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Mourning the land: Kanikau in Noho Hewa: the wrongful occupation of Hawai'i.

Anne Keala Kelly's Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawaii is a filmic narrative and testimony organized around and about Native Hawaiian resistance to three different (and all too similar) abuses of the land: US military occupation of Hawaii, settler colonialism, and corporate tourism. (1) Kelly brings together different aspects of these issues in a meaningful way to form a coherent testimony that contradicts the colonial and neocolonial reimagining of Hawaii as a peaceful Paradise. By depicting Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) struggles in a format that layers auditory truth telling over backgrounds that visually represent the issues being discussed, Kelly has created something akin to a contemporary multimedia kanikau (mourning chant). (2) My analysis of Noho Hewa examines the ways in which mourning acts as a central cohesive element that relates many of the issues portrayed in the film. The theme of mourning speaks to intergenerational trauma from which many Native Hawaiians suffer in the aftermath of the US-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Kelly draws upon elements of the kanikau to create a documentary that tells the story of the US occupation of Hawaii through the desecration and destruction of sacred sites.

I teach this documentary as a graduate assistant in the English Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for a first-year English composition section titled "Hawaii--Writing Place, Writing Culture." (3)

I observe my freshmen students as they watch Kelly's Noho Hewa. I warn them that the film content will cause discomfort. They become absorbed in what they are seeing, and their facial expressions and body language clearly reflect their unease. When the film ends, I turn on the lights. Twenty faces stare at me in silence. Normally exuberant, these students are clearly disturbed by the film. Noho Hewa is a documentary that provokes. During the period that I have used this film as a pedagogical tool, no one walks away untouched: whether they are angry or hurt, whether they are Native Hawaiian or not, everyone reacts to this film. Their reactions form the basis for class discussions and papers about the politics of place in Hawai'i.

Before showing my students Noho Hewa, I have them watch another well-known documentary, Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation, which was released in 1993--one hundred years after the 1893 US-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation. Act of War served as a kahea (call to action): "Today, after another century of dispossession, we are asserting our independence and sovereignty. We invite you to see Hawaiian history through Hawaiian eyes." (4) Noho Hewa fills a different need than Act of War. Nearly twenty years later, Noho Hewa is also a kahea, but the stakes are higher now: settler hostility toward Kanaka Maoli, expressed vis-a-vis the colonizer's legal and institutional apparatus, appropriates human rights discourse as a strategy to negate Native Hawaiian claims, countering every political move we make. Lisa Kahaleole Hall explains:
   The ignorance of the US public about issues of sovereignty and the
   trust lands of the Hawaiian people, the miscategorization of
   indigenous issues as "racial," and the right-wing resistance to
   "minority rights" have brought us to a point where Hawaiians are in
   great danger of losing the limited entitlements that already exist,
   much less the immensely greater resources and rights to which we
   are legally entitled and do not currently receive. (5)

Class discussions before viewing these films revealed that the large majority of my students knew very little or nothing about the circumstances that led to Hawai'i becoming the fiftieth state or why so many Native Hawaiians are opposed to the US military's presence in and the US militarization of Hawai'i. Combined, these two documentaries provide answers to my students' questions. Noho Hewa continues where Act of War left off.

Noho Hewa examines sensitive, complex issues arising from the ongoing illegal occupation of Hawafi, which include (but are not limited to) Kanaka Maoli struggles for self-determination, militarization of the Islands, dispossession and homelessness, destruction of cultural and natural resources, desecration of Native Hawaiian burial sites, and genetically modified organisms (GMO). Noho Hewa brings these issues into dialogue with each other, showing the ways that they intersect and overlap, how they are all linked to the occupation of Hawai'i and competing ideologies on the value of AINA (land). To achieve this, the film makes use of formal and informal truth-telling processes: people are protesting--literally testifying--and even disrupting testimony. Noho Hewa also calls upon Native Hawaiian experts. (6) Their testimonies, which elaborate on positions and provide greater context, give a counterstory to the ones that the military, corporations, and developers present. Through abrupt visual cuts between these performances, Kelly creates a powerful narrative about neocolonialism in Hawai'i--a narrative that not only makes visible corporate and governmental strategies of erasure but also documents Kanaka Maoli testimony to indigenous human rights abuses as well as resistance to that history of abuse.


A kanikau is a compelling example of Native Hawaiian speech performance; it expresses grief and honors that which has been lost. Preeminent Native Hawaiian scholar and cultural expert Mary Kawena Pukui calls kanikau "poetic funeral odes." (7) Pukui describes the circumstances in which kanikau were produced and performed, "As the usual day and night of the wake wore on, relatives composed na mele kanikau (chants of mourning) or dirges. These were recited beside the coffin." (8) These chants included prolonged, piercing cries of grief. Pukui describes the reaction of non-Hawaiians to kanikau, "Foreigners who thought that it was all mere acting, did not understand that the feelings in the wailing cries were very real. It was one expression of grief." (9) This telling statement emphasizes the fervor with which kanikau are performed, but it also speaks to how foreigners react to that which they do not understand--to their ethnocentric perspective that dismisses Native Hawaiian expressions of grief as overly emotional. As I will show, this ethnocentric perspective is replicated today in other ways, especially in regard to Native Hawaiian laments over the (ab)use of the aina.

