Ha’ena Book Review

In Ha’ena: Through the Eyes of the Ancestors, Carlos Andrade explains Hawaiian tradition and culture, focusing on the Native Hawaiian perspective of land.  Andrade uses the Ha’ena as  a mechanism to explain Hawaiian worldview and history.  Through folklore, references to historical events, and juxtaposition of Native Hawaiian and English (foreigner) diction, Andrade explains the significance of the integration of ancestry, land, and community to the Hawaiian people, preserving Hawaiian history and culture while concurrently disseminating ancient Hawaiian worldviews.

At the beginning of Ha’ena, Andrade explains Hawaiian cosmology and the stories behind the different akua, or gods in order to lay the foundation for Hawaiian ideology.  For example, hula, used to attract Pele, demonstrates the Hawaiian importance of “knowledge of genealogy, history, and the cosmology of the Hawaiian world” (17).  Andrade emphasizes the importance of this knowledge by explaining the Kumulipo, or “cosmological genealogy”, tracing all the way back to the creation story of Papa and Wakea ( Andrade 4-5).  The story of Papa and Wakea, along with the deities, are unique in that they demonstrate a connection between man, the deities, and land.  There is no separation between celestial and earthly beings in terms of power or importance (Andrade 22).  Humans are siblings of kalo (taro) and the ‘āina (land).  Each has a responsibility (kuleana) to take care of the other (Andrade 25).  This mutualism, stemming from the early beginnings in the Kumulipo, demonstrates the Hawaiian ideology of reverence for land.  Andrade emphasizes this principle for the purpose of exposing the Hawaiian worldview that later carries into the Hawaiian system of ahupua’a, which was greatly misunderstood by visitors to Hawaii.

Andrade compares Hawaiian words and the English interpretation of each in order to juxtapose Hawaiian worldview with the European (foreign) worldview of land.  He begins with illustrations of mistaken translations of different classes–  Hawaiians using the words ali’i and kahuna for people that the foreigners called “chiefs” and “priests”  (Andrade 70).  The most erroneous mistake, however, was the interpretation for the Hawaiian word maka‘āinana.  The people the foreigners called “commoners” were actually, in Hawaiian, meant to be called “companion of the land” or “people that attend to the land” (Andrade 71).  Unlike in the European feudal system, the maka‘āinana weren’t slaves to the ali’i who forced them to till the land.  Rather, the maka‘āinana took care of the land out of respect for the land and all the things it provided for the Hawaiian people (Andrade 70).  Protecting and caring for the land was an act of kuleana and respect, not one of duress.  Foreigners demolished the idea of ahupua’a and sharing of land in a legal sense with the privatization of land, a foreign concept to Hawaiian ideology.  Thereby, most strikingly, they turned the idea of ahupua’a into real estate.

An interesting point to bring up concerning ahupua’a vs. real estate is the Hawaiian sovereignty movement that seeks for Hawaiian peoples to self-govern themselves as a separate nation.  An important question that would need addressing, if the United States allowed a Hawaiian sovereignty, is the appropriation of land within the Hawaiian kingdom. With globalization and the general acceptance of land privatization, it would need to be determined if ahupua’a, as an important Hawaiian concept, is a feasible land system to be put in place.  Although the communal system worked well in history, it may be neither appealing nor workable by modern standards of ownership and wealth.

A significant event that played a large part in the turning of ahupua’a into real estate in Hawaii was the Mahele of 1848.  This act ushered in ownership of land, stating that besides the land given to the mō‘ī, one third of the rest of the land would be given to the Hawaiian government, ali’i, and maka‘āinana each (Andrade 81).  However, the Hawaiian government, ali’i and mō‘ī split their lands between each other, leaving less than one percent to the maka‘āinana (Andrade 82).  Eventually, a provision called the Kuleana Act allowed maka‘āinana to register claims to own the land they lived on.  Nevertheless, due to many factors including the unfamiliar concept of land ownership and fear of limiting acess to ahupua’a resources, most maka‘āinana did not file claims, resulting in the land being sold to private owners (Andrade 84).  By properly explaining the Mahele Act of 1848 and the Kuleana Act, Andrade dispels the misconception many people have that Hawaiians were fairly treated throughout foreign intervention leading up to the annexation of Hawaii. Although the Mahele was written in mostly Hawaiian,  Andrade explains the ideas expressed in the Mahele were of foreign origin (Andrade 101).  He states that while the Ha’ena ahupua’a stayed in tact longer than most ahupua’a because of the Hui Kū‘ai ‘Ā ina o Hā‘ena, partitioning lawsuits resulted in splitting of the land.  Andrade attributes the division of Ha’ena to wealthy haole, who wanted to use the land for capitalism rather than Hawaiian practices and customs the ahupua’a were most useful for (Andrade 104).  Through this example, Andrade demonstrates how lack of Hawaiian ideology and values toward land lead to improper use and breaking up of the ahupua’a saved by the Hui Kū‘ai ‘Ā ina o Hā‘ena.

The consequences of the Mahele and Kuleana Act is important to both Hawaiians and foreigners to know because it plays a large role in politics today.  The consequences of the Mahele Act are immeasurable.  Although some policies, such as Hawaiian Homelands, were put into place to restore land to the native people of Hawaii, it does not account for the many native Hawaiian people displaced from their ahupua’a years ago.  The unfairness of the land distribution process raises the question of the previously mentioned notion of Hawaiian sovereignty.  Hawaiian self-government with land set apart for Hawaiians could lead to the establishment of ahupua’a and would be a more significant attempt at reparation for the Hawaiians displaced.

Ha’ena: Through the Eyes of the Ancestors, is part history book, part memoir, and part commentary.  Carlos Andrade uses a didactic and matter-of-fact tone throughout the book, explaining Hawaiian events with a clear bias of the Native Hawaiian perspective.  While in most cases people see biased information as inaccurate or insufficient, Carlos Andrade makes this bias necessary as an advocate for the Hawaiian people and their history.  His narrative of Hawaiian history, weaving anecdotes and Hawaiian ideology throughout, communicates the often unheard story of the effects of foreign invasion in Hawaii.  This aspect of history is important for both Hawaiians and foreigners in order for them to understand the full perspective of Hawaii’s past and therefore how it relates to Hawaii’s present in politics and culture.  Carlos Andrade’s extensive research shows the importance of knowledge with reliable sources, as opposed to knowledge through common beliefs.  His research also demonstrates of the purpose of a university in a community.  Without universities, there is no institution that teaches people knowledge and the methods to find truth for themselves. Through Ha’ena: Through the Eyes of the Ancestors, Andrade allows readers to use the Hawaiian method of looking back at the past, “seeking historical answers for present-day dilemmas” with his comprehensive research into the culture and history of Hawaii (2).

Work Cited

Andrade, Carlos. Hāʻena: Through the Eyes of the Ancestors. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʹi, 2008. Print.


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