(c) Copyright 2004 - 2011, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved
This is an exploration of collective guilt and group reparations, focusing on the little book "Then There Were None." The book is part of a propaganda campaign to make everyone "feel the pain" of "Native Hawaiians" who have become "strangers in their own homeland." The book lays a guilt trip on Americans in general, and haoles (whites) in particular, for the historical grievances of ethnic Hawaiians. The hidden agenda of this propaganda campaign is to gain political support for reparations in the form of government race-based handouts, and political status for a race-based government. The theory is that monetary compensation should be given to a racial group for the damage that was done to some of their ancestors, and political compensation should be given to restore self-government to "a people" whose nation was "stolen." References are provided at the end of this review for some of the main points. Also provided are a review by Honolulu Advertiser music critic Gregory Shepherd of a live performance based on the book's contents, and a book review by Honolulu Advertiser books editor Wanda Adams.
"Then There Were None" by Martha H. Noyes (based on the televised docudrama by Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey Buyers, Ph.D.). Honolulu, Hawaii: Bess Press, 2003. ISBN: 1-57306-155-7 Hawai'i Public Library call # H 996.9 No
"Li'ili'i ka 'ukulele; naue na'e kino nui." That 'olelo no'eau (Hawaiian proverb) has a double meaning. A jumping flea is small, but can make a big body squirm. Also, of course, the 'ukulele is a small musical instrument, but it makes big people tap their feet and dance.
The same can be said of "Then There Were None." This little book, 109 small-sized pages, is a big tear-jerker. That's exactly why it was published. No need to wait for the movie -- the "documentary film" has been on tour throughout the U.S. and Canada for at least 7 years, televised nationwide on PBS, and used as the basis for a narrated performance featuring the Honolulu Symphony. The book was published later, just in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in 2003, so that all who missed the TV show and symphony performance could join the pity-party and weep.
The Honolulu Symphony's "Masterworks" performance based on the book's contents (before the book itself was published) was reviewed by The Honolulu Advertiser's regular music critic Gregory Shepherd in the edition of Sunday, November 3, 2002. Mr. Shepherd's scathing review called the performance "a tottering soapbox for the social theories of Dr. Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey Buyers via her latest film "And Then There Were None," and a masterwork it ain't, not by any stretch of the imagination." He added, "Lindsey Buyers' reduction of 200 years of history into a 25-minute oppressor/victim dialectic turns that history into a politically correct cartoon and not a very good one at that." Shepherd's complete review is copied at the end of this essay, following the references.
A year later Wanda Adams, Honolulu Advertiser books editor, wrote a review of the newly-published book on November 24, 2003, just in time to push sales for Christmas gifts. Adams says Lindsey's film got a warm-hearted response on the mainland (where naive people know nothing about Hawaiian history and are receptive to victimhood propaganda). But then Adams focuses on how Lindsey and Noyes were shocked at the "racism" of the negative response in Hawai'i, especially from Mr. Shepherd and the Symphony audience a year previously (people in Hawai'i have been subjected to the blame game long enough to rebel against further propaganda). It's interesting that people are called "racist" when they publicly resist being assaulted with political propaganda touting racial grievances, and that a refusal to "feel the pain" of those who are allegedly aggrieved is taken as evidence of continuing oppression. The complete book review by Wanda Adams is copied at the end of this essay, following the references.
In this essay I take on the difficult task of skewering a book portraying the pain and suffering of poor downtrodden victims of history. It is perhaps impossible to do that without appearing to be an insensitive brute, utterly lacking in compassion.
But, dear reader, what I am skewering is this book's commodification and marketing of grievance, in service to a ruthless political agenda. Yes, there are ethnic Hawaiians who need government assistance. But there are also wealthy Hawaiians working as highly paid bureaucrats in powerful institutions seeking to perpetuate their power and income by claiming to serve the truly needy. The bottom line is that needy people should be helped as individuals, but racial groups should never be given group entitlements that end up lining the pockets of the wealthy among them and the corporate service-providers who are their partners.
