A Visit to the Independent and Sovereign Nation State of Hawai’i

We just got back from a two-week VACATION in Hawai`i. I wrote VACATION in all caps because we are usually there on (Doug’s) business. But this time we were taking my mom Vel and her partner Jim on a whirlwind tour of three islands. Whew!

I could write about all of the beautiful scenery we saw (despite an unusual amount of rain, thanks climate change) and the cultural sites and friends that we visited. But I am going to share my impressions of one of the the highlights of MY trip, a visit to the village of Pu`uhonua O Waimanalo, AKA the Nation of Hawai`iYou can read about the village here:


We were there to see Bumpy Kanahele (and you can read about Bumpy here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumpy_Kanahele ) and learn how Pu`uhonua O Waimanalo came about. I encourage you to do so!

Doug first met Bumpy when he was in Hawai`i doing research for his exhibition on Hawaiian sovereignty for the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian.  Doug interviewed Bumpy and Bumpy gave Doug an official flag of the Nation of Hawai`i to display in the exhibition.

Bumpy flag

We were visiting to discuss what Bumpy wanted Doug to do with the flag now that the exhibition is over.

But first we were let through the gates


into the village and were greeted by Bumpy and his nephew Brandon Makaawaawa. We sat around a table in their office and they explained all the great initiatives they have going on in the village.

I have to stop here and say that part of me feels like I have NO business writing about Hawaiian sovereignty.  I never knew anything about Hawai`i, had never been there, until I met Doug. I think I kind of knew that Hawai`i had been a monarchy at some time, and understood about the sugar and pineapple barons, Kind of. I knew that like most indigenous peoples of the world, native Hawaiians got a raw deal.  But until I met Doug, and learned about the overthrow of the legitimate Hawaiian government by a group of US businessmen, I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the “Apology Resolution”, signed in 1993 by Bill Clinton, that offered “an apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.”  I didn’t know that for a long time, Hawaiians were not allowed to speak their language, or to practice their culture.  I didn’t know about most of it.

And I am not Hawaiian, I don’t live in Hawai`i. And really, I have no stake in the game. But I just can’t see injustice and not feel it, and not talk about it. I can’t learn about something that REALLY happened, where people lost their land and their country, and not feel rage. I can’t stand to see the land being bought up by rich people, driving up the cost of housing even more and leaving the Hawaiians with literally nowhere to go.

I know that it’s not my fight. But hopefully – and hopefully, respectfully – as an ally I can try, at the very least, to spread the word. It’s not my place to decide what the best path forward is for Hawaiians, that’s for sure. But I hope that by writing about what happened, and my thoughts, others can at least try to understand what the Hawaiians are going through. Have compassion for their cause, at the very least. And maybe join forces someday. I know that I would if I could.  It’s the same reason that I maintain my blog about birth defects in Fallujah. The same feeling of hopelessness as I see unfairness and feel the need to do SOMETHING.

OK, that said, back to our visit!  As someone who works with economists whose overriding passion is economic justice, I got what Bumpy and Brandon and everyone involved in the operation of the village are trying to do. As Bumpy said, political change is slow and hard. The people can’t wait for the political powers that be to see that a solution must be found for Hawaiians. Some in the academic world are trying to fight through the courts.  Bumpy and his people are finding ways to become economically independent.  They’re into sustainable agriculture and have created a digital currency.  They know WAY more about block chain than I do.

We looked over plans for the village, which includes a memorial to the signers of the 1897 Ku‘e Petition (signed by more than 20,000 Hawaiians who opposed U.S. annexation) and many new housing units as well as the agricultural areas.


We then took a tour of the village in in a jeep, stopping at the structure that was built by the producers of the movie “Aloha“, which featured a story-line about Bumpy that was my favorite part of the movie (I like Emma Stone but agreed with many critics that casting her as a character who was supposed to be one quarter Hawaiian and one quarter Chinese was problematic). But I can see why Bumpy would want to do it.  If people learned about the sovereignty movement from that movie, all the better.  They were also featured in an episode of Hawaii Five-0!



Brandon showed us the Ki plants and told us about his vision for world peace.


It felt so peaceful up there, and so full of promise. So much aloha.

We went back to the office for the obligatory fan pics.



