based communities; and d) language. Critically, the significance of territory differentiates indigenous peoples from minorities. Under international human rights law, indigenous peoples have the right of self–determination…. Minorities by contrast, do not have [this] right” (“The Right to Self-Determination” 3).

According to Trask’s defintion, the language that defines Hawaiians and Hawaiian resistance to colonization is Hawaiian; so it’s also misleading for Lum to imply that Hawaiians and immigrants share Pidgin as their “common language” of opposition to Western dominance. It’s true that Hawaiians have used both Pidgin and American English to express their opposition to Western ways, and Pidgin is inherently opposed to American English; however, the most radical of the indigenous activists have made, or are making, the transition into a Hawaiian-language community that is fighting to re-establish itself in immersion schools to recover from the Americanization and English-dominant programs in the public schools during the first-half of the 20th century.

Toward the end of his talk at the Asian American Studies conference in 1994 Lum asserts that he is well grounded in Hawaiian language and culture: “Rather than accept the deficit model as described by the critics, I would like to believe that we come fully equipped as local writers to understand and acknowledge each other and each other’s history. We do owe a large debt to native Hawaiian language and culture and already acknowledge it in our work.” But his statements reveal “deficits” in his knowledge and understanding of Hawaiian history, language, and culture; and without such knowledge and understanding, it’s difficult to acknowledge any “debt.”

At the heart of Lum’s defense of BRP writers is the fallacy of name-calling: critics of BRP are “ground termites,” eating away at the house of literature he and Chock have built. “These insects can tunnel up through cracks in the concrete and eat away at the very foundation of a house until all that is left are hollow posts and a thin shell of paint and wood.” The metaphor expresses Lum’s middle-class anxiety over protecting acquired property, both literary and real, from any devaluation. His anxiety marks his integration into the Capitalist system which has transformed land in Hawai‘i from life-giving ‘aina into a commodity to be bought, sold, and owned by individuals. (The metaphors “deficit” and “debt” also express his Capitalist thinking; compare Kame‘eleihiwa’s statement that cultural knowledge is a gift. Gifts, like hospitality, when accepted, create obligation, not debt.) While Lum meant his ground termite metaphor as an insult, I embrace it. We ground termites are dedicated to undermining the aggressive human takeover of the natural world and the commodification of land, which like air and water, should belong to all living things.

We ground termites also feed on self-imposed ignorance and misrepresentation.


“Look after the big man and the little man, the high and the low.” – Advice to a chief in Nakuina, The Wind Gourd of La‘amaomao

So perished Hala‘ea in the sea, surrounded by the objects of his greed. [Hala‘ea was a greedy chief who always demanded the entire catch of fish for himself; his fishermen left him to drown at sea after swamping his canoe by dumping all the fish into it.] – Pukui, “The Despotic Chiefs of Ka‘u

In “The Neocolonialization of Bamboo Ridge: Repositioning Bamboo Ridge and Local Literature in the1990s,” published in Bamboo Ridge in 1996, Chock apparently thinks he is responding to the argument that writing by locals of Asian ancestry is largely from a middle-class American perspective and therefore, neocolonial. In this article, he doesn’t address the issue of neocolonial perspective; nor does he “reposition” BRP; rather he restates its mission of multiculturalism and then tries to defend the press against the charge that it is biased against native Hawaiians and other ethnic groups: “…it is a myth that we are ethnically biased in what we publish” (14).

I thought it was obvious to everyone that BRP was biased; I don’t mean biased in a mean-spirited, bigoted, overtly racist way – not many take that kind of position publicly in Hawai‘i for fear of getting their asses kicked. I mean unconsciously biased, from a deeply ingrained mind-set that a person is not aware of or does not want to admit to. In this article, Chock struggles with his prejudices, denying them and revealing them at the same time. And because he is unable to recognize his own prejudices, he can’t overcome them.