When someone says she's feeling pain there's no way to judge her sincerity -- it seems rude and callous even to raise doubts about it. If she cries out in the immediacy of her pain, she cannot help crying and we are drawn to offer comfort and help. But when she somehow gathers the strength to stop weeping long enough to make a TV program and help write a book and go on tour for several years to tell the world about the pain, we might wonder whether the pain is truly debilitating and why it is so important to her to tell us about it. If she further tells us that we are the cause of her pain, or that we are morally or legally responsible to provide permanent treatment and restitution for damages, we'd be well advised to call our lawyer. There are, after all, hypochondriacs; and there are also schemers who file big lawsuits for pain and suffering allegedly caused by whiplash during a 5 mph fender-bender.
If this book were merely a historic novel, Greek tragedy, or TV soap opera, we could all have a good cry and go away happy in being sad. It would be the book version of what today's pop culture calls a "chick flick." But publication of this book has a political purpose. We are expected not merely to read it and weep, but also to go out and take action to correct the injustices portrayed in this lamentation.
Wanda Adams writes in her book review that the harsh treatment of the narrated symphony performance caused pain for Noyes and Lindsey-Buyers (thus, the victims were further victimized by those refusing to feel guilty after being labeled as their oppressors). Adams, Noyes, and Buyers all say that the purpose of the TV docudrama, narrated performance, and book is to make people aware of the pain of the victims, and not to cast blame. Nevertheless, we note that these folks go to great lengths to make us feel that pain, and the obvious motive for doing so is to soften us up so we will feel guilty and give reparations. Adams writes: "It was an extremely painful time for Buyers and Noyes, who nevertheless say the controversy only goes to their original point. That point is this: What happened to Hawaiians the overthrow of the monarchy, the denigration of their culture and religion, the deaths from imported diseases, the lack of political, social and economic power in plantation times caused pain. Previous generations masked that pain with an outward aloha spirit and an inner silence. The present generation is more likely to acknowledge anger and frustration born of that pain, but still experiences helplessness. "What we're trying to say is the pain Hawaiians feel is real. It has consequences. These historical acts are the source of the pain. ... Until we acknowledge that the emotion exists, and it is justified, we are just running around trying to prove to each other whose history is better. And that's not the point," Noyes said. Neither film nor book are meant as an indictment of any group. "I don't know if it benefits anyone to lay blame on people of another era," Noyes said. "There's a big difference between blaming people of the past and acknowledging that what occurred in the past caused pain.""
The forward describes the book's purpose this way: "Then There Were None was born from unspoken words, unshed tears, and wounded spirits. It is not a tale of blame or victimization. It is an effort to give voice to kupuna who became strangers in their own land, a land that once nourished their dreams and now cradles their bones." But of course the book really IS a tale of victimization. The beginning of the blame is laid squarely at the feet of Captain Cook, because when his ships left Hawai'i in 1778, "Behind them the British left an invisible and deadly enemy. They left disease." (page 9). And page 13 tells us "There was another legacy left by Cook, a legacy equally insidious as the bequest of disease. It was the germ of foreign influence, which rapidly and almost fatally turned into an epidemic of foreign domination." And page 17: "But now we were dying. Babies were stillborn. Conception failed to occur. Healthy adults thrust themselves into the sea to drown their despair along with their lives." And so it goes as this tale of woes continues down through the decades. (The book fails to mention that the Christian missionaries were invited to Hawai'i by a group of Hawaiians attending the Yale divinity school, including Henry Opukaha'ia and George Kaumuali'i, son of the King of Kaua'i. The book fails to mention that Hawaiians eagerly embraced the new Christian religion as soon as it arrived in Hawai'i in 1820; it was not imposed upon them. The sovereign kings, exercising self-determination on behalf of their people, eagerly embraced the rule of law in 1840 and creation of private property rights in 1848, for reasons they thought best at the time.)