Before we left, Doug asked Bumpy if he would want the flag accessioned into the Smithsonian’s permanent collection and Bumpy said yes, he would like that. So Doug’s going to try. Let’s hope that he succeeds, but more importantly, that it’s the first of many objects collected from the sovereign nation of Hawai`i.

I left feeling inspired, humble, uplifted and grateful. Mahalo nui Bumpy and Brandon.
A hui hou…

ADDENDUM: I want to add this You Tube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKAMtkTjYhY&feature=youtu.be  of Bumpy and Brandon talking about the Nation, ,and houselessness, and the history of how they came to be, and what’s happened since, and what’s happening now with Native Hawaiians and the problem of the homeless. I have so much respect for what they are doing. People on the ground, doing the work…that’s what will change the world.


One Hundred and One Things NOT to do When Visiting the Sovereign Hawaiian Nation

At the risk of coming across like some scolding parent, instead of writing all about the wonderful two weeks I just spent working hard and playing hard in Hawai`i I decided instead to vent about some of the bad behavior I saw from fellow visitors to that great nation. I figured some informing was in order.

DISCLAIMER: I know that none of my friends would ever do any of the things that I am about to describe here, so please know that my admonitions are NOT meant for you! But if you know someone who could use some educashun, please pass this along. And thanks for being open to learning some things about Hawai`i that you might not know, and that hopefully will help to inform your trip should you, like me, be lucky enough to visit.

I titled this post “One hundred and One Things NOT to do When Visiting the Sovereign Hawaiian Nation” for several reasons. One, to play off the typical vacation guide “101 things to do on Kaua`i” “Hawai`i: Your Vacation Playground!”etc.

IMG_2224 (2)

I think that’s part of the problem, that state and local governments promote tourism in a way that makes people think that their own Personal Paradise ™ awaits them in Hawai`i.  Like, it’s a tropical Disneyland made just for them and their enjoyment. That sets up expectations that leads to some of the bad behaviors we witnessed.

And two, I wanted to remind (or inform) everyone that yes, Hawai`i was a sovereign nation until it was overthrown in 1893.  I know all about this because my husband curated an exhibit on the topic for his museum, here is a link to the symposium he held:


The story of what happened in Hawai`i is way worthy of a post of its own, I encourage you to read about the history of the overthrow and of the current state of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. Some good sources include

I think that it’s important to know that history, especially when visiting Hawaii. It might help tourists to understand signs like these:


All that to say that maybe an understanding of Hawaiian history will help people make better choices when visiting Hawai`i.

A basic understanding of Hawaiian culture might also help. Actually, as I wrote those words I thought to myself: “No what is most important is a sense of respect, and common sense”. Doug wrote a paper on the importance of rocks in Hawaiian culture, how rocks, as part of the body of the islands themselves, are older siblings to the Hawaiian people. But someone doesn’t necessarily have to know all the details to know that it is NOT OK to set up camp on rocks that have what is clearly some kind of offering on top, and a petroglyph that is clearly visible:


Shouldn’t it be common sense to know that you shouldn’t lay your wet bathing suit out to dry on such a rock? And while rock stacking and cairn building might be ok in some parts of the world, it is definitely NOT ok to move rocks there. Even better, don’t move anything that doesn’t belong to you.

Oh, and camping is prohibited in certain areas for a reason, not to kill your buzz. Same with other rules and regulations. For example, don’t park where there is clearly a no parking sign. It’s there for a reason.


Don’t enter a cave when there are CLEAR signs saying not to. The caves in Ha`ena are some of the most sacred places in Hawai`i…climbing into them and taking selfies is the height of disrespect.

76.1 (2)


But we saw that. We saw a group of people at Ke`e beach, standing in the water with floats and open beers, like it was their own personal pool party. Another time Doug heard someone giving instructions on how to “take” live coral…just put it in a baggie with some sea water. That was not cool! Same with hiking Makana mountain in cleats…not cool. Not only is it dangerous, but again, it’s a really sacred space.


I’m sure there are examples of things like this all over the islands. And with social media and our increasing need to document everything I would imagine that it’s only going to get worse. Anything for that epic Instagram shot.

