THE USE OF HAWAIIAN RELIGION TO CLAIM THAT PEOPLE WITH HAWAIIAN ANCESTRY HAVE AN INHERENT, INALIENABLE RIGHT TO CONTROL THE LAND AND THE GOVERNMENT


(c) Copyright 2003 - 2006, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved


Earlier it was explained that according to the Kumulipo creation myth, the gods gave birth to the Hawaiian islands. Later sky-father Wakea had a sacred ni'aupi'o mating with his own daughter, the goddess Ho'ohokukalani, producing the taro plant and then the first Hawaiian. Thus the gods, the land, the taro plant, and the Hawaiians are all related as members of a family, with a hierarchy of rights and duties ranked genealogically according to the order of birth.

For ethnic Hawaiians who believe this myth, and for others who choose to honor it, the question of greatest concern for the politics of Hawaiian sovereignty is this: was Haloa the first Hawaiian, or the first Polynesian, or the first human being?

The sovereignty activists interpret the myth to mean that Haloa was the first Hawaiian, and the entire Kumulipo took place in Hawai'i. Therefore the gods, the Hawaiian islands, and the ethnic Hawaiians are all related as members of a family, and anyone lacking Hawaiian blood is not a member of this family and does not share the same rights and responsibilities. Hawai'i is the homeland of the ethnic Hawaiians, and everyone else is merely a guest. Ethnic Hawaiians have an intimate, unbreakable connection to the land of Hawai'i that is not shared with others who lack native blood. If that were true, then only people with Hawaiian ancestry (or subordinates they hire and supervise) should be allowed to make decisions about the way land is used in Hawai'i.

The application of such a concept would be extremely broad. For example, the motto of the State of Hawai'i is: "Ua mau ke ea o ka 'aina i ka pono." That sentence is officially translated to mean "the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness." But that sounds very peculiar. What does it mean, "the life of the land"? The sentence was originally uttered by Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III on July 31, 1843. A rogue British naval officer had seized control of Hawai'i for five months. After an appeal was made to the British government, Admiral Thomas sailed into Honolulu harbor at what is now called "Thomas Square" and delivered a document restoring sovereignty to the Hawaiian king. A huge crowd followed the King and his most trusted advisor, the Rev. Dr. Gerrit Judd, to Kawaiaha'o Church, where Judd stood on the steps and loudly read the English-language proclamation to the crowd in fluent Hawaiian. The King then uttered his famous one-liner. Clearly it means "Sovereignty has been preserved because it was pono -- the right thing to do." The phrase "life of the land" really means "sovereignty." But the underlying concept is interesting. The land lives. It is a living creature, born of the mating of the gods. Humans owe allegiance to the land as to a parent. Political sovereignty, at least to the King in 1843, meant the same thing as "the life of the land." Thus, the Hawaiian claim to a collective racial right to control the use of the land turns out to be a claim to a racial right to control the government in its entirety.

Today's activists sometimes make the startling statement that their claims for political power are not based on race, but genealogy. This is what they mean: ethnic Hawaiians are entitled by "natural law" (based on Kumulipo) to exercise sovereignty in Hawai'i. The U.S. Supreme Court in Rice v. Cayetano decreed "ancestry can be a proxy for race" and decided that the restriction of voting rights to ethnic Hawaiians was therefore an unconstitutional violation of the 15th Amendment clause which says "the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged ... on account of race." Despite the common-sense understanting that race and genealogy have identical meanings regarding "Native Hawaiians," and despite the Supreme Court's confirmation of that understanding, Hawaiian activists assert that the right of Hawaiians to control the land of Hawai'i is genealogical and not racial. We can understand at least the mythical sense of their distinction in light of the "natural law" argument based on Kumulipo.

