Hawai‘i is different.
It’s evident to almost every person born, reared or transplanted to these islands — but not to every.
The measure of that difference can be elusive. I’ve spent the past 23 years pondering, writing and attempting (often futilely) to define those differences through the lens of my Native Hawaiian husband and his aboriginal culture.
Perhaps it has never been as easy as it has become in these days of the COVID-19 virus pandemic.
“They think something is being taken from them, when in fact they’re taking away from my island and our people,” said cultural practitioner (and husband) ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani.
He was shaking his head and looking at the image of 20 people marching their opposition to our mayor’s early and comprehensive pandemic restrictions on the front page of the Kaua‘i newspaper. With children in arms, the protesters marched their rage and purpose without county-mandated face masks. In an appalling bit of offensive hyperbole, one participant was quoted. “…Completely against our…rights. It feels like Nazi Germany.”
Here on Kaua‘i, we have a mayor in Derek Kawakami — a man who embodies and propagates his Native Hawaiian cultural roots and values. No human life is expendable — not a single soul is the equal of a bank account or a political future.
He spoke from those core collective native values when he insisted our elders are the repository of all that we value. That these most vulnerable are our sacred trust. On day one, he spoke of his responsibilities for preventing: ‘…our kupuna (elders) starting to fall ill, ending up in the hospital and passing away.’”
Mayor Kawakami answered the inevitable rule-violators. “For everybody who is making sacrifices in the name of the health and safety of our kupuna and those that are most vulnerable, there are still individuals who are willing to sacrifice all of that to push their own selfish needs in front of the needs of our community.”
‘Iokepa ‘Imaikalani echoed: “In Hawai‘i, we take care of one another, never just ourselves. Kaua‘i is the sacred mother island; it nurtures us. It is no coincidence that our mayor responds to that inheritance.”
Herein lies the why Hawai‘i is “different.” We owe every breath of that difference to our long-suffering, tourism-exploited Native Hawaiians — and their lip-service-admired-but-too-often-squandered ancient culture.
And so, my native husband — who is unable to even imagine a world that weighs personal need against collective good — grieves aloud any demand for singular “rights” over communal need. He stands in solidarity with his mayor. Both stand in quiet (and less than quiet) defense of the thousands of years of ancestral wisdom and the repository of collective goodness that their kupuna have left for all of us, here in Hawai‘i.
Inette Miller ‘Imaikalani is a Kalaheo resident and wife of cultural practitioner ‘Iokepa Hanalei ‘Imaikalani.