Before analyzing Chock’s defense of BRP, I should state that I don’t see multiculturalism as the solution to all social ills or inequities; oppressive divisions in society are based on other factors besides ethnicity, and multiculturalism can be a feel-good way of avoiding other social issues. Furthermore, some versions of multiculturalism are insidious in the local context, for example, “internationalism” which promotes the study of Japanese and Chinese or other foreign cultures in local schools at the expense of Hawaiian culture and local history; or a multiculturalism that encourages each group to study and respect its own history and heritage, but no one else’s. But since Chock chooses to defend BRP’s record of multiculturalism, let’s look at its record of ethnic inclusion and exclusion. A book by an individual author represents the highest honor in publication. Of the nineteen books by individual writers published by BRP in its first twenty-two years (1978-2000), plus one forthcoming book, sixteen are by writers of Japanese, Chinese, or Korean ancestry, four of them by the two editors themselves; three of the books are by Frederick Wichman, a writer of Haole ancestry related to the Rice family of Kaua‘i; one collection of stories is by Rodney Morales, a writer of Puerto Rican ancestry. None of the books is by a writer of Hawaiian, Filipino, or Pacific Island ancestry.

BRP also publishes special issues organized around a topic or theme (e.g. growing up local), a genre (children’s literature), or ethnic or gender classifications (e.g. Pake writers, women writers, Hapa writers). Four of these issues have been co-edited by Chock and Lum, often with generous inclusion of their own writings. Of the thirteen other editors and co-editors empowered by Chock and Lum to compile special issues, eight are of Asian or part-Asian ancestry; three are of Haole ancestry; one is of Puerto Rican ancestry; one is Hawaiian.

I’m not in principle against a press publishing the writings of exclusively, or predominantly, any group. The practice is fairly common. Oiwi, A Native Hawaiian Journal, which appeared in 1998, publishes exclusively Hawaiian writers. This kind of publishing is important for any group which has a unique cultural tradition or social agenda, and which is underrepresented by other presses. When BRP started publishing twenty-two years ago, local writers of Asian ancestry were just such an underrepresented group, and the press has done a lot to remedy the situation by nurturing and publishing many writers of Asian ancestry. The problem is that Chock wants to claim that BRP represents all ethnic groups in Hawai‘i. As its actual publications show, this isn’t true.

But instead of saying, “Yes, we are a press that publishes and promotes mainly middle-class local writers of Asian ancestry” (an honest appaisal), the editors continue to insist that Bamboo Ridge is multicultural and inclusive, perhaps because it is more prestigious to claim that they represent all of Hawai‘i’s people rather than just 25% of the people.

In his 1996 article, Chock tries to create the impression that BRP has published Hawaiians and locals of Asian ancestry more or less equally: “While it is true that the last five books we have published in between the regular literary magazines have been by writers of Asian ancestry [Gary Pak, Juliet Kono twice, Lois Ann Yamanaka, and Marie Hara], it can also be said that there was an earlier period where we had four books in a row on Hawaiian themes” (14).

Let’s analyze this claim more carefully: Chock doesn’t point out that none of the four publications on “Hawaiian themes” is a book honoring an individual Hawaiian author’s achievement. One, Malama: Hawaiian Land and Water, is an anthology of Hawaiian writings edited by Dana Naone Hall. Of the other three publications, none is by a Hawaiian writer or editor. Ho‘i Ho‘i Hou: A Tribute to George Helm and Kimo Mitchell is a biography of Hawaiian activist George Helm by Rodney Morales; O Na Holoholona Wawae Eha o Ka Lama Hawaii / The Four-Footed Animals of Ka Lama Hawaii is a translation by Esther Mookini of a New England natural history textbook, which was translated into Hawaiian in the 19th century; Kauai Tales, is a collection of legends by Frederick Wichman. To imply that these three publications, along with Hall’s anthology, represent native Hawaiian writing and are roughly equivalent to five books by individual writers of Asian ancestry is a little misleading, to say the least. (Imagine how writers of Asian ancestry would react if some condescending non-Asian editor told them that their literary tradition was fairly represented by one anthology and three works written by authors of non-Asian ancestry because all four had “Asian themes.”)