For two decades various committees of the United Nations have been working on a Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But the draft declaration has remained only a draft, or "trial balloon," because the recognized nation-states have been unwilling to recognize special rights for indigenous people that might allow secession or exemption from the plenary powers of the nation-states. The basic assumption behind the theory that indigenous people are entitled to special rights comes from a belief that Indigenous people sprung up out of the land, or have such an intimate daily relationship with the land that they are indissolubly connected with it. A dependency on the land for subsistence farming, fishing, or hunting that has persisted from time immemorial would make it immoral for a nation-state to disrupt that relationship. For example, the United States generally recognizes "aboriginal land title" as the ownership of land by a group of indigenous people whose tenure in a place is older than the existence of the United States, and whose ownership of the land does not depend on any deeds or paper documents. In Maine, for example, the Penobscot and Passamaquody tribes successfully relied on the concept of aboriginal land title to call into doubt the modern land titles in about 60% of the entire state. After years of lawsuits, the State of Maine and the federal government gave the tribes a huge cash settlement along with land. See:
http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/25/1721.html

Indigenous people throughout the world have a special relationship to the land where they have lived for hundreds of generations. But so far there is no agreement on what makes a group of people indigenous. Does "indigenous" mean being there first? But what if the "first people" got killed off or pushed out or overwhelmed by a newer group? In Hawai'i the Marquesans were overwhelmed and possibly killed off by the Tahitians who arrived a thousand years later. Does "indigenous" mean whatever ethnic group still lives there and has the longest tenure on the land? In that case, many ethnic groups would be considered indigenous that are not usually thought of that way -- for example, today's Irish people, English people, French, etc.

If a family has lived in the same area for four or five generations, the young adults have never known their family elders who came to that place from somewhere else. Thus, four or five generations in a certain place is the same as a hundred generations in that place, as far as considering that place to be the ancestral homeland. When nobody now living is able to hear stories from a still-living elder whose childhood memories are based in a different place, then the family can rightfully claim where they live to be their homeland. The only way to claim that a hundred generations is more significant than five generations is to believe some sort of "natural law" argument for a genealogical family connection among the local gods, the land, and the people. Such a natural-law or metaphysical argument for a race-based group right to political power is the underlying theory behind the concept of "indigenous rights." Without such a theory, immigrants in place for only a few generations would be morally entitled to equal rights with the "indigenous" people.

Although the sovereignty activists would like to interpret Kumulipo to be exclusively the story of ethnic Hawaiians, most scholars who carefully study it conclude that it is at least as broad as Polynesians in general, and probably includes all mankind. For example, Chapter 21 of Beckwith's book, cited above, describes the prevalence of this myth throughout Polynesia, and on page 119 Beckwith says David Malo (ethnic Hawaiian historian and political activist of the mid 1800s) calls Haloa "progenitor of all the peoples of the earth." Rubellite Kawena Johnson, a greatly respected ethnic Hawaiian kupuna and professor of Hawaiian studies who has made her own translation of Kumulipo, stated publicly at 'Iolani Palace in 2003, during a performance of her own play based on Kumulipo, that she recognizes Kumulipo is not racially exclusionary.

But regardless of arguments over how to interpret Kumulipo, it is simply unacceptable for a thoroughly integrated multiracial society to allow one race to claim permanent legal and political supremacy. Whether that race is in the majority, as whites were in the Southern United States during slavery, or whether the superior race is in the minority as the whites were in South Africa under apartheid, racial supremacy is no longer acceptable today. Claims for racial or ethnic political supremacy have caused tremendous suffering within the past decade in Rwanda (Tutsi vs. Hutu), Zimbabwe (blacks evicting and sometimes killing white farmers with government approval), and Fiji (Fijians of Polynesian ancestry staging a political coup against a democratically elected government headed by Asian Indian descendants of sugar plantation workers who had been imported by the British several generations previously). The world will never forget the German Holocaust based on a theory of Aryan supremacy over the Jews.

Those who choose a racially exclusionary interpretation of Kumulipo are following a very dangerous path. For example, some Zionists defend Israeli brutality toward the Palestinians by claiming that the Jews are God's chosen people. Jews are the descendants of Abraham who had a covenant with God that gave the land of Israel to his descendants through Isaac forever. This religious justification for race-based control over land is similar to the Hawaiian claims under Kumulipo, except that Hawaiians claim to be in a family relationship with the land and the gods whereas the Zionists claim to have a legal or contractual grant of sovereignty from a single all-powerful God. Other examples of religious claims to racial supremacy include the white supremacists who claim blacks are cursed by God with the mark of Cain; or followers of minister Farakhan (and the early Malcolm X) who claim white people are embodiments of the Devil. Can't we all just get along?

