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One State, Indivisible; Islands Going Off In Different Directions

July 4, 2014 - Ray Tsuchiyama

While Americans celebrate July 4th as the launch of a new nation when 13 former British colonies banded together than staying apart as weak communities, the most significant trend of the last decade for Hawai'i State has been some residents of Neighbor Islands (not Oahu, since Oahuans feel Oahu is Hawai'i) who feel they must be guarding their islands – like Kaua'i, Molokai, Maui – from outsiders with an "agenda", whether for buying energy or bringing what some perceive as an “urban” development ideology.

Even before Captain Cook arrived to connect Hawai'i to the West, there had been dreams to unify the Hawaiian Islands. There were a few inter-island amphibious assaults, similar to 800 A.D. Viking raids along the British coastline, the most notable the Maui king’s assault on Lana’i, a short eight miles from the Maui southwestern coast.

Then came Kamehameha the Great. He was an early adopter of European weaponry and technology (easily transitioning to ships powered by sail, not just men and oars), and also hiring military strategists like Englishman John Young (Kamehameha trusted this foreigner so much that he later served as Governor of the Island of Hawai'i).

With his keen strategic mind, logistics, advisors, rifles and cannons, and transport ships, Kamehameha swiftly launched amphibious campaigns from the southwestern coast of the Island of Hawai'i to Maui, Molokai, and then Oahu.

Simultaneously, the King of Maui Kalanikupule was also forming an armed force, equipped with muskets, but he was too late to move. After a series of battles, Maui was quickly consolidated into the new Kamehameha-led kingdom.

The end of the invasion of Oahu occurred at the climactic battle of Nuuanu Pali, when King Kamehameha lost his cannons, but his infantry re-organized and in bloody hand-to-hand combat, overwhelmed Oahu warriors, many who fell down the Pali to their deaths.

After the Oahu campaign, Kamehameha had to put down smaller insurrections and smoldering resentments on his conquered islands, and made preparations for the final assault on Kaua'i – 70 long sailing miles from Oahu. Years and years passed without the invasion “D-Day” command (“neutral” foreign traders visited Kaua'i to sell muskets and gunpowder for sandalwood – they were pressured by Kamehameha's security militia when they stopped in Honolulu to terminate all Kaua'i trade, isolating Kaua'i).

Then 14 years after the Oahu amphibious victory in 1796, Kaumuali'i, the King of Kaua'i, agreed to become a “vassal” under King Kamehameha, the Napoleon of the Pacific (Napoleona o ka Pakipika, and so the period of assassinations, raids, and enmity among the Hawaiian Islands ended.

During the 14 years of isolation for Kaua'i the rest of the islands began to trade with each other, travel without fear, and enjoy daily security, without the anxiety of sudden destructive naval raids. This peaceful interlude was not enjoyed by Kauaians -- instead, they felt under naval blockade for 14 long years and developed a stubborn identity as the “unconquered” people; Kauaians collectively had “stood up” to the rest of the Hawaiian archipelago united waging a lop-sided technological war against brave Kaua'i.

Even a history of Kauai is entitled “The Separate Kingdom”*. The former Kaua'i Mayor Tony Kunimura was known for his feisty, iconoclastic and what political commentators would view as “independent” ways; Kaua'i legislators in the heat of a State bill debate would declare that Kaua'i was “never” part of the Kingdom (now State) and casually “joined” as a member of an inter-island confederation, not a unified Kingdom – we may view these serio-comic utterances as fodder for the local TV Nightly News, yet 19th century deep-rooted fears of an invasion of Kaua'i have persisted into the 21th century.

That far-off northwestern Kaua'i “may” go its own way, perhaps join the Russian Empire (the Kaua'i King was actively negotiating with leaders at Russia’s southernmost trading post) or England or the new yet weak United States of America or even retract its “vassal” staus and declare independence in a fit of resentment, probably influenced King Kamehameha in his centralized approach to the Kingdom’s institutions.

Even the Territorial, then State-wide public education board, so unfamiliar to Mainland visitors, has its roots in the early Kingdom’s “centralized” strategy. No “local” administrative system exists, unlike the Mainland, like a Lahaina mayor, Lahaina police, Lahaina Board of Education, and so forth – plus, individual and corporate State taxes all go to the State coffers first, then doled out to the various Counties (this includes even driving violation fines).

