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

First, a brief digression to mention a very old Roman Catholic document that has virtually no impact on real-life politics, but is cited by “indigenous rights” activists as being historically and morally important. One small group of “indigenous rights” activists worldwide has been trying to persuade the Catholic Church to rescind a papal bull “Inter Caetera” from 1493. That is not a typographical error. The date is 1493, one year after Christopher Columbus “discovered” the “new world.” The question arose, how should the new world be divided up between the naval powers Spain and Portugal so they wouldn’t go to war with each other over jurisdictional claims. The Pope issued an official pronouncement drawing a line on the map to allocate territory between those two nations. The document clearly indicated that white people of the Catholic faith had the right to manage the affairs of the savages and to forcibly convert them to Christianity. The document has never been rescinded, and was used historically as a legal and religious justification for military occupation, political repression, economic exploitation, and brutality toward indigenous peoples. In Hawai’i there was no brutality toward the natives to convert them to Christianity -- the natives eagerly embraced the new religion. Nevertheless, Hawaiian sovereignty activists regard the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera” as a foundation for “white man’s burden” and “manifest destiny” which they claim shaped U.S. policy toward Hawai’i. They say the document afforded moral “cover” to the “military invasion” of 1893, the overthrow of the monarchy by white sugar planters descended from Christian missionaries, and the “forcible” annexation of Hawai’i by a “unilateral” joint resolution of Congress. Accordingly, a small group of ethnic Hawaiians and non-native supporters gather each October (at the time of Columbus Day) in front of the cathedral in downtown Honolulu to ceremonially burn a copy of “Inter Caetera.” See:
There is also an international petition to the Pope to rescind the document:

Hula provides an excellent case study in political conflict over religious differences between Christianity and the old Hawaiian religion. Tourists in Hawai’i often think hula is merely a pleasant, sexually suggestive form of entertainment. If someone tells them there is a hula goddess, the tourists might think it’s a joke, and might respond “Yeah, there sure is; I saw her dancing topless at that nightclub. But in fact there is a hula goddess (Laka), and the hula has been used for sacred worship and religious celebration for perhaps 1600 years in Hawai’i. Hula still is being used that way by some “traditional practitioners” whose authority as kumu hula (hula masters) has been handed down through geneological lines and/or through long years of apprenticeship accompanied by religious ceremonies. Some forms of hula are, indeed, intended for pure entertainment or sexual arousal. Those kinds of hula were done in ancient times as well as at present. But there are also hula so sacred that some masters have died without teaching them to the next generation for fear of making a mistake. There are hula to celebrate political or military victory, or to tell stories about everyday or extraordinary events. Most hula have several layers of meaning. Thus, a hula might seem to be describing a beautiful flower, when at a deeper level it is also describing the love of a parent for his child (the flower of his geneology) or at another level it might additionally be a sexual story about a woman’s genitalia (as the folds and fragrances of a flower). One interesting type of hula is the mele ma’i, which blatantly describes the size, shape, and stamina of a man’s genitals -- but this sort of hula is political and geneological as well as sexual, since the power of the genitalia not only gives pleasure to a woman and a man but also ensures the existence of a future generation through which geneological and political power will be passed. Thus, hula can be great fun, and very exciting; but it is certainly nothing to be laughed at.

Following are excerpts of some newspaper articles describing a theological conflict in the Catholic Church of Hawai’i (and between Hawai’i and Rome) regarding whether hula should be allowed as part of church worship services. Along the way, it turns out that ethnic Hawaiian “traditional practitioners” regard the use of hula in Christian ceremonies to be sacrilegious to the old Hawaiian religion, and they also argue that the incorporation of hula into Christian ceremonies echoes the history of European and American colonialism and “theft” of land and culture in Hawai’i. The question might then be raised, whether hula should be regarded as a type of collective cultural “intellectual property” subject to the rights of indigenous people under “international law.”