Today's Hawaiian "traditional practitioners" somehow think they can pick and choose which elements of the old religion to implement, and which to ignore. In an effort to make themselves seem more "indigenous" or different from people with no Hawaiian ancestry, they might wear special clothing, chant certain prayers, or perform certain rituals. But the old religion was pervasive throughout all aspects of life, and it was a seamless whole. Selecting certain elements of the old religion for a public ceremony or a private ritual might make someone feel closer to his cultural heritage, but is ineffective and even sacrilegious from the perspective of precontact culture. For example, a modern political activist might lead his followers in an awa ceremony that somewhat resembles the ancient ceremony but is truly bogus. Instead of having young people with strong teeth chew the awa root until it is soft and well-drenched with saliva before mixing it with water, today's "priests" use a powdered form of grated awa root, wrapped in a plastic baggie and purchased in a store. The drink might be passed first to the highest ranking guests, as in olden times; but today's guests might include both men and women. The drinking of awa might be accompanied by passing around a bowl filled with pieces of banana, sweet potato, taro, and coconut; but in the old days it was punishable by death for a woman to eat with a man, or for a woman to eat banana or coconut at all. The master of ceremonies might make a speech saying that the drinking of awa and eating of taro bind the people together with each other and with the gods (clearly influenced by the Catholic concept of Holy Communion, eating bread and drinking wine as taking in the body and blood of Christ). Hawaiian traditional practitioners who select religious observances they enjoy while neglecting others they dislike are as ineffective and sacrilegious as Jews or Christians who reduce the Ten Commandments to six or seven.

This selectivity in ignoring parts of Hawaiian religion is especially important on the issue of racial supremacy over the land.

These islands have been here for MILLIONS of years. Human beings have been living here for less than 2,000 years. Oral tradition tells us about the voyaging canoes, and the Polynesian Voyaging Society has traced the Polynesian Triangle, proving the scientific reasonableness of the oral tradition. Anthropologists, archeologists, and linguists all confirm that human tenure here is less than 2,000 years. Apparently the first people here, from Marquesas, were overwhelmed and either wiped out or enslaved a thousand years later by warlike invaders from Tahiti, who brought the war god and the hierarchical ali'i system. It is unclear whether any of the first people survived the slaughter and the subjugation of their lifestyle to the new regime. A few centuries later the Europeans arrived, and everything changed once again. We are all immigrants and descendants of immigrants.

But in terms of Hawaiian religion the point is this:

He ali'i ka 'aina, he kauwa ke kanaka. Land is chief; people are its humble servants.

The spirits of the land have been here for millions of years. Those spirits speak constantly in the wind and rain, and in the rocks themselves. Those spirits speak, and can be heard by anyone whose ears are attuned. It doesn't matter what someone's race or genealogy is. Some individuals can hear; others cannot.

He ali'i ka 'aina, he kauwa ke kanaka. Land is chief; people are its humble servants.

Those who say THEIR family, or THEIR race, should exercise supremacy in land use or land management are maha'oi -- guilty of pride and arrogance -- placing themselves above the land rather than as humble servants. We are ALL servants to the land. It is hewa (morally wrong) -- a violation of the servants' trust relationship with their master -- when some of the servants spend their time fighting the other servants to assert control over their master instead of serving their master. The Hawaiian sovereignty activists demanding race-based land ownership are saying they outrank the spirits of the land, who speak freely to us all. The activists are shouting so loud they can no longer hear the spirits speaking to them.

