Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance

Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance

Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance

Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance

Synopsis

"Aloha" is at once the most significant and the most misunderstood word in the Indigenous Hawaiian lexicon. For K& 257;naka Maoli people, the concept of "aloha" is a representation and articulation of their identity, despite its misappropriation and commandeering by non-Native audiences in the form of things like the "hula girl" of popular culture. Considering the way aloha is embodied, performed, and interpreted in Native Hawaiian literature, music, plays, dance, drag performance, and even ghost tours from the twentieth century to the present, Stephanie Nohelani Teves shows that misunderstanding of the concept by non-Native audiences has not prevented the K&257;naka Maoli from using it to create and empower community and articulate its distinct Indigenous meaning.
While Native Hawaiian artists, activists, scholars, and other performers have labored to educate diverse publics about the complexity of Indigenous Hawaiian identity, ongoing acts of violence against Indigenous communities have undermined these efforts. In this multidisciplinary work, Teves argues that Indigenous peoples must continue to embrace the performance of their identities in the face of this violence in order to challenge settler-colonialism and its efforts to contain and commodify Hawaiian Indigeneity.

Excerpt

I grew up across the street from the most visited tourist site in the Western Pacific, the uss Arizona Memorial, a U.S. National Monument located at Pearl Harbor, where two million tourists visit annually. Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) called this area Pu’uloa (the many waters of the long hill), known for its abundance of fishponds, lo’i kalo (taro patches), and oyster beds. Soon after the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown in 1893, the U.S. Navy took formal control in 1899, turning Pearl Harbor into the Pacific seat of U.S. empire, making it a military target. As the story goes, Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese in 1941 in what was then considered the most deadly attack on “U.S. soil,” leading to the institution of martial law and solidifying the idea that Hawai’i needed the United States for protection. For Kānaka Maoli especially, Pearl Harbor serves as an enduring reminder of our multiple levels of loss—of our kingdom, of the sovereignty of the land and ocean, and of our status as a people. As kids in the 1980s, we would watch from behind chain-link fences as busloads of tourists unloaded to pay homage to their fallen. We would stare at them—mostly haole and Japanese tourists in their generic aloha attire—and gather rotten mangoes from nearby trees, throwing them over the fence. Our collective aim was poor, but a couple of times we hit the tour buses. We mostly spattered the sidewalk with rotten mangoes.

We were kids who lived in public housing, in three-story walk-ups, in the shadow of U.S. empire. We were the descendants of Hawaiians who grew up in the territory and statehood period, whose parents and grandparents witnessed O’ahu’s accelerated urbanization, during a time when people were told to stop speaking Hawaiian, to embrace the United States, when tourism it was said, was good for Hawai’i and that we needed to share our aloha. Our parents did not have Hawaiian names, but we did. Hawaiians, back then, didn’t call themselves “Kānaka Maoli,” and many still don’t. They grew up listening to American rock and roll and Motown. They joined the U.S. military; they listened to the music of the Sunday Mānoa; they reveled in the opening of the Ala Moana Shopping Center; they went to . . .

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