Chock also doesn’t tell his readers that of the four books on “Hawaiian themes,” two of them (O Na Holoholona Wawae Eha o Ka Lama Hawaii and Kauai Tales) were funded by special grants (which I wrote) and were not published with the funds BRP received from the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts during those years; Chock and Lum would not have accepted the manuscripts for publication if no outside grants were obtained. (Chock later claimed to have edited Kauai Tales, which is not true.) But after Chock and Lum discovered that traditional Hawaiian stories sell, they were apparently willing to fund two more collections by Wichman.

I was also the liaison between BRP and Hall while she was compiling her Malama anthology. During this time, Lum expressed his doubts to me that Hall would come up with enough “good writing” to fill a saddle-stitched (stapled magazine format) issue, let alone a perfect-bound book issue. Apparently, he was worried that there was not much writing in the Hawaiian community worthy of publication or that the publication wouldn’t sell and would not be worth the investment of printing it in a book rather than in a magazine format. Hall delivered a book and proved him wrong; and the anthology has been kept in print and today is prominently featured in the BRP catalogue. However, since the publication of the Malama anthology in 1985, BRP has not published any book or anthology by a Hawaiian writer or editor.

Despite Chock’s claim that there is no ethnic bias in BRP’s editing, its actual publications contradict his assertion, so he offers possible “reasons” (some would say excuses) why BRP has not published more Hawaiian writers. First, “… from the beginning, not many Hawaiians, or writers with obviously Hawaiian names, have submitted work to us.” He admits, “all those [Hawaiian writers] who have been asked have submitted work,” then adds by way of complaint, “But only when asked” (15). Then why not ask? Because, Chock claims, “Generally most of what we publish in our magazine is unsolicited.” This is misleading. Many of the works published are solicited from the small group of friends of Asian ancestry who attend the BRP study group. When I participated in the study group for four years, I understood that it was formed to produce works for the journal, and the editors would regularly solicit works from study group writers . Anyone who wasn’t a part of the study group was at a disadvantage in the process of being selected for publication. The editors also solicited works from Asian American writers from the continent who come to read in Hawai‘i. These solicitations could easily account for the number of friends and writers of Asian ancestry who are published over and over again in BRP – including Chock and Lum themselves. (The consistency with which Chock and Lum have published themselves over the last twenty-two years is perhaps not surprising. Rodney Morales, like myself, a drop-out from BRP and the study group, has noted the absurd conflict of interest when a person is both editor and submitter of works to a publication: “Hmm, lemme see. I pick … ME!” Chock notes that Joe Balaz has engaged in “vanity-publishing” and that Leialoha Perkins is “self-published”[“Neocolonialization” 21]. But what Chock and Lum do is also self-publication, though under the guise of a non-profit press controlled by them – a questionable use of public funding. At least Balaz and Perkins used private funds to publish their own works.)

Chock offers a second reason why not many Hawaiian writers have appeared in Bamboo Ridge: “Perhaps it is true that not many Hawaiians have had the time nor inclination to study creative writing and work at developing the level of their art” (15). No inclination to develop “the level of their art”? Isn’t that the stereotype of the undermotivated, underachieving Hawaiian? In truth, the Hawaiian community has a long history of producing excellent works of literature, ever since the Hawaiian language was alphabetized and the printing press was introduced to Hawai‘i in the early 19th century – and long before middle-class creative writing workshops at universities were invented.

Chock speculates that the reason Hawaiians may not have the “inclination to study creative writing” is that they may be “more interested in oral forms (chants and lyrics) as opposed to written forms”; he elaborates: “discussions have often settled on …whether English literary forms and academics were therefore not encouraged by the Hawaiian community” (15). Such discussions are also based on the stereotype that Hawaiians don’t like to read or write. In truth, the English literature curriculum at Kamehameha Schools (for students of Hawaiian ancestry) is more rigorous than at public high schools in Hawai‘i, and Kamehameha has produced many English majors, scholars, and creative writers. Chock’s speculation is based on the either / or fallacy – that one must choose between literature or an oral tradition, not both. Haunani-Kay Trask notes: “Obviously Hawaiians inhabit two fluid, intermixed worlds: orature and literature; and as the world of orature has been expanding, the need for large published collections grow larger by the month. The enormous creative outpouring of modern Hawaiian composition in both Hawaiian and English awaits celebration in print” (“Decolonizing” 172-173).