Another example of selectivity or religious revisionism is the role of the bones in determining political power. Ethnic Hawaiians say Hawai'i belongs to them because their ancestors' bones are here. Of course the same can be said of some haole families who now have 8 generations in Hawai'i, or some Chinese or Japanese families who might have 6 or 7 generations here. It's true that 30 generations (dating from the Tahitian invasion) or 100 generations (dating from the earliest possible immigrants) is a lot more than 8. Nevertheless, consider this: Nobody has more than 100 generations of bones in Hawai'i. But everybody, including koko piha kanaka -- 100% Native Hawaiians -- has THOUSANDS of generations of ancestors' bones buried elsewhere. If someone has less than 50% native blood, then obviously more than half his ancestors' bones are somewhere else in the world. But even a Native Hawaiian with 100% blood quantum has 99% of the bones of all his ancestors buried somewhere else. So there is no basis to claim special rights to all of Hawai'i because some bones of some of a person's ancestors are buried in some parts of some islands.

Hawaiian activists also use religion to claim that certain areas should be off-limits to modern construction or economic development because those areas are sacred.

First, such a claim is hard to sustain, because ALL the land is sacred. Anyone who claims a certain area is off-limits because of sacredness should be asked to tell where there is some land in Hawai'i that is not sacred.

But perhaps some areas are especially sacred. Certainly burial grounds would be sacred and should not be disturbed. The concept of race-based group rights to certain areas because of prehistoric burials has been written into the law of the United States in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. A very large webpage is devoted to NAGPRA and its implementation in Hawai'i regarding Mokapu, Honokahua, the Bishop Museum ka'ai; the Providence Museum spear rest; the Forbes Cave (Kawaihae) artifacts; and the NAGPRA-certified organization known as Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei. See:
http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/nagprahawaii.html

Some areas may be considered "sacred" because of their special association with high-ranking or important historical figures. Thus, Pu'ukohola in north Kohala is special because it is the largest heiau built by Kamehameha the Great, in fulfillment of a prophecy that by building it he would have the support of Ku the war god and could then conquer all the islands. It would seem Pu'ukohola is more treasured for its political and historical significance than for its sacredness. However, human sacrifices were performed there, and it was built in fulfillment of a divine prophecy. Thus it may be a sacred place in the same way as the mountain where God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, and then rescinded that order to make a political contract with the obedient Abraham giving sovereignty over Israel to the Jews forever.

Other areas may be especially sacred because of their special association with certain gods. Thus, the volcano on the (big) Island of Hawai'i is sacred to the Goddess Pele. The summit of Mauna Kea is the home of Poliahu, goddess of ice and snow; and is especially sacred to sky-father Wakea. Hawaiian activists claim that because of the sacredness of Mauna Kea, astronomical telescopes should not be placed there. But it is also possible to argue that the spiritual essence of Mauna Kea is fulfilled by placing telescopes there, precisely because of the Kumulipo myth. Mauna-a-Wakea is sacred to sky father, who is an ancestor of mankind and welcomes the use of technology to study the heavens. Also, Wakea mated with Ho'ohokukalani who then gave birth to the first human. Ho'ohokukalani means "she who placed the stars in the heavens." This telescopes on Mauna Kea are a way of worshiping both Wakea and Ho'ohokukalani, our ancestral parents. For further explanation see:
http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/maunakea.html

When a claim of sacredness is used as a device for asserting political power, the sincerity of the claim can be challenged. Perhaps the religious claim is the primary motivation, and the only reason for seeking political power is to protect the spiritual heritage. However, it can also work the other way. Perhaps the quest for money, land and power is the primary purpose of asserting a claim of sacredness. For example, in the case of Mauna Kea, Clayton Hee as Chairman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs stated publicly that a few million dollars for race-based scholarships would go a long way toward resolving the dispute (see the webpage above for documentation). Claims of sacredness at Makua Valley are clearly motivated primarily by a political purpose, to harass the military and force an eventual withdrawal of the military from Hawai'i, eventually leading to ripping the 50th star off the U.S. flag. See:
http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/makua.html