While kanikau was originally an oral genre, with the advent of literacy and the publication of Hawaiian newspapers, it gradually gained popularity as a written genre, as is evident from the vast number that were published. The earliest example belongs to Hawaiian historian David Malo, who published a kanikau for Kaahumanu in the missionaryrun newspaper Ka Lama Hawaii on August 8, 1834.10 According to Pukui, "Up until 1894, newspapers carried whole columns of mourning chants." (11) However, kanikau were not only composed for the dead. The ue helu is a "wailing call of grief and love, recounting deeds of a loved one and shared experiences." (12) Pukui explains that an ue helu "might also be addressed to a departing friend, or by a mother as an expression of her grief over an ungrateful child or the loss of a prized possession, or upon the return of a relative who has been away long and far." (13) Kanikau often included poetic references to gods, fauna and flora, wahi pana (places made famous in stories, sayings, and songs), and even natural elements. However, these references were not always literal; the composer might be alluding to a person. (14)

Kanikau were not only written for people. A kanikau was written in 1842 for the seminary Lahainaluna: "He kanikau ia oe, e Lahainaluna, a me ko aloha i ka manawa, a me ka hoi ana o na haumana" (An expression of care for you, O Lahainaluna, and your compassion in the heart, and the return of the students). (15) In 1845, when the newspaper Ka Nonanona announced that its four years of publication life had come to an end, it asked its readers, "Owai ka mea nana e haku i wahi mele kanikau no'u, i malamaia ko'u inoa maikai?" (Who is the person who will compose a dirge for me to preserve my good name?). (16) On January 14, 1857, a subscriber to Ka Hae Hawaii offered a kanikau for the year 1856. The subscriber urged readers to be grateful for the many blessings that Hawaiians received in 1856, including the marriage of King Kamehameha iv to Emma Rooke and the birth of the newspaper Ka Hae Hawai'i, (17) The examples from nineteenth-century newspapers demonstrate the wide range of occasions that gave rise to kanikau. Kanikau commemorated not only people but also things and events, and although kanikau were primarily funeral dirges, they could be directed at the living.

Great care was taken in the composition of chants and songs because in Native Hawaiian epistemology, language has agency--it is imbued with the power to heal or to destroy. (18) A well-known olelo noeau attests to this belief, "I ka olelo no ke ola; i ka olelo no ka make--Life is in speech; death is in speech!' (19) The Native Hawaiian philosophy encapsulated in this saying has a correlation in speech act theory. In her discourse on the capacity of language to injure, Judith Butler asserts, "We claim that language acts, and acts against us, and the claim we make is a further instance of language, one which seeks to arrest the force of the prior instance. Thus, we exercise the force of language even as we seek to counter its force, caught up in a bind that no act of censorship can undo." (20) Inversely, if language has the power to injure, as Butler and others claim, then it follows, as Hawaiian belief holds, that language also has the power to heal.


To those persons unfamiliar with Native Hawaiian understandings of the aina, the idea of mourning the land may seem incomprehensible. In the Western perspective, land is inanimate and to be exploited. In the Native Hawaiian perspective, the land is sentient and to be respected. While land everywhere is undeniably a crucial resource for all of humanity, as our very existence relies on its resources, all too often the former view leads to the destruction and depletion of those resources, while the latter seeks to protect them, thus ensuring our survival.

Traditionally, Native Hawaiians feel a close connection to the aina that goes beyond the love people might feel for the physical place and space they occupy. This relationship to the aina is a core concept in our epistemology and derives from our genealogical connection to the aina. Historian Lilikala Kameeleihiwa explains:
   Hawaiian identity is, in fact, derived from the Kumulipo, the great
   cosmogonic genealogy. Its essential lesson is that every aspect of
   the world is related by birth, and as such, all parts of the
   Hawaiian world are one indivisible lineage. Conceived this way, the
   genealogy of the Land, the Gods, the Chiefs, and people intertwine
   with each other, and with all the myriad aspects of the universe.

Understanding that the land has a genealogy is crucial to understanding Native Hawaiian attachment to the aina. Not only does the land have a genealogy in our worldview; it is both our ancestor and our elder sibling. The last scene in Noho Hewa documents activist and educator Kaleikoa Kaeo chanting an excerpt from the Kumulipo. After his performance, he explains, "That's our moblelo." (22) He adds, "We, the Kanaka, go back to Wakea and Papa, over 120 generations, and in the Kumulipo, we add on a thousand more." His performance is a powerful reminder of Native Hawaiian kuleana, our set of rights and responsibilities that are informed by our genealogy.

Because this genealogical connection to the aina is an important theme in Noho Hewa, a brief explanation regarding Papa and Wakea is important in an analysis of the documentary.

The Kumulipo records that Papahanaumoku, Island-birthing Papa, is a transfiguration of the earth deity Haumea. According to the creation chant Mele a Pakui, Papahanaumoku mated with Wakea, the sky father, and she gave birth to Hawafi, Maui, and Kahoolawe--Ni'ihau, Lehua, and Kaula were the afterbirth. (23) From the union of Kaulawahine and Wakea, Lanai was born. From the union of Hina and Wakea, Molokai was born. Papa mated with Lua, and O'ahu was born. Also born to Papa and Wakea was a daughter, Hoohokulani. Wakea slept with Hoohokulani, and Haloanakalaukapalili, a stillborn child, was born. From his body grew the first kalo, or taro plant. Hoohokulani gave birth to a second child, who was named after his elder, stillborn brother. This child, Haloa, is said to be the first human, and from him all Hawaiians are thought to descend. Clearly, the Native Hawaiian understanding of place differs from nonindigenous (especially Western) understandings of Hawafi. As respected kumu hula (hula teacher) and Kanaka Maoli intellectual Dr. Pualani Kanahele declares: "I Am This Land and This Land Is Me." (24)

