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The Hawaiian Renaissance by George S. Kanahele
May 1979



Let me give you one possible scenario. In 1980 there will be an election on the board of trustees of OHA. That election will take place at the same time and place as the State general election. Since it will be so convenient to cast an extra ballot, Hawaiians will vote. The trustees they elect will very likely be regarded as representative leaders of the Hawaiian people. Thus, there will be for the first time in this century a way to identify a Hawaiian leadership. When you combine this with the popular acceptance of the Renaissance by non-Hawaiians along with the increasing population of Hawaiian voters, you can understand the political power that Hawaiians might one day enjoy.

Undoubtedly, Hawaiians will become more politically involved. An indication of this was the large number of Hawaiian candidates who ran in last year's general elections. Out of a total of 320 candidates, more than 10 percent or 40 were Hawaiians. While only a small number won their races, this will likely change in the future.

Not only will there be more Hawaiians in politics, there will be more political issues involving Hawaiian matters. Already in this decade three of the State's top political issues have been Hawaiian issues: 1) Kaho'olawe, 2) reparations and 3) the Hawaiian Con Con package. All have been directly affected by the Renaissance,a nd I forsee the Renaissance playing the same role in future Hawaiian political issues.

What else does the Renaissance mean? When I first wrote about it two years ago I described it as a young movement whose leadership and activist-supporters tended to be younger than older people. Since I wanted to include myself, I was probably guilty of a little vanity thinking I was younger than my years. So I have changed my mind and now I want to make it perfectly clear that the movement involves both young and old Hawaiians. Seriously, though, the evidence is all there. For instance, the leadership of such Renaissance organizations as the Hawaiian Businessmen's Association, Hawaiian Music Foundation, Hui Wa'a, Polynesian Voyaging Society, Aha Hui Olelo Hawaii and Hale Naua, have had and continue to have grey-haired youngsters.

There is no doubt about the leadership they have taken in perpetuating and reviving the hula music, featherwork and other Hawaiian beliefs and practices, Nor should there be any question about their heart-felt support of the Renaissance. If any one of them seem unsure, it is probably because they can't believe what's happening. As one tutu put it to me, "I never believed that something like this could happen." On the other hand, there are some who feel relieved that it has finally happened. As another tutu put it to me, "I've been waiting for this and I'm mighty glad it has happened."

But while the Renaissance belongs to both old and young, it is a young people's movement. I believe, therefore, that it will very likely last awhile. It is not a fad, a momentary flirtation with one's exotic past. Some observers suspect that because it is now popular to be Hawaiian, that the Renaissance is a temporary phenomenon. But when my boy, who has to stay out in the sun two or three hours just to get a tan insists that he is Hawaiian and not haole, I have great hope in the permanency of the Hawaiian Renaissance.

Let me say, however, that not all Hawaiians, young or old, are actively involved or even interested in the Renaissance. There are those who are oblivious to what's going on, others who don't care, and still others who think it's un-American, or worse, to be preoccupied with your ethnic roots, or to interfere in the Navy's maneuvers, or to accuse the united States government of committing an injustice, or to ask for reparations.

Being a mixed population and representing different social and economic backgrounds, today's part-Hawaiian community is at best fragmented. Indeed, strictly speaking, there is no cohesive, unified integrated Hawaiian community. There are only communities of Hawaiians. To believe otherwise is to have our heads in the sand.

And this is another important meaning of the Renaissance, for if anything will bring these disparate communities of Hawaiians together, it will be the overarching cultural loyalties generated and reinforced by the Renaissance.

Finally, there is a paradox about the Renaissance we need to understand. It is that the Renaissance does not only belong to Hawaiians. It belongs to non-ethnic Hawaiians, too. Could you exclude, for example a Donald Mitchell, a Jack Waterhouse, a Peter Moon, a Keola Cabacungan, a Rev. Harada, or a Dorothy Hazama just because by some genetic accident they don't happen to be Hawaiian? Would you exclude a Pat Bacon, the hanai daughter of Kawena Pukui, who is fluent in Hawaiian, who is a master teacher of the hula and a chanter, just because she is pure Japanese?

The plain fact is that historically non-Hawaiians have always played a large role in preserving and perpetuaing Hawaiian culture an ideals. The Rev. Lorenzo Lyons, "Makua Laiana," the composer of Hawaii Aloha; Henry Berger, who preserved and changed Hawaiian music; Alexander Hume Ford, who helped revive surfing and canoe paddling at the turn of the century; Prof. Kuykendall, whose history of Hawai'i remains the classic reference work; Dr. Peter Buck and Kenneth Emory and...The list goes on and on.

Today there are probably as many non-ethnic Hawaiians as there are Hawaiians actively engaged in the Renaissance: haoles, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, etc. people who have no Hawaiian ancestry but who for one reason or another have come to identify themselves culturally, psychologically and spiritually with Hawaiianness. In the process, of course, some have become more Hawaiian than the Hawaiians, to the chagrin of the natives.

These Hawaiians-at-heart have key positions in many Hawaiian causes, and often it has been their support in money, time and counsel that has spelled the difference between success and failure.

Unfortunately, but true, some Hawaiians choose to ignore this fact. They are so self-conscious about their new-found Hawaiianness that they become suspicious of very haole or Oriental who may want to help. Some insist on excluding non-Hawaiians from any Hawaiian-related activity, purely on the basis or race--a case of reverse racism.

What the Renaissance confirms to me is that a lot of people in Hawai'i care deeply about what is happening to those values and customs that make Hawai'i Hawaiian, unique and special. Anybody who claims or want Hawai'i to be home, in some degree or another, wants and, even needs to share in its Hawaiianness.

The beautiful thing about the Renaissance is that it offers Hawaiians the greatest opportunity we have had since Kamehameha I to unify the people of these islands not by the power of the sword but by the influence of our ideals, or values and our aloha.

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