Return to the Hawaiian Independence Home Page, or the News Articles Index

A majority, silent for a century

The Maui News
August 9, 1998

Staff Writer

The voices, silenced for more than a century, now cry out again louder than ever, thousands and thousands of them from every district of Hawaii, from teen-agers to tutus, all carrying the same fervent plea:

``We the undersigned Native Hawaiian women, citizens and residents . . . earnestly protest against the annexation of the said Hawaiian islands to the said United States of America in any form or shape.''

Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., too excited to even wait until he gets home to spread the stack of photocopied documents out on a table, begins thumbing through the unwieldy pile from behind the steering wheel in the hot parking lot at Iao Valley, where he met with a reporter and photographer Thursday morning, searching for a familiar signature. On Page 148, he finds the first one.

``Here, Waikapu,'' he says. ``There's my great-grandmother. Kaaihue. She signed the petition. Holy mackerels.''

All over Hawaii, emotions have been running high since the recent discovery in the National Archives of an 1897 petition bearing the names of 21,269 islanders, nearly all Native Hawaiians, who opposed annexation by the United States. The staggering total of signatures, most of them scripted in elegant handwriting, represented more than half of the entire Hawaiian population at that time. Another petition to restore the monarchy apparently contains 17,000 names.

``It's amazing to see all of these names, I can't even believe it,'' says Patty Nishiyama of Lahaina, whose great-great-grandmother and great-great-great-grandmother both signed the lists. ``It's been hidden from us all this time. Now what are we going to do about it?''

What happens next could take shape Wednesday when thousands of Hawaiians are expected to mark the 100th anniversary of the day the Hawaiian flag was taken down and the American flag went up at Iolani Place, making annexation a reality a month after Congress passed a resolution. Although the commemoration was always expected to be a solemn one, the resurfacing of the petition, tracked down last summer by University of Hawaii doctoral candidate Noenoe Silva, has charged many Hawaiians with even more emotions of extreme sadness and anger -- and renewed dedication to bring about self-determination and sovereignty for Native Hawaiians.

``The petition, all of this, the timing is pretty right on,'' says Mike Minn of Hana.

Nishiyama agrees.

``We now know that our ancestors didn't want this to happen,'' she says.

Maxwell wasn't surprised.

``We always knew it happened this way through songs and chants, but now we know it through a legal document,'' he says. ``This is a message from the past that they tried, they really tried.''

Minn, Maxwell and Nishiyama will be among hundreds of Maui residents who will join the throng for an 18-hour vigil that begins at noon Tuesday at Iolani Palace and continues Wednesday morning with a march from Mauna`ala (the Royal Mausoleum in Nuuanu) to Iolani, followed by other other cultural and historical events until almost dusk. The commemoration actually began at 12:01 a.m. Saturday with a torch-lighting ceremony in Nuuanu and a two-day march in Washington, D.C., that started Friday and ended at the White House Saturday.

``This will be a very moving time,'' says kumu hula Hokulani Holt-Padilla. ``But I don't look at it as a sad day. I look at it as a day to celebrate Hawaiian sovereignty . . . With the whole idea of Hawaiian sovereignty and what will that be, I think that an event such as this will help people discuss and define things in their own minds.''

Holt-Padilla will chant today when Gov. Ben Cayetano unveils a reproduction of the petition in the State Capitol that will remain in the rotunda through Wednesday. Some of those chants have been passed down through the centuries; others have been newly composed to honor those who were courageous enough to sign their names to a document most likely not well-received by those trying to assume power.

One chant will include a prophecy that states ``those who are above will be taken down and those that are below will be lifted up,'' says Holt-Padilla. ``The islands will unite and the wall (a foundation) will stand.''

The foundation of names built 100 years ago was the brainchild of the Hawaiian Women's Patriotic League, a title that has not gone unnoticed by the descendents.

``Hey, these wahine were all right,'' says Maxwell.

Billy Akutagawa, executive director of Na Puuwai, the Native Hawaiian health organization on Molokai, was also impressed.

``Our women fully knew what was going on,'' he says.

Mrs. Kuaihelani Campbell was president of the organization. After circulating the petition to every district of the islands, a group of Hawaiians took the document -- nearly 600 pages in all -- to Washington where its impact caused enough members of the U.S. Senate to oppose annexation so that a treaty failed because a two-thirds majority was required.

Pro-annexation forces quickly reworked their game plan and managed to get a joint congressional committee to pass a resolution for the action, but only by a simple majority -- not two-thirds. Because of that, many observers call the annexation illegal. President William McKinley signed the resolution July 7, 1898.

The petition has not only provided new life to the cause of the Hawaiians, it's been reborn itself.

``We're going to continue the signatures,'' says Maxwell. ``We're going to continue what our kupuna started 100 years ago.''

Like the petition that holds the names of people of all ages, the activities this week should attract a crowd just as diverse.

