Pono / Righteousness


Pono / Righteousness

Mahealani Kamauu

Today I would like to tell you about a place where Hawaiians lived.
This was not a beautiful place of lo‘i kalo shrouded by mists and rainbows of the Ko‘olaus, or any place like it.
This place was downtown, and you got to it by going upstairs from a pool hall. When you got to the top, what you found was fifty-two Hawaiian families packed into fifty-two rooms intended for fifty-two single men.
It was a place where hundreds of Hawaiian kids and adults took turns at two toilets and three kerosene stoves. It was a place where the landlord inspected to make sure additional babies were charged accordingly.
This place was always crawling with cops. In this place, walls and floors collapsed because of termite damage. Sammy the wino told everybody, “Fuck you!” and Aunty Lillian was too drunk to close the door when she had sex.
Graffiti all over the walls was explicit, and mostly of women with their legs spread apart. Downstairs on the sidewalk, boyfriends stomped the shit out of their women, for what I never knew. Upstairs, kids got the shit kicked out of them. For what they never knew.
This was a place where neighbors carried a stillborn baby out in a bucket. This was a place where Hawaiians lived. This was a place I called home.
When I look back, I think of this home, and other places like it, as what many of us believed was our legacy. This was what we were born into. This was all we knew--and all our children would ever know.
Those who could tell us otherwise never did. No one told me our history. No one explained what happened--how we had been robbed.

