Yesterday, I sat on a Hawaiian beach and read about the first known contact between Europeans and Native Hawaiians. Captain Cook and his fleet sighted the islands of Hawaii in 1778. The men in ships threw down their anchors and drew their weapons. During the day, they traded bits of iron for water and hogs. During the night, they traded venereal diseases for sex. The men on the ships said that both kinds of trades were made willingly by the Native Hawaiians.
Isn’t it unbelievable? That men in ships always seem to find people happy to trade what has always sustained them for bits and pieces the men in ships do not need. So unbelievable it is probably untrue?
Captain Cook and his men stayed for a while. The climate was lovely and they were curious. Then they fitted their boats with wood from the island, filled their barrels with water from the island and stuffed their holds with food from the island and continued their journey. It wasn’t the last the islands would see of Cook or his ships. Their sails crested the horizon within the year. They wanted more water, more hogs, more hospitality on their terms. They’d been gone long enough for the venereal diseases they’d seeded to bloom into open sores on the bodies of the Native Hawaiians. The sailors noted the sores and gave people suffering from them medicine. This medicine giving is noted in the ship’s log as a restorative action in the face of inevitability.
Isn’t it a shame? That men in ships always seem to think the things they bring to shores are inevitable even when they are the ones carrying them there? Such a shame it’s perhaps better to use a word like “atrocity”?
This second stay wasn’t as profitable for the British sailors and their ships as the first. Tensions were high. All the times the British fired muskets over the Hawaiians heads and into their chests may have had something to do with it. The British fired muskets but there were few of them. The Hawaiians had stones and there were many of them. On the shore, within sight of his ship, Captain Cook was stabbed in the neck by a Hawaiian defending his home. He died on a beach he’d be credited with “discovering” surrounded by the people who had lived there for over 1500 years.
Killing a captain doesn’t kill colonialism.
The waters around the islands were soon full of other ships with other captains. Profiteering sugar barons came on those ships. So did military men interested in establishing an outpost in the Pacific. So many special interests but no interest in what was best for Native Hawaiians. The men on ships made quick work. By the end of the next century, the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown in a coup d'état. It was one of the first regime changes backed by the United States of America. Grover Cleveland became President of the United States shortly after the coup. He was horrified by the US intervention and said the islands should be returned to their Hawaiian queen. Congress and cartoonists mocked him. Hawai'i didn’t belong to its Indigenous People, it belonged to the white men who could turn a profit on a plantation.
While I read, the tide rose. As the water moved toward me, I thought about the water beneath it. Hawai'i sits in the North Pacific Ocean. The water in the deepest parts of the North Pacific is old. It hasn’t touched the atmosphere for one thousand years. Each drop at the bottom of that ocean is dense and rich. The deep Pacific keeps its nutrient rich deep waters for a long time. It sends its nutrient poor surface waters out to other oceans.
The deep waters in the Pacific Ocean are old but they are not permanent. Even deep waters must rise. Sometimes they rise because they are following the current we call the Ocean Conveyor Belt. Cold water mixes with warm water and is lifted to the surface. Sometimes they rise because of upwelling, the deep waters move into spaces made by winds at the surface. Changes in our climate affect deep waters, a hotter earth can mean younger deep water.
Because deep waters are one thousand years old, they are free of the manmade pollution that moves through the rest of the layers of the ocean. Deep water has never been polluted by tanker, acid rain or a tourist’s toe. One thousand years is a long time to be at the bottom of an ocean. But one thousand years ago, Native Hawaiians had already been living on the islands on top of that Ocean for hundreds of years. Polynesians migrated to Hawai'i from the Marquesas Islands in the 4th century. Which means the old deep waters of the Pacific Ocean are young compared to the People who settled the islands that water surrounds.
For the past few decades Hawai'i has endured a different kind of coup backed by the United States. There’s no Queen to overthrow now. And the sugar barons are long-dead. But the Queen’s People are still here. And many of the sugar barons' heirs make money off a different kind of soil depleting monoculture - tourism. Those profiteers still think the island belongs to them instead of its people.
