“Na Moolelo o Kou Aina Makuahine”: Our Kūpuna on Sovereignty and the Overthrow

“Hawaiian Kingdom COA” by Thomas Tunsch, used via CC BY-SA

“Na Moolelo o Kou Aina Makuahine”: Our Kūpuna on Sovereignty and the Overthrow

by Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada

As many of us know, January 17, 1893 is the anniversary of the overthrow. 124 years ago today. For some, that seems like a long time ago, but the truth of it is that we are only a few generations removed from that day. The stories we tell in our families reach back hundreds of generations, so a hundred years is just an eyeblink for us. That day is a fresh wound, a sharp pain, a crisp memory. And we think about the overthrow every day, not just on its anniversary, because we continue to feel its effects every day. Yet the aloha ʻāina instilled in us by our kūpuna drives us to demand better stewardship for our land, to push for genuine security for our vulnerable peoples, to heal through the pain, to keep fighting until there are none of us left. So on this anniversary of that painful day, let us find hope and comfort and fire in the words that our kūpuna have left for us.

Joseph Poepoe pictured here with other Territorial legislators

Joseph Mokuohai Poepoe was a true renaissance man who was a politician, scholar, writer, lawyer, historian, and newspaper editor. One hundred and eleven years today, he wrote an article in his newspaper Ka Na’i Aupuni, that reminds us of the power of knowing our moʻolelo:

“O ka makaukau ma na Moolelo o kou Aina Makuahine ke keehina ike mua ma ke Kalaiaina e hiki ai ke paio no ka pono o ka Noho’na Aupuni ana.”

[‘A ready knowledge of the moʻolelo of your motherland is the first knowledgeable step in political action that will enable you to fight for the pono of our governance.’] (January 17, 1906, Ka Na’i Aupuni)

Ka Nupepa Kuokoa from August 12, 1871

David Kahalemaile gave a speech in Mānoa to commemorate Lā Hoʻihoiʻi Ea in 1871, speaking of ea as something that is absolutely necessary for our survival:

“Ke ea o ka ia, he wai. Ke ea o ke kanaka, he makani. O ke ea o ka honua, he kanaka […] Ke ea o ka moku, he hoeuli[…] Ke ea o ko Hawaii Pae Aina, nona keia la a kakou e olelo nei, a e olioli nei, o ia no ka noho aupuni ana.” [‘The ea of fish is water. The ea of the person is wind. The ea of the earth is the person. The ea of the ship is the steering paddle. And the ea of the Hawaiian Islands is our independent governance.’] (August 12, 1871, Ka Nupepa Kuokoa)

Emma Nawahi, as pictured in the San Francisco Call

Beloved aloha ʻāina, newspaper editor, and leader of the Hui Aloha ʻĀina no nā Wāhine, Emma Aima Nawahi spoke out against annexation at a public meeting in Hilo in 1897. An American journalist named Miriam Michelson reporting for the San Francisco Call reported what Emma Nawahi said through an interpreter:

“Our one hope is in standing firm—shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart. The voice of the people is the voice of God. Surely that great country across the ocean must hear our cry. By uniting our voices the sound will be carried on so they must hear us.” (Sep 30, 1897, San Francisco Call)

Kuaihelani Campbell, as pictured in the San Francisco Call

At the same meeting, Kuaihelani Campbell, who was also a leader of Hui Aloha ʻĀina no nā Wāhine and a powerfully influential woman, exhorted her people to:

“Stand firm, my friends. Love of country means more to you and to me than anything else. Be brave; be strong. Have courage and patience. Our time will come. Sign this petition—those of you who love Hawaii. How many—how many will sign?”

And we know how many answered that call.

Princess Kaʻiulani at her home ʻĀinahau

Due to her youth, beauty, and untimely death, Princess Kaʻiulani is oftentimes portrayed as a demure and gentle woman, sometimes even fragile, but nothing could be further from the truth. Her words show the fire that burned within her for her lāhui, particularly in this letter she wrote to the American people in March of 1893: 

“Seventy years ago, Christian America sent over Christian men and women to give religion and civilization to Hawaii. Today, three of the sons of those missionaries are at your capitol asking you to undo their father’s work. Who sent them? Who gave them the authority to break the Constitution which they swore they would uphold? Today, I, a poor weak girl with not one of my people with me and all these ‘Hawaiian’ statesmen against me, have strength to stand up for the rights of my people. Even now I can hear their wail in my heart and it gives me strength and courage and I am strong – strong in the faith of God, strong in the knowledge that I am right, strong in the strength of seventy million people who in this free land will hear my cry and will refuse to let their flag cover dishonor to mine!” (History of Later Years of the Hawaiian Monarchy and the Revolution of 1893 by W. D. Alexander, pg 78)