Some other things are more subtle. It’s really important to understand that generations of people were raised in places like Ha`ena, but now they can’t afford to live there, and forget about their children being able to afford to. What must it feel like to be from a place, to have roots there, and see it become the playground of the rich? To know that there are ancestral burial grounds deep under the million dollar gated mansions that line the shore?

(And UGH for signs like these:


All over Kailua on O`ahu .The above sign was not in Kailua but is similar to what I saw.  Several were on roads that led straight to the beach, NOT through private property. It’s important to know that the beaches in Hawai`i are all public. Beach access, that’s another story.)

The people of Hawai`i, the native Hawaiians, are doing what they can to malama (take care of) their `aina (land). It must be heartbreaking to see it taken over by developers who then sell to people who have no sense of the place. I don’t mean to imply that all the rich newcomers are assholes and that all native Hawaiians are saints. And many of the problems in Hawai`i go way back to the time of the overthrow. The sugar and pineapple barons also played a nasty part, hijacking water and holding onto land that could be used to house people.

But from what I see, many of the newcomers could come down outta their privilege and learn some things.  In one of his interviews Doug learned that 42% of Hawaiians have moved from Hawai`i because they can’t afford to live there. I don’t know the answer for that, but there has to be one. People shouldn’t have to work 2-3 jobs to be able to afford a small rented house in their homeland. I know it’s bad in places like San Francisco; that many people are forced to move hundreds of miles away just to be able to afford a house. But Hawaiians are being forced to move thousands and thousands miles away. And many of those who stay face some real hardship. And their beaches, where they used to spend time fishing and being with family, are teeming with tourists. No place to park…

As I wrote in the beginning of this piece, I know I’m going to come across like some holier than thou haole. (Although I guess that’s what I am! HA!) But only because I have been treated so well by the people of Hawai`i, Kaua`i especially, and Ha`ena most especially. I want them to be able to continue to malama their `aina, and I hope that this can be my way of helping. Doug and I are thinking about starting a web site on these very topics, how to visit Hawai`i in a way that is pono (just, right), or how to give and receive Aloha – not just what not to do, but what we all can to do to help. How to maintain a responsible, culturally sensitive tourism industry, which is necessary since many native Hawaiians depend on it. His project, Pacific Worlds, is his attempt to try to document the culture, the sense of place, before it’s swallowed up. Hopefully our site will be a good companion piece specifically for Hawai`i. So please stay tuned. Suggestions/critiques/thoughts and comments welcomed. Maybe we can crowd source? Send us your Hawai`i tourist horror stores…along with any good news.

In the meantime, mahalo for reading. Aloha nui loa.


From Honolulu to Hanalei to Haena…Or, How I Fell in Love With Hawaii in 10 Days

OK OK I can see it now…I can see why Hawai῾i is on everyone’s travel bucket list. It truly is a spectacular, beautiful tropical paradise kind of place.  I knew that I would enjoy my trip there – who wouldn’t? But I had no idea that Hawai῾i, especially Kaua῾i, would find a place in my heart…Paris graciously moved over some to give her some room. Merci, Mahalo.


Went from snowzilla to this!!

I know that I was amazingly fortunate in that I had many experiences that I most certainly would not have experienced if I had come here alone, as a tourist. So I am incredibly grateful to Doug for bringing me along and for showing me his world, his place.  I am so glad that I had the opportunity to work beside this man that I love on a project that is so precious to him, and now to me.

We were in Hawai῾i to work on this: www.pacificworlds.com, which, as it says in the about page, “is a vehicle for cultural preservation and the perpetuation of indigenous traditions in the Pacific. In this role, it presents Pacific Islands—from Pacific-Islander perspectives—to the entire world. Whether you are a tourist or a scholar, this site will transform your understanding of Pacific cultures and environments. Second and more specifically, Pacific Worlds comprises an indigenous-geography education project serving Hawai‘i-Pacific Schools.”

Doug started the project in the early 2000s and traveled to Hawai‘i and several islands in the Pacific, interviewing many people about their land, their history and their culture. He documented all of the interviews and while he was a professor at Towson University he continued to work on the site and created curriculum.  Around 10 years ago he took a job as Senior Geographer at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian and this project had to be put on the back burner while he worked on other things (including his recently-opened exhibit on Hawaiian Sovereignty.)  Thankfully Doug was able to return to the Pacific Worlds project due to the generosity of the US Forest Service, which gave him a grant to update the website with a focus on current conservation efforts in Ha῾ena, which just happened to be the first community he completed for the site. So…off we went!