The Native Hawaiian perspective regarding the aina is also embedded in terminology denoting place and relationship to place. Pukui explains that kula iwi means "land of bones," with the understanding that "here my bones began" and thus "birthplace." (25) 'Oiwi, which includes the root word iwi, or "bones," means "native son; native of the land." (26) Furthermore, as Pukui explains, makaainana, or "common people," is "a contraction of lunamakaainana, meaning caring of the land'" and "included not only farmers, but craftsmen, fishers, and sea-faring men as well." (27) Pukui adds that these practitioners were all " oiwi, the 'backbone of the people, close and strongly linked to their land." (28) This connection between Native Hawaiians, aina, and bones is an important part of Hawaiian epistemology. The testimonies in Noho Hewa attest to the fact that Native Hawaiians continue to revere the aina and hold sacred the bones of our kupuna. From this perspective, mourning the damage to or loss of land and the desecration of burial sites is unsurprising. (29)

Noho Hewa opens with an excerpt from the poem "Hawafi" by Haunani Kay Trask: "Haole plover / plundering the archipelagoes / of our world. / And we, gorging ourselves / on lost shells / blowing a tourist conch / into the wounds / of catastrophe." Trasks poem references a Native Hawaiian cultural understanding of the Pacific golden plover, which is known in Hawai'i as kolea. The kolea is "a migratory bird which comes to Hawai'i about the end of August and leaves early in May for Siberia and Alaska." (30) There are several olelo noeau that mention kolea, usually in a disparaging sense. Pukui explains that kolea is "a scornful reference to foreigners ... who come to Hawaii and become prosperous, and then leave with their wealth, just as the plover arrives thin in the fall each year, fattens up, and leaves." (31) Today, the kolea is an apt metaphor for colonialism and neocolonialism.

Trasks poem echoes the olelo noeau "Aia keke na hulu o ka umaumau ho'i ke kolea i Kahiki e hanau ai. / When the feathers on the breast darken (because of fatness) the plover goes back to Kahiki to breed. / A person comes here, grows prosperous, and goes away without a thought to the source of his prosperity." (32) There is a long history in Hawai'i of kolea who "grow fat" in Hawai'i, taking from the dina but not giving back--so much so, in fact, that there are olelo noeau that testify to this practice. These 'olelo no'eau are testimonies to the historical resentment that Native Hawaiians feel toward foreigners who (ab)use the dina.


Luku means "massacre, slaughter, destruction; to massacre, destroy, slaughter, lay waste, devastate, exterminate, ravage." (33) The use of wale adds the idea of "useless" or "without cause" to luku, hence, "useless destruction." The opening scene of Noho Hewa begins with a kanikau performed by a group of Native Hawaiians at Makua to mourn the destruction and desecration of the valley:




Mai poina i ke ahi i ke kino o ko makou makua, o makuahine!







Never forget the fire that ravaged the body of our parent, endure mother!




An epigraph explains that these chanters are praying for the recovery of Makua Valley after an army munitions burn raged out of control and "engulfed half the valley, sacred sites and endangered species habitats." In this case, the kanikau not only laments the damage caused to Makua but also works to repair it. This is not the first time that a fire has ravaged the valley. The military has been using Makua for live-fire training since the 1920s. (34) As a child growing up in that area during the 1970s, I remember hearing the echo of explosions and seeing the occasional black expanse of charred mountainside.

Another important aspect of this kanikau is that it can be understood as both a testimony and a protest against the US military occupation of Hawai'i and its use of the land it appropriated. The kanikau is also an eloquent reminder of the Native Hawaiian presence. It is apparent from the soldiers in the scene that the chanters had requested and were granted access to a restricted area to practice their kanikau. This small victory, as well as their performance, is empowering for the Native Hawaiian community. Additionally, because of our relationship with the aina, praying for its recovery also works to ease our own pain. Furthermore, this kanikau underscores the Native Hawaiian perspective of the aina as a living entity. These chanters are acting as witnesses for Makua Valley. Not only are they speaking to her; they are speaking for her. Because the aina cannot speak for itself, it cannot offer its own testimony, at least not in ways that have import juridically or politically, as this group is doing for her. Their kanikau recognizes that she has been ravaged. And while there were few actual witnesses to the events that inspired the kanikau and its actual performance, the number of witnesses grows as more and more people see the documentary.


The documentary's role as a contemporary multimedia kanikau brings attention to the way that loss of land and loss of jobs are connected to neocolonialism--and nowhere in the Islands is this situation more dire than on Molokai-a-Hina, the poetical name for the Island born from union between the deities Wakea and Hina. The effects of neocolonialism are staggering on Molokai. The residents of Molokai do not risk eviction but extinction--extinction of their way of life and extinction of their island environment. An epigraph in Noho Hewa explains, "Molokai Ranch, which covers one-third of the island, encountered opposition to plans for an exclusive resort on 500 acres of Laau Point," and because the owners were unable to win their battle with Molokai residents, they "closed all of their businesses on the island, blaming community resistance to the Laau Point development. In a single day, 4.3% of the islands work force lost their jobs." Leo Azambuja, writing for the Molokai Dispatch, quotes Governor Linda Lingle, "The loss of this many jobs in such a small community like Molokai is equivalent to 23,000 people on Oahu losing their jobs on the same day." (35) What we have here is a conglomerate resorting to strong-arm tactics to pressure the population of an entire island into submitting to their business interests.

What many people might not know is that an international corporation, GuocoLeisure Limited (GL), owns Molokai Ranch. The Guoco Group's web page explains:
   Molokai Properties Limited ("MPL"), a wholly owned subsidiary of
   GuocoLeisure Limited, owns approximately 60,000 plus acres or 40%
   of the Hawaiian island of Molokai which is located between the
   island of Oahu and Maui, MPL had since March 2008 ceased its
   tourism and other operations on Molokai Island and is land-banking
   its remaining land assets on the island. (36)

The Guoco Group is a member of the Hong Leong Group, a transnational conglomerate:
   Hong Leong Group is a leading conglomerate based in Malaysia with
   diversified businesses in banking and financial services,
   manufacturing and distribution, property development and
   investments, hospitality and leisure, and principal investment with
   pres ence in North and Southeast Asia, Western Europe and the UK,
   North America and Oceania. (37)

GL's bland statement about ceasing its touristic operations and its reference to "land banking" belie its strong-arm tactics.

