Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawaii

Editor's note: Due to the length of this interview, this post is a two-part series. Read Part Two!

Hawaiian filmmaker, Anne Keala Kelly's Noho Hewa (Noho means "to occupy" and Hewa means "wrong") was named best documentary at the Hawaii International Film Festival and was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Pacific International Documentary Film Festival.

The film offers a contemporary look at Hawaiian people, politics, and resistance against U.S. laws and militarism that continue to erase their history.

As a journalist, Keala has used various multimedia platforms to bring the voice of indigenous peoples and environmental issues to a global audience. During my time as a news producer for Free Speech Radio News (FSRN), I had the pleasure of working with this amazing spiritual ruckus maker. The following is a the first part of an excerpt of her discussing her thoughts on Hawaii.

The Reality of Colonization

"The history of slavery in Jamaica is so contrary to the vacation mentality people have about the island. And that history, isn’t so long ago.

People there are still dealing with slavery’s legacy, as are Haitians, right? 

I mean the earthquake in Haiti crippled that country but it was crippled by its insane debt to France, right? 

For over a hundred years, they were forced to pay restitution to the slave masters they liberated themselves from in a “pay or perish” deal they made with France and they’ve never recovered from the forced impoverishment the colonial masters constructed for them. Their poverty, like that of any people that resisted colonisation, has been passed down generation to generation. 

The fantasy of Jamaica is grotesque when you think of what’s really gone on there, and that fantasy/vacation industry is modeled after what has been done to Hawai'i. 

Hawai'i is ground zero for the American fantasy of paradise. Jamaica is essentially ground zero for slavery in conjunction with genocide in the western hemisphere… the essential tools white people employed to “build America.”

Same thing in Hawai'i, sans the slavery. Our end of the colonial project has manifested differently. 

That’s the thing about white supremacy: it doesn’t mind morphing into different forms of genocide to accomplish its goal, or waiting a couple of centuries for the outcome.

The plantation system here in Hawai'i used impoverished Asian immigrants to build the wealth of the handful of white plantation owners, missionary descendants from America. And they did it with Hawaiian land that, like that of the natives on the continent, was stolen and or cheated out of native hands over the course of less than a hundred years.

And then the Asian immigrant population established itself as the middle class settler population alongside the haole (white) settlers and today these two settler groups have all the power in Hawai'i.

Hawaiians Have Always Been Here

In brief, white anthropologists say Hawaiians have only been here 2,000 years. Some say we’ve only been here 700 years.  Some say there were only 400,000 Hawaiians living in Hawai'i when Captain Cook got lost and ended up here; a white scholar named David Stannard wrote an interesting (very short) book called “Before the Horror” that argues that there were more like a million Hawaiians living in Hawaii when Cook showed up.

But this place is so small… it is the most “isolated” archipelago on earth, but I say that in scare quotes because to say it’s isolated is to look at it from the outside in.

Still, even if the number is somewhere between 400,000 and a million Hawaiians, the population of Hawai'i right now is only about 1.3 million if you count the constant flow of tourists and the military people stationed here.

So even if for argument’s sake there were between 400,000 and one million Hawaiians here before whitey showed up, think about it!

That’s a population of incredibly healthy, strong people… Hawaiian men who were seven feet and taller was common, and women were large as well. And they lived here without any of the so-called modern infrastructures we are burdened by today, no roads, no electricity, no cars….  Just living natural, farming the land and the sea… living and sometimes warring amongst themselves, not that different than any of the peoples of the world.

So the reality of Hawai'i before Europeans and Americans showed up was that it was the homeland to countless millions of people throughout the millennia. And as for the 2,000-year mark anthropologists give, my grandmother said Hawaiians have always been here and I believe her! We have our creation stories, referred to as “The Kumulipo.”  There is more than one version of this, but The Kumulipo tells the story of the origins of life and accounts for every living thing here.

And our story of Haloa, the first Hawaiian, tells of Hawaiians descending from Haloa, who was still born, and when he was buried he became kalo.

Kalo, also called taro, is the staple food of the Hawaiian people. It is what we make poi from.

Our moolelo (stories) are very different than the ones white people say about Hawai'i and us. And while I know there is much that can be learned from anthropologists, who my ancestors are and where we come from is not on that list.
After Captain Cook, Hawaiian world changed. The modernization of Hawai'i began and has been ongoing since then, although there’s been a steady movement among settlers to “get back to the land” and organic farming, etc… which I find strange and ironic at times given their generational legacy of ruining and stealing from natives.

