(c) Copyright 2000 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved
Aloha! My name is Ken Conklin. My spiritual relationship with Hawai'i is much deeper than the length of residence here would seem to indicate. I visited Hawai'i several times on summer vacations throughout the 1980s, reading extensively in advance, planning the trips carefully, and focusing on environmental and cultural aspects. Feeling a profound attraction to the culture, spirituality, people and land, I retired from teaching in the Boston area at the age of 49 in 1992 in order to move here then, and expect to remain permanently. I have done extensive reading, thinking, and conversing about Hawaiian history, culture, spirituality, and sovereignty; have learned Hawaiian language to a modest level; and participate in community events and historical/cultural restoration projects. I hold a masters degree in mathematics and a Ph.D. in philosophy; have published about 50 scholarly essays, was a college professor of teacher education for 8 years and a teacher of high school mathematics for 17 years. I live quietly on a small teacher's pension in a 730 sq. ft. apartment, and enjoy reading, thinking, writing, exploring the environment, participating in community events, and appreciating the rainbow of cultures and people who comprise Hawai'i.
Some kanaka maoli will probably take offense at this website. They might say that I am being disrespectful to them or their culture, or that I am somehow racist, or greedy, or clinging to my white privilege, or incapable of understanding them. But that would be incorrect. I have profound respect and aloha for kanaka maoli and their culture, and feel privileged to observe first-hand their proud renaissance. When any group claims special rights based on race, it should be possible to argue against such claims without being cast as a racist. Disagreeing with someone's view on history or politics should not be construed as an attack on his person or race. However, if race is the primary basis on which someone claims superiority or special rights, then they will probably feel that criticism of such claims is a criticism of their race. When someone says that his personal lifestyle is so rich or his spirituality is so profound that he is entitled to special economic or political rights at the expense of others, I believe he oversteps his rightful bounds. Some ministers say, "Love the sinner but hate the sin." And so I affirm my love for the kanaka maoli people, culture, and spirituality, even as I set about to debunk some of the sovereignty activists' historical, moral, and political claims.
The evolution of my thoughts and feelings about sovereignty has taken a path that might be of interest to some readers. I have always been intensely interested in philosophy, religion, and scholarly work, beginning with heavy reading during my mid-teens. By the age of 19 I already had a B.S. in Mathematics with a double major in Philosophy, and was a graduate student, teaching undergraduate mathematics courses. I became more interested in teaching than in mathematics, and changed academic direction, ending up with a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education at age 24. I taught teachers and school administrators at several universities, and published extensively. But my academic specialty suffered major cutbacks throughout the United States as trends in teacher education changed, and I ended up teaching mathematics at the high school level. I also began traveling extensively on summer vacations throughout Europe, North Africa, Mexico, and Guatemala. On a trip to Hong Kong and Thailand one summer, I stopped over in Hawai'i for about three weeks, visiting four islands. I was immediately struck with the spirituality inherent in the land itself, and in the music and hula of kanaka maoli culture. My view of spirituality had always focused on the mysticism of God's transcendence, seeking to know God through the mind, through meditation or abstract knowledge, stepping away from the material world to achieve Nirvana. I identified with the philosopher Plato, and the writings of Hermann Hesse (especially his major work "Magister Ludi"). But the spirituality of Hawai'i was of a totally different kind. Here was God's immanence. Here was God living in the land itself, visible in the clouds, rain, taro, fish, and the very rocks. Kanaka maoli have always seen the gods in the events and objects of everyday life, and I quickly came to this awareness inside myself.
During a ten year period I revisited Hawai'i several times, spending longer times in fewer places, staying in the homes of local residents, and visiting historical and cultural sites. Between visits to Hawai'i, I started reading about the history and culture. Finally, recognizing a powerful calling, I made up my mind to "retire" from teaching as soon as I became eligible for a pension, and came to live permanently in Hawai'i in summer 1992. Since then I have devoted most of my reading and thought to Hawaiian spirituality, culture, and the sovereignty issue. At first I was overwhelmed by love for Hawai'i, and for the kanaka maoli people -- after all, that is why I gave up a very comfortable lifestyle and career in Boston to move here. Being overwhelmed by the spirituality, I also adopted an uncritical acceptance of what the sovereignty activists were saying about history and politics. But after a while, I began to notice that it was hard to find things to read or watch on TV that presented any opposition to the sovereignty activists. The activists were badly fragmented, with numerous disputes among them; but there was no apparent opposition to their overall view that the overthrow of the monarchy and annexation to the United States were illegal and immoral.