Mahealani Kamauu wrote this as part of a speech she delivered at a Hawaiian sovereignty commemoration. It came at a time in her life when she had thoroughly studied the history of her people, when she had faced and overcome the challenges of surviving in Hawai‘i as a Hawaiian, when she had begun working with other Hawaiians who wanted to learn about their past and shape their future.
A few Hawaiian activists show up routinely in the headlines, but Mahealani--articulate, committed, with a natural beauty ideal for the six o’clock news--prefers a low profile. She would rather focus on efforts to achieve native sovereignty and continue her work overseeing the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, a nonprofit organization that has represented more than two thousand native people and through legal action has recovered lands worth more than $16 million.
“Why me? Who cares?” she responded when asked to share her stories with a larger audience. “I don’t deserve it.” Reluctantly, she agreed to tell her story after she was persuaded it might help other Hawaiians, who are still imprisoned by the past and unable to reconcile the path of pono (righteous behavior) with wrongs committed against them. “Perhaps,” she said, “it will help.”
The story of how Mahealani achieved this balance within herself and how she helps other Hawaiians work to establish it is tied to the history of her family and her people. It is a story about how the United States took away the sovereignty of Hawai‘i and with it the native people’s freedom to cope with the changes wrought by foreigners. Hers is a story about opportunities to create a new pono for the islands. After almost four generations, Mahealani and other Hawaiians finally recognized what was lost and began the most talked about political movement in the islands--the revival of the native nation.
When the Hawaiian kingdom was snatched away, in 1893, most Hawaiians lost with it the remnants of their fifteen-hundred-year-old culture, a culture in which many people strove to live a life of pono every day. Regardless of whether their leaders were righteous or unjust, their lands hostile or bountiful, the Hawaiians of old believed that spiritual well-being was assured by living a pono life. Hawaiian scholar Rubellite K. Johnson has described it as a life characterized by duty, responsibility, justice, and righteousness. “Without pono,” Professor Johnson wrote, “no good life for mankind either on earth or beyond earth develops.”
By 1893, the native Hawaiian population had dropped to fifty thousand, and the survivors lost their nation to a few hundred armed Caucasians. The haole succeeded after several years of a conspiracy in which they plotted, with U.S. officials, to annex the kingdom for the United States. This “robbery” took place four decades after foreign diseases had decimated the Hawaiian population, after foreign laws and manipulation had taken away most of their lands. Equally as tragic as the epidemics, the dispossession, and the overthrow were the decades of silence that followed.
Like many Hawaiians, Mahealani’s great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother did not talk about the past and their Hawaiian heritage--they simply did their best to cope with changes, even when the changes brought about suppression of their native language and culture, and transformation of their land.
Mahealani’s great-grandmother, Alice Pa‘alua Opulauoho, was born in 1883. At that time, treaties with the United States, Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Japan recognized Hawai‘i as an independent kingdom. But on the home front, King Kalākaua found his sovereignty challenged by the sons of island missionaries and foreign-born immigrants. Their newspapers attacked the king, calling him corrupt, an incompetent spendthrift, and racist for his promotion of Hawaiian culture. Some haole openly endorsed an action to assassinate the monarch and seize his government. Others favored immediate overthrow and American annexation. But the more deliberate majority, a solid group of prominent businessmen, used threats and a private militia to force the king to sign and accept a new constitution in 1887.
The “Bayonet Constitution” vested governing power with representatives of the islands’ four thousand Caucasians and reduced Kalākaua’s position to nothing more than a figurehead. Suddenly, foreigners could own land, vote, and seek political office without even becoming citizens of the kingdom. Most of the native population were disenfranchised, and sixty thousand Asian immigrants, who had been hired to work the plantations, could not vote.
Alice Pa‘alua Opulauoho was living on the Big Island at that time, but later she moved to Pālama, a working-class neighborhood in Honolulu. It was close to Iwilei, where James Dole erected the Hawaiian Pineapple Company cannery. Thousands of Hawaiians, including Alice’s daughter, would find jobs there and in other factories to earn money for their families.
When Kalākaua died, in 1891, his sister Lili‘uokalani succeeded to the throne. Lili‘uokalani was determined to write a new constitution and restore power to the Hawaiian people, to peacefully reinstate the monarch in a position of real authority. Pro-American businessmen in Honolulu were horrified. They formed the Annexation Club, whose goal to become part of the United States had the backing of President Benjamin Harrison, two members of his Cabinet, the Secretary of State and Secretary of the Navy, and the U.S. Minister to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. They began plotting.