Hawaiian language and a Christianized version of Hawaiian religion are used for ceremonial purposes to assert ethnic Hawaiian hegemony throughout all institutions in Hawai'i, including the Legislature. It is customary in Hawai'i for meetings to open with a prayer, often delivered entirely or partly in Hawaiian language. Hawaiian language is often used in political activity to lend an aura of respect for "indigenous rights" and to provide a sense of mystery and solemnity. The situation is comparable to the way the Roman Catholic mass 50 years ago was performed in Latin despite the fact that very few members of the congregation understood Latin (most ethnic Hawaiians today do not understand or speak Hawaiian). The use of Latin made everything seem especially sacred, dealing with mysteries beyond the ability of most parishioners to comprehend; and it gave the congregation confidence in the divine authority of the priest. Likewise, many cultural and political events in Hawai'i begin with Christian prayer, often delivered in whole or in part in Hawaiian language, which most of Hawai'i's people, including most ethnic Hawaiians, do not understand. For a good example of this, see a transcript of a hearing at the Hawai'i Legislature on March 31, 2005 at which Senator Inouye, Congressman Abercrombie, and Congressman Case presented testimony and answered questions on the progress of the Akaka bill. The hearing was opened by state Representative Ezra Kanoho leading the "congregation" in singing the Christian Doxology in Hawaiian language, followed by a prayer in English calling upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to watch over the proceedings and to help bring people together to support the Akaka bill. See:
http://www.angelfire.com/hi5/bigfiles3/AkakaHawLegisBrfngFedDeleg033105.html

Another interesting intersection between spirituality and politics concerns hula, gathering rights, film production, and "intellectual property rights."

In the early 1990s an organization known as Public Access Shoreline Hawai'i filed a lawsuit to stop a construction project planned for an area of shoreline where ethnic Hawaiians claimed to have a tradition of gathering various foods. When the final appeal of the PASH decision was resolved in 1996, Hawai'i law began to get interpreted to mean that ethnic Hawaiians had special rights, based on tradition and custom, to gather various materials, even if doing so would involve trespassing on other people's private property. For a detailed scholarly analysis of the PASH decision by Honolulu attorney Paul M. Sullivan, see:
http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/sullivanpash.html

Following that decision ethnic Hawaiians became more assertive about using their "native gathering rights." The Hawai'i Legislature made an attempt to pass legislation to regulate those gathering rights (which the court decision clearly stated the Legislature has the right to do), and a group of "native practitioners" under the leadership of kumu hula Vicky Takamine organized a large political rally at the state capitol that included pounding loudly on large pahu drums (the sort of drums that are used in sacred hula and were anciently used in religious ceremonies). The Legislators proposing such legislation felt intimidated and withdrew it, and to this day no regulatory laws have been enacted. The group of protesters organized themselves as "'Ilio'ulaokalani." That group has been given official standing in court cases where it has intervened to defend race-based gathering rights, such as in the Barrett case.

Part of the theory of 'Ilio'ulaokalani is that various flowers and ferns are the kinolau (body forms) of certain gods, and also that sacred hula, or hula kahiko, requires the dancers to ceremonially gather their materials and make their own costumes and lei. So it is part of their right to freely exercise their religion that they should be able to gather their sacred materials, especially in areas where their ancestors traditionally did such gathering, even if today's private landowners have posted "no trespassing" signs or have actually done some partial development of the land. And landowners can be prohibited from developing the land unless they provide protection of culturally significant species and provide ways for traditional practitioners to have access to gather materials.

Another area of intersection between Hawaiian religion and politics has been social pressure from Vicky Takamine and other traditional practitioners to try to persuade Roman Catholic and other Christian congregations to stop using hula as part of their church services. The Catholic Church hierarchy has always had grave misgivings about hula, partly because many hula motions appear sexually explicit and partly because hula has its origins in pagan sacred ceremonies. The Calvinist missionaries to Hawai'i starting in 1820 did political lobbying with the King and high chiefs, and were eventually successful in getting laws passed that prohibited public hula performances. King Kalakaua in the late 1800s successfully reinstated public hula by having performances at 'Iolani Palace, and in modern times hula is a greatly loved part of the general culture of Hawai'i that everyone participates in, including thousands of people with no native ancestry. People love the hula so much that people who are not ethnic Hawaiian want to include it in church services as part of the general musical and artistic activities associated with religious worship. But some ethnic Hawaiian "traditional practitioners" claim to be offended by such "misuse" or "profanity" of what they consider sacred.

