A Response to the Comments on Kalamaku Press and Storied Landscapes, in Ku‘ualoha Ho‘omanawanui’s “’ This Land Is Your Land, This Land was My Land,’” Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai’i, edited by Candace Fujikane and Jonathan Y. Okamura, University of Hawaii Press, 2008.

Dennis Kawaharada, October 2009


In “This Land Is Your Land, This Land was My Land,” University of Hawai‘i Assistant Professor of English Ku‘ualoha Ho‘omanawanui points out the differences between writings on Hawai‘i by Kanaka Maoli writers and writings by non-Kanaka Maoli writers. She also argues that Kanaka Maoli have the kuleana (“rights, privilege, responsibility and authority”) to publish their own literature and tell their own stories. “Settler writers,” she concludes, “need to acknowledge their place as settlers and ours as Natives” (146). I agree with much of what she writes, having expressed similar ideas in my earlier writings, including “Towards an Authentic Local Literature” (a conference talk, 1994) and “Local Mythologies” (Hawai‘i Review 56, Spring 2001).

But Ho‘omanawanui’s statements on Kalamaku Press, which I established in 1989, are based on incomplete or erroneous information, and she misreads my essays in Storied Landscapes: Hawaiian Literature and Place (1999) as an attempt to claim Hawaiian land and culture: “Kawaharada ... fails to see how he is inserting himself, a settler, into the land and culture he is trying to represent in this book, a land and culture not his own” (142).

Ho‘omanawanui fails to see that I’m inserting myself as a settler in order not to claim a land and culture not my own. The metaphor I use is of a landscape layered with stories, from the oldest to the newest. My stories are among the most recent, and from my contemporary non-Native frame (or through my “non-Native lens,” to use her phrase), I peer back into the layers of story and history to see who and what was here before my family and I arrived.

My autobiographical essays reflect on my twentieth-century colonial upbringing and education in Hawai‘i. The narrative, as Ho‘omanawanui notes, is critical of the educational system for having failed to provide students like me with an awareness of the depth and complexity of Native traditions (143). In making a case that the system had failed, I wrote extensively about what was missing from my education. In Storied Landscapes and Local Geography: Essays on Multicultural Hawai‘i (2004), I note how up until my late twenties, I thought I knew and appreciated the places of the islands where I grew up and live today. But after a decade of researching writings on Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian literature in translation, I realized how little I knew. My essays re-interpret the landscapes, mainly on Maui and O‘ahu, where my family settled, in light of this new knowledge.

Ho‘omanawanui criticizes non-Native writers for expressing a “continued nostalgia for plantation ‘roots’ that go back less than two hundred years while ignoring Kanaka Maoli roots that go back centuries” (117). Since the purpose of my essays was to acknowledge the centuries of Kanaka Maoli traditions, a large portion of the writing is allotted to presenting them in some detail and discussing their significance for contemporary Hawai‘i. (Ho‘omanawanui calculates that about one-third of the essay “ A Search for Ku‘ula-kai” focuses on myself and my family while the other two-thirds are about Native traditions.)

Ho‘omanawanui objects to the term “landscape” in my title because it expresses “a settler bias” (142). She argues earlier that terms like “landscape,” “geography” and “environment” express “Western-based understanding” and “negate Native understanding of land as ‘aina” (118). I use “landscapes” in my title (rather than “wahi pana” or “‘aina”) to indicate that I’m writing about the islands as a settler, from a Western point of view, in the colonial language of English, and don’t trace my genealogy back to the kalo plant. When presenting the Native view of the ‘aina, I quote and summarize from Native texts (in English translation).

Ho‘omanawanui claims, “…‘landscape’ implies a pastoral scene devoid of Kanaka Maoli, a terra nullius waiting to be conquered, colonized, settled” (142). But “Storied Landscapes” doesn’t suggest “terra nullius” (“empty or unclaimed land”). The landscape has stories, and presumably, the stories have been told by people who live in the landscape.

“Storied” connotes “full of stories,” not “empty.” The subtitle “Hawaiian literature” identifies the origin of the stories and suggests that I learned about the landscapes not from my parents, grandparents, or ancestors, but from reading Native literature. “Place” in the subtitle is also modified by “Hawaiian” to indicate that from reading these stories, I began to see the place (but not myself) as “Hawaiian.”