The book is only about 6" tall by 5" wide, with 109 numbered pages -- a perfect Christmas stocking-stuffer to bring feelings of guilt to people enjoying their bountiful affluence in the holiday season (much as our TV screens on Thanksgiving are filled with scenes of the homeless being fed at a soup kitchen). About half the pages are taken up entirely by a single photograph, or by a single sentence telling how many "pure Hawaiians" are left alive in a certain year. The only colors are black and white (along with gray), adding to the somber mood and feeling of antiquity. The book portrays a tragic history of the proud race of native Hawaiians who kept their dignity and the beauty of their culture even while the population of "pure Hawaiians" steadily declined until they nearly died out. (The book fails to mention 3 important self-inflicted causes of the decline of "pure Hawaiians": the slaughter of tens of thousands of men, women, and children in wars as Kamehameha "The Great" killed off his opponents to unify the Hawaiian islands into a single kingdom; the outmigration of Hawaiians to America, seeking a better life whose existence they had discovered by reading books and associating with foreigners; and the number of "pure Hawaiians" declined while the number of part-Hawaiians rose, due to the fact that pure-bloods freely chose upward mobility by marrying whites and Asians in large numbers.)
"Li'ili'i ka 'ukulele; naue na'e kino nui." Not only does this little book make big people squirm and cry, it also has the unspoken dual purpose of influencing public opinion and thereby making the body politic move. The main kaona (hidden purpose) of the book is to enlist public support for racial entitlement programs for ethnic Hawaiians, so that these beautiful but tragically poor, downtrodden victims of history can have their suffering somewhat eased. Just as Jewish activists make a point of frequently reminding everyone about the Holocaust in books and TV movies so we will support Zionism in the State of Israel; and African-American activists remind everyone about the horrors of slavery so we will support "affirmative action" and black reparations; so Hawaiian activists like to remind us about their historical grievances using language like "genocide" and "armed invasion" and "making the language illegal." There is strong competition for the privilege of being history's greatest victim; because, to twist a familiar saying: to the victim go the spoils (of political patronage for government handouts).
According to the book the population of "pure Hawaiians" declined steadily from foreign diseases and grinding poverty until they have nearly died out.
Page 11 consists entirely of this statement, centered as though in a picture frame made of tapa cloth: "In 1778 there were between 400,000 and 1,000,000 Hawaiians in these islands. By 1822 there were only 200,000 pure Hawaiians left alive."
Page 19 in its entirety: "By 1828 there were only 188,000 pure Hawaiians left alive."
Page 35 in its entirety: "By 1836 there were only 108,000 pure Hawaiians left alive."
Page 47 in its entirety: "By 1878 there were only 48,000 pure Hawaiians left alive."
Page 51 in its entirety: "By 1890 there were only 39,000 pure Hawaiians left alive."
Page 79 in its entirety: "By 1922 there were only 24,000 pure Hawaiians left alive."
The final population figure is given as the entirety of the first page of content, which dedicates the book "To the five thousand piha kanaka maoli [pure-blood Hawaiians] who remain"
In between these milestones/tombstones are beautiful, haunting black and white photographs from a century ago showing Hawaiians dancing hula or sitting by a pili grass hut, plus a few modern-day photos of the Dole cannery as workers head for home, a submarine at the dock, George Helm, Jon Osorio speaking at a protest rally. The book's cover is a photo of a little Hawaiian girl with long black hair, wearing a dress and lei, looking forlorn with slightly pouty lips and huge sad dark eyes. One is reminded of those OHA TV commercials for the Akaka bill featuring Hawaiians looking downcast and apprehensive with voice-overs softly pleading "Recognize me." Here is the book cover's poster girl for downtrodden Hawaiians, taken from the book publisher's website:
The victimhood theme of Hawaiians as a dying race is loudly trumpeted by OHA trustee Boyd Mossman as a major reason to pass the Akaka bill. On May 27, 2003 he published an article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, also widely published in other venues, entitled: "Hawaiians must unite or vanish into history." He says: "If we fail, if we lose in the courts, if we cannot convince Congress of the potential elimination of an entire people who once ruled themselves, if we cannot convince the Hawaiians themselves and bring them together in a united effort, then you will have seen the last of the Hawaiians as we know them today. ... We will melt into history, becoming only a memory."