Honolulu Star-Bulletin July 9, 1998, excerpts

Dance as an expression of worship has been banned from services in Hawaii Catholic churches and schools in response to a complaint from an island resident. The announcement last month by the diocesan Office of Worship, based on instructions from the Vatican, has brought both pro and con responses from local Catholics, who occasionally may see hula or modern interpretative choreography performed to express a prayer, psalm or song. Hawaii Bishop Francis DiLorenzo will ask for a dispensation from the ban in September during a scheduled visit to Rome, said diocesan spokesman Patrick Downes. He is preparing documents for the Congregation for Divine Worship to clarify the cultural importance of dance here and what use of dance or movement actually involves. Hula was performed during DiLorenzo's installation as bishop in 1994, which was attended by the Vatican ambassador to the United States, he pointed out. It also was included at this year's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Honolulu diocese. And, he recalled, an island hula halau danced before Pope John Paul II at the 1995 celebration of the beatification of Father Damien DeVeuster in Brussels. Chaminade University's Mystical Rose Chapel is one locale where dance is woven into a reflective song or prayer during Sunday Mass. Marianist Brother Dennis Schmitz is an organizer of the campus' sacred dance organization, which leads the congregation in movement. Several nuns are among its participants. The diocesan memo quoted from a Vatican letter. "There shall be no dance of any kind in the churches of the Diocese of Honolulu, nor any dance during celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, in any circumstances whatsoever," said the letter from Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, the Congregation for Divine Worship prefect.


Honolulu Star-Bulletin December 22, 1998, excerpts

The Honolulu bishop informed Catholic pastors in the state yesterday that hula, or "cultural sacred gestures," would be allowed during Mass as long as they were expressing a form of prayer and not entertainment. Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo sent out the two-page guideline to all parishes in the diocese, said diocese spokesman Patrick Downes. The directive goes in effect Jan. 3. ... the Vatican Congregation for Sacred Worship, the office that sent out the original directive ... told him that bishops had some leeway in incorporating "cultural expressions" into Mass but that they had to set guidelines, Downes said. "Prayer would be praise, petition, thanksgiving, penitence. If these cultural sacred gestures express these things properly and respectfully, the bishop is allowing it in worship in his jurisdiction," Downes said. "The bottom line is that the directive issued by the Vatican is still enforced. Dance as performance or entertainment is not permitted. Cultural expression and sacred gesture as prayer may be incorporated as the situation permits."


Honolulu Star-Bulletin August 14, 1999, excerpts (see photo in original article)
** Note the second half of the article, discussing Hawaiian traditional practitioners' misgivings about Christians stealing Hawaiian culture and twisting it to inappropriate uses.

Cynthia Ah Yo Kupau was 6 when she started hula, and by the time she was in high school, it was part of her life, including her religion. "For a teen-ager, to read or recite was boring. I thought of dance as my way of expressing how much I loved the Lord," said Kupau, who is now a kumu hula and teacher at Maryknoll High School. That was in the 1970s, after the Second Vatican Council had opened up the format of Catholic worship to allow vernacular language instead of Latin and generated a weaving of ethnic expression into the tapestry of centuries-old tradition in worship all around the globe. "The nuns would come to retreats and show us gestures to go with prayer or hymns. We combined their gestures and hula," Kupau recalled. "When we started youth Masses, we did interpretive dance, maybe a Hawaiian Mass once a month. "The problem was, some people put too much showmanship, too much glamour and glitz. I don't like to see it in church," she said. Neither did the Vatican. Dance as an expression of worship was banned last year after the complaint of one Maui Catholic reached the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome. In a resolution reached earlier this year, church authorities recognized that "sacred gesture" is cultural expression for Pacific and Asian people. The Honolulu Diocese acknowledged it as "a form of praying with one's whole being" but set limits on its liturgical use. Dance as entertainment for the congregation is still banned. Hawaiian insight into "sacred gesture" will be discussed at a two-day workshop opening at 5 p.m. Friday at Star of the Sea Church in Waialae-Kahala. Kupau will be a speaker at the annual Hawaiian Arts and Liturgical Inculturation Awareness seminar, which will also explore Hawaiian music in worship and other aspects of Hawaiian culture and spirituality. The goal of the workshop, she said, is to give participants a foundation in the cultural background of sacred gesture, a view of what others are doing and "confidence to resume where they left off." Both Kim and Kupau are aware of the disagreements that exist among Hawaiians, about whether hula should be adapted to nontraditional use, and among Christians, some of whom oppose any deviation from church liturgical tradition, which essentially has European roots. "The first Christians here, the Calvinists, made us feel shame. They believe that the hula is lascivious, it doesn't belong in the house of the Lord." Kim said: "Theology is the explanation of faith coming out of a cultural context. So if you get theology out of Western Europe ... into a Pacific Island culture, it is not going to fully translate." People who think never the twain shall meet might reflect on the fact that "Jesus was born into a cultural context: He was a Semitic Jew, not a European." Kim has discussed liturgical use of hula with purists who object that "Hawaiian culture is being taken out of context. They are afraid that Hawaiian culture is going to be usurped, be taken over by Christianity. A lot of Hawaiians blame Christians for the overthrow of the queen, so for them it is offensive. "Yes, if we are Christian, we only believe in one God," Kim said. "So do I believe in Pele? Not as a goddess. She is an ancestor." A Christian Hawaiian need not discount beliefs in gods and aumakua, he said. "We could look at them, we can see aspects of them in the one true God. "If you get Hawaiians who are traditional, they will tell you they believe in them as gods."