An American warship was anchored off Honolulu when Lili‘uokalani formally proposed a new constitution on January 14, 1883, thereby giving the conspirators an excuse for action. Within two days, the American Minister to the Kingdom ordered the ship’s captain to land 160 U.S. troops to protect “American life and property in Honolulu.” The Marines carried Gatling guns past ‘Iolani Palace and bivouacked nearby. The troops’ presence intimidated the Hawaiians; a civilian haole militia seized the royal armory. Annexationist leaders then occupied the main government building, abrogated the monarchy, and declared themselves the “Provisional government until terms of union with the U.S.”
Queen Liliu‘okalani was confident that when the American government learned what had taken place, it would surely reverse the actions of its minister and reestablish the rightful government of Hawai‘i. America did not. Two years later, in skirmishes between royalists and the soldiers, government troops killed several royalists, including the first husband of Mahealani’s great-grandmother. They arrested the former queen and more than two hundred royalists. Fearing for her supporters’ lives, Lili‘uokalani formally abdicated and renounced all claim to her throne. By 1898, the United States had annexed the islands and made them a territory.
Mahealani’s great-grandparents lived in Pālama as American citizens. They were fluent Hawaiian speakers, but the territorial government had outlawed the speaking of Hawaiian in schools. Mahealani’s maternal great-grandfather, William Akana, was employed by the County of Honolulu as a refuse collector. His daughter Elizabeth, Mahealani’s grandmother, was studying to become a teacher when she contracted a mild case of Hansen’s Disease, which left her homebound.
By the 1920s, social and economic conditions among dispirited and demoralized Hawaiians had deteriorated to the point where Hawaiian advocates were demanding that something had to be done. The congressional delegate from Hawai‘i, Prince Jonah Kūhiū Kalaniana‘ole, and other native leaders of the time, promoted a homesteading program that offered Hawaiians an alternative to the urban poverty in which so many of them were trapped. If some federally held land was opened up, native people could once again work the land in the tradition of their ancestors. But that tradition had been nothing more than a memory for generations; those ancestors had depended on the ahupua‘a system, where many families worked together within large mountain-to-the-sea land districts to provide for their collective needs. At a time in American history when Indian reservations were being carved up into checkerboard allotments, Congress decided the “modern” Hawaiian would prosper if he similarly cultivated his farm as an individual, the way most Americans did.
The Hawaiian Homestead program might have succeeded, but the predominately Caucasian oligarchy ruling Hawai‘i saw to it that much of the 187,000 acres designated in the federal Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 were the least desirable agricultural lands, too arid and rocky for farming without intense labor and costly irrigation. Further, they insisted that the lands could be used only by the twenty thousand remaining pure-blooded Hawaiian natives. Hawaiians disagreed. Their advocates proposed a one-thirty-second Hawaiian blood quantum requirement. A compromise was struck: Individuals with at least 50 percent native blood would be eligible to receive a homestead.
Mahealani’s grandparents were eligible for the ninety-nine-year leases made available at one dollar per year, but like thousands of other Hawaiians, they never got any land. Today, only about 34,000 acres out of the original 187,000 set aside for Hawaiians have been awarded, and they have been distributed among only 4,000 homesteaders. The territorial governors of Hawai‘i under federal stewardship were responsible for the illegal transfer of some 29,000 acres of the best Hawaiian homestead lands to government agencies for use as parks, airports, schools, and forest reserves--all in violation of the law and without compensation to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Federal and state officials leased an additional 105,000 acres to nonbeneficiaries for commercial, industrial, and other uses. These leases, which produced an annual average rent of $18 per acre per year, paid the department’s administrative expenses. To this day, those expenses remain severely underfunded.
Mahealani’s mother, Alicia Ku‘uleimomi “Pearl” Amina, was born in 1921, a time when most Hawaiians accepted the American way of life as best for their survival. It was typical for native people to bury their Hawaiian past, and their silence bespoke a sense of shame in being Hawaiian. Some mothers put clothespins on their children’s broad noses, hoping they might somehow grow up looking less Hawaiian, more Caucasian. For many, being Hawaiian meant being lower class, but this was not true for Mahealani’s mother.