Isn’t it typical? That a woman like me has to be sitting on a beach thinking about old water to realize she shouldn’t be on that beach? Almost so typical it’s an absolute damn cliché?
Who am I to dip my toe into these deep waters?
Next week’s newsletter will interrogate extractive tourism, look into responsible tourism governance models across the world, share resources for becoming a responsible traveler. When you travel, you are going to someone's home. It will also tentatively suggest, with some controversy I am sure, that even as a responsible traveler there are some places you should not go. Like...Maui. Where I am now. Until that public self-reprimand, here are a few links:
I am committed to not returning to these islands ever or until every layer of the state government develops a tourism governance model that protects residents and resources first and foremost. Whichever comes first. Which means after this month, I may not get to eat at Tin Roof for a very, very long time.
Luckily, there’s a cookbook. Cook Real Hawai’i. I suggest you buy it. 100% of the proceeds from every sale through Tin Roof are given to a Maui non-profit with a mission to feed the local community. Yes, ordering through Tin Roof means you’ll have to wait more than two days to get your book and you’ll pay a little in shipping. So what.
Tin Roof’s Huli Huli chicken is just perfect. Here’s the recipe from Simeon’s new cookbook.
I didn’t start From a Native Daughter by Haunani-Kay Trask until I was already on Maui.
If I’d read this book before booking this trip to Hawaii? We wouldn’t have booked this trip. (I think it’s important to note quickly here that not every Hawaiian resident agrees with my logic there. We’ll unpack that further in next week’s newsletter.) For now, I’ll just say if you’ve ever visited Hawaii, plan to visit Hawaii or might someday plan to visit Hawaii, you should read this book. Preferably before you get to Hawaii. And then maybe you'll ummmm feel differently about your plans.
Usually I share books from my bookstore, but this time I am sharing the link of a local bookstore. Native Books is an independent bookstore and publisher focused on books and literature from Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.
From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai'i
Since its publication in 1993, From a Native Daughter, a provocative, well-reasoned attack against rampant abuse of Native Hawaiian rights, institutional racism, and gender discrimination, has generated heated debates in Hawaiʻi and throughout the world. This revised work includes new material that builds on issues and concerns raised in the first edition: Native Hawaiian students organizing at the University of Hawaiʻi; the master plan of the Native Hawaiian self-governing organization Ka Lāhui Hawaiʻi and its platform on the four political arenas of sovereignty; the 1989 Hawaiʻi declaration of the Hawaiʻi ecumenical coalition on tourism; a typology on racism and imperialism. Brief introductions to each of the previously published essays brings them up to date and situates them in the current Native Hawaiian rights discussion.
Read about this program implemented in Hawai'i, a place that imports 90% of its food even though it’s one of the most biodiverse places in the world. (Ahem, TOURISM is cause of that huge number.)
“When Dawn Marquez goes grocery shopping at Shima’s Supermarket in Waimanalo, her children aren’t just in tow — they’re leading the charge toward their favorites. Her 7-year-old son Laakea makes a beeline for the cucumbers and her 6-year-old daughter Lilinoe heads for the apple bananas.
Dawn attributes their choices to a program called DA BUX, a program called DA BUX, which doubles the value of government food assistance when that assistance is used to buy qualifying local food items, like the cucumbers and apple bananas her children now seek out.The “Double Up Food Bucks” program launched nationally in 2014. It arrived in Hawaii as DA BUX in 2015 with a pilot program at farmers markets on Hawaii island.
In 2017 a federal grant expanded DA BUX on Hawaii island. In 2019 the program expanded to all islands. It’s administered locally by The Food Basket in partnership with the Hawaii Good Food Alliance and runs in conjunction with the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Here’s how it works: Through DA BUX, SNAP benefit dollars — what used to be known as food stamps — are doubled when they’re spent on qualifying local food items at more than 70 participating retail locations statewide. Those items tend to be the sorts of foods Dawn now seeks out to place in her shopping cart: items like cabbage, kimchee, luau leaves, watercress, green onions, poi, oranges, tofu and tomatoes.” Read more.