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The Hawaiian Renaissance
by George S. Kanahele
Let me say, first of all, we're not really here to listen to me talk about the Hawaiian Renaissance--we're here to celebrate it. For if anything is worth celebrating, it is that we are still alive, that our culture has survived the onslaughts of change during the past 200 years. Indeed, not only has it survived, it is now thriving.
Look at the thousands of young men dancing the hula; or the overflow Hawaiian language classes at the university; or the revived Hawaiian music industry; or the astounding productivity of Hawaiian craftsmen and artists. Consider such unprecedented events as the voyage of the Hokule'a, the occupation of Kaho'olawe, and passage of the Hawaiian package at the Constitutional Convention.
Like a dormant volcano coming to life again, the Hawaiians are erupting with all the pent-up energy and frustrations of people on the make. This great happening has been called a "psychological renewal," a "reaffirmation," a "revival" or "resurgence" and a "renaissance." No matter what you call it, it is the most significant chapter in 20th century Hawaiian history.
Why? Because it has reversed years of cultural decline; it has created a new kind of Hawaiian consciousness; it has inspired greater pride in being Hawaiian; it has led to bold and imaginative ways of reasserting our identity; it has led to a new political awareness; and it has had and will continue to have a positive impact on the economic and social uplifting of the Hawaiian community. And for the moment at least, it is the reason why we are all gathered here.
How did it come about? What is its shape and magnitude? How does it compare with eras of the past? What does it mean for Hawaiians? And non-Hawaiians? And what about its future? These are some of the questions we need to have answered.
But, first, let's not quibble about the use of the term "renaissance." Although it has become a popular term, used by the media and writers and ordinary people, a few people are upset. It is French meaning "rebirth" and because they take it literally, do not like the implication, I guess, that Hawaiian culture was ever dead. OThers, like Pierre Bowman, argue that if you are looking for something like the European Renaissance--that period from the 14th to the 16th centuries marked by the flowering of the arts, literature and the beginnings of modern science--then, it is too early to tell whether a Hawaiian renaissance is really taking place.
Writing in the Star Bulletin (Feb. 20, 1979), he says the term implies the "tangible creation of works of art and literature" and that there is "scant evidence of such work in a Hawaiian Renaissance." I don't know what he considers to be "scant evidence" in view of the prolific production of music, art and craft work, dances, and so on that Hawaiians have been responsible for during recent years. I would very much like to learn what he would consider to be "renaissance quality" work. If he is using standards comparable to Michelangelo, Van der Meer, Leonardo da Vinci, Bacon, Erasmus, Machiavelli, the luminaries of the European Renaissance, I think he is kidding himself. It is more realistic and sensible to use the standards of the culture in which the renaissance is happening. I say let the Hawaiians themselves decide collectively what is "scant" or non scant "evidence" of what is good or bad.
Besides, the renaissance encompasses more than the creation of works of art and literature. It also includes a revival of interest in the past, in the pursuit of knowledge or learning and in the the future. In short, it deals with the revitalization of the human spirit in all aspects of endeavor. And when we look very carefully at what is occurring among Hawaiians today economically, artistically, politically, socially, culturally, it is impossible to ignore the spirit of rebirth. I think the word "renaissance" fits.
In any even, if you're hung up on semantics, eh, hang loose, use whatever term suits you. What's important is the reality, not the rhetoric.
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