Chock suggests that his notion that Hawaiians are more interested in oral forms than written forms is based in part on a statement that Hawaiian writer George Kanahele made at a literature conference to Haole novelist Ozzie Bushnell. When “prodded” by Bushnell’s question, “Where are the [Hawaiian] novelists?” Kanahele responded “‘Why should anybody bother to write a novel?’” Chock apparently interprets this to mean Hawaiians may not be interested in writing or Western models of writing.

It’s important to recognize that Kanahele is an accomplished writer and has produced a far more substantial body of literary work than Chock has, including Ku Kanaka, Stand Tall: A Search for Hawaiian Values (1986), Pauahi: The Kamehameha Legacy (1986); Waikiki 100 B.C. to 1900 A.D.: An Untold Story (1996), and Emma: Hawai‘i’s Remarkable Queen (1999). Chock’s suggestion that Kanahele is saying Hawaiians are not interested in written forms seems obviously false. Kanahele may simply be telling Bushnell that while Bushnell writes novels, apparently because Bushnell considers the novel the pinnacle of literary art, other contemporary writers consider the novel an obsolete 19th century form and may prefer the factualism of essays, histories, and biographies over fiction. Or Kanahele may be suggesting that he prefers to write histories and biographies because as genres, they are closer to genealogical traditions. (Kamakau, Malo, and ‘I‘i, the greatest writers of the 19th century wrote history, biography, and articles describing cultural practices.)

In the 20th century, there has been a wide range of Hawaiian writing published in different genres, on different topics and themes, from different perspectives, written in Pidgin, American English and Hawaiian. Along with Kanahele’s works and the earlier works of John Dominis Holt, we have seen continuous literary production from writers like Kalani Akana, Alani Apio, Joe Balaz, Kiana Davenport, Kihei de Silva, Mahealani Dudoit, ‘Imaikalani Kalahele, Mahealani Kamau‘u, Lisa Kana‘e, Anne Kapulani Landgraf, Lilikala Kame‘eleihiwa, Michael McPherson, Haunani-Kay Trask, Kathleen Tyau, and others. Why more of these writings haven’t been published by BRP is not satisfactorily explained by Chock. One possibility he doesn’t mention is that there are many good Hawaiian writers out there, but he doesn’t know any of them and so can’t ask them for submissions. Or perhaps these writers don’t send anything to BRP because they don’t trust the editors to give their works fair readings; or these writers are not writing in the limited, conventional English department writing workshop genres and styles that BRP publishes; or they are writing in Hawaiian, which, it seems, neither Lum nor Chock can read; or these writers don’t agree with the middle-class perspective of BRP and prefer to appear in more radical publications. When Dana Naone Hall compiled the Malama anthology (1985) and Mahealani Dudoit and others edited O‘iwi, a Native Hawaiian Journal (1999), they found good writing by many Hawaiians who have never appeared in a BRP publication.

In “I Wuz Here,” his afterword to Growing Up Local, an anthology of local literature co-edited with Lum in 1998, Chock describes with nostalgia the multicultural neighborhood in Nu‘uanu where he grew up, with Hawaiian neighbors and with ‘auwai, kalo, the Royal Mausoleum and petroglyphs nearby. Then Chock, like Lum, focuses on house and property to establish his connection to Hawai‘i. He tells us his parents bought their house lot from “the descendants of the royal family,” a fact pregnant with historical significance in the transformation of ‘aina into property and the transfer of property from one ethnic group and class to another through the power of the new lingua franca – money. And like Lum, Chock uses the metaphor of house to confirm his belonging: “When we ran out of room inside our house, I helped my father chisel out a space in the slope of the solid lava rock underneath the house. We poured two flat beds of concrete…How could I not feel connected to this locale?” (346). The resulting “rock nest” is perhaps more durable than Lum’s termite-eaten house. But even that cannot make Chock feel secure: “Things pass away,” he writes, “…most things change,” lamenting “what used to be called Local is just about gone” (347). Physical connections don’t endure; spiritual and cultural ones do. In “For the 100th year commiseration of 1993,” poet ‘Imaikalani Kalahele, instead of weeping over the last 100 years without a Hawaiian nation, ironically celebrates his sense of the enduring presence of maoli, or native Hawaiians, in their homeland:

Until Maunaloa becomes a sandy beach.
Until the last drop of the last maoli
dries in the last sunray.