In the 20th century, key Maui island politicians led the drive for Statehood, so any mention of "empowering" separate islands in the 1950s to a Nadao Yoshinaga or Patsy Mink would have been seen as lunatic fringe thinking. The post-World War II Hawai'i Democratic platform elevated a Lahaina or Hana resident as a “first-class” citizen of the envisioned State of Hawai'i, not a person just living on the island of Maui. The Island of Hawai'i has long-standing issues with Oahu, yet the unifying dream for the Hawaiian Islands had its roots in Kona, so again, residents of the Hawai'i County would rarely mention any de-linkages with the glorious State (the Kona-side secession movement wants to join the State as a separate County and ditch the Hilo-dominated County).

The State and all its centralized institutions that emerged in the 1960s, in a booming economy due to tourism, pineapple and sugar, and Vietnam-related military base build-up, would grow even more centralized (with tax monies flowing to the State legislature and power follows money).

Then came the Super Ferry, a large smooth-sailing catamaran ship that would take passengers for cheap tickets on short inter-island hops, a project that would overwhelm Governor Linda Lingle’s administration in the late 2000s – and give hints that the “separateness” of Hawaiian Islands is an emerging trend.

The first August 2007 Oahu-Maui Superferry ride was met with a few protesters at Kahului Harbor. Then on the first Kaua'i trip (of course, the “separate” Kingdom), over 50 protesters on surfboards blockaded the Superferry at Nawiliwili Harbor.

The U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat had to “clear” the ferry entry. On-shore protesters continued to berate the passengers and ferry ship sailors and even vandalized cars of Kaua'i residents, seen as defenders of the State and carriers of GMO-plants hiding in car tirewells, not pure righteous human beings of the beautiful pristine island of Kaua’i. In this ugly and name-calling scene in the twilight, Kaua'i County police arrested several protesters.

A series of court decisions ordered a halt to the Superferry from steaming into Kahului harbor, and that ended Maui service.

The Superferry was forced to turn back from its second trip to Kaua'i after protesters again blockaded the Nawiliwili Harbor resulting in several more arrests, including children. When the harbor surfboard protesters came ashore, others in the crowd provided dry clothes to help them escape from the police (like civilians in the French Resistance in World War II).

The Kaua'i protesters saw themselves as fighting against encroaching “other” island visitors like a “people’s militia” assembled at Concord to fight against British occupying troops (stretching a July 4th analogy), or going back to the early 1800s, imbued with a historical memory that Kaua'i would never be conquered by a naval assault from Oahu. Yet some Hawai'i citizens, including many on Kaua'i, wanted an inexpensive way to travel to another island (and take their car along).

At the Nawiliwi harbor Superferry passengers were forced to remain on board for nine long hours, while Kaua'i residents were prevented by protesters to board the ferry – and the Federal Coast Guard patrol boat security officers recommended that the Superferry not enter Kaua'i -- and that was last straw: the Superferry halted service immediately to Kaua'i.

The rest is history**: the Superferry ceased, the advanced high-tech ships sold to the Federal government (ironically, confirming what some protesters saw as the "passenger" ferries were a cover for amphibious naval craft all along), and only jet plane tickets are available to travel easily among the Hawaiian Islands, including the “Separate Kingdom”.

What the fast-moving events of 2007 – barely seven years ago -- revealed was that there is an underlying suspicion in the collective mind of some Hawaiian Island communities regarding “other” islands, that they are somewhat calculating, with different agendas, with the aim of gobbling resources (food, energy, land for urban development).

This is unlike the bonding of diverse Hawai'i communities in the late 1950s for higher-paying and diverse jobs (other than sugar), better housing, education, health care, roads, security, human services -- a new State with a bright future that would elevate all State citizens to a higher level: the Fiftieth State of the Union, nicknamed the “Aloha” State.

*See: University of Hawai'i Press Publication Kaua'i: A Separate Kingdom by Edward Joesting” Interesting, the book ends at the Overthrow in 1893, and the second century of Kaua'i was never published.

**There are volumes of environmental, legal, and political issues that are part of the Superferry, and I am reviewing only the historical and social collective trends in the protests.


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