In Noho Hewa, Native Hawaiian activist and Molokai resident Hanohano Naehu shares details about what happened once Molokai Ranch owners made their decision: "They tried to shut off their water to all the people that bought land down on the West End side. They shut down the Kaluakoi hotel. They shut down the theatres. They shut down the golf course. And right now, after all of that, they leased all of this land to Monsanto." Noho Hewa does not give the details of the agreement, but according to Honolulu Star Bulletin reporter Nina Wu, Monsanto "entered a 99-year lease for 1,650 acres of land, of which about 1,200 are farmable." (38) However, as Naehu explains, Monsanto is growing an experimental corn crop that is not edible. For Naehu, it does not make sense to grow crops that cannot be eaten on precious land. It goes against everything he believes in as a Native Hawaiian. As Naehu speaks, an epigraph clarifies, "Monsanto (also the maker of Agent Orange), and other corporations, like Syngenta and Dow, created the largest concentration of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOS) on earth in Hawai'i."

Furthermore, Molokai does not have unlimited freshwater resources, and thus Monsanto's use of limited water sources to grow inedible crops is problematic. Naehu explains, "Because this company always get money and they get the resources for justify their needs, they get the water over the Hawaiians. They taking our water, which is our most precious, most valuable resource and we using 'em on stuff that we cannot eat." A 2008 Molokai Dispatch article by the Hemowai Brothers sheds light on the issue:
   It appears Monsanto is ready to buy the surface water system from
   Molokai Ranch. This system includes water catchment dams, pipes,
   reservoirs, and water tanks. This system takes water from seven of
   our mountain streams, from Kalamaula to Kawela. The water goes from
   central Molokai to west Molokai using some twenty miles of pipes,
   on an island only thirty-seven miles long. (39)

Molokai's residents are understandably concerned that their fate and the fate of their island lie in the hands of a company that owns one-third of the island and its surface water system--the same company that leased its property for ninety-nine years to a global corporation notorious for producing GMOS. Naehu points to the corn and says, "This is hewa. This is hewa. There's many examples and many ways and many kinds of hewa, but this is hewa."

On its website, Monsanto reports, "Monsanto Hawaii is part of Hawaii's growing seed industry--valued at over $222 million and the state's largest agricultural commodity.... Each year, Hawaii's seed crop industry generates $13.8 million in tax revenues for the State of Hawaii. Collectively, seed companies like Monsanto provide more than 1,800 jobs in Hawaii." (40) These statistics suggest that a large amount of land in Hawai'i is currently being used for experiments with genetically modified seeds and crops that cannot feed Hawai'i residents. A 2011 economic report released by the First Hawaiian Bank reveals that five companies, all major players in the gmo industry, are growing seed corn on the island of Kauai: "Monsanto, Pioneer, BASF, Syngenta and Dow Agrosciences." (41) Although the acreage that these companies own is not revealed, the report does state, "Dow Agrosciences hopes eventually to use 3,500 acres there for seed corn and other crops," and that furthermore, Monsanto also has a farm on Maui, but its activity there is not nearly as extensive as its operations on Molokai, Kaua'i, and Oahu.

In 2007, Pacific Business News journalist Charlotte Woolard reported on gmo land use on the island of Oahu: "Seed industry heavyweight Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. bought about 250 acres in Kunia at the end of 2005. Monsanto Co. purchased another 2,300 acres in April 2006.... Syngenta Seeds Inc., in the market for new acreage, also is looking at Kunia, as well as the North Shore of Oahu." (42) The US military also plays a part in this scenario, as I will show. In Noho Hewa, Cathy Mattoon explains, "Nearly a quarter of the island of Oahu is controlled by the military," and furthermore, "Fifty-six percent of the military-controlled lands in Hawai'i consists of occupied Hawaiian National Lands, or the Ceded Lands." However, this is only a part of the story. The US military is also a private landowner.

According to Star Advertiser reporter Andrew Gomes, "The US Army and private development partner Lend Lease bought roughly 2,400 acres in Kunia from Campbell Estate in 2008," and "Monsanto in 2009 leased 1,675 acres for 40 years to grow seed corn." (43) It is extremely disturbing that the US military has a business relationship with one of the most powerful and most despised global corporations in the world. Neocolonialism and military expansion are literally consuming Hawai'i, while Native Hawaiians and other island consumers pay the price. As an epigraph in Noho Hewa reveals, "90% of everything consumed in Hawai'i, including food is shipped in from the continental United States." In the light of these statistics, everyone should be mourning the way land is being (AB) used in Hawai'i.



The importance of aina to Native Hawaiians extends to what lies within it. Mourning the land includes mourning the desecration of iwi kupuna. Those who are no longer among the living are in need of someone who will speak on their behalf. Such is the case of Native Hawaiian activists and descendants who bear witness to the desecration of iwi kupuna. There is a long history of the military, corporations, and individuals desecrating Native Hawaiian burial sites. Increasingly, ancestral remains are uncovered in construction site excavations. What many Westerners do not understand is that these burial sites were purposely left unmarked. The bones of the dead were often secreted away at night so that their final resting place would remain unknown, and thus, "ancestral bones can be found almost anywhere in Hawai'i today." (44) Another crucial issue concerns Native Hawaiian beliefs about bones. Bones are imbued with the mana, or "spiritual power," of the deceased, which returns to the earth as the bones disintegrate. Because the 'uhane (spirit) of the deceased resides in the bones, they "must be kept safe from molestation." (45) The disinterment of iwi kupuna is extremely distressing for many Native Hawaiians.