Pearl grew up in the rain-drenched town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, where her family managed to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture that had all but disappeared in Honolulu. They owned land in and around Hilo and Waiäkea-Uka, land that had been passed on to them by their parents. Pearl’s family and other Hawaiian families in that area were healthy and vigorous. Her father, Daniel Amina, was a proud craftsman who made harnesses and saddles for horses at the Parker Ranch and elsewhere. During Daniel’s free time he built furniture, and he was also a talented musician, adept at playing the banjo, guitar, ‘ukulele, harmonica, and piano. He serenaded plantation workers, family and friends, and tourists at Christmas and New Year’s parties.
To Pearl, her father lived as a Hawaiian. As a child, he had been given the name Kealanuiona‘ahi‘ena‘ena (the path of fiery embers), which traced his ancestry to Pele, the volcano goddess. When he grew to be an adult, he carried ho‘okupu, or offerings, to Halema‘uma‘u once a month to pay homage to his kupuna Pele. He was also a traditional healer, a kahuna lā‘au lāpa‘au, who knew about the medicinal properties of plants and could promote healing of a broken bone by applying the appropriate poultice. He knew prayers for use against a variety of illnesses, Hawaiian words that cured. He followed the phases of the moon and marked the traditional time for planting kalo. When Daniel went fishing, he let Pearl ride on the back of sea turtles in the ocean.
Pearl’s father struck a balance between the old Hawai‘i and the new, and her life was continually guided and shaped by his. Her mother became sick and died at the age of thirty-three, and her father died soon thereafter. In 1938, Pearl was fourteen and found she had become “mother” to her younger siblings. Pearl and the children had to move to Honolulu to live with their grandparents, exchanging the lush greenery of Hilo for dry, dusty city streets. Pearl went to work in the same Iwilei pineapple cannery that had once employed her mother, and after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, in 1941, she helped the Army Signal Corps. Then Pearl fell in love, got married, and moved to Kaua‘i.
Antonio Perez was a Spaniard, the youngest of nine children whose parents left Spain to seek a better life. They found it in Kōloa, Kaua‘i, laboring for the Kōloa Sugar Plantation. The work was hard, but Pearl and her new in-laws found time for horses, hunting, and feasting; for all-day sausage making and holy sacraments; and for celebrations full of “katchi-katchi,” Puerto Rican salsa music. Antonio and Pearl began their own family.
As a young child, Mahealani was free to run down to the ginger-choked banks of the Lāwa‘i Valley stream; she raced through orchards of mango, banana, avocado, and mountain apple; she picked flowers and Hawaiian medicinal plants in her mother’s garden.
“It seems a child’s life in Lāwa‘i was an idyll of dreams,” Mahealani wrote later in an essay about her childhood, “hours spent catching crayfish with guava branches and string; hours sitting on topmost branches of trees; exploring every trail, every fence, every footbridge; knowing special rocks and secret places--we passed our time this way. We learned about family and kinship, and from the earth, we learned our place.”
Just as life in paradise had ended for Mahealani’s mother when she had to leave Hilo for Honolulu, so it ended in 1956 for Mahealani and her four brothers and sisters. Antonio and Pearl separated that year, and the children moved to Honolulu with their mother and ended up in a graffiti-riddled downtown tenement. Pearl meted out severe punishments if her children swore, stole, or smoked, and somehow, with much hard work, she held her family together.
“She had confidence that our situation would not be a barrier to living full, wholesome lives,” Mahealani said. “Later, as an adult, I talked to friends who had encountered problems with relationships, some with children, and they would be absolutely trembling at the thought of going it alone. I had a hard time understanding this. When I grew up, my mother was fearless. I’m kind of the same way. I have no doubt that I can handle. I was a single parent for many years, but it never occurred to me that I couldn’t be self-reliant and take care of my family. I always believed everything would work out somehow, and it has. I went where I thought I should be, and things fell into place.” The same could not be said for other Hawaiians.
When the Hawaiian Islands became the fiftieth state, in 1959, the federal government transferred to state control almost 1.35 million acres of land that had been taken from the kingdom by haole businessmen and ceded to the United States in 1898. As a condition for its return, Congress required that state revenues from those lands be used to establish a ceded lands trust that would support five public purposes, one of which was to better the conditions of native Hawaiians. Despite this stipulation in the Admissions Act, despite subsequent court rulings, well-intentioned laws, and a state constitutional amendment, the leaders of the State of Hawai‘i failed to provide Hawaiians with their full, legislatively mandated share of ceded lands revenues. Almost thirty years later, in 1992, a partial settlement for the sum of $111.8 million was finally negotiated.
By then the average life span of native Hawaiians was still almost seven years less than that of other ethnic groups in the state. About 15 percent of all Hawaiian families were living below the poverty level, compared to 8 percent of all families in the state. Nearly 46 percent of all adults in state prisons were native Hawaiians, and Hawaiians in the state work force were employed in mostly entry-level positions.