The political propaganda was overwhelmingly one-sided. So I began to probe more deeply, and attend meetings of sovereignty groups to see if I could look beneath the surface. The deeeper I looked into things, the more questions I had and the more doubts I had about the truth of the claims being made. For a while I sat on the fence politically, remaining silent while continuing to listen and learn. Then I began asking questions, at first tentatively and then more forcefully. It slowly became apparent that many sovereignty activists are primarily motivated by political considerations, and have lost sight of their spiritual roots. Indeed, some activists have begun (ab)using the powerful spirituality of kanaka maoli culture merely to serve their political agendas. As the political agendas became more clear, it also became more clear that those agendas are based on incorrect interpretations of history. In some cases, the followers are merely parroting what their leaders say, or sincerely believe the incorrect historical interpretations. But in other cases, the activists are knowingly distorting the facts of history, leaving out important considerations, telling half-truths or even outright lies. People who simply follow their leaders, believing the propaganda, do not appreciate being questioned, and often react with hostility borne of the fear that they do not truly understand what they are being forced to say. The leaders themselves prefer not to reply to "unfriendly" questions or criticisms, because it might cause divisions in the movement, or raise doubts among loyal followers, or distract from the momentum of the political agenda. I believe it is important to separate love for the spirituality and culture, from incorrect historical claims and immoral political agendas. Too much of the sovereignty movement is simply a selfish grab for money, land, power, and privilege by a militant minority of the kanaka maoli people. Some sovereignty activists are like religious zealots who see the entire world only through their narrow perspective, unable to engage in rational discussion of issues, and willing to reinvent history or do whatever it takes to serve the needs of their so-called righteous cause. There is no point in trying to discuss theology or practical morality with a crusading missionary who bangs on your door to "witness for" his so-called "truth." Zealots believe that anyone who disagrees must be ignorant of the truth, and should simply sit silently and listen and learn. Zealots also believe that anyone who does understand but continues to disagree must have an evil heart, and it is then appropriate to attack him personally based on his personal background or family geneology to expose what an evil heart he has. But in the real world, there is a marketplace of ideas where people willing to consider all sides fairly usually can figure out where justice lies. Those are the people to whom this website is dedicated.
The following is an essay I sent to an internet discussion group on January 26, 1999. At the time, I was still wrestling with the question whether there might be any historical, legal, or moral justification for race-based political sovereignty for ethnic Hawaiians. The discussion group was composed almost entirely of people (both ethnic Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian) who support the independence model of Hawaiian sovereignty. This approach to sovereignty was the only one which I felt might have a chance to be intellectually and morally acceptable. At the time I had spent over six years studying Hawaiian history, culture, and language more or less full-time, and had attended hundreds of sovereignty meetings. My spirit was in the process of coming to grips with the fundamental wrongness of this movement. My heart wanted to to identify with the spiritual and emotional part of this movement that I once might have stayed with; but I was beginning to see that race-based political sovereignty is fundamentally evil no matter how wonderful some of its supporters may be or how beautiful some parts of its ideology might seem. And so I wrote this little essay to share my concerns with the group. As the months went by these concerns went unanswered either from other people or within my own na'au. Finally the picture began to take shape, and I rapidly came to the understanding that there is no historical, legal, or moral justification for race-based political sovereignty for ethnic Hawaiians. The struggle has made me stronger, and now I fully understand why I must oppose this potential evil despite the disappointment my departure might cause to some (former) "friends." I remain committed to the thoughts and feelings expressed here, although some sovereignty zealots might question my sincerity now that I have "gone over to the other side." I'm sorry if they feel that way.
There have been many posts lately on the subject of mana. As a haole malihini, I would like to share my own experience with the mana I found in Hawai'i and its power in bringing me here.
Maybe it is improper for a non-kanaka to claim a relationship with Hawaiian mana. But I do feel such a relationship very strongly.