The Honolulu Advertiser, August 4, 2002, excerpts

Hawaiian culture, Christianity still at odds (By Mary Kaye Ritz, Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer)

The subject has been one for strong debate in recent years as those who advocate the resurgence of Native Hawaiian cultural traditions are split over whether Christianity can be reconciled with these aims. Hawaiian scholar Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, director of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's Kamakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies and author of "Native Land and Foreign Desires," sees Christianization as playing a part in the demise of her culture. The concept of a single deity didn't — and still doesn't — sit well with Hawaiians, she said, adding she has an affection for the 40,000 gods of her ancestors. "I see a kukui tree, and know Lono lives here," she said. "I see goddess Kaneiawai rushing by in water. I see gods in every aspect of the world." Today's Hawaiian Christians are either fooling themselves about giving up that part of their culture or "they live in a constant state of denial about what Christian churches are asking them to do," she said.

The Rev. David Kauweloa Kaupu, who has dedicated his life to spreading the Christian gospel, disagrees with this viewpoint. Kaupu is former chaplain of Kamehameha Schools and now is kahu (pastor) of Kaumakapili Church, a position he has held since 1995. "I have no problems like Lilikala, trying to feel my way as a Hawaiian into my faith as Christian," he said. "... We allow many traditions of old to factor into our contemporary style of believing."

About 80 percent of today's Hawaiians have Christian leanings, estimates the Rev. Darrow Aiona, rector at St. Mark's Episcopal church in Kapahulu, who did his sociology thesis on the splintering of the Hawaiian Congregational church.

"If we could just get Westerners to follow Western religion, we'd be just fine," Kame'eleihiwa said.

The clothes and Calvinist customs from missionary days "were very harsh for us," Kame'eleihiwa said. "No dancing of hula? No celebration of life?" she asked. "That created a dichotomy in the Hawaiian mind about the correct thing to do."

The objective of the World Christian Gathering on Indigenous People "is to point people toward the creator, and not a religion per se," said conference organizer Kalani Po'omaihealani. For him, being Christian doesn't mean he is forsaking his culture. "I'm Hawaiian," he said. "My love is for my people." Po'omaihealani feels the tensions created by Hawai'i's history. "It's very difficult, sometimes, to bring people to the creator because of the stigma of what comes with Christianity. At the time of overthrow, the so-called Christian church had a great role in the overthrow," he said. And, he knows, many Hawaiians consider missionaries and the church their enemies, he said. As for monotheistic vs. polytheistic differencess, Po'omaihealani, like Lake and Kaupu, chooses to believe that there was a singular god at one time, perhaps long ago, who simply took on many names.


The Honolulu Advertiser, August 4, 2002, excerpts

Organizer says selection of Hawai'i was 'God's will' (By Mary Kaye Ritz Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer)

Kalani Po'omaihealani didn't have to stretch his powers of persuasion to bring the World Christian Gathering on Indigenous People to Hawai'i. It was "God's will," he said, that he prepares to extend the hand of aloha to Lakota Sioux from South Dakota, Toltecs from Mexico, Inuits from Alaska and Saami (Lap) peoples from Norway, said the new chairman of the Honolulu conference.

The first such conference focused on the need for forgiveness and reconciliation between "the colonizing powers and na keiki o ka 'aina," (the indigenous people of the respective lands). Over time, however, according to information posted by organizers on the official Web site for this year's gathering, the tone for subsequent gatherings has changed.

"Now that healing has begun, it is time to turn our eyes upward and begin to fulfill the great commission to go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation," the organizers said. Besides encouraging diversity of worship, there's also a move to "continue true reconciliation through constructive exploration of (indigenous people's) history and the issues related to the injustices perpetrated against them, and, through education, effect change."


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