Friday Quiz: Where Is This?
(July 14, 2006)
Today's mystery photo is again from the Aloha State. This is me with some dear
friends of mine; be the first to identify this specific locale, and I'll send you a collector's copy of my book
So email me!
Speaking of Hawaii, most Americans think coconut palms, beaches, surfing, the usual
tourist stuff. But there is a much darker side to Hawaii that's left out of the promo
machine. Even a cursory glance at history reveals a very sordid, sorrowful story:
Western contact led to Western diseases killing a majority of the native population in a
few short years, followed by Hawaiian ali'i (royalty) using Western technology (guns)
to further their own political goals (domination of all the islands), culminating in an
overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy by a handful of haoles (literally foreigners, but
commonly used for Caucasians) at the turn of the 19th century.
It's not hard to see why some of those with Hawaiian blood desire a restoration of a
quasi-independent Hawaiian nation, or even, at the extreme, the ejection of all haoles
from the islands. But nothing is as simple as it might seem, and history cannot be reversed
quite so readily. Even some proponents of this ethnic cleansing turn out to have haole
spouses, which certainly complicates the notion that just getting rid of the haoles
would solve the problems which plague lower-income Hawaiian communities in the state.
(Note: If you've ever glanced at the "hidden history" link on this site, you know I've
lived on three Hawaiian islands, and that about half of my adult life has been spent in Hawaii.)
The difficulties of ordering up any readymade identity is one of the key themes of
my novel I-State Lines, and at the risk of boring you, dear Reader, here is
a key passage of the book which touches on the complexities buried in the history of Hawaii:
They come in the door very quiet-cranky. Tita looks bent, and so does Alex. At first I
figure they just had some New York fun like a parking ticket or an argument with some gorgon over a shopping cart, but the way they plop the full grocery bags down on the counter tells me they're bent at each other.
If you have plans to visit the 50th state this summer,
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Tita's moving fast, the way you do when you're torqued, and her long batik skirt is going swish-swish as she darts around the kitchen, putting stuff away. There's a trickle of sweat running down her neck into her white blouse, and her face is flushed from climbing the three flights of steps with the heavy grocery bags.
Alex, of course, doesn't even look warm, except in his eyes. Hefting two bags, even in this heat, hardly lights the furnace; his blue tanktop is still neatly tucked into his shorts, and his thick arms are just moist with humidity, not from any effort.
He's the opposite of Tita in the way he gets torqued, too. He's moving very deliberately, almost slo-mo, and when I see that, a big knot clinches up in my gut.
I'm not too crazy about the silent treatment, you know, when unsaid stuff is dripping off the walls like gooey thunderstorm sweat, so I go in to help unpack the food and ask Alex, "What's with the salty air in here?"
He has that glazed-steel look in his eyes and he just shrugs. "Guess I'm not Hawaiian enough anymore." Before I can even register how this makes me feel, Tita jumps in and says, "That's not what I said." From her tone and dark eyes, I can tell she's not so much bent as hurt.
Now Alex is proud of being Hawaiian in the same way he's proud of his body and mind, and he's not proud of it the way you're not proud of breathing oxygen.
He opens a bag of apricots and carefully puts them in an old-timey blue ceramic bowl on the counter, one at a time, and I'm thinking, well, that's it, another day shot to hell, when he turns to me and just lets loose.
"So Kamehameha gives his land and women to the haoles for guns. For what? To shoot the fricking haoles? No! To kill some Hawaiians! And I'm supposed to respect that?"
I've never heard his full-rant Pidgin before, and I'm amazed at how hot and smooth it is. It's not the sing-songy kind when he's talking to me like I'm three, and it's not the short bursts when he's downright bent, either.
Tita tries to say something, but he just bulldozes ahead.
"And when the ali'i made the maka'ainana cut down all the sandalwood so they can sell it to the Chinese—every frickin' tree, Daz, you know how hard it would be to get every last one out of the Koolaus?—then what, I'm supposed to be proud of that?"
Alex usually ignores what people say—yah, especially me—and just watches what they do, so this hot speech is blowing me down.
"I didn't say that," Tita says. "I agree with you."
He ignores her and says, "Then there's some defective religion where you get adiosed if the fricking ali'i's shadow touches you, and women can't eat bananas, and I'm supposed to preserve that? What the hell for?"
"I didn't say that," Tita says all defensively, and he finally looks at her.
"No, but it's the same thing," he says, and then mimics her. "'Preserve our culture.' Who the hell lost it? The fricking ali'i were so stupid and greedy, anybody could have conquered us."
Tita looks at me and lets out a huge sigh. "All I said was, the language and everything that goes with it will be lost if we don't preserve it."
"Hey, you can preserve whatever you want," Alex tells her. "Just don't tell me how for be Hawaiian."
"That's the last thing I would do," she says, and now she's starting to flame up herself.
"What really fries my ass," he tells her, "is that you crawl out of the crabpot and marry some haole, and then 'cause you study Hawaiian, you get to tell me what for do?"
He frags her off with a disgusted snort, and Tita turns to me and says, "I don't know what set him off, but it's not me."
Alex isn't done yet, and he tells her, "Hey, if Daz or some Japanese guy wants to learn hula, you gonna tell him 'no, because you're not Hawaiian'? What if he's one-thirty-second Hawaiian? Or one-sixty-fourth? Then it's okay for him to be kumu? What the hell difference does it make?"
I know Alex has always racked up big numbers in history, the Boxer Rebellion, World War One, you name it, but I never heard him romp through Hawaiian stuff like this. So I ask Tita, as calmly as I can, "Well then, what did you say?"
She looks at Alex and tells me, "All I was trying to do was encourage him to look into his own culture."
Alex shakes his head, really redlined, and says, "Yeah, your idea of what is what. It's like the fricking Thought Control Squad around here. You ever thought that maybe we can make up our own minds?"
"Jesus," she says. "It was just a comment. I didn't expect to unleash a tirade."
He crunches up the paper bag the apricots came in and tosses it into their recycling box. "I'll tell you what's really happening," he tells us. "Making up your own mind always makes you the rebel."
Nobody says anything, and after a few seconds of looking intense he tells me, "I see it, brah. I know. The more people feel lost, the more they grab onto some bogus religion or whatever, and the more they want you to believe the same crap they do."
"Look, Alex," Tita tells him, "I'm all for you thinking and doing whatever you want. I'm sorry if I came across as a know-it-all."
This is the first thing she's said that really punches through to him, and the steam in
the room finally cools off.
I could care less what somebody has to say about my culture—I mean, what does that even mean,
seeing as how my family started because the Spanish friars were humping Indian girls like
Or if you have an open order at amazon.com, you can of course add
to it for $13 (orders over $25 ship free), which is less than one lousy junk-food meal. And I-State Lines contains no trans-fats! Furthermore,
it is excellent for holding down a beach mat when the offshore afternoon breeze picks up.
For more on this subject and a wide array of other topics, please visit
copyright © 2006 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
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