17 years ago I visited Hawaii for the first time, as a tourist. I came from Boston, the place that sent the missionaries, and 73 years later gave its name to the warship that helped overthrow the monarchy. Please forgive me my place of origin! I returned several times over the next ten years, each time for about a month, usually staying in inexpensive bed and breakfast situations (spare bedroom in someone's home) for about a week in each place. On my final trip as a tourist I made the decision to move here permanently as soon as I became eligible for a small teacher's retirement pension, and then made the move seven years ago at the age of 49. And I shall never leave, unless forced to do so. Maybe that's part of the problem, because malihini have overwhelmed this place since 1778 and I see the devastation we have created. Even while trying to live quietly and minimize the disturbance I cause, the mere presence of too many like me puts pressure not only on the environment and economy but especially on the culture. But that's a different topic for another time.
At first the usual tourist things attracted me, like weather, beaches, scenic beauty, aloha spirit, and the rainbow of races and cultures. But I also heard beautiful music that made me realize that such music could not be created unless there were beautiful souls composing it. And I saw non-tourist hula kahiko at Prince Lot hula festival, and a very "primitive" keiki hula kahiko by candlelight at Foster Garden. I happened to see some TV shows produced by Na Maka, heard some sovereignty activists on public television. I remember three programs featuring Marion Kelley explaining about ahupua'a, lo'i kalo, and loko i'a (fish ponds). And with a background in philosophy, I began reading very slowly and thoughtfully books by Pukui (Nana i ke Kumu), Kanahele (Ku Kanaka), Kamakau, Fornander, and so many others.
But the most significant experiences were not with books, music, hula, TV, or people. I watched the clouds slowly rising and falling on the Ko'olau, giving rain which flowed from mountains to sea, giving life to all along the way, and felt the presence I would later learn to call Wakea eternally mating with Papa, adding my tears of reverence to the falling rain. "Ue ka lani, ola ka honua;" The heavens weep, the earth thrives. I snorkeled many reefs and saw something more than just pretty fish. I visited Pu'uhonua 'o Honaunau for a couple hours, and felt compelled to return for an entire day, sometimes sitting for an hour or two in just one spot and feeling the power that was there from both the 'aina and from the kanaka maoli who had invested that place with their mana. I no longer yearn to return to the stained glass and 800-year-old towers of Chartres, or the pyramids and temples of Yucatan. The shimmering sea is my stained glass; the Ko'olau are my cathedrals; the hula is the mass; Hawaiian music is the sermon.
Upon moving here, I immediately enrolled in courses on Hawaiian history and Hawaiian language. My first "political" experience was being present at the gates to the Palace on January 17, 1993. Wow! But more meaningful to me were those rare opportunities to listen to kupuna, whose voices were soft, quiet, but far more powerful than the speeches of Haunani-Kay Trask or the chants of the marching thousands.
My personal style is terribly un-Hawaiian. I live alone, have no family ties here, and do not know my geneology beyond 5 generations. I rarely go barefoot except at the beach, and do not eat raw fish, limu, or crabs; although I do eat poi and recognize its historical and spiritual significance. I talk too much, and do not conceal disagreements. I rub some people the wrong way because of my different background and because I speak even half-formed thoughts, sometimes before the little censor inside has time to do his work. I am uncomfortable in groups, and awkward with the kissing, hand-holding, and public prayer that most people here do spontaneously when saying hello or starting a meeting. Yet, when Kekuni greets me with the traditional honi, or lomi's my shoulder as he passes by, I feel blessed by his mana. I believe each person faces God alone, regardless how many people help along the way. For me, the deepest spirituality is always solitary. And I believe that various cultures and races have various ways of approaching and celebrating the divine, each legitimate in their own ways; but none complete. I believe that wisdom is not bound by culture nor by race, so that it is possible for an outsider to fully experience the divine through the medium of whatever local culture or land calls it forth from inside him. For me, Hawai'i calls both more softly and more loudly than anywhere else. "Mai ka po mai ka 'oia'i'o." Wisdom comes from the gods, from the primordial source. No person or group has the right to withold it, control it, or invalidate my experience with it. "He 'elele ka moe na ke kanaka" Dreams are message-bearers for people.
A culture or language is natural to those who grow up with it, who can therefore use it smoothly as a vehicle to what lies beyond. But a culture or language can also be used by newcomers, whether they are kanaka maoli born abroad and "coming home" for the first time or non-kanaka coming to a spiritual home. A new culture or language can give renewed vigor to one's spiritual quest, and provides a different perspective that facilitates new insights. I believe that a language or culture belongs to all people to whatever extent they live in it and use it. And in the case of Hawai'i, it must be remembered that the kanaka maoli themselves were once malihini, who came here in more than one wave from "Kahiki," each wave bringing their gods with them and joining their spirituality with the inherent mana of this 'aina, as I am doing now.