One of the most powerful scenes in Noho Hewa is a heated confrontation between activist Jimmy Medeiros and state-contracted archaeologist Alan Haun during a meeting with the Hawai'i Island Burial Council. An epigraph explains the purpose of the meeting: "Archeologists for the state asked the Hawai'i Island Burial Council to relocate burials blocking construction of one of the roads to the Hokulfa Resort." During this meeting, state-contracted archaeologist Paul Rosendahl asserts that the human remains uncovered in the construction of the resort "should be treated as legitimate inadvertent discoveries and not as previously identified features." Rosendahl's words are immediately followed by an epigraph: "Defining a burial as 'inadvertent' provides investors and government officials with a legal framework that typically leads to removal of Hawaiian remains or construction on top of the graves." In short, although measures are in place to safeguard burial sites, there are legal loopholes that work against Native Hawaiian efforts to protect iwi kupuna. Haun gives an account of a sledgehammer being used to open a lava blister. It is clear that he considers this act acceptable. He then shares that this lava blister contained fragments of human bones.

When Medeiros takes his turn to offer testimony, he declares that these burials have been desecrated and inquires as to what charges or actions will be taken or filed. At one point in his testimony, Medeiros directly addresses the archaeologists. He remarks that they are "lucky" to be living in "modern times" and that they "have the shield of the law" to protect them, because what they are doing "is not work" but "desecration." The implication is that in ancient times, such a desecration would have been punished. Haun, who is seated off to one side behind Medeiros, interrupts his testimony and begins talking over him. The camera cuts to show a woman, Keola Hanoa, longtime activist and council member, who is observing their exchange. As she watches, a tear slides down her cheek.

Obviously frustrated with Haun's lack of regard for protocol, Medeiros reacts, "Shut up. You do not speak when I am giving testimony." Medeiros leaves his chair and stands in front of Haun and says, "This is so damn serious--to sledgehammer any site--that's not what we hired you for. You get one and a half million dollars." Medeiros returns to his seat and apologizes to the council. He then remarks, "When we come here, I sit here, us people, Hawaiians, and testify in public, we don't get paid a million dollars like him and Paul to sit here--we speaking real deal from our heart, from our soul, from our Hawaiian and who we are." He adds, "We get more weight on this imaginary scale"--and here he turns to Haun--"than all your years of desecrating, okay?" Medeiros has identified another aspect of the issue--from the hegemonic Western perspective, and especially in a Western legal system, indigenous testimonies informed by cultural knowledge are often quite literally less valued than testimonies using Western scientific methods. Haun's failure to fully grasp the nuances of what is morally permissible from a Native Hawaiian standpoint when dealing with a burial site is not an isolated case--such as the example of Walmart.

Walmart is the "most powerful, most influential company in the world." (46) Its slogan is "Save Money, Live Better." (47) The company is an example of neocolonialism in action. While Walmart was constructing its Keeaumoku store in Honolulu, a burial site was uncovered with the remains of forty-four Hawaiians, but the archaeologists neglected to immediately inform the proper authorities. (48) Furthermore, archaeologists were accused of disrespecting excavated remains. Honolulu Star Bulletin journalist Sally Apgar reports, "Specifically, the commission report said conduct included 'writing on a child's skull with indelible red ink, taping a child's (an infant's) teeth to an index card, using duct tape and modeling clay to hold remains together and writing the words "Handbag Louis Vuitton" on a paper sack that contained a human hand.'" (49) On the day that Walmart opened its doors for the first time, these bones were placed in containers, which were stored beneath the access ramp to Walmart parking.

Noho Hewa documents the protest at the grand opening. Many of the protesters hold signs and walk back and forth from the access ramp to where customers are sitting at tables consuming food and drinks they purchased from external food franchises in the Walmart complex. Demonstrators alternately shout out their protests and seek to engage passersby in conversation. A shopper responds, "Oh come on. If it was your ancestors, you didn't take very good care of them." The shopper's response reflects a typical ethnocentric settler perspective in which cultural practices alien to their worldview are dismissed and denigrated. Whenever I watch Noho Hewa, I have to brace myself for the painful emotions this particular scene--an instance of epistemic violence couched in settler rhetoric--inevitably pulls from me.

One protester tries to explain the concept of bones and mana to a shopper who listens. The shopper then responds, "It doesn't make sense to me to keep this ground vacant just because someone's buried down there, especially people that nobody now living ever knew." The protester asks, "If Bush's ancestors were buried here, you think there'd be a Walmart?" "Bush? No! Probably not." The protester responds, "So, everybody is just people." The shopper perceives the land as vacant, and that vacancy is a waste. For him, the dead are not tenants. They have no rights--unless of course you are white and you are powerful. For the shopper, there are people, and then there are indigenous people. For the protester, "everybody is just people."

Noho Hewa also reveals that not all Native Hawaiians respect traditional beliefs. Kelly does not hesitate to show that there are conflicts within the community about this issue and others. Kelly asks a passenger in a car leaving Walmart, "Are you Hawaiian?" The passenger nods. In that instance, Kelly and the passenger begin talking over one another. The passenger says that she is 50 percent Hawaiian, just as Kelly asks, "And you are driving over your kupuna? What's that feel like? Can I get an interview?" The scene cuts to where two youths are promoting Jamba Juice. One youth is dressed in a banana costume and the other as a strawberry. They are singing and dancing, their voices drowning out those of the protesters. The girl wearing the strawberry costume is the passenger who stated that she is 50 percent Hawaiian. Immediately following this scene is an epigraph of a well-known quote by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o from his book Decolonising the Mind: "The effect of the cultural bomb is to annihilate a peoples belief in their names ... in their heritage ... ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland." This sequence speaks to the colonial assimilation of a Native Hawaiian into American culture--the young Native Hawaiian woman becomes the poster child of that assimilation.

