Last September I returned to the island of Kaui in the Kingdom of Hawai’i, following a trip in 2010 to document the uncovering of a holy site long overgrown and now surrounded by western resorts and developments. Our video work four years ago helped secure funding from the federal and state governments to protect and restore this site, Kaneiolouma, a Heiau on the south side of the island. There are dozens of these Heiau’s remaining in Hawai’i, but none with the cultural significance or preserved condition of Kaneiolouma, where boatloads of people from Polynesia and New Zealand would come to compete in the legendary Makahiki Games. The fruits of our labor in 2010 can be seen here: Kaneiolouma.
My return trip last year was to document the site’s progress and share with investor’s to see their ROI. I returned to find a new stone wall constructed around the Heiau to keep out unwanted travelers, designate the boundary, and protect the valuable resources and mana that the site still possesses. There were new monuments erected around the site, and a general understanding in the community that it was more than a pile of rocks. Standing in the middle of the Heiau, you can still feel the energy that pulses through the land.
The primary objective of my first trip was to interview all of the key players in the movement and secure its funding, but this time I intended to dig much deeper into the spirit behind the movement; why were these Hawaiians concerned about the Heiau? What happened to their culture – what blood stains its history? What I found was a culture horribly denigrated for their traditions, from which its people were alienated over decades of integration into the almighty Americana. The project became so much bigger than the Heiau; it became an investigation of atrocities committed over the last century for which there can be no reparations. Despite the color of my skin and nationality, the Hawaiians welcomed me into their homes, cooking me dinner, playing music, and enjoying the air. These elder kahunas still catch their dinner in the tide, farm taro in the fields and mountains, harvest salt from their ponds, and live Hawaiian.
I think it is the greatest challenge of my generation to reconcile the history of horrible oppression that we’ve inherited. I suppose every generation inherits such a legacy, but it seems that it hasn’t been until now that a generation has ultimately refused to turn around and do it all over again, on some different stage with new players. At least I can hope that will be the case… Time will tell. However, that doesn’t mean we can deny our part in what we’ve inherited – it is a condition of the lifestyle we enjoy. We can resent our pedigree, we can rebel, but we are shouting at our own reflections in the mirror. It leaves me with a feeling of dread, and of course, embarrassment. There will be a future, there is no doubt about that, and we will define it, but how do we move past the mistakes of the past without just laying fresh sod over its victims? Returning from a place whose cultures and traditions faced a hundred years of oppression and burn on still with the fire of a thousand torches reminds me how much stronger these “indigenous” cultures are than the stale, colorless, one dimensional bullshit we’ve been fed by television and advertising in this country. What we flattened out, homogenized, raped and plundered, was all that was still authentic in the world, trading truth for capitalism, implementing systems of manipulation so the rich get richer and make ample tinder on the bonfire of the vanities. Its all going down in flames while the decision-makers hide behind some sense of pride for “civilizing” the world… Riding the atom bomb out of the sky and shrieking with delight at the beauty and horror of the inevitable end to the whole fucking party.
Well… all of that aside, I hope to challenge the conventional wisdom of American viewers who think they might know what happened in history to an entire Kingdom of people thriving under their own government and manifest destiny until their land, their history, their way of life was stripped from them in the name of Western progress. Its certainly mind blowing for me to sit with a seventy year old Hawaiian and hear how his identity was taken from him and buried in a dark, unmarked grave, without even the reward of total citizenship. Its time for their voices to be heard. This is only the beginning, but eventually this will become a feature documentary.