by Andrew Walden (Originally published March 26, 2009)
The March 26 celebration of the life of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole should have special meaning in this 50th year of Hawai`i Statehood. For his is the story of how Hawaiians came to be Hawaiian-Americans.
Heir to the overthrown Queen Liliuokalani, Prince Kuhio, in January, 1895, took up arms for restoration of the Monarchy. He faced prison for his role in the failed counter-revolution against the 1893 Republic. Three years later Kuhio--and most Hawaiians—showed their opposition to becoming part of the United States by staying away from the 1898 Annexation ceremonies at Iolani Palace.
Leaders such as Kuhio and the rebellious Robert Wilcox had been kept out of the Republic government by a required oath of loyalty to the Republic which most of the Hawaiian majority of the electorate (Asian plantation laborers were mostly excluded from voting) could not bear to sign. Queen Liliuokalani swore such an oath after the failure of the Wilcox Rebellion. But most Hawaiians did not follow suit. This created a continual crisis within the minority-ruled Republic so on March 1, 1897 Theo Davies made an offer:
“Now if the Hawaiians are willing to accept the Republic, on condition that the foreigners will give up Annexation and that all shall have votes and be friends, I believe that we could stop all the quarrels and have peace again….”
Davies’ offer was not accepted or even seriously considered by Hawaiians. But after Annexation, the US Constitution and American law stood above the two warring factions. That changed everything.
In 1901, just six years out of prison, Kuhio walked away from Wilcox’ obstructionist Home Rule Party and joined with many of those who had overthrown the Kingdom in the Hawai`i Republican Party. The next year Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian voters flocked to the polls to elect Kuhio as the young Territory’s sole representative to the US Congress. His 1902 victory also marked an electoral revolution which gave Republicans control of the Legislature for the next 52 years. Excluded by their refusal to swear allegiance to the Republic, and hamstrung in the first four years of the Territory under the chaotic Home Rule Party, as Republicans Hawaiians were elected to office and manned the civil service. As an American Territory we “all had votes and were friends.”
Kuhio himself would serve for nearly twenty years. In 1919 he would introduce the first bill for the admission of Hawai`i as a State—a dream which would be realized forty years later.
Annexation brought freedom to the semi-slaves of Hawai`i’s plantations. The 1900 Organic Act voided contracts of indentured servitude. Fifty years later, Communist Party member Koji Ariyoshi, editor of the ILWU-sponsored Honolulu Record described the result:
To the surprise of plantation owners, the Japanese laborers everywhere demanded that their contracts be canceled and returned to them. They wanted freedom, and dignity which came with it. As contract laborers their bodies were practically the property of the sugar planters, to be abused and even whipped with black snake whips. In several places the Japanese went on strike to enforce their demand on the planters who were daily violating a US law in keeping them under servitude.
But Kuhio is best known for another blow for freedom--his effort to right the great wrong of landlessness left over from the Mahele.
When land was for the first time deeded out in 1850s Hawai`i, many of the maka`aina were not led to legally register their promised kuleana plots. By the turn of the 20th century the old feudal ties to the Konohiki had dissolved. The children and grand children of those maka`aina who did not receive kuleana plots found themselves on O`ahu--separated from the land and squatting in shantytowns on the outskirts of Honolulu.
Kuhio knew that Hawaiians needed to be independent landholders to be free and prosperous. So in 1920 he introduced into Congress the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. Approved by Congress July 9, 1921, the Act set aside 200,000 acres out of the government property which had passed from the Kingdom to the Republic to the United States. Kuhio’s purpose--to get Hawaiians back to living independent lives on the land. It was his last major effort. Jonah Kuhio died six months later on January 7, 1922. It would be decades before his dream would actually provide land—albeit leasehold and mostly house lots--to landless Hawaiians.
In 2002, Linda Lingle and Duke Aiona became the first Republican Governor and Lt Governor in four decades. After eighty-one years of neglect, DHHL leases would finally be assigned in meaningful numbers and the infamous decades-long waiting lists would be shortened. Jonah Kuhio’s dream of correcting the Mahele’s shortfall would finally come true—150 years after the fact. Home ownership is the cornerstone of the American Dream and DHHL is now the largest developer of affordable homes in the state.
So what does Kuhio teach us? He teaches us the value of being independent property holders and free citizens who play an active role in government by voting, serving, and running for office. He teaches us to recognize the opportunity that is available under the protection of the United States Constitution.
These critical lessons are lost in the current rush to make Hawaiians into reservation Indians. They are ignored or misunderstood by the shrill micro-minority whose demands for so-called ‘sovereignty’ since Kalama Valley play into the push for the Akaka Bill and have more to do with the dynamics of 1960s student radicalism at UH Manoa than with anything preceding that date in Hawaiian history.
These are false and reactionary concepts which need to be left behind. Out of the tumult at the end of the Kingdom, the Republic and then the beginning of the Territory, Prince Kuhio lead his people to embrace their opportunities as homeowners, small business people and free American citizens. Hawai`i needs to reconnect with this history and re-take our State, and our culture from those who have encouraged a generation to choose anti-Americanism and dependence on handouts.
Kuhio gives us the model for making this shift. The last Hawaiian-organized anti-Statehood effort came from Democrat State Senator and Campbell estate heir Alice Kamokila Campbell who apparently saw herself speaking for the former ali`i when she denounced the influence in Hawai`i of Americans of Japanese Ancestry in anti-Statehood testimony before a 1946 Congressional Hearing in Honolulu. Sixty one years after Kuhio boycotted the Annexation ceremony, his descendants celebrated the dawn of Statehood. In a 1959 Statehood referendum 94% of the voters approved. On Moloka`i—the most Hawaiian of the major islands—the vote was 97%.
Territorial Delegate John Burns described the scene March 12, 1959 as news of the Hawai`i Admission Act spread:
“A crowd of more than 1,000 people, including the Honorable Neal Blaisdell, mayor of the city and county of Honolulu, gathered at Kawaiaha`o Church and paid respect to the Divine Providence within minutes of the news being received that the bill was passed by the House.
“The next morning, thanksgiving services were held at this same church. The Reverend Dr. Abraham Akaka, pastor of Kawaiaha`o Church, gave the sermon….”
That morning Rev Akaka said:
“The fears Hawai`i may have are to be met by men and women who are living witnesses of what we really are in Hawai`i, of the spirit of Aloha, men and women who can help unlock the doors to the future by the guidance and grace of God.
“This kind of self-affirmation is the need of the hour. And we can affirm our being, as the Aloha State, by full participation in our nation and in our world. For any collective anxiety, the answer is collective courage. And the ground of that courage is God.”
That is what Hawai`i learned from Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana`ole.
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Hawaii Statehood: Tiny 1959 opposition was anti-Japanese, not anti-American