Lance Wendt, 21, plans to travel to Honolulu with his father, Wailua taro farmer Edward Wendt, embraced by a stronger sense of self from the past he never knew much about. Lance just returned from years of living on the Mainland and has only started to appreciate who he is and where he came from.

``I never really knew of my culture, and it was always looked down on to be a Hawaiian,'' he says. ``At one point, I was even ashamed to be a Hawaiian. But when I came back here (to East Maui), I knew this was where I belonged.''

And when Edward Wendt showed his son the signatures of their ancestors on the petition -- ohana buried right there on the family land -- Lance was overcome with newfound pride.

``It's given me drive to know that my family was fighting back then for the same things that we are continuing (to fight for),'' he says.

Edward Wendt hopes that it's not just Hawaiians watching the historic events, because he believes what transpires will affect all residents.

``Everyone should pay attention to what is starting to gear up,'' says Wendt, president of Na Moku Aupuni o Ko`olau Hui, a group of East Maui taro farmers. ``In reality, justice has to prevail.''

Wendt, like many other Hawaiians (and non-Hawaiians), believes the annexation was illegal and prompted 100 years of violations of human and civil rights. As a result, says Maxwell, while other groups of immigrants have thrived in the islands since the turn of the century, the plight of Hawaiians as Americans has sunk lower and lower.

``The kanaka maoli -- those that have in them the koko, the blood of the land -- we have fallen though the cracks,'' he says. ``In terms of health, crime, poverty, we are the worst off. We have not assimilated into Western culture. For a thousand years, we were a spiritual and cultural people. We can't be Western.''

Maxwell and Wendt are well aware that the pent-up emotions of the decades could erupt at Iolani Palace.

``Some people are hot under the collar because Hawaiians have been suppressed for many, many years and when people are backed up in a corner and then they find out the truth, you don't know what they'll do,'' says Wendt. ``But as leaders, we emphasize peace.

``I want to see justice, freedom and liberty for all. I hope (the solution) becomes something workable.''

Laurel Douglass of Kula wants that to happen, too. Douglass, however, expresses her concerns from a totally different point of view: She's descended from missionaries. Her family, Mr. and Mrs. Amos Starr Cooke, arrived in 1837 to teach the children of Hawaiian royalty.

But Douglass will be among the crowd this week at Iolani Palace -- and most likely with tears in her eyes.

``To me, it's very sad what happened,'' she says. ``I feel that we came as the guests, and the guests aren't supposed to turn on the hosts.''

But Douglass doesn't see the ceremonies as an end. She sees them as a beginning.

``We don't know what's going to develop, but the truth has to be the way,'' she says. ``It's all about education. People are going to want to know more and more about what happened 100 years ago, and then we go from there. Through education, the future holds promise. I don't feel sad about the future -- I feel sad about the past.''

Kelii Taua, the highly respected Hawaiian language and music teacher at Baldwin High School, thinks the tide has finally started to turn for young Hawaiians. Again, it's education that's leading them to greater heights, he thinks.

``The data shows more Hawaiian students are in college than in the past,'' he says. ``And across the board, you'll see more youngsters participating in their culture. The Hawaiian language is just exploding, the interest in it. More people are feeling their roots.''

As executive director of Na Puuwai, Billy Akutagawa has seen the columns of statistics that rank Hawaiians on the bottom of the wellness scale -- and he can't be as optimistic as Taua that things will soon change in the area of health. Hawaiians still lead ethnic groups in rates of diabetes, obesity and other serious ailments, while they trail in life expectancy.

Akutagawa sees only one prescription that will reverse the trend.

``To me, it falls back on diet and diet falls back on resources,'' he says. ``We need to have our land back and we need to have our water back. We used to be able to grow all the plants we needed.

``What sovereignty means to me is to take back our resources, to reclaim them and move ahead. To me, more important than money is the land. Redress, to me, is not a formal apology (from the U.S. government). Redress is compensation for the last 100 years to get us back on our feet.''

Maxwell believes that nearly 2 million acres of ceded lands taken from the Republic of Hawaii in 1898 should be immediately returned to the Hawaiians. If any state-run facilities or private companies have operations on those properties, the Hawaiians could lease them out, but the money would go to them as a people. Having the land back, he says, means having access to those all-important natural resources.

The time has come to do it now, says Sherman Napolean, a Molokai homesteader.

``I think the Hawaiians have been waiting long enough,'' he says. ``The government has to come to some kind of (understanding) that Hawaiians have got to be compensated.''

The actual solution, of course, must still be carved out, but Edward Wendt hopes that people of all backgrounds realize that the islands can become a better place -- for everyone. He holds no grudge against newcomers.

``Everyone (today) is innocent of whatever took place 100 years ago,'' he says. ``But we need to correct the mistakes.''

Return to the Hawaiian Independence Home Page or the News Articles Index