So what one hundred years…

(in Dudoit et al, O‘iwi, a Native Hawaiian Journal, 187)

Chock tells us that during small kid time, he and the Japanese cemetery worker’s children played among the gravestones of Japanese, Haole, Hawaiians, Jews, Koreans, and Chinese. This graveyard next to his house becomes his symbol of a multicultural community where everyone is let in and no conflicts occur. Of course, except Chock and friends, everyone is dead.

Like Lum, Chock wants to believe in a mystical unity of the Local (a reflection of this Multicultural Graveyard in which every corpse has relatively equal status and space) rather than analyze more carefully the claims of living indigenous people, the inequities among living locals, and his own biases, which privilege the middle-class of Asian ancestry and maintain the status quo. A wake up blast came from Haunani-Kay Trask, critical of Chock, Lum, and other writers associated with BRP for their attempt to place themselves at the center of a false, neocolonial view of local history: “…what ties local Asain writers to each other is a much revered plantation past, which curiously, most of them did not personally experience. This once-removed identification has created a false nostalgia in their work.… A celebration of pidgin English becomes a gloss for the absence of authentic sound and authentic voices. The politics of this kind of theft through falsification is the competiton by Asian writers for hegemony with local Haole writers attempting to distinguish themselves from Americans on the continent. Both groups write about Hawai‘i, claiming a uniqueness that seeks to obliterate the Native presence. Both haole and Asians assert Hawai‘i as theirs; both deny the ancient Hawaiian cultural and creative ground upon which, as foreigners in our country, they continue to falsify their status. This explains why, contrary to most contemporary Hawaiian work, Asian writing is not counter-hegemonic. Of course, most Asian writers do not aspire to critical representation. They aspire to dominance as the unique voice of Hawai‘i” (“Decolonizing” 170).

Fortunately, in the year 2000, the local small press scene is somewhat more diverse and de-centralized than it was twenty years ago. In the context of the sovereignty movement, the Hawaiian community has organized to empower themselves rather than wait for support from “multicultural” organizations like BRP. Hawaiians and those interested in Hawaiian traditions have established ‘O‘iwi, a Native Hawaiian Journal, ‘Ai Pohaku Press, and ‘Aha Punana Leo, which publishes literature in Hawaiian. Haole writers have appeared in publications by Ano‘ai Press. The Samoan community has published Tatou Tusi Tala: Let’s Write Stories. Other small presses and publications such as ‘Elepaio, Kalamaku, O‘ahu Review, Tinfish, Hybolics, and Hawai‘i Review have produced an array of literary journals and books from various multicultural perspectives. Other Hawai‘i writers have published with the big presses in Hawai‘i (UH Press, Bishop Museum, Mutual Publishing) and elsewhere. The model of one central, inclusive, multicultural press defining local literature, which BRP hoped to become by publishing “a representative array” of writers, hasn’t materialized because Chock and Lum haven’t been able to overcome their ethnic, class, and literary biases. Perhaps no editor can, and the dream of doing so is an unrealistic project of Ego. (“I Wuz Here”?)

At the end of his 1996 article, Chock, as if finally realizing what “multicultural” means in a local context, says BRP should now perhaps “attempt to publish more Hawaiian, Filipino, Portuguese and those other underrepresented local writers” (25). He proposes to make room in BRP publications for these underrepresented writers by pulling “back from publishing any more of those mainland ethnic writers” [i.e., “Asian American writers”] who have provided the models for local writers of Asian ancestry; or perhaps by eliminating “those stray poems or stories which we just happened to like…by writers from New York or Kansas.” (How about by refraining from excessive self-publication? Or how about empowering editors of ancestries other than Asian or Haole to select works?) Still hoping he and Lum can be the Chief Arbiters of Local Literature, Chock makes a plea: “…we need for everyone, over time, to trust our choices.” “Everyone”? “Trust our choices”? Given the publishing record of BRP and statements by the editors over the last 22 years, maybe not. 