In discussing the relationship between spirituality and politics, it is also important to take note of the way language is used, and especially Hawaiian language. A Hawaiian 'olelo no'eau (proverb) about language seems especially appropriate here: I ka 'olelo no ke ola, i ka 'olelo no ka make. Literally, it translates: In language there is life, in language there is death. There are, of course, several meanings or interpretations. Here are some, in order from obvious to subtle: (1) The words of a king can sentence someone to life or death. (2) Words are powerful, and once spoken they take on a life of their own and cannot be retracted. Precontact Hawaiians believed that speaking something might actually make it come true. Prayers were an essential component of medicinal healing. Sorcerers could allegedly pray someone to death. Even the Christian bible includes the concept that language can produce reality, as in the spectacular creation story in John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" or the statement in Hebrews 11:3 "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." (3) Here is another explanation: In (Hawaiian) language there is life (for the Hawaiian culture), in (absence of Hawaiian) language there is death (for the Hawaiian culture). (4) The Hawaiian language immersion program is a way to re-invigorate the Hawaiian culture because the language contains the culture inside it; thus, in the language there is life. But the Hawaiian language immersion program could cause serious trouble for ethnic Hawaiians and for the general public. Children might get overwhelmed by the cultural content of the Hawaiian-language lessons -- the mythology of Hawaiian racial supremacy (the creation story of being descended from the gods), cultural primacy, and political entitlement based on race. In this way the language could produce the death of unity, democracy, and equality. For further discussion of the political role of the Hawaiian language immersion program, see:
http://www.angelfire.com/hi2/hawaiiansovereignty/hawlangimmersionnationalism.html

In May and June, 2005 a dispute erupted over the question whether the University of Hawai'i should sponsor (or even allow) research on the genetic modification of taro. Those in favor of such research say that it might be possible to create a kind of taro that would be resistant to diseases and pests, and would grow faster. Thus the taro industry would become more viable, ethnic Hawaiians could get more of their traditional food at lower prices, and Hawaiian farmers could earn a living from a traditional crop. But those opposed cite the creation legend including the idea that taro is mankind's elder brother and it would be sacrilegious to tamper with it. The following letter to editor by Walter Ritte claims that the government and people of the State of Hawai'i are obligated to obey ethnic Hawaiians when the Hawaiians demand a prohibition on genetic modification of taro, both for religious reasons and because of the claim to being "indigenous."

http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2005/Jun/07/op/op10pletters.html
Honolulu Advertiser, Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Letters to the Editor

Hawaiian genealogy can't be exploited by science

Your May 24 editorial "Taro research should be allowed to continue" starts off wrong, announcing an event a "public forum ... to discuss" when in fact it was a ceremony to recognize, honor and protect Haloa, our first born in Hawaiian genealogy, who became taro or kalo. Then you sent no one to cover the event.

Your editorial talks about taro as a commodity, using terms such as market demand as adjectives. Your article was culturally offensive and shallow as if your paper had just moved here from New York.

If you attended our event and did just a little homework, you would have witnessed an indigenous culture exercising customary practices to their first-born Haloa, their brother. It is no small matter when an indigenous people share their traditional knowledge and genealogy, and the dominant culture refuses to listen. May 24 was a time when we made it perfectly clear that there is a kapu placed on all genetic modifications of our genealogical brother the taro. It was not a time for non-Hawaiians to tell us to sacrifice our genetic makeup for the good of the marketplace.

To make our 'aina a commodity in the first 1848 Mahele is even more culturally offensive as you now suggest we change the genes of our biodiversity to be patented and owned, to begin the new Mana Mahele of this century.

If it is impossible for you to understand "cultural offensiveness," then how about bioethics? Your lack of understanding of this issue and writing an editorial to sway public opinion are detrimental to all. Even freedom of speech does not allow you to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. There should be limits to academic and research freedoms when they conflict with the indigenous culture.

You cannot change the genes of the Hawaiians without their consent. You cannot own our traditional knowledge, intellectual property rights or our biodiversity.