Calendar picturing all the children who work for the newspaper Ke Aloha Aina

In 1900, the newspaper Ke Aloha Aina, founded by Emma and Joseph Nawahi, published a series of articles written by Edward Kekoa, calling for the lāhui Hawaiʻi to remain steadfast:

“E hoʻomau i ka hōʻole ʻana aku, ʻaʻole loa he kuleana o ke aupuni ʻAmerika e hana mai ai i aupuni no kākou e ka lāhui Hawaiʻi, me he mea lā, he lāhui aupuni ʻaʻole kākou mai mua, i kohu ai ʻo ia e hana mai i aupuni no kākou” [‘Remain steadfast in your refusal; the American government has no true kuleana to build a government for us, O lāhui Hawaiʻi, as if we did not already have a nation, and it is somehow fitting for them to fashion a government for us’] (March 3, 1900, Ke Aloha Aina)

James Kaulia and David Kalauokalani in the San Francisco Call

James Kaulia, who headed various aloha ʻāina organizations such as the Ahahui Hawaii Aloha Aina, and who would later travel to Washington D.C. to deliver the anti-annexation petitions, called the lāhui to bravery and struggle in a speech given in 1897: 

“Nolaila, mai makau, e kupaa ma ke Aloha i ka Aina, a e lokahi ma ka manao, e kue loa aku i ka hoohui ia o Hawaii me Amerika a hiki i ke aloha aina hope loa. E hoomau ia ko kakou Kuokoa a i Aupuni Kuokoa malalo iho o kona mau Kanawai ponoi, nolaila, mai ae kakou e hoohuiia ko kakou Aina me Amerika.” [ʻTherefore, let us be fearless; stand fast in our aloha for the ʻāina, and stand together in the thought that we should forever resist and oppose the annexation of Hawaiʻi by America until the very last aloha ʻāina. May our independence and our independent government be continued under its own laws, so let us ever refuse that our land be joined with America.ʻ] (September 11, 1897, Ke Aloha Aina)

Kahikina Kelekona, author of the account of Kaluaikoolau and the biography of Joseph Nawahi

Kahikina Kelekona was one of the most celebrated and boundary-pushing writers of his time in both Hawaiian and English. Part of a mutli-generational newspaper family, Kelekona was an outspoken aloha ʻāina who put his vast literary skills to work in support of the nation:

“He minamina a he aloha i kuu lahui me ke one oiwi. Pehea oukou e na hoahanau o ka puhaka hookahi! E Hawaii!! e ala, a mai ae aku i ka enemi e alakai wale ia oe e like me kona makemake, aka, e ao aku, e hoike aku aole i pau loa na iwi kuamoo, aka, ua puipui loa” [ʻI have great aloha and deep affection for my beloved lāhui and native sands. Listen, O family of the same womb! O Hawaiʻi! Arise, and do not let the enemy lead you around as he desires, but teach him, show him, that our spines our not broken, that they are stronger than ever!” (March 25, 1875, Ka Lahui Hawaii)

Liliʻuokalani on a country visit

In her book, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, first published in 1898 in English and later translated for the Hawaiian-language newspapers, Queen Liliʻuokalani speaks of the power of the aloha ʻāina she sees in her lāhui:

“For patriotism, which with us means the love of the very soil on which our ancestors have lived and died, forbade us to view with equanimity the sight of any foreign flag, not excepting the one for which we have always had the greatest respect, floating as a matter of right over any part of our land.” (38)

Later on in the book, when she is speaking of the courage of the patriot Joseph Nawahi, she reminds the lāhui, however, that

“The cause of Hawaiian independence is larger and dearer than the life of any man connected with it. Love of country is deep-seated in the breast of every Hawaiian, whatever his station.” (302)

Nawahi was also an accomplished painter. “View of Hilo Bay,” 1888, oil on canvas

Joseph Nawahi is one of the most well-known and well-loved aloha ʻāina from the kingdom era because of his skilled ʻōlelo, his unwavering dedication to a lāhui built on pono, and his determination to always back his words with actions.

