Tuesday, January 18, 2011


San Francisco Chronicle - January 17, 2011

January 17 has a special meaning in Hawai`i well beyond today's celebration of Martin Luther King Day: It's the 118th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by a "provisional government," led by businessmen descended from American missionaries and supported by the presence of US Marines.

Whether or not independence-minded groups camp out on the grounds of `Iolani Palace in Honolulu today, as they have before, the late 19th century power grab will be on the minds of many.

As with any nation, the Native Hawaiian people do not speak with one voice politically, so "independence" (and "sovereignty," for that matter) mean different things to different people.

But, from my humble perspective, Native Hawaiians do come exceptionally close to unity in revering their royal dynasties. And it's good for visitors to remember 118 years is a few blinks ago in the chronology of Hawaiian cultural consciousness.

With that in mind, I'd like to acknowledge the past while taking inspiration from the present. On the gates of `Iolani Palace today are painted bronze plaques bearing the royal coat of arms, which were said to have been removed by the new regime in 1893, and like most of the palace furnishings, were sold at public auction.

But 90 years later, they were found, extensively restored and replaced on the four gates, each of which bears the name of a member of Hawaiian royalty.

The gate used for ceremonial occasions is called Kauikeaouli, after the man who became King Kamehameha III. It was he who. after the British government rejected a takeover of Hawai`i by one of its naval officers, coined the motto on the plaques: Ua mau ke ea o ka`āina i ka pono (as it's written today) -- "the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."

I wonder, what would Dr. King say is the pono, or righteous, response to today's sovereignty movement(s)? I honestly don't know, but I'm glad this palace and these plaques are there to prompt us to think about it.

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