Walter Ritte
Kaunakakai, Moloka'i

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** Note from website editor Ken Conklin: The news report below illustrates the following: A claim that a religious belief should entitle a racial group to exercise supremacy over scientific research and over patent law; a claim that a racial group should exercize supremacy over government decision-making; the commission of vandalism against university property as an act of public defiance, justified on the basis of a racial right to rule. Perhaps most astonishing is that the vandalism was the dismantling of a rock garden, despite complaints about the dismantling of the 'Iolani Palace rock pile about ten days previously **

http://www.kaleo.org/vnews/display.v/ART/2006/03/06/440caf9fa2c44
Ka Leo O Hawaii (University of Hawaii student newspaper), March 6, 2006

Hawaiian groups voice opposition to taro patents

By Matthew K. Ing Ka Leo Staff Writer

More than 600 people gathered in front of Bachman Hall on Thursday to confront interim President David McClain in protest of patents of hybridized Hawaiian taro by the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

McClain did not make an appearance at the rally and was unavailable for comment prior to press time.

"Isn't it funny that McClain should choose to take the day off?" Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, UHM professor, asked the crowd. "Isn't it fitting that the man who is to become our president is not here to greet the Hawaiian people?"

After chastising McClain in front of Bachman Hall, Kame'eleihiwa noted the locked doors of the building. "In over 100 years, that door has never been closed to the faculty and students of the university," she said.

The rally climaxed when Hinaleimoana Wong, an instructor at the Hawaiian charter school, Halau Lokahi, led the crowd in dismantling the rock garden in front of the hall. The pohaku, or rocks, carry mana like everything else in nature, and every Hawaiian is connected to the land, Wong said, instructing each protestor to take a single stone. "When [McClain] comes back to his lovely garden, he will be reminded of the wrong," she said.

Patenting a people

Various Hawaiian charter schools, Hawaiian activist groups, taro farmers, and supporters of native Hawaiian rights came together to challenge the university's legitimacy in claiming what Hawaiians believe to be their eldest ancestor, Haloa, the first kalo.

"The reason we're gathered is to honor Haloa," said Walter Ritte, a chief organizer of the rally. "We are Haloa, and Haloa is us. No one can own us." A Moloka'i native and long-time Hawaiian activist, Ritte, along with a few Hawaiian kalo farmers, is spearheading the fight against the patent.

Ritte also compared the patents to a second mahele. "The first mahele was a division of land," Ritte said, referring to the decision by King Kamehameha III in 1845 to redistribute Hawaiian land for private ownership. "This second mahele is not the mahele of land but the mahele of mana. They do not have the right to buy, sell, own and manipulate our mana."

"We will join people from around the world in fighting the ownership of peoples," said Vicky Holt Takamine, kumu hula and president of 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, a Hawaiian cultural activist group.

Holt Takamine referenced similar ongoing struggles in Middle America, particularly southern Mexico. Stemming from an ancient lineage tracing back to the maize in ancient Mayan culture, the 18 distinct peoples in modern Mexico referred to as "the people of the corn" are currently fighting the genetic modification and patenting of various strands of corn by research organizations.

Ritte submitted a written proposal to McClain demanding the rescinding of the three patents on Hawaiian kalo in Feb. Backed by various Hawaiian activist groups and anti-genetic modification organizations, such as the Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., Ritte attacked the legitimacy of the patents and their noncompliance to the United Nation's World Intellectual Property Organization and United States patenting laws.

Professor Jon Osorio publicly issued UHM's Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies position against the patenting of kalo by UHM or any other claimant. Representatives for the Kuali'i Council, the 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, and the Puko'a Council also publicly relayed their separate organization's positions against the patenting of kalo.

"There is a disconnect between what the university's doing and its effects on the Hawaiian community," Ritte said through a megaphone met by scattered cheers of agreement in Hawaiian. "We're here to spread the word that academic freedom does not mean you have the freedom to trample over someone's culture." Patenting one solution

At one point in the rally, Kame'eleihiwa met UHM interim Chancellor Denise Konan and Andrew Hashimoto, dean of CTAHR. Konan was met with an embrace from Kame'eleihiwa and applause from onlookers because of her opposition to the proposed University Affiliated Research Center, Hashimoto was met with silence, shaking heads and mutters.

