Hawai’i nei (beloved Hawai’i) has struggled with many, many forms of invasion over the last few hundred years – people, invasive species, political, military, economic, spiritual, and so on. The results have not been happy or sustainable for either the islands themselves or for the original people, the Kanaka Maoli. This blog is not going to cover these issues here – there are too many, they are complicated, there are better sources – particularly from Kanaka scholars and activists (I’ll list some links at the end) – and my intention is not to try to represent. Instead, the blog entry is personal.
I’ve got an eighteen-year history of public and private support for the cause of Hawaiian Kingdom independence, as well as other issues in Hawai’i (support for preserving the sacredness of Mauna Kea and opposition to the TMT, anti-GMO, anti-military occupation, and so on). And I had an intimate, long-term relationship with a notable activist which ended last year, shortly after I moved from California to Hawai’i with the intention of at last making a life together. (This stuff happens. Sad, but it does.) I do have some other friends in the movement there – but things between us feel awkward right now. I left Hawai’i and moved back to California. (A change in location which didn’t change my status as a settler-colonist, but at least I am closer to my kids, mom, and most of my friends.) [Note: I co-created the above two websites.]
While I was living in Pahoa, in the Puna district of Hawai’i Island (Jan. 2016-Sept. 2017), dealing with my own post-divorce crazies, extreme homesickness for my kids and friends, and the “oh no! everything’s all wrong!” realizations about my new living situation, I was also the quintessential outside observer, a role that I am used to performing. What I observed were the social and conceptual “bubbles” created by transplants like me and their tenuous connection to the reality of Hawai’i and its people. There was plenty of lip-service paid to being on the island: products in the health food stores, for example, were usually branded with some kind of “tropical” or “island” names and imagery. But I don’t recall seeing very many, if any, locals and/or Hawaiians at the local ecstatic dance. (However, the Wednesday night market at Uncle Robert’s was another matter.)
So what I’m saying is, there were counter-culture hippie bubbles, retired “mainlander” bubbles, military bubbles, tantra bubbles, spirituality bubbles and other kinds of (mostly white) American bubbles. Many of the people in these communities seemed determined to only nod in passing at the deeper realities (if they recognized them at all!), and to skim over anything harsh or else complain in private. Yes, there was racism at the bottom of a lot of it, and cultural erasure, and entitlement, and more. I remember an incident at the water aerobics class I was taking (and really needed!). The teacher was telling us to step “like an Irish jig” and two Hawaiian women asked what that was, in all innocence: “We’re Hawaiian. We don’t know what that is.” The instructor ridiculed them as if everyone should obviously know what an Irish jig was. Right there, in Hawai’i, the home of the sacred dance of hula! I didn’t go back again.
(Of course there are also many ethnic communities that interwine and overlap in Hawai’i, besides what I mention above – Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Micronesian, Tongan, Samoan, etc. – but this blog is focusing on the “mainland”-type bubbles.)
I didn’t want to dive into some comfort-making bubble of invading ex-pats, but though I kept my distance from them and developed a bad case of social anxiety (exacerbated by the logistical/social difficulties of almost thirty years of multiple-chemical sensitivity), I was no better than the rest of my fellow transplants. In fact, I felt worse. With what I knew and espoused, what right did I have to come there? When it was evident that I wouldn’t be continuing my commitment to the native man who was my partner, any possible excuse for my being there evaporated. I had also been ineffective as an activist in Hawai’i (as meetings were generally NOT fragrance-free and my request for clean indoor air seemed to be interpreted as an unreasonable request for privilege). And so my dream of helping to advance these various causes as a someday naturalized citizen of the restored kingdom also came to an end, along with my love affair. (Yes, for many, many years, I was certain I would have applied for naturalization, if it had been possible. I even have a Hawaiian Kingdom driver’s license!)
So, while struggling with “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood” (my official diagnosis) as well as some health issues and general heartbreak, I started writing The Dire Deeds of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits during the 2016 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The book was a way for me to include my observations about “bubbles” as well as my growing interest in paganism and the practice of non-denominational magic. I continued to write all year and added another 50,000 words during a 2017 NaNoWriMo “sprint.” (And I’m about finished with the first draft.)
Okay, that’s a lot of personal context there. But I offer it so that you’ll understand why this book has a serious premise at the heart of its fantasy. That premise is… some “imports” to Hawai’i should never have happened, and that includes spirituality imports. It is ironic that I deepened my exploration of the magical traditions of my DNA ancestors while living in Hawai’i, but it seemed the only pono (just or upright) thing to do. The message that came to me was that I needed to be deeply connected to my own ancestors and traditions in order to properly conduct myself as a guest of the ‘aina (land) and the local spiritual powers, even as I began to say my goodbyes.
In the book, Ginger Croom, a winery heiress from California, buys forty acres in Puna, and establishes the Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective. She gives ten acres to a couple of local Hawaiian families who have ties to that land (as a sort of apology, I suppose) and then hand-picks and recruits non-Hawaiian people from the West Coast and invites them to come live at the farm. She has her reasons for who she selects and why, but none of “the hermits” are aware of them at the beginning of the book. As the book progresses, it becomes clear that what she hoped to create should NOT have been established in Hawai’i without permission, or in close proximity to an active volcano. I can’t say more than that without creating spoilers – but you might be forgiven for thinking that the book contains metaphors for early missionary activity in Hawai’i. The unspoken assumptions of settler-colonialism and occupation are also referenced and/or challenged in various ways throughout the book. Anna Phylaxia and her real estate schemes for Hermitville represent just one kind of “evil force” active in Hawai’i, perhaps one of the most obvious.
What do the Hermits and Elves (yes, there are Elves) have to do to contend with all of this? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.
The book is a fantasy. It is a tale of mid-life magic, among other things. It’s about a merry band of quite diverse misfits who are getting old in the wrong place, who are forced to learn magic, and who become responsible for clearing up the mess of their own misguided occupation. The book is mixed with humor, whimsy, satire, and serious ideas. Not everyone will like it. But as I write and tell this story, I am also doing what I can to meet my obligations to bring attention and awareness to certain communities and issues that are touched upon in the book. Blog posts such as this one are part of that responsibility. Hawai’i saved my life (another story) and so I owe it.
Here are links to websites pertaining to the Hawaiian Kingdom and other issues in Hawai’i. Please visit them.
Many excellent documentaries by Na Maka o ka ‘Aina.
Stop Bombing Hawai’i. [I co-created this website with Linda-Faye Kroll.]
More links to come. This is only a small sample of informational links available.