We spend our first few nights in Honolulu recovering from jet lag.


Waikiki Beach


MMM Mai Tai


Me with my ginger lei (still in my east coast plane clothes!)


Sunset on Waikiki

We played tourist in Waikiki and Doug gave me a whirlwind tour of some of his favorite places and past haunts around Honolulu, we had drinks and connected with some dear friends and in what seemed the blink of an eye we were off for Kaua῾i, and Ha῾ena.


Kauai from the air

We settled into the sweetest digs, Auntie Sunny’s oceanfront cottage which was a score! As it was quaint, charming, so close to Ha῾ena with this amazing view AND was cheaper than any of the closest hotels or condos (in the not so charming Princeville).


Auntie Sunny’s oceanview cottage


Aunti Sunny’s cottage ocean view…sigh

But  we didn’t have much time to take in the views as we were off as soon as we arrived to the first of many meetings with the community. This one was held at the beautiful Limahuli Gardens.  Doug gave an overview of what we were there to do and we learned about many of the exciting projects that were happening all around us in Ha῾ena.


Limahuli Gardens Visitor Center and Office


Taro fields (Lo’i) in the garden



Some of the beautiful tropical flowers

I could write a book about everything I learned about Hawai῾i and Kaua,’i and Haen῾a on this trip  (as if this blog post wasn’t already getting to be book length!) It’s a particularly special place both from a historical view and a spatial one.  I can’t begin to tell the history but I can show the beautiful land. I interpreted (hopefully correctly) from all the things I learned that Ha῾ena is both a place (῾aina, or land) and a community (hui), which are all are part of the ahupua῾a of Ha῾ena. Here’s a pretty good description of an ahupua῾a that I found on the internets:

“One of the most salient features of the native Hawaiian social structure was the ahupua῾a, a traditional land and sea tenure system where local communities and resource systems were organized. Typically, an ahupua῾a encompassed an entire watershed, from the top of the ridge to the deep sea. Resources were managed in a hierarchal fashion and tasks were stratified socially and by occupation. Each individual ahupua῾a was managed by a local leader, a Konohiki, who was granted the authority by the ruling chiefs. Different uses of land and sea occurred in different areas of the ahupua῾a. The upland forest was reserved for gathering wood and hunting, the fertile valley floor was used to grow taro in irrigated pond-fields called lo῾i, rivermouths were encircled by walls for fishpond aquaculture, and expert fishermen, po’o lawai’a, oversaw offshore fishing.”

One of the many things that is striking about Haen῾a is that you can see the linkage between the mountain and the valley and the sea…you can see how the land flows from the mountain (in this case Makana mountain)


That’s Makana in the distance

to the sea,


so you get, viscerally, how interconnected it all is, and you can understand how the people of Ha῾ena lived on and off of the land.

As Doug wrote previously, what makes Ha῾ena unique is that much of the land is controlled by Limahuli Gardens and the Ha‘ena State Park. Unlike many places in Hawai῾i it is relatively undeveloped (as I mentioned there are no big resorts there), so the community was able to work out an arrangement with the state that allows them to take ῾care of, or malama, their ῾aina. They formed a 501c3 in 1998 called the Hui Maka῾ainana o Makana whose mission has been “to restore Hawaiian values and stewardship practices.”

Because much of the traditional lo῾i (land for growing taro) area of Ha῾ena was intact within the boundaries of the State Park,  the Hui Maka῾ainana o Makana worked out an agreement with the state that allowed them to clear the land and plant taro. And they worked for over ten years to convince the state to pass a law creating a Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area in Ha῾ena. The law, which was the first in Hawai῾i and was finally passed last year, sets limits on the amount of certain fish and shellfish that can be caught or harvested and  places restrictions on the types of fishing equipment and methods that can be used, and it prohibits commercial fishing – in other words, it relies on generations of knowledge on how to fish sustainably.


In a similar vein, the Limahuli gardens are working to bring back native forests and plants. They have restored a native forest and have greatly reduced the invasive species.  And they also have planted a gathering garden, where members of the community can come to gather plants that are used in hula and other ceremonies.


