Academic journal article Extrapolation

Hawaiian Futurism: Written in the Sky and Up among the Stars

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Hawaiian Futurism: Written in the Sky and Up among the Stars

Article excerpt

Matthew Kaopio's two young adult novels, Written in the Sky (2005) and Up Among the Stars (2011), tell the story of 'Ikauikalani Kealahele, a homeless fourteen-year-old Kanaka Maoli1 from the island of O'ahu who has been living in Ala Moana Beach Park since the death of his only remaining guardian, his grandmother. The plot of the first novel deals mostly with 'Ikau's day-to-day survival and is a coming-of-age story about 'Ikau's efforts at moving from cultural loss to a strong cultural identity through learning his genealogy and kuleana (McDougall, "Ue" 57). In the second novel 'Ikau expands upon his survival skills, which include reading the sky and stars, talking to animals, attending to the messages that come to him in dreams, and dealing with the vagaries of homelessness, including the constant search for food and harassment from unsavory street characters. Together, the two novels tell an uplifting story about how a young boy who is willing to forge caring relationships with others can discover a multitude of teachers and friends walking the streets of urban Honolulu.

We might also say that the novels are broadly appealing because they tell the story of an Indigenous character who overcomes the effects of a history of political occupation and settler-colonial social relations without ever naming these ongoing oppressive processes and structures. In fact, as readers we are barely made aware of the history that has undoubtedly shaped 'Ikau's circumstances; there is only one moment in the two novels in which the reader is confronted with Hawai'i's political status. The narrator, who usually restricts himself to a close third-person point of view centered on 'Ikau, shows readers that he has a little more knowledge about the world than 'Ikau, and perhaps a few opinions. This shift happens in a scene describing what 'Ikau sees at a peace rally:

Some of them were angry protesters practicing their freedom of speech by voicing their opposition to the state and the federal government as illegal occupants. Others claimed to belong to separatist nations and kingdoms governed by self-declared kings and queens. But the majority was made up of civil-minded citizens in support of finding resolution to society's problems, which included the issue of homelessness. (Kaopio, Stars 154)

Whoever is narrating this passage seems to endorse the "civil-minded citizens" looking to solve problems, and seems skeptical and slightly disapproving of the "angry protesters" and "self-declared kings and queens." These turns of phrase are not surprising given the gently moralizing tone of the work; Kaopio seems interested in empowering the victims of empire through thinly veiled spiritual instruction, not in theorizing their oppression. That 'Ikau is a twenty-first-century homeless Hawaiian is the result of colonial dispossession (McDougall ,"Ue" 53). However, 'Ikau doesn't know that, and rather than contextualizing 'Ikau's life within Hawai'i's experiences of occupation and settler colonialism, Kaopio chooses to deal instead with the personal immediacy of "the issue of homelessness" as it affects 'Ikau's life.

But the personal is inevitably political, making it possible to read 'Ikau's coming of age story as an example of what Grace Dillon calls biskaabiiyang, an Anishinaabemowin word that means "returning to ourselves" through a process of "discovering how personally one is affected by colonization, discarding the emotional and psychological baggage carried from its impact, and recovering ancestral traditions in order to adapt in our post-Native Apocalypse world" (10). The plot of the first novel especially deals with this process of discovery and recovery, as 'Ikau grapples with the emotional turmoil of his mother's abandonment and his grandmother's death, as well as the daily struggle to survive off the urbanized land of Honolulu. Kaopio uses this situation to tell an episodic story that elaborates a syncretic Hawaiian- Christian or Hawaiian-Mormon worldview and theory of change that contribute to Indigenous resurgence but are not without their own set of ideological otherings. …

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