The book's preface makes a very good point which the author undoubtedly did not intend. She says: "Look at any newspaper. Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, Chechnyans and Russians, Chinese and Tibetans, Tutsis and Hutus, Indian Hindus and Indian Moslems, Israelis and Palestinians." Dare we imagine adding: "Those with native Hawaiian blood and those without"? Passions roused by the sort of victimhood propaganda in this book could provoke outcomes similar to those other conflicts.
The book's preface continues, "Has any history text, however objective, quelled the troubles between them? No, because history isn't what divides them. What fuels the division is emotion. It is an emotional voice we wanted to offer. If the heart's wounds, the spirit's aches are laid bare, healing balm can reach the injury and ease the pain." Or is it instead a matter of opening old wounds and century-old grievances to make today's descendants feel pain they would never otherwise have felt? Is it a matter of creating anger in the hearts of people who have not themselves felt aggrieved, by telling them they SHOULD feel aggrieved on behalf of their revered kupuna? Is it a matter of raising angry feelings in ethnic Hawaiians while simultaneously trying to weaken the resolve of those who stand firm against race-based programs and balkanization of our rainbow society? Is it perhaps like a clever propagandist arousing warrior sentiments in his own nation while simultaneously preaching demilitarization, pacifism, and soft-hearted empathy to another nation they plan to attack?
There's a recently released movie by Mel Gibson: "The Passion of The Christ." The 2-hour film focuses on the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus, dwelling at great length on his pain and suffering through every bloody moment of his horrendous torture and execution on the cross. The film has aroused controversy because it remains true to the Biblical account that Jewish leaders wanted him dead and used Roman authority to get their wish. We also recall that a mob of Jews, when given a chance to choose one condemned prisoner to set free, screamed for a thief to be set free so that Jesus would die. Down through the centuries some Christians have held the Jews collectively responsible for "murdering Christ." This historical grievance has been used by groups of Christians, and by racist dictators, as a justification for persecuting Jews living many centuries after the event for which they are retroactively blamed. Gibson's new film stirred controversy over its possible rekindling of antisemitism, because it is such a powerful depiction of the suffering of Jesus. Books and "docudramas" raise passions, and can be powerful propaganda weapons. But it is immoral, and leads to great tragedy, for one ethnic group to hold another ethnic group accountable for restitution, and even retribution, for long-ago historical grievances.
A small correction to the book's population figures leads to an interesting observation. The book says that in 1890 "there were only 39,000 pure Hawaiians left alive." Actually, according to the Native Hawaiian Databook on the OHA website, in 1890 there were 34,436 full-blood Hawaiians and an additional 6,186 part-Hawaiians. And in year 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 240,000 people in Hawai'i who have at least some degree of native Hawaiian ancestry, plus 60,000 more in California and 100,000 more in the other 48 states. There are over 401,000 ethnic Hawaiians living in the United States. They might not be "pure Hawaiians" but they are ethnic Hawaiians nonetheless, and they had enough subjective identification and pride in their Hawaiian heritage to go out of their way to mark the "Hawaiian" box on the Census form. That is a tenfold increase in the number of Hawaiians during the first century of American sovereignty here. Even the number of "pure Hawaiians" has apparently increased greatly. According to U.S. Census figures for July, 2002, the State of Hawai'i had 110,098 people who identified themselves as only Hawaiian even when given the chance to choose multiple ethnicities. Hawaiians are NOT a dying race. They are a growing, flourishing race, thriving in our multiethnic rainbow society. People of all ethnicities now perform hula and speak Hawaiian, because elements of the precontact culture have become vibrant core elements of what defines Hawai'i for all our people today.
According to a study released by the Kamehameha Schools' research/propaganda division in September 2005, the population of "Native Hawaiians" is projected to more than double by year 2050, when there will be nearly a million of them. And Professor Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa actually had the nerve to say she wants "Native Hawaiians" to double their numbers in only 20 years rather than 50 years, so that they will become a majority racial group as soon as possible! See:
Shame on "Then There Were None" author for focusing exclusively on "pure Hawaiians" as though there is something impure, tainted, or second-class about those with "lesser" blood quantum. And what would the author do to stop the ongoing decline of "pure Hawaiians" -- prohibit them from marrying impure Hawaiians or outsiders? Shame for engaging in racial profiling, portraying all persons of Hawaiian ancestry as poor, downtrodden victims of history.
