A Native Hawaiian talks about history, laws, and advice about traveling to Hawai’i interwoven with her own personal story. But first a poem.
the name of my father
named by his mother
passed down to me
the highest mountain
on the island of his birth
makes it a mighty name
only to be placed in between
and my last
nevertheless i answered to it
for as long as I can remember
it was my identity
on my island home
it flowed from the mouth with ease
no one ever questioned me
when i preferred it
to my english name
but when i left my home
i parted ways with my name
to alleviate the lips
of the foreign
i gave up my title
it was easier than repeating it
and over still
so for five years
my name was forgotten
less and less of ka’ala until it was a rarity
like my native tongue
ka’ala was almost lost
buried under the paper trails of
who am i?
to abandon my ‘ ōlelo and
my father’s namesake
who have i become?
to allow the convenience of another
to be more important
than my roots?
more important than my ancestors?
than the blood flowing through these very veins?
because the blood flowing through these very veins is HAWAIIAN!
WHO AM I?
i hele mai nei au
e loa’a hou mai ko’u inoa!
ka ‘ōlelo a ko’u po’e
ua pa’a sila ‘ia
i ko’u na’au
i have come back to reclaim my name!
the language of my people
for it has been held/tied fast to my na’au
(my hawaiian heart)
Aloha. O Ka’ala ko’u inoa.
Hello. My name is Ka’ala (Ka – ah – luh)
I was born and raised on the island of Maui in beautiful Hawai’i Nei, but currently live in the Midwest, where I attended college and met my kāne (husband). My Native Hawaiian-Filipino dad and my German-American mom raised my hapa (biracial/multi-racial) sisters and I to know our roots and respect our cultures along with all other cultures and peoples. Growing up, I needed that. Hawai’i is a complete mixing pot of everything. In fact I’ve never felt like a minority until coming to the mainland.
Everyone is mixed and/or brown in Hawai’i. If you’re not, you’re the minority. Like many other local keiki (kids), I grew up on the beach, surfing at a young age, dancing hula for a halau (hula school), playing volleyball, learning Hawaiian music and using Ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language) to replace common phrases throughout the day.
My freshmen year of high school, I attended Kamehameha Schools, a private school system for Hawaiians established by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter and last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I. I also lived on Hawaiian Home Lands (where my family still resides and I spend every summer) in Wai’ehu, Maui. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, sponsored by Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole, set aside almost 200,000 acres in the Islands for homesteading by Native Hawaiians. A lot of my further education was financially covered by the Nā Ho’okama a Pauahi Scholarship Program – another foundation sponsored by the princess to help encourage kānaka (native Hawaiians) to value education.
So now you see just a glimpse of how my ancestors looked forward to ensure their people would be taken care of. They knew destruction was to come to their people and their culture. I am forever grateful for what they have done and what their legacy continues to do.
So in order to continue their legacy, I’m reclaiming my Hawaiian name Ka’ala.
…it’s my middle name. In order to “westernize” Hawai’i, (I’m sure with good intentions and maybe some outside pressure), in 1860 King Kamehameha IV signed the Act to Regulate Names. Along with some other laws about names, this act stated that all people born in Hawai’i were required by law to have an English (Christian) first name and a family surname. Although these laws weren’t necessarily always followed, many native Hawaiians (including my grandfather, father and his 7 siblings, as well as my sisters and I) were given English first names as an effect of this act.
I won’t be following this tradition.
Having a Hawaiian name is something I am proud of. But it wasn’t always that way. I have only recently started using my Hawaiian name again after years of defaulting to my English name to make it easier for the people here on the mainland. I won’t give my children the option to shy away from their Hawaiian-ness.
Hawai’i’s Rich Yet Widely Unheard History
It’s surprising to me how many people I’ve met who had no idea Native Hawaiians existed. YES there is an actual Hawaiian ethnicity! Yes, we exist! Yes, we are here. Yes, we are living. Yes, we have our own language. The word aloha isn’t just a cute tag you slap on a bumper sticker with a rainbow. It is a word with meaning! Multiple meanings. It’s our way of life.
Something else many people don’t realize is that we had a full-blown monarchy. We had kings and a queen that reigned until 1893. Kings and queens, y’all! BEASTMODE ROYALTY! We were thriving. We were beautiful. We were highly organized and self-sufficient. We had a way of life that was our own. And then came colonization and the illegal overthrow. Did you learn about that in your U.S. history class? I doubt it.
At the time, our only queen and final monarch, Lili’uokalani put forth efforts to reverse the damage that had already been done by western colonization and changes in the constitution. A group of scheming (non-Hawaiian residents of Hawai’i and American citizens) businessmen formed a secret organization called the Hawaiian League and sought to control the Kingdom of Hawai’i politically and economically. They conspired to become the new provisional government and overthrow the monarchy. This provisional government later decided to form a republic – the Republic of Hawai’i – led by Sanford Dole – yup, same company we get our pineapples from.
