The Kingdom Still Exists, He Says
Past midnight on the twenty-fourth, Kory, my ride-share driver
is chatty; I tell him about my cousin’s wedding, where I
have just danced myself to exhaustion, and he asks where
my cousin is from. The States; this is a destination wedding.
I ask him how he feels about foreigners coming to Hawaii;
he asks me what I know about Hawaii’s colonization. Not much.
I tell him that I am from Sri Lanka, that we endured three
waves of colonization – the Dutch, the Portuguese, the British –
winning independence only in 1948. I tell him that I teach
post-colonial literature, and we talk for a little while about
Jamaica Kincaid’s Antigua essays. About how, after colonizers
have drained the people and the land of its wealth for generation
after generation, even when they leave, they leave
devastation in their wake, broken countries and broken people
trying to put themselves back together, fighting corruption
in their own governments and poverty in their people.
How quickly can you heal, when you have been stripped of resources?
I tell him that last time I came, I spent an hour at Iolani Palace,
learned a little of that tragic history. King Kalakaua and his sister
and successor, Queen Lili’uokalani, walked those halls and ruled
the Hawaiian kingdom, until she was overthrown and
imprisoned there. She had attempted to draft a new constitution
which would restore the power of the monarchy and the voting
rights of the disenfranchised. U.S. Marines bolstered the overthrow,
protecting American interests. She abdicated in exchange
for the release and commutation of the death sentences of
jailed supporters; six had been sentenced to be hanged.
The palace is the only official state residence of royalty
on U.S. soil, although Kory tells me that is contested –
we may not be on U.S. soil at all. He says the annexation
of Hawaii was never fully completed,
all the legal forms not observed.
Does it matter, when committing a brutal act,
if you observe all the legal forms?
Yesterday, we drove past pineapple plantations on our way
to the wedding. Dole declared Hawaii an independent republic,
and spurred by the nationalism aroused by the Spanish-
American war, the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898.
I love pineapple, but after visiting the palace, I can’t eat it
without thinking of the imprisoned queen, her stolen kingdom.
A little over ten percent of Hawaii is populated by native
Hawaiians, often among the poorest and most
marginalized of those living here. There have been
efforts to give them the tools they need to recover, like
the kamehameha schools for native learners, but there is still
so far to go. The government has programs to help native
Hawaiians buy homes, in theory, but both my white friend
and my native driver say that government works extremely
slowly in Hawaii; even the best-intentioned efforts
take decades to make progress. Some projects never get off
the ground at all. There’s a new elevated rail we saw
driving a test car, and I asked when it would open. They laugh
and say three months? A year? Maybe never…
Approaching my friend’s house, I ask Kory how he feels about
white people owning land in Hawaii. He says, it doesn’t
make much sense to get mad at the foreigners, when it is
his own government that is failing him. He tells me
what he feels is anger, is frustration. He asks me to google
Dr. Keanu Sai, a political historian who specializes in
Hawaiian constitutionalism. I dutifully make a note.
He says there is still hope, that so many people do not
know the history; what we need to do is educate –
from there, change may finally come.
Before getting out of the car, I read him the opening
paragraph to Kincaid’s book. After getting out of the car,
I send him an extra fifty dollar tip, in thanks for the lesson.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Learn our history.
“For myself, I would have chosen death rather than
to have signed it; but it was represented to me that
by my signing this paper all the persons who had been
arrested, all my people now in trouble by reason
of their love and loyalty towards me, would be
immediately released. Think of my position, — sick,
a lone woman in prison, scarcely knowing
who was my friend, or who listened to my words only
to betray me, without legal advice or friendly counsel,
and the stream of blood ready to flow unless
it was stayed by my pen.” – Queen Lili’uokalani