Two of the protesters, Kahili Kawainui Norman and Paulette Kaanohi Kaleikini, are lineal descendants of the kupuna who were disinterred from what is now Walmart. Norman explains that Walmart had reneged on its promise to reinter the bones before the opening. Kaleikini describes the desecration as "sickening." Three years later, Walmart has still not kept its promise. Kelly interviews Kaleikini, who explains, "At the end of 2008, and we still haven't reinterred the iwi kupuna that were placed in containers under the driveway." She then reports the desecration perpetrated on the bones by an archaeologist (referenced earlier in the newspaper account). Kelly asks her, "So, how does that make you feel?" As Kaleikini struggles to find adequate words to express her pain, her facial expressions reflect her feelings. The camera continues to roll for several seconds, but no answer is forthcoming. This is one of the most powerful moments in Noho Hewa--the viewer becomes a witness to Kaleikini's silent but eloquent testimony, to her inner struggle to find the words to express her grief and anger.

I contacted Anne Keala Kelly to enquire about these iwi kupuna. According to Kelly,
   The iwi were interred at the end of 2008, just weeks after the film
   premiered at the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival
   (LVHIFF). They were buried in the area Kaleikini points to in the
   film. She has since been arrested for protesting the desecration of
   Hawaiian iwi at Kawaihao Church, and her lawsuit against the State
   of Hawai'i for its refusal to adhere to laws that require them to
   do archeological inventories of Hawaiian burials before
   construction is one of the only things slowing the multi-billion
   dollar rail project, (e-mail communication)

Noho Hewa draws our attention to a crucial aspect of this issue: unmarked burial sites are not accorded the same respect as, for example, Western-style graveyards. Dismantling a Western-style graveyard would be unthinkable, but disturbing the bones of Native Hawaiians to make way for hotels, houses, megastores, golf courses, and even sewage facilities is acceptable. Kelly interviews Ty Kawika Tengan, a Native Hawaiian anthropologist who teaches at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Tengan explains, "We are at Mokapu Peninsula, Kaneohe Marine Corps station; this is the site of the single largest and longest running desecration of Native Hawaiian ancestral remains, or iwi kupuna, starting from the period of 1915 up in through the present. Over three thousand sets of individual human remains were disinterred from this peninsula." Tengan's testimony also works to chronologically resituate indigenous human rights violations perpetrated by the US military (and hence by the United States) from a violation that occurred in the remote past to one that is ongoing. Relegating indigenous human rights violations to the past is a tactic in neocolonial rhetoric that seeks to dismiss our claims for justice, to dismantle our resistance, to denigrate our indigenous epistemology. Everything is bundled up and buried beneath the claim that "this took place in the past." Our ancestors buried beneath Walmart or at Mokapu belong to the past, our belief narratives belong to the past; indeed, our entire worldview belongs to the past. And then the neocolonial powers construct their narratives--political, socioeconomic, and cultural--upon the bones of our heritage. Genocide is not only the physical extermination of a people; genocide is also the destruction of a people's spiritual and intellectual foundation.

Kelly also interviews Kaleikoa Ka'eo, who is affiliated with Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei (Group Caring for the Ancestors of Hawai'i). This nonprofit organization is "dedicated to the proper treatment of ancestral Native Hawaiians." (50) Kaeo gives testimony regarding the military's threat to build a sewage facility over a Native Hawaiian burial site if the burial council did not move the remains. Kaeo explains that the "best of two evils was to remove our kupuna; there's no way we are going to allow them to build a sewer facility on top of our kupuna." He adds, "The military would not even consider building a sewer facility at Punchbowl, but the right of the military to discharge their waste was more important than the religious and spiritual rights of the Kanaka to remain in the ground in their own homeland." Cutting through Kaeo's testimony is a brief glimpse of a military ceremony honoring US veterans interred at Punchbowl. A master of ceremony exhorts the crowd to respect the memory of the veterans--today and always.

Kaeo continues his truth telling, questioning the military's rhetoric about the importance of Hawaiian land for training troops. He ponders how using Hawaiian land for golf courses and sewage facilities helps prepare soldiers for battle. He adds, "You can clearly see it's beyond that--it's really about them controlling everything, dominating everything, even at the expense of our kupuna. So even you as a Hawaiian, you can get evicted as a Hawaiian, even when you pass on. We're always--we're always at the threat of being evicted from our homelands, even when we're under the ground." Eviction is a legal process that involves an owner expelling a tenant from her or his property; thus, applying the concept of eviction to iwi kupuna fully expresses the historical disenfranchisement of Native Hawaiians.


Kanaka Maoli continue to cope with the aftermath of historic injustices to which they have been subjected--injustices that were carried out by missionaries and their descendants, by hostile settlers who overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy, and by the United States, which supported their efforts, all of which resulted in Hawafi, an independent nation-state, becoming (illegally and against the will of the Kanaka Maoli) the fiftieth state. Native Hawaiians are fighting to recover from what Pukui laments as the "internalized acceptance of repeated, handed-down opinions first expressed some 150 years ago." (51) She explains, "Told their gods were false, their rituals foolish, their dress, dances and manners unacceptable, their skills and talents unimportant, the Hawaiians as a people knew an 'identity crisis' long before the phrase was coined." (52) These historical injustices are at the root of the unresolved grief and anger that Native Hawaiians transmit from one generation to another. In the colonial gaze, our aina is valuable--but we, Native Hawaiians, are dispensable. As J. Kehaulani Kauanui explains in Noho Hewa, "That is settler colonialism. It's about replacing the indigenous people within their own landscapes." Native Hawaiians do not only mourn the loss of our land, we also mourn the loss of our identity that is tied to the loss of land--the loss of our sovereignty.