If you have read some of my posts to the KMA list or spoken with me, you know that I have serious misgivings about some of the political agendas of some of the sovereignty groups. I know the history which makes many kanaka maoli feel entitled to sovereignty by both legal and moral right, and I know the history of decimation and the current economic and personal hardships that make many kanaka feel their survival as a people is at risk. But this little essay is about mana and spiritual power, not political power. I do not know whether political sovereignty is necessary for cultural survival or for spiritual fullness. But I do know that the mana here draws me more powerfully than anything I have felt elsewhere. The mana is present in the land itself as well as in the plants, animals, people, music, hula, and spirits. No culture or race owns it, for it is the universal force both above and within. The bones of my ancestors are not here. I was not shaped by the land or culture of Hawai'i while growing up. Am I therefore less able to experience the mana? Is my claim to a spiritual relationship with the 'aina only superficial? No, it is very real and runs all the way down. I may disagree on some political issues, but kanaka maoli will find no stronger ally on cultural or spiritual matters.
On Monday August 28, 2000 I officially became a candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs by filing nominating papers with the Elections Office. To prepare for this campaign, I went to Kawaiaha'o Church on Friday August 25. I went there alone to gather personal strength. I believe it is important to begin a major project with the right attitude. I believe that major political actions should grow out of a sense of what is pono (righteous, or spiritually grounded).
Kawaiaha'o Church is famous in the history of Hawai'i for many reasons. Here are three of those reasons which make this church especially important symbolically as a place to gather personal strength for this campaign.
1. This church was built in 1839 with 14,000 huge coral blocks harvested with hand tools from the reef offshore several feet underwater. Native Hawaiians and non-natives worked together in a spirit of aloha and love of God to design and build this beautiful monument to spiritual values. I believe that once again natives and non-natives must work together in unity to preserve and improve our society in a spirit of mutual respect, equality, and aloha for all.
2. In 1843 King Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III came here with a very important message. During the "Paulet" incident he had been forced to give up sovereignty to the British. A medical missionary from New England, Gerrit Judd, was the King's trusted advisor and friend. He wrote an appeal to the British government asking that sovereignty be returned. Rev. Judd, at the risk of his life, worked in secret, at night, in the Royal Mausoleum which at that time was on the grounds of 'Iolani Palace, right across the street from Kawaiaha'o. He wrote by candlelight, using the coffin of Queen Ka'ahumanu as a desk. He wrote the appeal to the British government that succeeded in getting sovereignty returned to Kauikeaouli. Without Dr. Judd's courageous service to his King the sovereignty of Hawai'i might have ended. When Admiral Thomas sailed into port with the document returning sovereignty, the King and Rev. Judd came here together to make the announcement. From the steps of Kawaiaha'o on July 31 1843 Dr. Judd translated aloud into Hawaiian the English document returning sovereignty. And from these steps Kauikeaouli gave a famous one-sentence reply: "Ua mau ke ea o ka 'aina i ka pono." And so I came here on August 25, 2000 to affirm with Kauikeaouli that indeed the life of this land shall be preserved in righteousness -- the sovereignty we all cherish as fellow citizens of Hawai'i needs to be preserved through the righteousness of mutual respect, caring, equality, and aloha.
3. Every two years a ceremony is held at Kawaiaha'o Church for the investiture of the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. I feel it is proper that my campaign should begin where it will end. This place, and the spirit it embodies, is the alpha and omega of my campaign. Aloha Ke Akua. Aloha kakou.
This website is written solely in simple text, and is hosted on a web server that does not charge a fee. Unlike the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Bishop Estate, or the Nation of Hawai'i, I do not have a political organization nor the funding needed to create a fancy website. Unlike Na Maka O Ka 'Aina, I cannot produce fancy propaganda films for television. Unlike the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i, I do not receive millions of dollars in state taxpayer funding to provide buildings, pay professors and secretarial staff, and sponsor programs to support a political agenda, lobby the legislature, or to assemble and reward students and political supporters. All I can do is to write my ideas and hope people will find them on the internet and think about them.
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(c) Copyright 2000 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved
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