Mahealani Perez Kamauu is an anomaly. She manages a legal staff of twenty as executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC), a nonprofit law firm that asserts, protects, and defends Hawaiian land and traditional rights on behalf of native Hawaiians. While an undergraduate at the University of Hawai‘i, Mahealani had learned about Hawaiians who were losing their lands to large corporations. Hawaiians could not afford lawyers to represent them in court against the companies that laid claim to their ancestral lands. With major funding from the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, representation of Hawaiians in “quiet title” actions became a major part NHLC’s work, along with other cases involving Hawaiian Homes, ceded lands, and related traditional rights.
Mahealani is slender and serene, with a calm face that reveals her mixed Spanish, Hawaiian, and Chinese blood. When she talks about the struggles of the Hawaiian people--the legal wranglings, the protests, the arrests, the anger--she becomes serene. A calm spirit distances even the most important issues from her psyche, as though she cannot take anything, including her writing (she won the 1993 Elliott Cades Award for Literature), too seriously.
When she was only ten years old, growing up in the tenements near Chinatown, Mahealani had known that “something was really wrong about conditions--not only my family’s, but what other families confronted every day. Something inside of me wanted to make a difference, to change the conditions. I never questioned this feeling. It really was a very strong desire to work for change. I still feel this way.”
After graduation from Kamehameha Schools, Mahealani married and moved to Texas, where she worked for an insurance company and attended junior college, earning an associate degree in accounting. In 1970, she and her husband divorced, and Mahealani returned to O‘ahu with two babies.
In Honolulu she worked as a secretary to support herself and her children. One day at a coffeehouse near the University of Hawai‘i, she overheard two Hawaiian students, graduates of her high school, talking about a private estate that threatened to evict some local pig farmers in order to build a white-collar suburb on its lands in Kalama, the last undeveloped valley in east O‘ahu. Mahealani joined in the organized protest, which came to be recognized as a pivotal action that mobilized an entire generation of Hawaiian activists. Although the organizers did not win this particular battle, they learned the rudiments of how to develop strategies to oppose similar evictions in the windward O‘ahu valleys of Waiāhole and Waikāne; they learned how to protest abuses by the Hawaiian Homes trust; they established the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency with the specific mandate of serving native people; and they gained access to Kaho‘olawe, an island used by the U.S. Navy for bombing practice, and eventually stopped the Navy bombing and saw Kaho‘olawe returned to the state.
Mahealani continued to learn about community organizing. She enrolled in classes at the university and in 1976 earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. She supported her two children with part-time secretarial and research work at various firms, including the Honolulu Legal Aid office. She entered law school at the University of Hawai‘i and would have graduated if not for the hardship of an unexpected pregnancy in her second year. “After six years, it was too much of a struggle. I could not put my children through more years of privation.”
She dropped out of school to care for her baby girl, again as a single mother, and on top of her part-time jobs, Mahealani worked as a volunteer for the reorganized Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. Within two years she had written enough grant proposals and raised enough money to keep NHLC stable and effective, and they hired her for a full-time staff position. In 1986, after eight years at the legal corporation and graduate work in accounting and public administration, Mahealani was named executive director of NHLC. She also served on the boards of a dozen Hawaiian organizations and the Native American Rights Fund. In 1990, the Young Lawyers division of the Hawaii State Bar Association recognized Mahealani for her “significant contributions in a law-related field.”
To Mahealani, the award was not as important as the opportunity to tell bar members about the movement to establish a sovereign Hawaiian nation. Although the sovereignty concept has become politically safe and is endorsed by many politicians, most of the state’s million residents, including the 139,000 people with Hawaiian blood, do not understand what sovereignty could mean, both for the native people and the islands.
In an essay for The Price of Paradise, Mahealani and Hawaiian attorney H. K. Bruss Keppeler grouped sovereignty activists into three categories: (1) those propounding complete separation from the United States and a return to the status of being an independent, internationally recognized Hawaiian nation; (2) those advocating nation-within-a-nation status, with federal recognition as a new Native American nation; and (3) those desirous of maintaining the political status quo while pressing for redress, reparations, and full control of Hawaiian trust assets by Hawaiians.
Mahealani and Bruss described separatists as those who work toward an independent nation, whose “citizenship is available to those [Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian] who pledge their allegiance to Hawai‘i and to no other nation.”