Surreally, that was my world for 8 too short days, talking to members of the hui about their lives, the lives of their ancestors, their land, their traditions…everything. We talked with Makaala, who works for the Hanalei watershed and who is a tireless defender of both the environment and of the culture. We talked with Carlos and Samson, the two guides to Ha῾ena that Doug featured in the first Ha῾ena web site, so full of knowledge about the history of Ha῾ena (Carlos just wrote a book about Ha`ena and  until not all that long age Samson rode horses and rescued stranded travelers on the Na Pali trail on horseback…not for the faint of heart!) We worked the lo῾I with Keli῾i and Nalani, who invited us to their house to talk about their lives growing up fishing and farming in Ha`ena and how much it means for them to retain a connection to the land. We talked to Presley and Uncle Tom, kupuna and fishermen who were instrumental in getting the CBSFA passed.  So much knowledge, or na῾auao. Then there were the people at the Limahuli Gardens, Kawika the director who has been working so hard to bring back the traditional trees and plants and practices. And Lahela, who shared stories of growing up in Ha῾ena just as she shares her culture with visitors to the gardens. We also went to Lihu῾e to interview Andy Bushnell, a historian who gave us an overview of native Hawaiians first contact with early explorers on Kaua῾i. And the other people at the garden and in the hui, so many other wonderful people…

So I was able to be in this beautiful place, surrounded by lush green gardens and fragrant flowers and the mountain and sand and the sea and the smell of the ocean, all the while listening to the history of the land and the sea from people with a history and deep deep connection to the place. I was most honored to have been invited to work day at the lo῾i, one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, so lush and green. It was a day I will never forget, mud and all…



People pay hundreds of dollars for this mud wrap



Women with scythes

The whole experience was indescribable (I know that I have already taken too many words to try to describe it and still I don’t think I could begin to describe the feelings).  And my feelings ran the gamut. Beauty and wonder and awe and humbleness and gratefulness.


But there was also for me a sense of sadness and anger when I thought about the economic unfairness of it all.  Practically none of the members of the community live in Ha῾ena. Some of them have chosen to live elsewhere, that’s true, and as I mentioned much of the land in Ha῾ena itself is now part of the garden or the state park. But there are houses and properties all along the north shore of Kaua῾i…it’s just that the vast majority of them are super expensive.  I know that I know very few people who could afford to live anywhere near Ha῾nea now, myself included.  The sad truth is that many of the people in the community can’t afford to go back to live there either, even if they wanted to. And those who were able to retain their land couldn’t afford to stay because the high priced real estate around them raised their property taxes so much that it priced them out. It just makes you think.  Are those people who buy those million dollar beachfront estates interested in the history of the community in which they live?  Sigh…

But, despite that part (which I just can’t help thinking about – as I told my co-workers you can take the girl outta CEPR but you can’t take the CEPR outta the girl),  it was so super awesome, as my daughter Jordan would say. When we weren’t busy interviewing we were off photographing various places for the website:

including this heiau that was set in the most spectacular setting I think I’ve ever seen.


Doug chanting permission to enter the heiau


We went to Hanalei to interview Makaala



Downtown Hanalei

and then went for a swim in the striking Hanalei Bay.


We ate poke and poi (made in Hanalei and even in Ha῾na! I know it’s an acquired taste but I liked it).


Fresh Hanalei poi!

We had lau lau


Our gift from Keli’i and Nalani

and drank rum and pineapple juice. We went swimming at Ke῾e beach


and hiked a teeny tiny bit up the Na Pali Coast trail.


And the best part? I get to go back, in July. Hallelujah!

The day we were leaving we headed out to the gardens to give back the key to the gate to the lo῾i, which had graciously been loaned to us by Presley. The waves were super high that day, so we were looking at the beach as we drove by and we saw Uncle Tom, looking at the waves too. Doug pulled over to take some more pictures for the website and Uncle Tom and I had a chat about the weather and about fishing and I told him about the Chesapeake Bay and rockfish and blue crabs, and how my dad loved to catch blue crabs and we just chatted and looked at the sea. And I felt Ernie there on that beach. It was sweet.

Dawn & Uncle Tom 4 (1).jpg


A tres bientot Ha῾ena. Aloha…Aloha nui loa.