Today's ethnic Hawaiians -- all of them -- have been born and raised under American sovereignty. More than half of them have been born since Jimmy Carter became President, and are barely old enough to remember Reagan's presidency. These are not royalists directly remembering the "pain" of the bloodless revolution that overthrew "their" Queen 111 years ago. Unless they are quite elderly, they were not old enough for even their grandparents to have told them first-hand stories about life under the monarchy. The "pain" felt by today's ethnic Hawaiians for the removal of Queen Lili'uokalani is a pain acquired from propaganda and not a pain personally experienced.
Census 2000 shows that the median family income for ethnic Hawaiians in 1999 was $49,282 even though their median age was only 25.3 (compared to a statewide median age of 36.2). 13.1% of ethnic Hawaiians had incomes above $100,000. These are not a poor, downtrodden people. And the population figures documenting a tenfold increase in the first century of American sovereignty show that this is not a dying race.
Everyone, of whatever ethnicity, feels nostalgia for their small-kid days and for the even more remote days they can only imagine, when their grandparents were young. Hawai'i's people of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Portuguese ancestry, fondly "remember" the plantation days even when they are too young to have experienced them directly, and even though there was much suffering in the plantation lifestyle. I still mourn the great Irish potato famine that caused some of my ancestors to flee their homeland and come to America, and the injustices done to some of my Irish ancestors by some of my English ancestors. But the "pain" of the dim distant past from generations before I was born is only imagined pain. Perhaps if someone tells me I should feel the pain, I might start feeling it. If I'm subjected to a constant drumbeat of propaganda that I owe it to my ancestors to rectify the injustices they suffered, I might get all riled up and make trouble for those I perceive to be the descendants of the oppressors of my aggrieved ancestors. How sad that would be. How regretful the souls of my ancestors would be if I followed such a course in their name.
The laws of economics say that if people are willing to pay for something, it will be produced and supplied to them. If many people are willing to pay a very high price, great quantities will be manufactured to fill the demand. Thus, when the government pays subsidies to farmers to produce grain and cheese, the warehouses are soon overflowing with surplus grain and cheese. Ethnic grievances today are being commodified and marketed. If government will pay African-Americans or ethnic Hawaiians for weeping over slavery or the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, today's "victims" (who themselves were never enslaved or overthrown) will magnify their grief out of all proportion to what they would otherwise truly feel. The child who cries when bruised gets a little attention and perhaps a kiss on the boo-boo. Some children recognize a good thing, and cry louder to solicit more affection. And some grow up to become hypochondriacs demanding great medical attention for imagined illnesses, especially when third-party insurance pays the bills.
"Then There Were None" is a small cog in the propaganda machine of the Hawaiian grievance industry, similar to the role of "Roots" or "To Kill a Mockingbird" in the African-American grievance industry, or "Diary of Ann Frank" or "Exodus" or "Sophie's Choice" or "Schindler's List" in the Jewish grievance industry. Kumu Kahua Theatre recently put on a play based on the famous Massie case to remind us of anti-Hawaiian racism of 60 years ago. The TV movies "Betrayal" and "A Nation Within" stirred passions about the overthrow of 1893. Nalani Olds has found her niche going on tour singing songs composed by the overthrown Queen Lili'uokanali, making us sad that such a wonderful Hawaiian leader was treated so harshly by those evil haoles. Perhaps next Thanksgiving and Christmas will see the addition of more books, plays, or films to the growing Hawaiian victimhood genre. But the biggest tear-jerker in the near future would be the tragedy all Hawai'i's people will face if the Akaka bill passes and our beautiful rainbow is permanently splintered into separate colors. And the biggest tear-jerker long-term would be the worsening balkanization and racial animosity that is fostered, at least in part, by the aggravated anger caused on all sides by victimhood propaganda like this book.