The Hawaiian nation would lessen its foreign dependence by increasing the number and diversity of its trade partners. As a nation it would be able to do what the State of Hawai‘i could never do: place limitations on immigration. . . .
The form of government would be a matter for its citizens to decide. As with any nation, Hawai‘i would control its own international relations, establish diplomatic posts around the world, and join regional and international forums. U.S. control of military bases in Hawai‘i would end.
The territory of the re-emerged Hawaiian nation would include all the lands and waters that form the present state, plus Kalama (Johnston), Midway, and Palmyra Islands. . . .
The oldest group espousing the “nation-within-a-nation” model of Hawaiian sovereignty is Ka Lāhui Hawai‘i [the Sovereign Nation of Hawai‘i] . . . [which] “seeks inclusion of the Hawaiian People in the existing U.S. federal policy which affords all Native Americans the right to self-government and provides access to federal courts for judicial review.” . . . Under its model, Hawaiians will generally continue to live, work, and worship as they do today. Jobs, social security, retirement, or pensions from the United States or the State of Hawai‘i would not be affected. The primary change would be that Hawaiian lands and assets would be managed and controlled by laws passed by a Hawaiian legislature.

Two hundred fifty delegates established Ka Lāhui at a 1987 convention. They devised four branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial branches as well as an ali‘i nui (chiefs) branch responsible for culture, traditions, and protocol. By 1994 the group claimed more than twenty thousand citizens who sought federal recognition of their nation.
There are other models for a Hawaiian nation-within-a-nation. Some members of Ka Lāhui also belong to the State Council of Hawaiian Homesteaders, which is 30,000 strong and has an interest in maintaining sovereignty over the lands that Congress set aside for native homesteaders. Many of these homesteaders are among the 75,000 registered voters who make up the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), a semi-autonomous state agency set up in 1980 to develop and administer programs for the Hawaiian people and serve as their advocate within the state bureaucracy. OHA voters elect nine trustees, whose unity is like that of any legislative body--sometimes divided, either by allegiances to Ka Lähui, the homestead association, other native groups, or as Mahealani and Bruss wrote, the “many Hawaiians [who] are reasonably happy with the existing forms of government but irate over past wrongs.”
In their essay, Mahealani and Bruss cite this group of Hawaiians who “stand forthright behind initiatives that would give Hawaiians as a class the right to sue the United States for reparations and redress. They believe it’s high time that a formal and official apology be given by the U.S. government to the Hawaiian people for the wrongs committed.”