We, Kanaka Maoli, are constantly reminded that today we are Americans. We constantly navigate between two worlds, and not all of us are able to come to terms with such cultural shuttling. For those of us who cannot and do not buy into being American, we have to find ways to cope. In Noho Hewa, Haunani Kay Trask shares her coping strategy:
   The only thing that I think people can do is to fight it--for me
   anyway. I can't stand being depressed, which I am every day. I get
   up depressed--because it kills you. So, if you get out there and
   say, "Okay, we're going to fight this," you feel a lot better
   because you're taking control over something, as small as it might
   be, or turn out to be. It's way better than doing nothing--you must
   fight it even if you lose.

Trasks testimony exemplifies the feelings of many Native Hawaiians. This is clear by the many kahea that inspire people to go out and ask for and receive support on various issues, whether to save a Native Hawaiian charter school, assist a Hawaiian-language immersion school through fundraising, engage in a protest by being present physically or signing a petition against GMOS, the desecration of iwi kupuna, or the desecration of Mauna Kea--the list goes on. Native Hawaiians, because of the liminal political space we occupy, must take matters into our own hands. We do not have a powerful international organization assisting us in any meaningful, practical way--no political entity wants to take on the United States of America--yet, many Kanaka Maoli do so every day. Resistance and insistence are the keys to our physical, spiritual, and intellectual survival.

In many aspects, Kelly's documentary is controversial. She addresses complex issues in a straightforward way and does not hesitate to show how these issues divide Hawai'i residents and even the Hawaiian community. She does not romanticize what it means to be Native Hawaiian in the twenty-first century--a century that sees Native Hawaiians desperately fighting for their 'aim, their culture, and their language. At the same time, the brutal honesty of Noho Hewa is the very thing that makes it beautiful--a tribute to Native Hawaiians who continue to resist the forces that threaten their existence.

Kelly's documentary not only testifies to violence perpetrated against Native Hawaiians but in several very important ways also has the capacity to heal. Noho Hewa is a powerful reminder for Kanaka Maoli that we are not alone in our political struggles and our pain--other Kanaka Maoli whom we might not know and whom we might not ever meet share the same reality. Noho Hewa reminds us that we have supporters outside of our community. Kelly's documentary has been well received both in Hawai'i and internationally. To date, it has received the 2011 Grand Festival Award at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival, the 2010 special jury prize at the Festival International Du Film Documentaire De Oceanien (fifo) in Tahiti, and the 2008 Best Documentary Award at the Hawai'i International Film Festival (Noho Hewa). (53) Indeed, Kelly's work has enormous potential to elicit a compassionate understanding of Kanaka Maoli struggles. Noho Hewa serves an important need. It raises public awareness about the indigenous human rights violations that occur every day in Hawai'i. Arguably, Americans are unaware of the history of gross human rights violations that their country has carried out against Native Hawaiians. Noho Hewa also serves as a platform to invite discussion--where do we go from here? From my own Kanaka Maoli perspective, the strongest message of this film is embedded in its structure--it begins with a chant lamenting loss (the kanikau for Makua Valley) but ends with a chant celebrating birth (Kaeo chanting the Kumulipo)--the message is hope and an invitation to continue resisting. We are still here, still fighting, still giving testimony on the historic and ongoing violations of our rights. We are still resisting hewa.


(1.) Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawai'i, DVD, directed, produced, and edited by Anne Keala Kelly (Honolulu hi: A Native Hawaiian News and Kuleana Works Production, 2009). The English portion of the title offers a translation of noho hewa: "wrongful occupation." Noho is often used in connection with land, as in dwelling or residing, occupying or ruling. Hewa is a very strong word--it refers to a transgression of some sort, a violation. All translations are mine unless indicated otherwise.

(2.) Colonialism, according to the definition offered by the Oxford American Dictionary (OAD), is the "policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers and exploiting it economically." Neocolonialism, OAD explains, is "the use of economic, political, cultural, or other pressures to control or influence other countries, esp. former dependences." In reality, colonialism and neocolonialism merged seamlessly--the nineteenth-century power plays that ultimately cost our people their independence as a sovereign nation gave way to new and more insidious power plays. The colonial and neocolonial reimagining of Hawaii has taken different forms in the last two hundred years--and whatever form it takes, it is always an act of violence. It serves to appropriate and erase Kanaka Maoli relationship to and understanding of place and has ultimately worked to disempower us. For a discussion of the colonial reimagining of Hawaii, see Cristina Bacchilega, Legendary Hawai'i and the Politics of Place: Tradition, Translation, and Tourism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). I do not italicize "Kanaka Maoli" (singular) or "Kanaka Maoli" (plural) for the same reasons that other proper nouns such as "American" and "Americans" are not italicized. I use Kanaka Maoli and Native Hawaiian interchangeably. Other terms that Kanaka Maoli use to reference ourselves include '"Oiwi," the explanation of which is included in this article.

(3.) Since writing this article, I have been hired as an assistant professor of religion at the UHM Religion Department (I specialize in Hawaiian religion). Consequently, I no longer teach this section. This place-based approach to teaching college composition, "Hawaii--Writing Place, Writing Culture," includes a critical examination of sensitive, complex issues connected in one way or another to a history of colonialism such as questions of identity, relationship to place, sovereignty, corporate tourism, exotification of culture, racism, and competing ideologies on the value of land and water resources. The instructor who developed this theme, Dr. ku 'ualoha ho 'omanawanui, was kind enough to grant me permission to use the title for my own courses whenever she was not teaching it. My syllabus was closely modeled after hers. For further discussion on her pedagogy, see ku'ualoha ho'omanawanui, "Ike 'Aina: Native Hawaiian Culturally Based Indigenous Literacy," Hiilili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being 5 (2008): 203-44. This journal is published by Kamehameha Schools Press and can also be found at

(4.) Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation, dvd, Kekuni Blaisdell, Lilikala Kameeleihiwa, Jon Osorio, and Haunani Kay Trask, produced and directed by Joan Lander and Puhipau (Honolulu hi: Center for Hawaiian Studies, 1993)

(5.) Lisa Kahaleole Hall, "Hawaiian at Heart and Other Fictions," Contemporary Pacific 17, no. 2 (Fall 2005): 412.