It seems a fitting conclusion to quote the closing paragraph of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rice v. Cayetano.
"When the culture and way of life of a people are all but engulfed by a history beyond their control, their sense of loss may extend down through generations; and their dismay may be shared by many members of the larger community. As the State of Hawaii attempts to address these realities, it must, as always, seek the political consensus that begins with a sense of shared purpose. One of the necessary beginning points is this principle: The Constitution of the United States, too, has become the heritage of all the citizens of Hawaii."
NOTE added in June 2011: A friend called my attention to the fact that the 26-minute nationally televised PBS tearjerker propaganda film "Then There Were None" is now available on the internet:
Then There Were None
"A personal story of the effects of colonization on the Hawaiian people."
"This compelling story of a race displaced and now on the verge of extinction is brilliantly told in this award-winning documentary created by the great-granddaughter of Hawaiian high chiefs and English seafarers."
Thomas Sowell, a nationally syndicated African-American columnist who opposes reparations for slavery, published a wonderful article on February 14, 2004 in the Washington Times, entitled "The Brotherhood of Man." In that short article he describes the evils of ethnic nationalism, race-based governments, and collective reparations for historic grievances. See:
The Reverend Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Senior, often called simply "Uncle Charlie," is sometimes also called the Rev. Al Sharpton of Hawai'i. Maxwell, like Sharpton, demands racial reparations for historical grievances. He (ab)uses a position of trust within his ethnic community, and a title indicating spirituality, by threatening us that Hawaiians are "a warrior people" and "our backs are up against the wall" so those reparations are long past-due.
Are ethnic Hawaiians entitled to reparations for the overthrow of the monarchy or other historical grievances? A detailed scholarly analysis of this issue was done by Honolulu attorney Patrick Hanifin. See:
In August, 2002 an important administrator at Kamehameha School publicly stated the concept that Hawaiian language and culture should be a primary vehicle for ethnic nationbuilding, and that the arts are powerful tools for political consciousness-raising. He said Kamehameha School should be the leader in such a movement. The author, Randie K. Fong, is head of Kamehameha Schools Performing Arts Department. His newspaper commentary, and Ken Conklin's analysis of the dangers of such a policy, can be found at:
Why do Hawai'i's people tolerate and seemingly support racial separatism and ethnic nationalism? Perhaps it can be explained by the "mascot syndrome." See:
Playing Favorites -- Da Punahele Race. A further exploration of the "mascot syndrome" as applied to support for Kamehameha School's racially exclusionary admissions policy as demonstrated in the red-shirt march of September 2003 and in the amicus statements submitted by people with no Hawaiian ancestry in support of Kamehameha's policy.
According to the U.S. Census, in the year 2000 there were 240,000 ethnic Hawaiians living in Hawai'i, plus 60,000 living in California, plus 100,000 living in the other 48 states, for a total of over 401,000. For a spreadsheet showing the state-by-state population of ethnic Hawaiians, see
The data for age and income of ethnic Hawaiians were taken from U.S. Census Bureau figures as reported at the website of the State of Hawai'i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT). See:
The victimhood theme of Hawaiians as a dying race, although proved false by the population and income data listed above, is loudly trumpeted by OHA trustee Boyd Mossman as a major reason to pass the Akaka bill. On May 27, 2003 he published an article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, also widely published in other venues, entitled: "Hawaiians must unite or vanish into history." He says: "If we fail, if we lose in the courts, if we cannot convince Congress of the potential elimination of an entire people who once ruled themselves, if we cannot convince the Hawaiians themselves and bring them together in a united effort, then you will have seen the last of the Hawaiians as we know them today. ... We will melt into history, becoming only a memory."
Henry Opukaha'ia (Obookiah) -- Native Hawaiian Travels to New England in 1809, Converts to Christianity, Joins Other Native Hawaiians Already Studying at Yale University, and Persuades Yale Divinity Students to Come to Hawai'i as Missionaries in 1820 to Rescue His People From Their "Heathen" Beliefs and Lifestyle.