Works Cited

Balaz, Joseph, ed. Ho‘omanoa: An Anthology of Contemporary Hawaiian Literature. Honolulu: Kupa‘a, 1989.

Beckwith, Martha Warren. Hawaiian Mythology. Honolulu: UH Press. 1970.

Chock, Eric. “The Neocolonialization of Bamboo Ridge: Repositioning Bamboo Ridge and Local Literature in the 1990s.” Bamboo Ridge: A Hawaii Writers’ Quarterly. Spring 1996. 11-25.

Chock, Eric, James R. Harstad, Darrell H.Y. Lum, and Bill Teter, eds. Growing Up Local: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose from Hawai’i. Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge, 1998.

Dudoit, Mahealani et al, eds.O‘iwi, a Native Hawaiian Journal. Inaugural Issue. Honolulu: Kuleana ‘O‘iwi Press, December 1998.

Hall, Dana Naone, ed. Malama: Hawaiian Land and Water. Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge, 1985.

Hamasaki, Richard. “Mountains in the Sea: The Emergence of Contemporary Hawaiian Poetry in English.” Readings in Pacific Literature. Edited by Paul Sharrad. Wollongong: University of Wollongong, 1993. 190-207.

Handy, E.S. Craighill, and Mary Kawena Pukui. The Polynesian Family System in Ka‘-u Hawai‘i. Rutland, Vt: Tuttle, 1972. (First published in 1958 by the Polynesian Society, Wellington, New Zealand.)

Kamakau, Samuel M. Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii. Trans. by Mary Kawena Pukui and others. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools, 1961.

Kamakau, Samuel M. Tales and Traditions of the People of Old / Na Mo‘olelo a ka Po‘e Kahiko. Trans. by Mary Kawena Pukui. Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1991.

Kame‘eleihiwa, Lilikala. A Legendary Tradition of Kamapua‘a, The Hawaiian Pig God. Translated from Ka Leo o Ka Lahui. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1996.

Lum, Darrell. “Local Literature and Lunch.” The Best of Bamboo Ridge. Chock and Lum, eds. Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge, 1986. 3-5.

Lum, Darrell. “Local Genealogy: What School You Went?” Growing Up Local: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose from Hawai’i. Eric Chock, James R. Harstad, Darrell H.Y. Lum, and Bill Teter, eds. Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge, 1998. 11-15.

Lum, Darrell. Talk. Asian American Studies Association Conference, Ann Arbor, Michigan. April 9, 1994.

Maunupau, Thomas. Huakai Makaikai a Kaupo, Maui: A Visit to Kaupo, Maui. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1998.

Manu, Moke. “Ku‘ula-kai” and “‘Ai‘ai.” Hawaiian Fishing Traditions. Honolulu: Kalamaku, 1992. 1-44.

Nakuina, Moses. Wind Gourd of La‘amaomao. Translated by Esther T. Mookini and Sarah Nakoa. Honolulu: Kalamaku, 1996. (Originally published in Hawaiian in 1902.)

Pukui, Mary K. Olelo No‘eau, Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1983.

Pukui, Mary K. with Laura C.S. Green. “The Despotic Chiefs of Ka‘u.” Folktales of Hawai’i / He Mau Ka’ao Hawai’i. Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1995. 74-75.

Pukui, Mary Kawena, E.W. Haertig, and Catherine A. Lee. Nana i ke Kumu (Look to the Source), Vol. 2. Honolulu: Hui Hanai, 1972.

Trask, Haunani-Kay. “Decolonizing Hawaiian Literature.” Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific. Edited by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson Oxford, England: Rowman & Littlefield. 1999.

Trask, Haunani-Kay. “Lovely Hula Hands: Corporate Tourism and the Prostitution of Hawaiian Culture.” From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai‘i. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1993.

Trask, Haunani Kay. “The Right to Self-Determination: Native Hawaiians.” Talk on Self-Determination and Sovereignty. Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. November 1, 2000. (Typed manuscript, 5 pages).

Trask, Mililani. Talk. Workshop on Hawaiian Self-Determination and Sovereignty. Center for Hawaiian Studies, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. November 1, 2000.