(6.) The interviewer's voice in Noho Hewa belongs to Kelly.

(7.) Mary Kawena Pukui, E. W. Haertig, and Catherine Lee, Nana I Ke Kumu: Look to the Source (Honolulu hi: Hui Hanai Press, 2002), 1:136.

(8.) Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, Nana I Ke Kumu, 1:136.

(9.) E. S. Craighill Handy and Mary Kawena Pukui, The Polynesian Family System in Ka'u (Honolulu hi: Mutual Publishing, 1999), 154.

(10.) Davida Malo, "He Kanikau no Kaahumanu," Ka Lama Hawaii, August 8, 1834, and

(11.) Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, Nana I Ke Kumu, 1:136.

(12.) Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian (Honolulu hi: Bishop Museum Press, 1986), 363.

(13.) Handy and Pukui, The Polynesian Family System, 155.

(14.) Mary Kawena Pukui, "Songs (Meles) of Old Ka'u, Hawaii," Journal of American Folklore 6, no. 245 (July-September 1949): 248.

(15.) "He Mele no Lahainaluna," Ka Nonanona, November 8, 1842,

(16.) "Ka Make 0 ka Nonanona," Ka Nonanona, March 18, 1845,

(17.) Kanaka Hawaii, "He Mele Kanikau na ke Kanaka Hawaii i ka Makahiki 1856," Ka Hae Hawaii, January 14, 1857,

(18.) Pukui, "Songs," 247.

(19.) 'Olelo no'eau are poetical sayings that can be didactic or commemorative. See Mary Kawena Pukui, 'Olelo No'eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings (Honolulu hi: Bishop Museum Press, 2001), 129, no. 1191.

(20.) Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (New York: Routledge Press, 1993), 8.

(21.) Lilikala Kameeleihiwa, Native Land and Foreign Desires: Pehea La E Pono Ai? (Honolulu hi: Bishop Museum Press, 1992), 2.

(22.) Mo'olelo is a Native Hawaiian genre that unites both history and beliefs in narrative.

(23.) Abraham Fornander, Fornander Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and Folk-Lore (Honolulu hi: Bishop Museum Press, 2004), 4:12-20. This chant, along with explanations, was published in Hawaiian and English.

(24.) Pualani Kanahele, "I Am This Land and This Land Is Me," Hulili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being 2, no. 1 (2005): 21-30. This journal is also available at

(25.) Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, Nana I Ke Kumu, 1:112.

(26.) Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, Nana I Ke Kumu, 1:112.

(27.) Mary Kawena Pukui, E. W. Haertig, and Catherine Lee, Nana I Ke Kumu: Look to the Source (Honolulu hi: Hui Hanai Press, 2002), 2:287.

(28.) Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, Nana I Ke Kumu, 2:287.

(29.) I will discuss shortly in detail Native Hawaiians beliefs regarding bones.

(30.) Pukui and Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary, 162.

(31.) Pukui and Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary, 214.

(32.) Pukui, '0/e/o No'eau, 56.

(33.) Pukui and Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary, 162.

(34.) William Cole, "Army Ends Live-Fire Training at Makua," Honolulu Star Advertiser, January 13, 2011,

(35.) Leo Azambuja, "Molokai Ranch Terminating Operations and Employees," Molokai Dispatch, March 24, 2008,

(36.) "Molokai Ranch" under "Hospitality and Leisure Business," GuocoGroup: A Member of the Hong Leong Group,

(37.) "Home," HLG: Hong Leong Group,

(38.) Nina Wu, "Biotech Firm Grows on Molokai," Honolulu Star Bulletin, March 24, 2007,

(39.) The Hemowai Brothers, "Molokai Water Wars Part Two," Molokai Dispatch, June 14, 2008,

(40.) Monsanto, "Agricultural Biotech in the Islands," Monsanto Hawaii,

(41.) First Hawaiian Bank, "Economic Forecast: Kauai Edition 2010-2011," First Hawaiian Bank, PDF,

(42.) Charlotte Woolard, "Hawaii Seed Crop Business Up Sharply," Pacific Business News, November 4, 2007, Business Journals Digital Network.

(43.) Andrew Gomes, "Nonprofit Plans Agricultural Park for Local Farmers," Star Advertiser, March 23, 2011,

(44.) State Historic Preservation Division, "Protecting Native Hawaiian Burials,"

(45.) Handy and Pukui, The Polynesian Family System, 151.

(46.) Robert Malone, "Wal-Mart Takes Over the World: Giant Changing the Face of Retailing One Country at a Time," Forbes,

(47.) "Walmart. Save Money. Live Better,"

(48.) Sally Apgar, "Wal-Mart Archaeologist to Fight Claim He Desecrated Remains," Honolulu Star Bulletin, November 19, 2005,

(49.) Apgar, "Wal-Mart Archaeologist."

(50.) "Background," Hui Malama 1 Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei,

(51.) Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, Nana I Ke Kumu, 2:85.

(52.) Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, Nana I Ke Kumu, 2:85.

(53.) Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawaii,
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Author:Brown, Marie Alohalani
Publication:The American Indian Quarterly
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1U9HI
Date:Jun 22, 2014
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