These Hawaiians are keenly aware of the loss of water rights, the erosion of Hawaiian private trust assets, and the alarming statistics on the health and social status of Hawaiians. They want something done about it--now. But they enjoy federal, state, and county services. They receive federal, state, or county paychecks or pension checks. They are intrigued by all the talk and commotion and proud that Hawaiians are speaking out. But, when the chips are down, they can’t see themselves taking that final step to sovereignty.

Mahealani has already taken that step. “Liberty is assured when a nation’s citizens are courageous. Liberty is assured when a nation’s citizens conform their behavior to that which is pono and righteous. . . .
“I’m big on courage, as opposed to bravado, grandstanding, and demagoguery,” she said. “My mother is a woman of courage, and it’s the way I’ve tried to live my life. If you want pono in your life, you have to live your life with integrity. In order to do that, you must have courage. There are times when you are at a crossroads, where you can choose to do that which is less courageous but which will be comfortable and safe. I’ve tried not to take the easy path. I believe, as a result, no matter how destitute, no matter what my immediate circumstances were, I’ve usually been satisfied that I’ve done the right thing. It’s very important to me.”
As a result, Mahealani refrains from infighting and tries to work with all groups devoted to achieving sovereignty, regardless of their differences. Members of her staff helped draft the Office of Hawaiian Affairs blueprint for entitlements, which proposed to facilitate the native Hawaiian community’s efforts to seek reparations and lands from the United States and establish a sovereign nation of their own choosing.
She wrote a federal grant for Ka Lāhui Hawai‘i that challenged the ability of OHA, the state-run agency, to represent Hawaiian people fairly. She worked long hours with Ka Pākaukau, an association of pro-sovereignty groups that believed that neither OHA’s state-sponsored blueprint nor the independent blueprint from Ka Lāhui Hawai‘i for self-governance within the American system would allow känaka maoli true sovereignty. And she was there on the cliffs of Makapu‘u when the Ka‘awa family occupied the rocky eastern point of O‘ahu to assert an ancestral claim to 18,630 acres stretching from Makapu‘u across to the suburbs of Waimānalo and Kailua.
Mahealani was appointed to the state Hawaiian Sovereignty Advisory Commission, and she became a member of Hui Na‘auao, a coalition of forty native groups and entities that has received federal money for sovereignty education. The commission and the coalition seek to promote consensus in decision making and even-handedness among all Hawaiian groups, so members will have a safe place to disagree and work on identifying common ground.
Kaua‘i had been that kind of safe place for Mahealani while she was growing up. There, in the Lāwa‘i gardens of her mother, aunties, and uncles, she had the freedom to become almost anyone. And even though plantation work was difficult, Mahealani’s family always made time to enjoy music and family celebrations, just as she would later free herself from obligations to make time for poetry, creative writing, and family and friends.
Mahealani recalled that freedom as she prepared her speech for the annual celebration of Ka Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea (Restoration Day), which commemorates the day in July 1843 when a British admiral restored King Kamehameha III to sovereignty after the native Hawaiian government had been surrendered for six months to an English lord and his terrorizing warship.
“I stand before you a person utterly committed to freedom for our people. Freedom not to coerce others into believing the way I do, but freedom that our people may make their own choice--to be free and self-determining.
“I will never exhort you to hate or condemn your brothers and sisters. For when you hate or condemn your brothers and sisters, you invite hate and condemnation upon yourself.
“Understand your humble place as a being in this great universe--you are one with all things in it. If you send hate, it will return to eat you. You know this. It was taught by our kūpuna.
“Instead, let us choose life-affirming love for our people. . . . We commit every ounce of our spiritual, intellectual, and physical energy to make this world work for us.”
Two hundreds years of epidemics, dispossession, and oppression have left many Hawaiians distrustful, not only of those whom they consider oppressors, but of one another as well. Although factionalism and infighting have hindered most struggles for independence and self-governance, including the colonial American struggle in the eighteenth century, outsiders and some Hawaiians expect unity. Mahealani ignores such expectations.
“Sovereignty is greater than the sum of all our parts,” Mahealani said, speaking as the woman in the middle who has worked with many different factions. “I refuse to succumb to partisan infighting. I am very idealistic. I see sovereignty as an ideal, and it is a vision that we should work toward together. We have to. You talk about nationhood. My nation includes all of us. It is not exclusive. So, therefore, I think it’s appropriate for me to work with all people who share the vision. Obviously they have their differences, but I can’t allow these differences to become an impediment. I refuse.
“My preference is full, sovereign, international status, but my overriding concern is that the decision reflect our collective will, and I am willing to accede to that, whatever it may be.
“We have to be very vigilant,” Mahealani continued. “There are overwhelming pressures to make compromises. . . . We will make progress [toward sovereignty], but that progress will be incremental. There will be proposals made and proposals accepted and there will be times when many of us who are very, very concerned will be outsiders to that process. We may not figure as major players. We may not be invited to the negotiating table. But we can be very vigilant about making sure that our options are left open so that the changes and compromises made do not compromise our children’s future. I would never accept that deal which forecloses future options for negotiation. I wouldn’t stand for that. I couldn’t.
“I wrote a poem which describes how beautiful our land is, how sacred it is, the fact that it has suffered but still sings. I too have hope. I have a lot of faith that the right thing will happen. . . . The spirit of our people will ultimately prevail and cannot be suppressed.
“It seems arrogant for us to presume that we are going to make that big a difference, because in the grander scheme of things the earth, mother earth, prevails. We have been taught that we are custodians and our stay here is temporary. It’s good to be alive, part of the human comedy, drama, or tragedy, whatever it is, but our time here passes very quickly.”

Keauhou (Song of Renewal)
This earth is sweet,
Its spirits full of providence.
Mountains shake torrential skies,
Cloud and leaf scatter
Before their winds.
Each far shore is a vision
Of colors hovering, disappearing,
Circles of light encircling rain.

This place is sacred,
A sacrament of blood,
earth, shell and bone.
Wraith spirits dance,
Teeming gossamer,
Transparent wing and gill,
While Night Marchers keep
Their ancient sojourn.

This land knows the dark incision
Of steel, granite, glass;
Gray boneyards of iron,
Chilling slabs of highrise,
Concrete vaults, embalming places
For four million souls
By the Coroner of Commerce.
This land still sings:
Grass, flower, gulls,
Surge of ocean, thunder,
The wind’s lullaby,
All a chorus of renewal,
A mighty chorus
Of earth’s eternal song.

Mahealani Kamauu: Pono / Righteousness