“O wai kou makuahine? O ka aina no! O wai kou kupunawahine? O ka aina no!” [‘WHo is your mother? The land! Who is your grandmother? The land!’] (June 8, 1895, Ke Aloha Aina)

Joseph Nawahi, circa 1890

In 1894, Nawahi gave one of his most famous speeches at Palace Square to 7,000 makaʻāinana who had gathered there. In it, he said:

He mea hauoli no’u ko’u ike ana aku ia oukou e o’u hoa makaainana ua hooko mai oukou i ka leo kahea a ko oukou mau alakai, no ko oukou akoakoa ana mai i keia ahiahi. Oiai hoi, no kakou ka Hale (Aupuni) e like me ka na Kamehameha i kukulu ai; aka, i ka la 17 o Ianuari, 1893, ua kipaku ia ae kakou e ka poe i aea hele mai, a komo iloko o ko kakou hale; a ke olelo mai nei ia kakou e komo aku a e noho iloko o ka hale kaulei a lakou i manao ai e kukulu iho a onou aku ia kakou a pau e komo aku. O ka’u hoi e olelo aku nei ia oukou, e o’u hoa makaainana, mai noho kakou a ae iki.

[ʻIt gladdens my heart to see all of you, my beloved fellow citizens. You have answered the call of your leaders, gathering us all together this evening. This house of government belongs to us, just as the Kamehamehas intended; yet on the 17th of January, 1893, we were kicked out by trespassers who entered our house, and they are telling us to go and live in the lei stand* that they thought to build and shove us into. But what I have to say to you, my beloved people, is let us not agree in the slightest!’] (July 3, 1894, Ka Leo o ka Lahui)

*This can also be translated as “unstable house,” but it seems likely that multiple meanings were in play here.

The last piece is a powerful article that Joseph Nawahi wrote on what aloha ʻāina means, but I have chosen to leave it untranslated.

Ke Aloha Aina – Buke 1, Helu 1 25 Mei 1895

Ke Aloha Aina; Heaha ia?

O ke Aloha Aina, oia ka Ume Mageneti iloko o ka puuwai o ka Lahui, e kaohi ana i ka noho Kuokoa Lanakila ana o kona one hanau ponoi. O ka Ume Mageneti, oia no ka ikaika nana i kaohi i ke kui mageneti o ke Panana, e hoopololei ana i kona kuhikuhi i ka welelau Akau o ka Honua nei, a i ka hoku akau hoi. He mea pohihihi ka ike ana i kahi i loaa ai ia mea he ume iloko o ka hao Mageneti, aka, eia ka mea maopopo loa, aia kela kui Mageneti ke hoomau la i kona kuhikuhi ana i ka hoku akau ma ka welau akau o ka honua nei. Pela ke aloha iloko o ka puuwai o ke kanaka no kona aina hanau ponoi. Aole i ike maka ia ia mea he aloha, aole hoi hiki ke hoopaaia, aole hoi e hiki ke haha ia; aka, ua laha wale aku oia, a ua lele wale aku a pili i kona aina hanau ponoi iho, me he ume la o ke kui Mageneti. I na i hookokoke ia na kui hao Mageneti i kahi hookahi, alaila, he mea maopopo loa me ke kanalua ole o ka manao, ua ume like no lakou a pau loa kekahi i kekahi. Pela hoi na lahui a me na kanaka a pau loa i noho pihaia e ka uhane aloha i ka aina hanau. E ike auanei ko lakou huki ana, ume ana, a me ko lakou kaohi ana i ka noho Kuokoa Lanakila ana o ko lakou aina hanau. Na kela aloha iloko o lakou e hoolilo ia lakou i poai hookahi, e kupaa ana, a e hakoko ana me ka wiwo ole imua o na enemi, e hoao ana e kaili i ko lakou pono Kuokoa. Nolaila, ua lilo ka hune, ka nele, ka inea a me na popilikia he nui i mea ole loa ia lakou. No ka mea, ua nui aku ke aloha no ka aina hanau mamua o na mea e ae a pau loa. He holoholona ke kanaka ke nele oia i keia ano he Aloha Aina, a i ole ia, he kumakaia paha kona ano like loa. He haahaa loa ke kulana o ke kanaka aloha ole a kumakaia paha i kona one hanau. Aohe ona noonoo hou ia he pono ka i koe iaia, a e maalo ae ana oia iwaena o kona lahui ponoi iho me ka hoowahawaha loa ia aku e lakou. [J. NAWAHI]


A note on translation: Translation is interpretive by nature, so I suggest that you take all of these translations with a grain of salt. Different people will have different readings of the text, and multiple readings are the best way to get closest to the meaning of the Hawaiian, though there is no substitute for reading the original.

All images come from Wikimedia Commons, except for the newspaper images, which are from nupepa.org.

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