Although the first attempt failed, the monarchy and life as Hawaiians knew it continued to be threatened. One of the major reasons why their attempt failed was because of a monster petition against annexation. This petition was brought from island to island and signed by virtually all kānaka – men, women, and children (including my great grandfather and his brother and my great-great grandfather). These efforts left the senate less than 2/3 in favor of annexation and the treaty was denied. However, this success was short-lived.
After a revolt to restore the monarchy, the Republic of Hawai’i imprisoned the queen in her own palace, along with the imprisonment and execution of others who fought in this revolt. While imprisoned, she was forced to sign a document of abdication, surrendering her rule to the throne. She was led to believe that if she did not sign, several of her loyal followers would be shot for treason. She said she would rather die than sign the document, but she knew that those she loved and were loyal towards her would be released at the signing of the document. So she forfeited the throne for the love of her people. Sovereignty was formally transferred to the United States on August 12, 1898 and Hawai’i officially became a state in 1959. The government acknowledged the illegal overthrow and issued an apology to native Hawaiians via the Apology Resolution signed by President Clinton in 1993.
The Modern Day Colonization of Hawai’i
Natives still face repercussions to this day. During the colonization period, many natives were forced off their land to live in smaller areas of the islands. Today, tens of thousands of native Hawaiians live on the mainland because it is so much cheaper than homes on their own land. Natives also make up around 1/3 of the homeless population in Hawai’i. There is a giant waiting list for Hawaiian Home Lands and it is not accessible for everyone. Because land and homes are so expensive in Hawai’i, and the income is often insufficient, many natives are forced to leave or be homeless. My family is extremely blessed, not only to live on Hawaiian Homes, but also because my grandfather has a deed to land that was given to our family as a gift from the king. The land was given for us to cultivate kalo (taro), which is what my family there still does. It is our kuleana (responsibility). The deed is written in Hawaiian and signed by the king. If we didn’t have that piece of paper from over 100 years ago, the land could potentially be threatened.
Besides housing, some current affairs natives face are struggles with land and water rights, self-governance issues, and mass development projects to name just a few.
So what can you do to to help? Talk about it. Tell people what you know. Read up on current events and share them with others. Reach out to local people while in Hawai’i and ask how you can kōkua (help). Our people are strong. We know how to carry on after destruction. But there is always more room at the table for allies.
Traveling While Native
My husband and I love to travel. We’ve been out of the country several times and road-tripped the U.S. quite a few times as well. I haven’t run into any major issues while traveling. People often mistake me for being Latina – maybe it’s the light brown skin and dark features. They will start speaking to me in Spanish and when they see my doe eyes pleading with them to forgive me, they realize 1. I’m not Latina or 2. (even worse) I’m a Latina who can’t speak Spanish. This happens EVERYWHERE – down south, in the US, in Mexico, in the Caribbean, in Europe. You name it. People just don’t know what I am or what to think of me. It’s not common to see a mixed Polynesian woman. Especially traveling with a Black man.
Being “randomly checked” happens all the time. Whether it’s crossing the border to Canada, or going through TSA at the airport, it’s just something we deal with, but we don’t give it too much thought. We like to stay positive when we travel.
A Note To Kānaka Travelers
Don’t be afraid to explore. I know we have been taught that everything we need and everything we are is right at home on the islands, but I also know you feel a desire to see new things and explore beyond the rock as well. I know because I felt it too. And I didn’t think a little island girl could do the traveling I’ve done because of finances or not fully understanding how travel works. But it is doable. And I highly recommend it. It gives you an understanding of other cultures, but at the same time gives you a newfound love and appreciation for your own.
Advice On Traveling To Hawai’i
GASP! BUT I HEARD THEY HATE WHITE PEOPLE?!
I have heard this comment so many times by people wanting to travel to Hawai’i. It breaks my heart a little, yet at the same time offends me. That is such a broad statement. I have so many questions… Who is “they”? Where did you hear that? Why do you think “they” feel that way? I won’t dive into this comment too much, but just know that if you follow my three rules (explained later) you are perfectly fine traveling to Hawai’i. Just like many other places in the world, Hawaiians had their land stolen by colonizers. There might be some deep seeded anger lingering in some people, but this is Hawai’i. Ultimately, if you give respect, you will get respect.
The most important thing to do before traveling to Hawai’i is to educate yourself about our history. Please research all of the places you intend to explore before going. Educate yourselves about the history and customs of those areas. Some good sites for tips and info on Hawai’i history, events, and travel are:
Trust me, it will be worth it. You will see and experience the islands in a completely different light.
Something to know when exploring Hawai’i is that no, we don’t live in grass huts on the beach (yes, I’ve really been asked that question), but we also don’t all live in the fancy mansions you see on TV or Zillow either. Most local people, ESPECIALLY natives, live in humble, small homes, often in neighborhoods that are not always well-maintained. That is the truth about our people. Many of us cannot afford to live in a cul de sac. Keep this in mind when looking for your AirBnB.