GREGORY SHEPHERD'S REVIEW OF "THEN THERE WERE NONE" NARRATED PERFORMANCE WITH THE HONOLULU SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The Honolulu Advertiser, Sunday, November 3, page A11
Not available in the Advertiser on-line archives, therefore no URL can be provided.
Article can be found on microfilm in the Hawai'i Public Library.
Article contents sent to Ken Conklin by e-mail and reprinted with permission of the author, Gregory E. Shepherd. Mr. Shepherd asked that his e-mail address not be posted, but anyone wishing to contact him is welcome to send e-mail to Ken_Conklin@yahoo.com for forwarding to Mr. Shepherd.
'Masterworks' A Tottering Soapbox
by Gregory Shepherd
What the heck were they thinking at the Honolulu Symphony when they put together this week's program?
Titled "Cinematic Masterworks," a goodly portion of the program is a tottering soapbox for the social theories of Dr. Elizabeth Kapu'uwailani Lindsey Buyers via her latest film "And Then There Were None," and a masterwork it ain't, not by any stretch of the imagination.
In fact it's difficult to figure out just what her "documentary" is other than a tendentious harangue about the evil haoles (disingenuously called "the newcomers" in the film) and the depredations they visited upon the native populace. Of course, it is undeniable that these depredations did in fact occur, but Lindsey Buyers' reduction of 200 years of history into a 25-minute oppressor/victim dialectic turns that history into a politically correct cartoon and not a very good one at that.
In an early portion of her on-stage narration of the film, Lindsey Buyers states, in a voice fairly quaking with victimhood, "The newcomers bring diseases against which Hawaiians have no
immunity." That was, of course, true, but "the newcomers" also brought, among many other positive things, the writing system that makes this newspaper possible, as well as a technological tradition that led to the invention of the movie camera which made "And Then There Were None" possible.
Another example of Lindsey Buyers' shoddy methodology is her manipulation of statistics for the decreasing numbers of native Hawaiians. As the numbers plummet throughout the film over images of greedy haole overseers and starving Hawaiian children, only the barest mention is made
of the intermarriage that was and always has been a major factor in that decrease. It is, at the very least, remiss of a film maker who is alive today as a result of such intermarriage (she is
identified in the program notes as Hawaiian, Chinese and an unidentified European "newcomer" stock) to give short shrift to the main reason for the decrease in the population of "pure" (her word) Hawaiians.
Lindsey Buyers' parting shot in the film is that by the middle of the 21st century there will not be a single "pure" Hawaiian left, but she does not give the slightest indication as to what she
thinks should be done to remedy this. Indeed, the only thing that seems possible would be to restrict current "pure" Hawaiians to marrying others of similarly unsullied lineage. But there's no victimhood in that, and Lindsey Buyers doesn't raise the issue.
The music for the film is taken from Lalo Shifrin's "Liliuokalani Symphony" with chants performed by Kumu John Ka'imikaua and two other gentlemen who are unidentified in the program. These chants and additional singing at the film's conclusion by the children's chorus, Na Leo Kuho'okahi, were actually the most effective parts of Friday night's performance.
The music for the rest of the program takes a backseat to "And Then There Were None" and of the three other pieces performed (Copland's "Music for Theater," Charles Strouse's "Concerto
America" and Gershwin's "An American in Paris") only the Gershwin has anything memorable about it.
Gregory Shepherd has been the Advertiser's classical music critic since 1987.
WANDA ADAMS BOOK REVIEW OF "THEN THERE WERE NONE" FOCUSING ON VICTIMHOOD AND PAIN
The Honolulu Advertiser, Monday, November 24, 2003
Book explores how history lives on as pain
"THEN THERE WERE NONE" by Martha H. Noyes
Bess Press, hardback, $10.95
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Books Editor
Writer Martha H. Noyes and filmmaker Elizabeth Lindsey Buyers met in Hollywood and were immediately drawn to each other: Both were from the Islands, and missing home. Both were seeking fame and fortune in a tough town.