Hawaiians Want the U.S. to De-Occupy

The introduction of Christianity was simultaneous to the genocide of the Hawaiian people. History in Hawai'i is very polite to the murderous agenda of the invasion of Hawai'i.  I’m not an historian. As mentioned earlier, Cook’s men brought the first diseases. Many others followed through Asian migration to Hawaii. Throughout the 19th century, foreigners who knowingly brought diseases to Hawai'i killed off 90% of the Hawaiian population. It is no different than someone who has AIDS knowingly infecting someone with that disease. But for some sickening reason, murdering Hawaiians with diseases doesn’t register as what it is.

I believe Christianity has a lot to do with this mind numbing glossing over of history.

Also, what followed after the first white people showed up was the unification of Hawai'i by King Kamehameha and the establishment by Kamehameha of the Hawaiian Kingdom. This happened between 1795 and 1810, and there were many bloody battles before it was over, and they were fought with western weaponry.

Kamehameha died in 1819, and after his death came the onslaught of Christianity and the abolition of Hawaiian religion.  This was facilitated by Hawaiian alii (chiefs/royalty) that had converted to Christianity. Imagine how horrible the 19th century must have been for Hawaiians. I think about my great grandparents and great, great grandparents watching with their own eyes the disappearance of their own kind and all that had been known for as long as they knew Hawaiians existed.

In 1843 the Hawaiian Kingdom was “recognized” by the French and British. Hawai'i was the first non-white/European country admitted to what was then called the Family of Nations.

The Hawaiian Kingdom entered into treaties with other nations and established 90 consulates and legations throughout the world.

The U.S. recognized Hawai'i as independent in 1849 and signed a Treaty of Perpetual Peace.

There are many sordid details of what happened over the next 50 years, but suffice to say expansion of the American empire was underway by the end of the 19th century.

In 1893, haole sugar plantation interests in Hawai'i and American military interests came together to overthrow Queen Liliuokalani and her government.

Much happened before her reign… the establishment of a U.S. military presence in what is now called Pearl Harbor among them. But she is known as the last Hawaiian monarch. To my knowledge she is the first woman of color to be the head of a nation in the western style of governance. I don’t know that that distinction brought her anything but suffering, but it seems to be worth mentioning.

In 1898, the U.S. took formal control of Hawai'i against the wishes of the Hawaiian people.

THIS IS THE MAIN REASON Hawaiians today speak of independence from the U.S.

The takeover was literally illegal under international law, and under U.S. law. No treaty of annexation took place, so Hawaii was never annexed to the U.S. It has simply been occupied since 1898.

Thus, we have this paper trail, if you will - a strong legal and moral argument for de-occupation and reinstatement of Hawai'i as an independent country. We can say out loud that this is an illegal occupation, but because we are Hawaiian, and America and the rest of the world goes along with the bullshit narrative of this place… American victims of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaiians are so lucky to be American, etc… nobody cares about the truth.

Or rather only a small minority cares about the truth of this place. The United Nations stood by in 1959 and allowed the fraudulent “statehood” vote that made Hawai'i the “50th state” and the U.N. has never done anything to right this wrong… we may be correct to say we have the right to independence, but we are Hawaiian and America sees our country as a sacrifice zone and the nations of the world agree. So our narrative as non-white people means nothing to Americans.

I am reminded as I write this, that Haiti is asking for the money they were forced to pay to France (over the 115 years or so that they paid) to be returned to them. It would make a huge difference in their world to have that money back.

Hawaiians feel the same way about Hawaii - we want the U.S. to de-occupy. 

This is why, my dear Simba, the fact that you took so many stories for FSRN about the resistance here was phenomenal.  Pro-Hawaiian independence stories have not seen that kind of media space since the 19th century.
Anyways, I hope that helps you get a little bit of knowledge about the U.S. presence here and the fact of occupation.

Occupation, when we are talking about laws, is a very specific thing. The Germans occupied France, but they didn’t annex it.

Americans have this wrong idea of what happened in Hawai'i and it’s so hard to try and break it open with reporting or with a film like “Noho Hewa” because Americans have been lied to for so long that they can’t see the truth, even though America would be better off if it de-occupied Hawai'i because they’d save billions on military expenses and all the rest of what the federal government spends here.

But as they say, America is war; America is all about forcing the world into submission. It’s always been that way, since its inception."