Ho’omanawanui admits that the essays in fact don’t represent Hawai’i as “terra nullius” but that “Kanaka Maoli are present (such as Nainoa Thompson, master navigator of the voyaging canoe Hokule’a).” However, she complains, “they are not permitted to speak or share their mana‘o of the ‘aina to which they are genealogically connected” (142).

The essay in Storied Landscapes in which Nainoa appears is about the ancient voyaging chiefs of Kane‘ohe Bay. I “permit” Kanaka Maoli to speak in this essay by quoting and summarizing from Pukui’s translations of Samuel Kamakau’s nineteenth century newspaper articles, published in Tales and Traditions of the People of Old (1991). The Kamakau/Pukui text (not “I”) tells the stories of the chiefs, their genealogies, and their connection to the ‘aina. In “Crossing Seas” (in Local Geography), in which I describe Nainoa’s accomplishments, I “permit” him to speak by quoting from his journals and talks; in “Local Geography” (in Local Geography), in which I write about Hawaiian author John Dominis Holt, I quote from his autobiography.

When I write about the fishing god Ku‘ula-kai, I am not “inserting” myself “as narrator of an indigenous Hawaiian mo‘olelo,” I’m summarizing and interpreting a story told by Moke Manu, translated and published by Moses Nakuina. I explain that the story honors “some ancient gods of Hawai’i.” Ho’omanawanui wonders, “But how is this demonstrated in the essay, or throughout the collection?” (143). Honoring the gods is demonstrated by my not writing my personal and family history as if Japanese settlers were the first people to arrive in the islands; by reflecting on the significance of the centuries of Kanaka Maoli traditions in the context of modern, multicultural Hawai‘i; and by celebrating the contributions of Kanaka Maoli and their gods to the well-being of everyone living in Hawai’i today.

Ho‘omanawanui also raises the issue of who should publish Hawaiian literature. She suggests it may now “be the kuleana for Kanaka Maoli publishers” (141). I agree. When I began publishing Hawaiian folklore in translation in 1990, many of the works I was reading were out of print so, as she notes, I published them to make the material “more readily available to the public.” But so much was published during that decade, I didn’t reprint Nanaue the Shark Man (1994) and Voyaging Chiefs of Havai‘i (1995). I also declined requests to reprint two Hawaiian language publications, Moolelo Hawaii o Pakaa a me Kuapakaa (Moses Nakuina, 1901; Kalamaku Press published a facsimile in 1991); and Mo’olelo no Kapa’ahu (Emma Kauhi, 1996).

Ho‘omanawanui characterizes my publishing as entrepreneurship: “Kawaharada has the right as a businessman to pursue publishing rights and profit from his entrepreneurship” (142). To correct the record, I am not a businessman. I’ve taught English at Kapi'olani Community College for over twenty years and, for the last several years, have served as an interim dean. I haven’t pursued or acquired any rights to stories. The translations of folktales I published are either in the public domain (anyone can publish them) or copyrighted by the translators. And I’ve posted the stories from  Nanaue the Shark Man, Voyaging Chiefs of Havai‘i, and Ancient O‘ahu (1996) on a website hosted by Kapi‘olani Community College so the stories can be accessed for free.

Ho‘omanawanui views my publishing work as claiming “a position of authority in place of a Kanaka Maoli voice,” and my collection of personal essays (i.e., Storied Landscapes) as “claiming a central position of knowledge and authority on Kanaka Maoli mo‘olelo” (142).

From my perspective, anyone aspiring to claim central authority on Kanaka Maoli mo‘olelo would have to do more than write personal essays about education in Hawai‘i or introduce and reprint materials translated by nineteenth and early twentieth colonial scholars. To claim authority (or be recognized as an authority), one would have to be trained to fluency in the language, which I’m not; the person should be able to read, analyze, and interpret literary works in Hawaiian; to translate never-before-translated stories or produce new versions of earlier translations in fresher, more accurate, more elegant prose (many of the old translations are awkward and beg to be retranslated); to collect and annotate stories in Hawaiian and introduce them in Hawaiian. A number of scholars and writers, both Kanaka Maoli and non-Kanaka Maoli, have produced such research and publications. I view them as authorities and cite some of them in my writing.