"What we're trying to say is the pain Hawaiians feel is real. It has consequences," Martha Noyes said. As Noyes new book, "Then There Were None" is released, things they talked about that first day still resonate with them. It was a conversation that would bear much fruit, including the book a small but well-designed piece, essentially the script of a film Noyes wrote with Buyers, matched with old photos from the state archives.
In spare but poetic English that matches the Hawaiian chants and poetry that are also part of the text, Noyes juxtaposes the photos with bits of history, anecdotes, excerpts from documents and other revealing information. The book, she writes in the introduction, "is not a history text. In neither the film nor the book have we attempted objectivity. What drove our work was the absence of material expressing the experience of being Hawaiian during the last two hundred years."
Back in 1985 in Hollywood, Noyes recalled, "both of us felt somehow diminished less talented, less intelligent, less well-educated" because of the attitudes of people who around them who couldn't see past stereotypes of carefree, happy Hawaiians.
Noyes recalls a meeting she had about a love story she wrote. A $10,000 contract was on the table. All she had to do was change the Hawaiians in the story to Caucasians. "I thought, 'I am so tired of tuna and rice, but I don't need the money that much.' I thanked him and left. I was in tears."
Noyes is not Hawaiian, but she has adoptive "aunties," and she has lived here nearly 30 years.
Her concern for Hawaiians is in part because of her own background: born in San Francisco in a home for unwed mothers, adopted by highly educated and well-traveled parents, living on the Mainland and in Europe before settling in Hawai'i in 1965, when she was a junior in high school. She once lived in the South, where she experienced prejudice partly because she was adopted and her ethnicity was a mystery. (She recently learned that she is French, Italian, German, Scottish and Iroquois.) When she arrived here, Noyes thought she wouldn't have to deal with racism anymore.
Buyers, a former Miss Hawai'i who has acted in TV and film and made several award-winning documentary films, was born and reared here. She returned from the Mainland about the same time as Noyes and lives in Hilo now.
The two kept in touch after they came home in the early 1990s. They worked on a KITV series, "Legacy of Light," and then on Buyers' film version of "Then There Were None," released in 1995. Buyers saw the film as a way of telling stories that, at that point, were little known, stories that Hawaiians had been unwilling to tell even to their children or grandchildren out of caution or shame, such as how the language was officially suppressed in the schools.
The film had a Public Broadcasting System outing around the country and won a Best Documentary prize at the Toronto Film Festival in 1997.
Buyers says she toured the country with the film and never encountered any controversy Κuntil she got home. Last year, an experimental version of the film paired with music and limited narration caused a stir when it was presented by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Advertiser music critic Gregory Shepherd condemned the work, and some patrons found it "inappropriate."
Buyers, who is somewhat surprised to still be talking about this film so many years after its release, said it was interesting to find out that even in Honolulu in 2002, "there are places where it's not yet safe for us."
"I thought we were in the process of building bridges of understanding," she said. "But we live in a duplicitous society where there is a great deal that has never been talked about. At least the incident was a catalyst for discussion, and I believe it's important for us to talk ... that's the only way healing can take place."
She also said the reaction by the Symphony audience might have had to do with the fact that most narration was omitted.
Noyes' book contains the lines they did not hear.
It was an extremely painful time for Buyers and Noyes, who nevertheless say the controversy only goes to their original point.
That point is this: What happened to Hawaiians the overthrow of the monarchy, the denigration of their culture and religion, the deaths from imported diseases, the lack of political, social and economic power in plantation times caused pain. Previous generations masked that pain with an outward aloha spirit and an inner silence. The present generation is more likely to acknowledge anger and frustration born of that pain, but still experiences helplessness.
"What we're trying to say is the pain Hawaiians feel is real. It has consequences. These historical acts are the source of the pain. ... Until we acknowledge that the emotion exists, and it is justified, we are just running around trying to prove to each other whose history is better. And that's not the point," Noyes said.
Neither film nor book are meant as an indictment of any group. "I don't know if it benefits anyone to lay blame on people of another era," Noyes said. "There's a big difference between blaming people of the past and acknowledging that what occurred in the past caused pain."
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