"We live in a changing time," Hashimoto said. "Patents are necessary. If we didn't patent it, who's to say some more powerful force wouldn't patent it and abuse it?"

"We at CTAHR do not have the independent power to relinquish the patents," said Ching Yuan Hu, associate dean and associate director for research at CTAHR. "The patent belongs to the inventor and to [UHM's] Office of Technology Transfer. Both owners have half of the ownership."

The patent, obtained in 2002, gives UHM and inventor, Professor Eduardo E. Trujillo, ownership over the three developed strains of taro. The taro is derived from the most popular breed of Hawaiian kalo with high-yielding and disease-resistant traits hybridized from separate father plants.

Hashimoto used the cultural analogy of kalo as man, comparing the devastation of ancient Hawaiians from foreign disease to the threat of foreign disease currently affecting native kalo populations. "UHM has been working on taro for more than 100 years. One of the first projects ever at the university one that we're still pursuing is how to make quality taro that resists disease," he said.

"There is a complex of viruses wiping out every variety of taro in New Guinea right now," Hashimoto said. "If it were to reach Hawai'i, all of our taro would be wiped out in no time."

Even if the New Guinea virus does not reach Hawai'i, Hashimoto estimates that in 100 years, the 60 or so Hawaiian varieties of kalo that now exist would be one or two at most if the university were not allowed to continue research.

"The Hawaiians themselves were also skilled in breeding taro for specific purposes. Hawaiians brought only six to 12 varieties of taro with them when they first came to Hawaii and produced more than 1200 varieties," he said.

The debate continues

While Hashimoto spoke, a single onlooker booed him loudly; however, the rest strained to listen. In time, the "boo" drew more hostility, and scattered yells of "no patents!" slowly grew into a clamor.

As Ritte took the megaphone from his hands, Hashimoto returned to the background. "We are not a commodity," Ritte said. "This is one issue that we [native Hawaiian organizations] can all agree on. Even though we may not always agree on politics and choices for our nation, for this, we can be united."

"The university is once again reminded that it is illegally occupying the land of our people," said Nalani Minton, an activist for native Hawaiian self-determination. "This 'aina [land] will not be demeaned or owned as property by the university or anyone else."

Hinaleimoana Wong of Halau Lokahi spoke against McClain before instructing the crowds to dismantle the rock garden in front of Bachman Hall and leading her Hawaiian charter school in traditional chants and dances. "This is fornication against will rape of a people," she said. The two other Hawaiian charter schools in attendance, Halau Ku Mana and Ke Kula O Kamakau, also offered chants and dances.

"CTAHR and all of our Hawaiian groups are in the process of sitting down initiating a conversation about this issue," Kame'eleihiwa said. She also urged all of the protesters to attend the anti-UARC rally at Leeward Community College on March 16.

"We really need to come to a common ground between the cultural values of the native Hawaiians and those of the academic institution," Hashimoto said. "The real challenge here is a balance conflict."

"If, after meeting and talking about the issue, Hawaiians made a decision against research that represented the group as a whole, I'd back off for good without argument, though I'm not sure what the consequences would be in the future," he said.

The reasons for outcry

Palehua, Pa'akala, and Pauakea are the names of the three types of kalo. The University of Hawai'i at Manoa is in charge of assigning the patents of these three varieties of Hawaiian taro. The "inventor" of the kalo is Eduardo E. Trujillo. All three patents were granted in 2002.

These three varieties were derived from the un-patented "Maui Lehua." The Hawaiians bred the Maui Lehua from a few Hawaiian-Polynesian taros first introduced in the 4th and 5th century A.D. Therefore, the three patents are invalidated by prior art.

According to the letter sent to Hashimoto, the inventor Trujillo admitted that "no controlled experiments have been done to confirm the preliminary observations." The letter also suggests that the patent was granted according to properties that were not entirely accurate because they had not been thoroughly tested.

The collection of royalties from farmers, the prohibitions placed on farmers and the unrestricted access to the farmed plants is not befitting of a publicly-funded institution that is meant to serve the public.


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