Many local families looking for homes have been bought out by big mainland companies who have cash in hand, ready to buy a home with the intention of using it as an AirBnB. Others have been forced out of their living situations, because their landlord decided AirBnB would make a higher profit. Please look into your host before purchasing your accommodations. Do not give your money to the companies that are pushing local families out of their homes or buying them out from their future homes.
I understand it may be difficult to tell if hosts are local or not but try communicating with them and ask straight forward questions like, “how long have you lived on island?” or “what are your recommendations for local food spots?”
One of the many experiences people want when they come to Hawaii is to experience the Hula (Hawaiian dance). Sure you can see this (often times Hollywood-ized) at the resort lu’aus and as those are definitely a fun memory, there is another option if hula is what you’re into. The annual Merrie Monarch Festival occurs in the spring. This is a phenomenal hula competition where you will see and feel authentic Hawaiian culture right from your seat. The halaus (hula schools) that perform are the best of the best. It will leave you shaking in your slippahs (flip-flops).
3 Rules For Traveling To Hawai’i
Now before I continue, if you’re hoping I give you all the secret spots to explore, you can stop reading here. I won’t be telling you those, because I don’t want to see you all there when I go home to relax and enjoy the island. If you do manage to venture to a “secret spot” understand that these places are sacred. Don’t geotag so that everyone in the world can pinpoint your exact location – this is how these beautiful places become overcrowded.
Are you still with me? Good. The main things you MUST KNOW when you go ANYWHERE on the island is:
RESPECT THE PEOPLE. RESPECT THE LAND. DON’T BE STUPID.
Easy right? Be nice to people. Other helpful pointers:
- Don’t walk around someone’s yard just because that’s what Trip Advisor told you to do to get to the coolest lookout. These are signs you will see walking onto my family’s property:
And then you get BASIC BLOGGERS who don’t pay attention and write up posts like this:
This is not only disrespectful and it’s also dangerous. Like when a tourist who tried to hop a fence in someone’s backyard at 2am because it was “the only way to get to the hike.” He ended up slipping and falling and landing his neck on a bed of nails. He was rushed to a hospital. Who’s fault was that? DO NOT DO THIS. OBEY THE SIGNS. DO NOT TRESPASS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY.
- Clean up after yourself and others if you see ‘ōpala (trash) left behind. We love for you to enjoy our beaches, but we don’t want to see your beer bottles, empty sunscreen containers, and floaties left behind. Its annoying and rude. Don’t be rude.
- If you are with locals and they ask you to participate in a custom before entering a certain area, do it. Be respectful of the culture or simply skip the activity.
- Don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you. If it belongs to the land, it doesn’t belong to you. Shells and sea glass are fine – just leave some for others. But what’s even better? Buying beautiful shell jewelry from a native Hawaiian girl who makes it (I’ll post links at the end).
- Always try to support local and shop small while there.
- I shouldn’t have to say this, but you should already know, DON’T TOUCH THE SEA ANIMALS – CORAL REEF INCLUDED. Our eco system is a beautiful art. But the animals and marine life are definitely threatened by our human ignorance. Look and take pictures – never touch. There are many Hawaiian legends about how taking specific items from our land is kapu (taboo). Whether you believe them or not, it’s about respect. And it’s also against the law, so there’s that.
From Islands to Land-Locked and Why I Keep my Culture Alive from Afar
The land, the people, the culture, the history – it’s all an incredible wonder. If you get the opportunity to travel Hawai’i, you will never want to leave. I am so honored to be kānaka. I have been away from home for 10 years, but my ties to home and to my people and culture will never be broken or weakened, and I have never felt more proud to embrace my native culture than I do now.
Mahalo (thank you) for allowing me the space to share my na’au (Hawaiian heart and soul) and culture with you. As I vow to continue learning about myself and my people, I encourage you to come alongside me and learn your own history and truth as well.
Please spread this knowledge with your platforms. The Hawaiian culture was so close to being wiped out, and there are so many who have worked hard to rebuild it. Mahalo for letting me share that with you.
Well-Loved Native Hawaiian Vendors on IG
@inezdesignsmaui – jewelry
@hawkandhaloa – skin care
@secretshawaii – Hawaiian culture, native affairs, local goods
@whata_scrub – skin care
@lihaulewisphotography – photo services
@sparkysfoodco – smoked meat
@mosthi_clothingsupply – clothing (brand)
@chelsiemachado – video/production
@intentions_maui – shopping and retail
@moonohawaii – food truck
About The Author
Ka’ala is a Native Hawaiian writer, musician, and educator living in the midwest with her husband. Her writing speaks on living authentically, celebrating culture, and the journey to understanding. Her books can be found on her website, Aloha Ka’ala. She can also be found on social media by clicking the buttons below: