Posts Tagged ‘Hawaii’

Continuing my attempts to catch up on the many blog posts & articles which have caught my eye in recent weeks…

A Lakota or Yankton robe, produced by a group of men c. 1780-1825, detailing their victories in war. Native-tanned leather, porcupine quills, bird feathers, plant fibers, and pigment.

Hyperallergic reports that while the Metropolitan Museum’s recent show The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky was quite well-received in many mainstream publications, such as the NY Times and the New Yorker, some Native American scholars, such as Joe Horse Capture, were not so pleased. In short, Horse Capture felt there were not enough Native partners involved in putting together the show, and that those who were involved were only involved as lesser consultants, and not as equals (let alone being in charge) in the curatorial process.

I am somewhat surprised to hear this, as I was rather impressed with the exhibit. Now, I am no specialist in Native American histories/cultures, but I do have some experience with Hawaiian and Pacific Island Studies, and with discourses in Museum Studies specifically addressing issues of Orientalism, post-colonial contexts, and of respectful, proper representation of indigenous cultures in museums. So, not to discount, challenge, or oppose Mr. Horse Chase’s position – I would never dare to do so; after all, who the hell am I? – but for whatever it is worth coming from me, I was quite impressed to see the Met devote one of its chief exhibition galleries, where they might normally exhibit yet another Post-Impressionists show, instead to a very extensive and beautifully done exhibit on the Plains Indians. An exhibit which the New Yorker tells us “is the most comprehensive of its kind.”

And, not only did the museum devote this large and prominent space to this exhibit, but they did so with an exhibit that tells the history of these people, showing their works as beautiful, expertly crafted, and culturally meaningful, not as backwards or savage at all; plus it incorporates a great many contemporary works, including works boldly critical of the US government, of Orientalism/racism, and so forth.

Gifts for Trading Land with White People, by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. Oil and mixed media on canvas, 1992.

I guess it comes as no surprise that someone should express criticism – after all, Native Americans are not a monolith, and just as among any group, whether it be feminists, Jews, whites, blacks, Japanese, Okinawans, or Native Hawaiians, you’re going to get a diversity of opinions. And his anger, or frustration, is easy to understand. As the Hyperallergic article states, “that a show of that size and scope wouldn’t include Native American curatorial partners is indicative of a museum system that has for centuries seen Indigenous people as subjects.” And yet, there were Native partners on this, who as far as I can know involved in the project quite willingly, and supportive of the exhibit. But, then, as a mere museum visitor who has not read up on this exhibit extensively, let alone spoken to the curators or anyone, I certainly admit I have no real way of knowing.

Breakfast Series, by Sonny Assu Gwa’gwa’da’ka, 2006, on display at the Seattle Art Museum.

Meanwhile at the Seattle Art Museum, to which Hyperallergic compares this exhibit, it comes as no surprise at all that the museum should have such an extensive gallery of Pacific Northwest Native American art, including some really wonderful contemporary pieces, some of which show the beauty, power, and vital vibrancy of the culture today, and some of which are just fantastic critiques of history, of racism, and so forth. I was disappointed to see the Seattle Museum show no more than three or four Pacific Islands objects – much like the so-called Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena has only two or three Pacific Island objects on display, as of my last visit; though the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, in Seattle’s Chinatown, incidentally, does a much better job, with numerous works by Native Pacific Islanders mixed in with the Asian-American exhibits. But, despite its woeful lack of Pacific Islander art, the Seattle Art Museum truly surprised me with its two or three entire rooms dedicated to Australian Aboriginal art, something I have never seen to such an extent at any other museum. So, huge kudos for that.1

Returning to the Metropolitan’s Plains Indians exhibit, the Hyperallergic review of the exhibition is quite powerful, and contains much incisive and critical commentary. It touches upon many of the most important issues inherent in doing any show of works from an indigenous culture, or from any other colonized culture for that matter. As Ellen Pearlman’s Hyperallergic review states,

a number of Plains Indians artists and their extended families, … remarked about the “power” many of the pieces emanated, and that they contained “blessings” that typical museum goers had no idea about. They were happy to have these items back in “Turtle Island” (America)… [but that] “These are our people’s treasures, and others control and dominate them”

There is also the concern that the Met, as per usual, focuses on these objects as beautiful art objects, to be appreciated for their aesthetic value. It continues to frustrate me, just as a historian, art historian, and aspiring museum professional, that while Europe, and other parts of the world, have great museums dedicated to the histories and cultures of the peoples of the world, here in the US all our greatest museums are *art* museums, and are thus inclined to do just what the Met has done here. It’s even right in the title, “Artists of Earth and Sky,” as if they are chiefly to be appreciated as artists, and for the beautiful objects they produced, rather than being appreciated as peoples with full, rich, cultures and histories, who produced objects with rich, deep, cultural meaning. There is, I think, very much an argument to be made that an art exhibit such as this seeks to rectify past racist/Orientalist wrongs by elevating Native American culture, within elite mainstream discourses, to a more equal status with European or other culture, by showing that they, too, are a culture which produced “high” art, beautiful art. And, indeed, it would be dangerous, I think, to say that these cultural objects do not count as “art”, and should not be included in an art museum, because of their ritual or otherwise cultural meaning beyond mere aesthetics. To do so would only serve to reinforce old prejudices, that Native American culture is/was lacking in art, and/or incapable of producing art, and was thus a set of inferior, lesser, savage or primitive cultures.

Yet, still, as Pearlman’s review notes,

One of the artists told me, “We struggle with identity, and struggle to reidentify with who we are.” If only the Met had foregrounded that issue alongside the aesthetic object, instead of relegating it to ancillary, supplementary materials, this could have been a show that rectified a host of wrongs, turning them into an abundant basket of rights.

And so, as we can clearly see, there are profoundly deep, serious, ways in which, for an artist and activist deeply in touch with her Native American heritage and identity, this exhibit did not go nearly far enough, or maybe didn’t even represent progress at all. I, personally, was very pleasantly surprised to see the Met doing this exhibit at all, and was quite impressed with the size of the exhibit, the histories and issues it addressed, and so forth, but clearly the Met still has a long way to go. Perhaps the Seattle Art Museum might be one of the better models to follow, at least in some respects.

McKinley High School, in Honolulu.

Meanwhile, on a separate issue, the Hawaii Independent published last week an article “On Renaming Hawaii”: De-memorializing the violence of colonial imperialism by abandoning the names of oppressors currently commemorated in our street, school and place names.

This is most certainly an interesting and important notion. After all, why the hell is there a McKinley High School in Hawaii!?

After President Cleveland denounced the annexation of Hawaii, and if memory serves assured Princess Kaiulani he would do whatever he could to protect her kingdom, assuring her too that Congress could not legally annex another country unilaterally without Treaty, Pres. McKinley came along and just snatched up the islands, along with the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, like it was no thing.

As President Cleveland wrote in 1893:

Thus it appears that Hawaii was taken possession of by the United States forces without the consent or wish of the government of the islands, or of anybody else so far as shown, except the United States Minister.

Therefore the military occupation of Honolulu by the United States on the day mentioned was wholly without justification, either as an occupation by consent or as an occupation necessitated by dangers threatening American life and property.

…. By an act of war, committed with the participation of a diplomatic representative of the United States and without authority of Congress, the Government of a feeble but friendly and confiding people has been overthrown. A substantial wrong has thus been done which a due regard for our national character as well as the rights of the injured people requires we should endeavor to repair. The provisional government has not assumed a republican or other constitutional form, but has remained a mere executive council or oligarchy, set up without the assent of the people. It has not sought to find a permanent basis of popular support and has given no evidence of an intention to do so. Indeed, the representatives of that government assert that the people of Hawaii are unfit for popular government and frankly avow that they can be best ruled by arbitrary or despotic power.

And just a few years later, we have from McKinley:

“We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is manifest destiny.” – William McKinley, remark to personal secretary George Cortelyou (1898).

“The American flag has not been planted on foreign soil to acquire more territory but for humanity’s sake.” – Quoted from July 12, 1900, on 1900 US campaign poster, of McKinley and his choice for second term Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt.

The Dole Corporation, still flaunting it today. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

And the same goes for Dole, Baldwin, Castle, and others, all streets in Hawaii today, named after sugar magnates or American business leaders otherwise, who pursued, and in some cases played a rather direct role in seeing through, the destruction of the kingdom, the destruction of the independence and self-governance of the Hawaiian people, all in the name of US corporate interests, i.e. personal profits, albeit at times under the masquerade of a civilizing mission.

While Robert E. Lee and all the other Confederates after whom streets and schools are named were traitors to the United States in a more direct way, these men were to an equal degree – perhaps even greater, given their ultimate success and the Confederacy’s failure, with several of these corporations still going quite strong today – traitors to the Hawaiian Kingdom to which they had sworn their allegiance. And while I wish I could say they were traitors, too, to the highest ideals of this nation, the United States, sadly, I begin to think it was precisely their adherence to and promotion of the ideals of this nation – anti-monarchism, “progress,” Manifest Destiny, and above all capitalism in the spirit of Locke, Smith, and Smiles – that caused the downfall of Hawaiian independence, self-governance, and well-being. One really begins to understand, or at least to imagine, to get a glimpse, of what it might feel like to be a Native Hawaiian, not only living one’s life every day in the lands of one’s ancestors, occupied or colonized by outsiders, but having the fact of that occupation, that colonial situation, blared in one’s face all the more loudly by the public celebration of figures like McKinley and Dole.

I find this issue particularly interesting, though, because there is the question of what to rename these streets and schools if not after Anglo/American figures. In an article I have cited before, entitled The Aloha State: Place Names and the Anti-Conquest of Hawaiʻi, RDK Herman argues that the expansion of Hawaiian-derived street names – such as Kalākaua, Kapahulu, and Kuhio Aves, Kapiolani Blvd, and so on – makes it look, feel, as if real change has taken place, and serves to paper over the real problems, which remain unaddressed. This constitutes what is called “anti-conquest.” Leaving placenames like McKinley High School and Dole Street in place may serve better as a reminder that Hawaii is still under illegal occupation, that Hawaiians are still not in control of their own land or their own destiny, and that this still needs to be addressed, whereas the deploying of Hawaiian names – often somewhat willy-nilly without Native input as to their desires as to placenames – makes it all too easy to think that real progress has been made, when it in fact hasn’t.

The Confederate battle flag flying over the South Carolina State House in Columbia, SC, in 2008. Creative Commons image courtesy Flickr user eyeliam. Much obliged.

There are likely connections to be drawn here to the various articles that have been published in recent weeks contending that racism and so forth is not only a problem of the American South, but of the North as well, just hidden better, and more overlooked, because of the relative absence of the Confederate battle flag and other boldly displayed symbols of racism. Perhaps there is value in keeping the Confederate flag, because as John Oliver stated on his show, “The Confederate flag is one of those symbols that … help the rest of us identify the worst people in the world.” I support all of those who have argued passionately and eloquently, and quite correctly, for the removal of the Confederate flag from public buildings; as Ta-Nehisi Coates so eloquently stated,

the flag’s presence was a humiliating insult, an unabashed display of nostalgia for the good old days of white supremacy, the celebration of a centuries-old ‘heritage’ — not of hate, … but of plunder, an organized system of ethnic piracy that for centuries has worked to transform black blood into spotless white coinage.

I cheer on Bree Newsome who took matters into her own hands. I only wish she had burned the flag, rather than just hand it over to the cops so they could put it back up in time for the scheduled 11am white supremacist bullshit. But, while some are praising political and corporate leaders who have called for the flag’s removal in recent days, I fear that many of these people – governors, Wal-Mart execs – are just sticking a wet finger in the wind, and doing what’s politically advantageous, doing what they feel they must to retain a positive reputation, and not actually acting on changed attitudes. The removal of the flag, and if it were to go further, the removal of statues and monuments, street names and school names, would be important and powerful acts discursively – I would be going against some of the core premises of my own research, and of certain portions of the fields of art & architectural history, performance and ritual studies, to dismiss all of this as nothing but “show” – it certainly does send a message that these people and their ideals are not to be celebrated, lionized, worshipped, and that African-Americans are Americans too, just as much so as the rest of us. Conveying that message through the taking down of Confederate memorials and symbols would have real, powerful, impacts upon whites and blacks both living in that environment, including especially the next generation of schoolchildren who will grow up not seeing these figures as heroes (provided textbooks and curricula are changed as well, which is another fight entirely). Having said so, I suppose this really does represent a step of real progress, if celebration and lionization of the Confederacy were really, truly, to be removed from public life. But, still, in other important ways, it does give the illusion that even greater progress is being made, when it is not, and for that reason, Ben Ehrenreich, over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, has another suggestion:

Until we summon the courage to become something different, let us remember who we are. Let the Confederate battle flag fly. It is an ugly and an offensive symbol, but the reality that it represents, which is not past, is uglier still, and all the more so because we so willfully ignore it. As long as black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, as long as black Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed, to be impoverished, and to be hungry as the rest of the population, the Confederate flag will be no relic. So let it fly. Not just outside the statehouse in Columbia, and not just in the South, but outside every government building in the United States. Let it fly from every courthouse, every police station, every prison. In New York as well as Ferguson, in Oakland and Los Angeles as well as Sanford and Charleston. Let it fly in front of every public school, just above the metal detector, where the armed policeman waits. Let it fly from every bank too, every mortgage lender, and every payday loan shop. Let it fly above every far-flung US military post in every corner of the globe. Let police officers wear it on their shoulders beneath the other flag, or above it. Slap it on the uniforms of our troops. Paint it on our bombers. Stamp it on our drones. Let the flag fly. Let the flag fly, a mirror on a pole, and a reminder that there is a great deal of work to be done.

On this very subject, Zachariah Mampilly has a compelling article in Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies in which he argues what I think for many Americans is a novel concept: that we, too, are a post-colonial society, and that we, too, need to work to Decoloniz[e] the United States.

I have to admit I have not yet read through this article, but the Introduction was quite compelling. This is all very complicated business, and I do not know what the right answers are – what the right path forward is, precisely. But, the first step is to recognize that there’s a problem, that the entire US – and not just Hawaii – is in meaningful, valid, serious ways a (self-)colonized society as well, and that there are problems inherent in the current situation that need to be addressed, in order to properly move forward. Much thanks to Dr. Sarah Watkins for pointing out this Mampilly article, and for general all-around African Studies awesomeness.

Except where indicated otherwise, all photos are my own.

(1) And, just incidentally, kudos to SAM as well for this very nice page addressing Provenance concerns.

Read Full Post »

On Returning to Hawaii

If ever there was an occasion for the use of the phrase “so many feels,” it was this. After earning my MA from the University of Hawaii, and then subsequently moving back to the mainland for the PhD, I went back to Hawaii last week, for the first time in about 9 months, to present at a symposium.

Perhaps partially influenced by my blog-writing and/or scholarly training, and the habit I have thus developed of thinking about experiences rather than simply experiencing them, almost immediately upon landing, even before leaving the airport, I found myself thinking all sorts of thoughts about my return – how do I relate to Hawaii now? What do I think about Hawaii, now that I’ve lived there for three years, and then been gone for so many months?

For the first day or so on campus, I was flooded with thoughts and emotions. It was wonderful to be back – the natural beauty, the weather/climate, the myriad opportunities for Japanese/Okinawan food and culture, and, of course, seeing old friends. And interestingly, yet not unexpectedly, I found that campus, and town more generally, while eminently familiar, lacked a nostalgic or emotional quality. It wasn’t “oh, I remember this place!” with tears in my eyes and/or a smile on my face, but rather just an ordinary awareness of where everything was and how to get there.

But it wasn’t just as if I’d never left. Staying at the slightly nicer, more hotel-style, building associated with the dorms I had lived in the last few years, and no longer possessing a key card to get into the dorms (plus, no longer being able to use my student ID to ride the bus for free), I definitely also felt a feeling of not-quite-belonging; this, of course, being accompanied by some anxiety over just how much I do or don’t belong, and how there are now new students, who I don’t know, and who don’t know me, and who in some very real and valid respects “belong” more than I do. Fortunately, at this stage of the game at least, a mere nine months or so since I left the islands, I still have plenty of friends on campus, so it’s not like I’m a total stranger, and the people I do know can welcome me in and introduce me to the people I don’t know – in this way, I was able to feel comfortable letting myself in to walk around the art building, see who I ran into, and to then hang out with old and new friends. Actually, in a broader sense, this worked pretty much all weekend – having friends to go to the beach with, friends to go out to a bar with, friends to show me a new cool restaurant in town. It didn’t really hit me until after getting back to the mainland from Hawaii, earlier this week, that it won’t be long at all before most of my friends are no longer there. The next time I go back the experience will be decidedly different.

But, this time at least, despite all my anxieties, by the middle of the week, I had settled down into a wonderfully calm sense of contentment and familiarity. For most of the rest of the week, I simply enjoyed myself.

What’s to say about all the rest? I do miss Hawaii very much. I miss the beautiful blue sky, oh-so-white clouds, and lush green – and the wonderfully warm weather itself – more than I’d thought, as well as the beach. I always tell myself, and tell others, that I’m not one of those people who ever went to Hawaii for the weather, or for the beach, but, by comparison, even Santa Barbara (which everyone is constantly saying is so nice) seems unattractive and cold. I miss the ever-present and easily accessible Japanese & Okinawan culture, in its myriad forms, from restaurants, izakaya (pubs/bars), and grocery stores to the kimono, books, CDs/DVDs, etc. available at Shirokiya/BookOff, to the countless cultural events, lectures, etc., from Bon Dance and Okinawa Festival to sanshin lessons, Asian Theatre at UH’s Theatre dept, and just lectures and symposia in general.

But perhaps most of all, Hawaii is an unusual place, like Japan is too. Now, wait, bear with me on this one. No, living in Hawaii is not like living in Japan; in so many ways, it could not be more different – the vast majority of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii don’t speak Japanese, things are not clean and efficient and on-time, and the overall culture is very much its own distinctive Hawaiian / local-Hawaiian-Japanese-American thing, and not at all an extension of contemporary culture in Japan. But. While there are a multitude of individual specific cultural aspects I love about life in Japan, alongside those there is also great appeal simply in the feeling of living somewhere not-mainstream, somewhere special, somewhere exceptional. A feeling of living a worldly, cosmopolitan life, of doing something special. Not that I do any of this merely to impress others – it’s not purely or primarily about the ability to go home and have people say “wow, you’re living in Hawaii!? How cool/amazing! What is that like?” Rather, it’s about the ability to say that to yourself. To myself. To feel like I’m doing something special with my life, to feel like every single day is an adventure, a cultural experience, something that I can myself feel is worth it and exciting and meaningful. It’s a feeling I’ve had about Japan ever since my very first time there, and yet I still have a hard time pinning down exactly how to describe what I mean… and it’s certainly not a feeling I have in Santa Barbara, that I should be so fortunate to live here, rather than living in LA or in NorCal or in Seattle, or anywhere else. What’s so special about Santa Barbara, that makes you worldly, that makes you cultured, that makes you well-traveled, that makes you someone with particularly distinct experiences and perspectives, like Hawaii or Japan does?

More than that, still, and I guess this is what concerns me the most, is that I feel that living in Hawaii made me a better person. Being constantly challenged with rethinking my assumptions and attitudes about indigenous issues, about valuing or understanding indigenous and (post)colonial issues, and rethinking my understandings of Asian and Asian-American cultures, made me a better person in a way that life as a privileged white man in the mainland US never does. It gave me perspective on a whole series of issues outside of the mainland black/Hispanic racial/”diversity” dynamic, and through engaging with indigenous, cultural identity, and colonial issues in the Hawaiian context, opened my mind to rethinking my relationship to all of these issues in terms of my own (Jewish) identity, my own relationship to Japan or Okinawa, to America, etc etc. And, on a separate point, in my last year or two in Hawaii, for the first time in my life, I expanded out into theatre, music, and dance, taking on new cultural/artistic hobbies and becoming a more well-rounded person. Back here in Santa Barbara, I have yet to find or connect with any Japanese/Okinawan/other-Asian music, dance, theatre, or art communities, and though I still maintain those interests, and still have my sanshin, I feel like my life revolves far too much around reading and writing, i.e. the more strictly, exclusively scholarly/academic lifestyle. In my last three semesters in Hawaii, my everyday life was dominated by kabuki, sanshin, Okinawan dance, and otherwise hanging out with art, music, and theatre people, with research, reading, and writing kind of happening only on the side. It’s about being social and having a very active social life, yes, and I do feel I’m lacking that, missing that, here, but, it’s also about living a more culturally/artistically engaged lifestyle.

When I first arrived in Hawaii, it took me a long time to adjust to the island. And maybe it’s simply a matter of that it will take time here too to make friends, to find cultural avenues, to make connections and find my social & cultural life. Maybe it’s just a matter of a transition/adjustment period. Or, maybe Santa Barbara is just a desolate place, relatively, compared to Hawaii, and cannot, will not, ever compare to Hawaii in terms of the ability to engage with Japanese, Okinawan, Polynesian, music, dance, theatre, art, and culture otherwise.

Read Full Post »

I don’t recall exactly how I came across it, but I recently found out about the 2011 book Pacific Gibraltar: US-Japanese Rivalry over the Annexation of Hawaiʻi, 1885-1898 by William Michael Morgan.

The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, as we all know, was overthrown in 1893, and annexed by the United States five years later, by a unilateral Act of Congress (meaning, without Treaty or any other arrangement or agreement with the government of Hawaiʻi). Meanwhile, Hawaiʻi’s King Kalākaua had visited Japan in 1881, becoming the first reigning foreign head of state to visit Japan of his own volition (King Shô Nei of Ryûkyû had been taken to Japan in 1609 as a hostage). Kalākaua made agreements with the Japanese government to arrange for the beginning of Japanese immigration to Hawaiʻi; the first immigrants arrived in the islands in 1885.

And that’s pretty much all I know about it. I never suspected there was any more connection or involvement, really, between the Japanese government and the overthrow and annexation of Hawaiʻi. But the title of this book would seem to imply that there was actually a rivalry between Washington and Tokyo for control of Hawaiʻi, i.e. that Japan had a lot more involvement in Hawaiʻi at this time than simply sending plantation workers.

Sadly, I know that I’m not going to get a chance to read this book anytime soon. But I’m terribly curious to do so, to learn more about Japan-Hawaiʻi relations, and about the overthrow and annexation of the kingdom.

Read Full Post »

This is a rather more personal post, so I was hesitant at first to post it here. But, I feel the need to post it somewhere, to get these thoughts down on “paper.” And, since it’s relevant to Hawaii, to graduate school adventures, and to cultural experiences, I figure it’s perhaps not too personal to be put here. In other words, could be quite relevant to others’ experiences.

After three years in Hawaii, I feel like I am just now really starting to get really settled and established here. Up until the beginning of this school year (last August/September), I never really considered trying to organize an event on my own on campus – I didn’t feel it was my place, or I didn’t feel comfortable enough with my position, or with my relationships with faculty/staff to take that initiative. Up until this past year, I wouldn’t have thought of trying to organize something off-campus, either, as I felt that I scarcely knew anyone who could provide a venue, and perhaps didn’t really think about knowing anyone well enough to ask them to perform at my hypothetical event.

That’s just one aspect, but I think it says a lot. I cannot believe that in a little over two weeks time, I will be flying out of here, more or less permanently. Oh, sure, I tell myself that I’ll be back for research, or for conferences or something. But will that really happen? And even if it does, will it ever be the same? (No.) It’s one thing to leave for the summer, but to leave entirely? I am, strangely enough, having a very difficult time wrapping my head around this idea. When I first came here, I had little interest in staying. I had a lot of culture shock issues, and I just sort of felt like I would do my thing and then get out of here. Honolulu is way too small, too isolated, not only geographically, but perhaps more importantly, it’s small and isolated in people’s minds. People here have little desire to think globally, to think of themselves as part of an active, vibrant network of international travel, communication, and exchange. They’re much more interested in the local – who and what is important here, not who or what is prominent in the outside world. And that really rubbed me the wrong way when I first got here.

But after three years here, I have not only turned over a new leaf, coming to see things in a different light, but I have also found a community here that, sure, it’s not nearly as Japanese as Japan, not by a long shot, but it really is far more Japanese than anywhere I’ve experienced on the mainland. Now, of course, “more Japanese” is not really the phrase I mean to use. But, living here, one not only has extremely easy access to Japanese (and other East Asian) culture, but one is also surrounded and immersed in it, albeit in a rather uniquely Hawaiian local version of Japanese culture. It’s not just a matter of having Japanese grocery stores. We have those in NY, too. And in Boston, San Francisco, and elsewhere. In fact, you might have better luck looking for certain things (e.g. Japanese books) in New York than here – the BookOff’s selection is terrible here. And, sure, New York has plenty of izakaya and Japanese restaurants. But there’s something special about the izakaya and Japanese restaurants here. Well, three things. One, they’re more ubiquitous, more ever-present. They’re not just one option among myriad cultural options as they are in NY; they’re one of the main things here. Two, they’re as often as not operated by locals, which is something that really turned me off at first, since it felt far less authentic. But what’s “authenticity” anyway? When I came here, I had no interest in this bastardized local Hawaiian version of Japanese culture; I wanted the real thing, imported directly from Japan, an experience as close as I could get to as if I were in Japan for real. But I gradually came to appreciate local Hawaiian Japanese culture for its own thing. And the people are, in their own way, all the more genuine since there’s an air of the family-run, mom & pop sort of establishment, connected to the history of the place, the history of their family, and of Japanese in Hawaii, whereas the more “authentic” Japanese places are just chain stores, corporate things brought over here, with a sense of plasticness to it, lacking that friendly, local, family-run sort of feeling. Three, is the availability of Okinawan cuisine here. There are only a handful of places I know of on the island that specialize in Okinawan food, but that’s a handful more than I know of in New York.

Whereas there are many aspects of Japanese culture quite available in New York, it’s the fact that you don’t have to go and seek them out here, or feel like you’re occupying some remote niche of the city’s society/culture in doing so. Just being here, without having to really hunt it down at all, I have seen or been involved in numerous Asian theatre performances, Asian dance and music performances, Asian Art events, and the like. We have kabuki on-campus. We have a gazillion Bon Dancing events all summer (I’ve never actually managed to go to any). We have not one, but something like ten or fifteen Okinawan Lunar New Year celebrations; and that’s just the Okinawans. I wonder how many Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Korean Lunar New Year events there are on the island. We have Okinawa Festival, we have KZOO Japanese-language Radio station. We have Shirokiya Japanese department store, and we have andagi (Okinawan donuts) at the coffee shop on campus.

I have made tons of friends here, and a few who have become truly among my closest and dearest friends, and I will miss them very much. But many of them are leaving anyway, and so the idea of “I don’t want to leave because I’m leaving my friends” is sort of a moot point. More to the point, then, I guess, is that I’ll really miss all the opportunities to continue being involved in Japanese & Okinawan Studies and Japanese & Okinawan local communities, especially where the performing arts come into play. I have a sanshin teacher here now, and not only that, but I have started to get to know many people in the local Okinawan community. I regret not getting to know them better, both the local community, and the on-campus Okinawan students’ community. These are two places I could really have networked and made connections.

I am going to miss the wonderfully strong Asian Theatre program here, and the impact it has upon so many things that go on in the Theatre. I’m not saying that their productions of Hamlet and Oklahoma! were Asian-influenced, but I’m saying that no other school in the country so far as I am aware has so many smaller performances such as the scenes my friends will be organizing next week as the final projects for their Asian Directing class. No other school in the country has full-on Kabuki productions, or Randai. And I am most definitely going to miss that. But it’s not the productions themselves. It’s the attitudes, the interest. The presence of so many likeminded Asian Studies people, in Theatre, in Dance, in Music, in Art History, in Anthropology…. the very strong Asia-Pacific focus here, and the relative absence of any overpowering, dominating Western Studies-by-default sensibility. The ability to feel like Asian Studies is not a niche, off in the corner, but is the main event; and the ability to meet people, and talk to people, in all different departments, and find common interests, and common knowledge. How many Theatre students am I going to find at Santa Barbara who are interested in Kabuki? How am I even going to meet these people and get involved in getting to know anyone in the department, when there’s basically no Asian Theatre at all going on?

This post is really rambly, and I apologize for that.

One thing I realized today. I went to a talk about rhetorical sovereignty and the rhetoric conveyed by the newly renovated Hawaii Hall at Bishop Museum. First, as a total sidenote, I think it really interesting that this word “rhetoric” has never before come up in my studies. Perhaps it’s something worth looking into as an alternative to the discourses on, achem, “discourse.” But, anyway, when I first came to Hawaii, I was very much put off by post-colonial attitudes and post-colonial theory. I came into the Museum Studies class, and said that I was taking the class in order to learn how to design and execute Metropolitan Museum-style exhibitions of 13th century ink paintings, and people looked at me like I had three heads. The entire course was about how to represent indigenous peoples in a culturally sensitive way, how to give them “voice,” how to deal with post-colonial issues. And, at first, I was not only disinterested – I was downright opposed to it. It made me angry, and I rebelled. But, you know what, in the end, once I got over that anger and found the way to discuss these issues on a more removed, objective, “isn’t that interesting” sort of level, I found it all not only fascinating, but really relevant to and inspiring of topics I might want to look into with Okinawa.

I can’t even find a way to describe it without it sounding like the very thing I was opposed to to begin with. But, there is something in the academic approaches, or scholarly theories, about rhetoric and discourses, about the symbolism of a colonized place as deployed by the colonizer, that’s really interesting. The multiple meanings of a place, or an object, or an image, a symbol… I have no interest in being anti-American, or anti-Japanese, or anything like that. My interest in Hawaii, and in Ryukyu, is more or less apolitical, and almost entirely non-activist. I just find it interesting. And I think that being surrounded by discussion of these issues has been really interesting for me, really inspiring, and I wonder what I could come up with if I were encouraged to continue in this vein. But, since I’m leaving, not having that Hawaiian environment, I don’t think I’ll really find myself doing that sort of thing any more. I am so influenced by the topics around me – I get so interested in whatever it is I’m being taught at the moment – this is part of why I have so much trouble deciding on a field or a discipline, because wherever I am, it either feels really attractive, or makes the opposite option really attractive, but either way is extremely influential. … Hearing talks about the discursive or symbolic meaning of ‘Iolani Palace makes me think about how these same exact issues might apply to Okinawa’s Shuri Palace. Talks about how Bishop Museum is seen by many/most native Hawaiians as a colonial institution, as a creation of the oppressors, and not as a place that genuinely represents their voice – and also about what the museum is doing to try to rectify past wrongs and to represent the Hawaiian people, their history and culture, in the most culturally sensitive way – these kinds of talks make me really want to go investigate the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, and the internal politics, and discursive or rhetorical impacts of the gallery exhibitions there.

I don’t know that I’m really interested in indigenous movements, per se, and I’m not looking to become activist. I’m still often very annoyed at comments people make, such as suggesting that a museum in Massachusetts has no right to a Hawaiian statue. (Wait, that’s actually a really nice museum, and it has its own story to tell, an interesting and exciting and romantic story about cultural explorers from New England who were some of the first to introduce the US to Asian and Pacific culture, and to advocate for Asians & Pacific peoples, and for the beauty and value of their culture, etc…. not to mention the whole issue of if we repatriate everything then what is left in the museum, and if we repatriate everything, then how is anyone supposed to learn about, or be inspired by, another culture, without traveling halfway around the world? But I don’t want to get into that now. That’s not at all what this post is about right now.) … But I do think that, resistant as I was at first, having learned about all these indigenous and post-colonial issues has been extremely good for me as a person. A real learning, growing experience, making me into a better person. I hope that I might continue to be exposed to these issues, so that I can continue to engage with them, to figure out my stance as a result of talking it through more with others…. Controversy can be a turn-off, but it can also give a place so much more character, and make it so much more intriguing. ‘Iolani Palace and Bishop Museum are key examples. Sometimes I may feel personally attacked, or I may get angry about certain points, but for the most part, it’s really just about taking an objective, secular, stand-back, removed view, and thinking it interesting and fascinating. As if it were a really intricate and interesting fantasy story. No personal investment in who the good guys are or anything, just a really engaging and twisted network of rhetorical/discursive/political phenomena.

Part of me was, and I guess still is, really psyched to go back to the mainland and to experience a more intensively scholarly, academic, rigorous, History-oriented program. And, to interact with historians of Europe, and otherwise with a scholarly community that can present me with a new and different environment or set of approaches. Part of me imagines that the experience on the mainland will be more rigorous in precisely the sort of way of training me to be a proper scholar in the way that mainland scholars are, essentially, retraining the “local Hawaiian” or the “uniquely Hawaiian” methodologies or approaches out of me, and preparing me for actually getting ahead in the field, by becoming the kind of scholar who everyone is looking for me to be. Or something like that. Of course, I have no idea what the program is actually going to be like. But, part of me really wants now to stay here, to do the sort of thing we’ve been doing so much of here, sitting around, calmly and engagedly talking about discourses, rhetoric, and symbolism, about cultural impacts. I feel comfortable here, not in a bad way, not in a “you’re too comfortable, it’s time to move on, there’s no new challenges for you here” kind of way, and certainly not in the way I imagine most people get too comfortable in Hawaii. I love the weather, how could you not? But I’m no surfer, or beach bum. I scarcely ever get out to the beach, or hiking in the mountains, let alone regularly doing anything like surfing or canoeing or paddleboarding or anything. But I know people here, and I find connections, interesting topics of research, interesting approaches, among so many people I meet for the first time. It feels like there are so many more people to meet, and conversations to have, and people I’ve already met who I’d want to talk to more, as we have such great common interests. Why am I leaving such a fruitful and vibrant and productive and inspiring academic environment? … Maybe it’ll be just as good at Santa Barbara. Maybe even better. Who knows?

But I do know that I have a very long list of things I’m going to miss.
*Leis – It’s so wonderful to go to an art opening, or other event, and know who the artists or speakers are, because they’re wearing leis. And it’s so wonderful to receive a lei. It goes far beyond the stereotype of being given a lei by a hula girl as you step off the plane. I’ve certainly never been given one in that context. It’s about honoring you that you’ve accomplished something, or that you’re someone special, a special guest, for the day.
*Japanese connection – Again, the fact that Japanese culture seeps into everything. The fact that you can go to the thrift shop, and find more Japanese dishes and furniture than Western ones.
*Community arts, esp. the Asian-American community – I wrote a whole post about this at one point; I’ve really turned around and come to appreciate the beauty, and authenticness, of arts performed in/by a community. Playing sanshin not only in class, but for the Okinawan Lunar New Year dinner, was fantastic. And there’s Bon Dance. And there’s this community of people who you get to know, who you see at all the events, who you see perform (or get to perform with). And I really do wish I could continue my sanshin, and maybe Okinawan dance, if only I had a teacher.
*Language – When I first got here, I was disgusted by the idea that pidgin should deserve any respect at all. And to a large extent I still feel that way. It’s just bad English, is all it is. But, when native Hawaiian words, or other local words, are thrown into everyday language, it makes you feel like you’re a part of something special. Drawing upon a special, unique identity, upon a beautiful culture. That you’re connecting to the local culture, and also becoming more global/cultural in the process. I love that we have Aloha and Mahalo to use in our emails, and I really struggle to write emails without them now, sometimes. If you don’t know who you’re writing to, what do you use? “Greetings,”? Bah. “Aloha,” is so much smoother and nicer. And we’ve got words like kokua, kuleana, ‘aina, kapu, mana, pau and puka, that add flavor to everything.
*There is also a profound feeling here of being somewhere special, somewhere unique and spiritually or culturally just very special. It’s because of the friction about the overthrow and colonization and all that, yes. But, people make sure to have you be aware of the history, and of the culture, and even pushy political stuff aside, we all know we’re in Hawaii. We all know at least something, at least some very little something, about the heritage of this place. In New York, or Chicago, or Santa Barbara (I’m presuming) we more or less go about our business and it all feels quite normal and everyday. Sure, New York and Boston have their own individual cultural character, their own energy. But in terms of magical, spiritual, ancient, cultural heritage, in terms of having something like what England or Wales has, or what Vietnam or China or Japan has, I don’t feel that the mainland US really compares. Maybe in some parts where the Native American presence is more felt, as it is here. But, whether thinking about it secularly, from a cultural/historical point of view, or from a slightly more spiritual point of view, in terms of Hawaii being a special place, a sacred place, either way, it definitely has an energy that distinguishes it from nearly anywhere else. And as exciting as New York may be in its own way, it will always feel like going home, like something boring and ordinary, for me.
*Which brings us to oli and hula. I really will miss the Hawaiian chants, known as oli and mele, and the hula. If the me from a few years ago were reading myself writing this, he’d think I was crazy. But I really have grown to appreciate these things over the last few years. The infusion of traditional culture, the maintenance of traditional performing arts traditions, is something we really just don’t have so much in the West. Perhaps partially because the line between traditional & modern is so much blurrier in Western culture, and because we see something very different in non-Western arts that we can’t necessarily appreciate in our own arts. But it really is something, and I really will miss it.
*I met a girl recently from New Zealand, who has been studying in Australia, and who says that acknowledging the indigenous peoples when beginning a talk is disgustingly politically correct, and just meaningless, and ultimately colonialistic. I guess her argument is that we do it just to make ourselves feel better, or something. Or that we say it and yet still go on dominating and controlling and occupying these lands. I don’t know what exactly her argument is, but when people come here from New Zealand or Fiji or from Native American communities, or wherever, and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, I feel there is a cultural exchange, an acknowledgement, that I am denied a part of. No one goes to Israel and acknowledges the traditional owners of that land (i.e. us, the Jews). You don’t see Frenchmen or Irishmen going to one another’s country and acknowledging the deep cultural significance, and long histories, of that land. PC or no, I think it’s a beautiful practice, and I think that we in the Western world do far too little everyday to acknowledge and remember culture, history, and heritage. We think of our land as purely modern, as purely utilitarian to our everyday life in the now, in the today, and we just don’t have the same respect for the land, for culture and heritage, and for history as embedded in the land and in ourselves as these indigenous peoples do.
*FOOD. You can get almost anything in New York. And there are tons of things, tons, that you cannot get here. But, while much of the food here may simply be East Asian food (e.g. sushi), or Western/mainland food (e.g. burgers), I was kind of surprised, actually, at how many things there are that are more or less unique to this place. Poké (chunks of raw fish, with soy sauce or sesame oil, and a few other mix-ins/toppings). Manapuas (a uniquely local Hawaiian word for steamed buns such as exist in exactly the same form in Japan, China, and elsewhere). Malasadas (a Portuguese fried dough sort of thing that I certainly had never heard of before coming here). Andagi (an Okinawan thing, not a Hawaiian thing, but definitely much easier to come by than anywhere on the mainland in my experience, or even for that matter in the Japanese mainland, outside of specifically Okinawan specialty restaurants). And Shave Ice, which, yes, is done in a different way than on the mainland or in Japan.
*Finally, I may have railed against the small community when I first got here, thinking it terribly quiet and boring, looking at everything as a sort of third-string knockoff of the real thing going on on Broadway, or in the galleries of Chelsea, or whatever. But there are advantages to being in a small community. It blocks out a lot of pretentiousness, because people know one another, and are comfortable with one another, and you can get to be known far more quickly and more easily, without having to work so hard to pretend to be more professional, or more experienced, or more intelligent. You can just be, and people will welcome and appreciate you. Being here, I have truly lost patience with the idea of dressing up and playing at being professional. Fuck it. Once, I would have wanted nothing more than to be invited to a private party at the posh private apartment of a Guggenheim curator. But now, what the hell do I care? Everyone there is fake, and constantly working to keep up the fakeness. Or maybe it comes easy to them. I dunno. It doesn’t come easy to me, and I don’t have the energy to not be genuine. I don’t want to sit around in seminar constantly locked in a mental battle to prove I’m intelligent enough, or intellectual enough, and I don’t want to show up to art gallery shows constantly feeling like I have to work so hard for people to know who I am, to think that I belong there, to think that I’m someone worth talking to, or worth inviting back. I’d rather just go to my friends’ shows, and know nearly everyone, and get introduced around, and be someone with little to no effort. I’d rather have intelligent, intellectual, engaging discussions with people feeling like we are already, just by being, members of the same community, and thus already ‘ohana (family) to some small extent. No pretentiousness, no competitiveness, no going out there to prove anything, but just relaxed, engaged, fun, interesting, friendly discussion with one another about interesting academic topics.

This is far too long already, so I won’t pretty it up with pictures or anything (that’ll just make it longer). It’s terribly rambling, but I feel like I want to just leave it be. Here are my thoughts. I’m still working them out, so please don’t attack me for anything I’ve said. But I’d be more than happy to have a further discussion about any of this, if you find it interesting and having some reactions or thoughts you’d like to share.

Lots of good posts on the backburner, up and coming, if and when I get around to it. Stay tuned!

Read Full Post »

The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail reports today that a 17th century heirloom bagpipe part, brought to Nova Scotia 205 years ago, is now being donated to National Museums Scotland. A “chanter,” it’s the flute-like wooden part with finger holes that allows the bagpiper to produce melody.

Many believe the object to be of great importance as a piece of Canadian & Nova Scotian heritage and history, while others of course argue that the private owners (inheritors) of the heirloom are free to do with it as they please. Many in Canada, and especially in Nova Scotia, do seem to feel strongly about the object being a powerful part of Canadian heritage, reflecting the strong Scottish ties of the original settlers of Nova Scotia (as is evident in the province’s name), pointing out that at the time of Confederation (when Canada ceased being British colonies and became its own country), Gaelic was the third most spoken language, after English and French.

This sort of situation, one can assume, is not entirely uncommon in the world, but is different in important ways from the stories we hear about more often, which seem to dominate the debate on the return of artifacts. Namely, this chanter was in no way stolen or pilfered, unlike is allegedly the case for many archaeological artifacts and Native remains and such. It is in the hands of the descendants of its original owner, composer Iain Dall MacKay (b. 1656, Scotland), and was brought to Canada legally.

So, here we have the debate over whether this is an object of great importance to Canadian heritage, or whether it is, as the BBC would have it, an object of great importance to Scottish and British heritage, being the oldest surviving Highlands chanter in existence, which just so happens to have spent the last 205 years in Canada, a mere footnote in the history of this profoundly important Scottish (British) object.

It may be a small object, but the situation alludes to the much broader question of how objects can belong to multiple contexts, multiple constituencies, and can develop importance in a new place, even if they originally belonged to a different place. Yes, this is the oldest extant Highland chanter in the world, and so it is of obvious significance to Scotland. But it is also an object which has been in Canada for 205 years, and is seen as being of obvious significance to Nova Scotia, to the history of the settlement and founding of Canada and its culture and heritage. …

Some may compare this to the cases of the Elgin Marbles and of the Rosetta Stone, and to my mind, there certainly is a case to be made for the long-standing association of both the Marbles and the Stone with London, that there is a real history to how these objects came to London, and that that story too is a genuine part of history, to be remembered and appreciated, and not simply erased or overlooked, as it might be were these objects to be returned to Greece & Egypt and displayed with only their original, ancient, context described.

But, a more appropriate comparison, I think, might be to Egyptian obelisks in Rome, Paris, London, and New York. Three obelisks in the latter three cities, each known as “Cleopatra’s Needle”, were taken from Egypt in the 19th century and re-erected, in Central Park, along the Thames, and in the Place de la Concorde. Each of these occupies an important place in the history of these cities, and would be quite prominent in, for example, a history of Central Park. They remain major tourist sites today. Meanwhile, Rome may have more obelisks than any other city in the world (including cities in Egypt). Some number of Egyptian obelisks were brought to Rome during the time of Rome’s control of Egypt, in the early centuries CE, and eight remain standing today. These have, obviously, become prominent elements of the cityscape in the 1700-2000 years since they were brought from Egypt, and I should hope that no one would demand their return as looted, stolen objects.

So, what is the statute of limitations on things being taken to another country? How are obelisks taken in the 3rd century CE different from marbles taken in the 19th? To what extent do we, as the international community of cultural professionals (or however you may wish to phrase it), recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate the new meanings and new importance objects acquire in new places, and to what extent do we ignore or disparage those meanings and demand the return of objects to their places of origin? A chanter, brought totally legally to Canada over two centuries ago, and still in the private ownership of the descendants of its original owner, is much smaller and less prominently visible than an obelisk, but the issues are essentially the same. … Is not nearly everything in Canada essentially an object of British or French heritage (with the exception of those things associated with the First Nations)? As a Nova Scotia bagpiping expert was quoted as saying, “Should we go up to Quebec and clear out all the silver made for New France? It doesn’t make much sense.” If this chanter should be acknowledged as an object of Scottish heritage, its significance to Nova Scotia and Canada not acknowledged, then what prevents a host of other objects from being claimed by Britain as well?

On a personal note, I much prefer this kind of debate, or issue, as both sides have compelling claims, both sides presumably quite respect one another’s claims, and there are no accusations of stealing, no undertones of imperalism/colonialism to deal with. From an outside objective view, we can see neither side as “the bad guy”, neither side as imperialists, looters, or the like, making it a much cleaner debate; we can discuss it and debate either side without feeling that we are siding with Western hegemony (how horrible) or with the angry Native and against our own country, our own identity and heritage. Makes for a more compelling debate, and one that’s much less personal – no one’s going to be accused of being a racist, a colonialist apologist, or anything of the sort here.


Meanwhile, the Bishop Museum database of Hawaiian archaeological sites I mentioned a few days ago will, in future, include images of artifacts and PDFs of research manuscripts, making it much more useful than just lists of registration numbers. They’re working on it. One step at a time.

Much thanks, as always, to the Archaeology.org news feed.

Read Full Post »

Some archaeological news today, courtesy once again of Archaeology.com.

*After many years of disputes and arguments, Peru will be getting back all the Machu Picchu artifacts taken by Hiram Bingham III a century ago, which have been held by Yale University since that time.

Peru claims it will ensure that the artifacts remain accessible to researchers, though, for American researchers at least (and those from most other parts of North America, Europe, and various other parts of the world), they will hardly be anywhere near as accessible as they were up until this point.

I am so happy for the people of Peru, that valuable and interesting research on their history and culture being done by scholars from some of the top universities in the world – those in New York and New England – will be cut off, and will now face serious obstacles – the need for travel funding, for a start – to continue. What a victory for the Incan people.

And Senator Chris Dodd, ever the loyal representative of his constituents’ best interests, leaves us with a statement I should have expected from the Peruvian side, arguing that “These artifacts do not belong to any government, to any institution, or to any university — they belong to the people of Peru,” by which he obviously meant that they belong to the government of Peru and/or to whichever university or institution in Peru will come to house them from now on.

I am tempted when I see these kinds of developments to respond in a snarky, knee-jerk fashion, as I have above. But, of course, in reality, the whole issue is far more complicated than that, and I acknowledge and respect that. The more I read, and discuss, and learn, and think about these issues, the less sure I can be of the right answers. But, perhaps there is no right answer. Perhaps it is so difficult because there is no right answer, no easy way to resolve these kinds of situations to everyone’s benefit.

Because, ultimately, it’s not as simple as Sen. Dodd makes it out to be – there are all kinds of implications and repercussions. What does this mean for Yale’s reputation? The Yale Daily News article that I’ve linked to above doesn’t portray the university in a particularly negative light, but I am sure that plenty of other articles (esp. ones in Spanish-language publications) do. And is that really fair? What does this mean for contemporary understandings and interpretations of historical instances of acquisition? Are we really okay with allowing contemporary political situations dictate how we (re)interpret events of the past? What constitutes theft? What constitutes looting? Fuck, what constitutes “Peru” for that matter? If Hiram Bingham was a looter and a thief, does that make Howard Carter a looter and a thief too? I guess so. Is anyone spared? Or is the entire discipline of archaeology no better than the black market thieves and looters archaeologists are constantly fighting against?

Is there anything to the argument that cultural heritage belongs to the world, to humanity as a whole, or is there not, simply because Peru and Egypt and so-and-so and so-and-so say so, and because we in the West are too full of post-colonial guilt to allow ourselves to challenge their assertions without coming across as the bad guys?

… I really don’t know what to make of this. I wish we had discussed this more extensively in my Museum Studies class this term.


*Meanwhile, in other news, the Bishop Museum has put online, freely and publicly accessible, its database of over 12,800 Hawaiian archaeological sites.

I can’t wait to look through this and find out more about Hawaiian palaces and castles. Wait, no. About metal tools and weapons. No, no, they didn’t have any of those either. Paintings? No. Maybe archaeologists will find more large-scale wooden sculptures of the Hawaiian gods, one of the few forms of high art (read: not crafts, not textiles) the Hawaiians had. I wouldn’t hold my breath – most of those statues were destroyed, along with most other remnants of the traditional religion, when the Hawaiians decided, on their own, freely and willingly, to abandon their traditions, their heritage, their tradition and culture in favor of iconoclastic Christianity.

So… maybe we can go through the database and read about pottery sherds, coconut husks, kapa textiles, and grass huts. Woo.

But, to be serious for a moment, it does appear that this database consists primarily of lists of accession numbers or call numbers, official site IDs, and such like that. To take one example:

Puuhonua Heiau.
Hawaiian Place Name : Not available
Bishop Museum Site Number : 50-Oa-A04-017
State Site Number : 50-80-14-2294
Tax Map Key : 2-9-16:
Site Description
Puuhonua Heiau. The place now known as the Castle home. (Vicinity of Puuhonua Street, 1957.)
Bibliographic Materials
Sterling/Summers, 1962, BPBM Press, Sites of Oahu, p. 285 Westervelt, Legends of Honolulu, p. 131

So, if you’re in the islands, and have the kind of professional researcher authority to get access to the actual archives & artifacts, this database can be a fantastically convenient first step towards finding the call numbers to request the specific materials you’re looking for. If you’re not, don’t expect to find any images, lists, descriptions, or the like here.

Ah, well. It’s a start at least.

Read Full Post »

I regret that I have forgotten already where I got the link from (sorry!), but I was pointed today to a wonderful set of short documentary videos created by the Washington Post and available on the paper’s website, addressing a number of challenges and issues currently facing Okinawa. Outside of the military bases issue, which only garners extensive coverage on rare occasions, the American media seems to almost never discuss Okinawa at all. It remains quite obscure, and even among graduate students specializing in East Asia, I am often asked where Okinawa is, and other basic questions about the place. So, it is a true treat to see such documentary treatment, on a variety of issues, and handled extremely well, with high production values and such.

The videos also address various issues pertaining to Okinawan-Americans in Hawaii, which, while of course important in their own right, are really local Hawaiian issues and not specifically Okinawan-American (Okinawan-Hawaiian) issues at all. I personally must admit I have little interest in this, just as I have little interest in local issues from Michigan, Nevada, South Florida, or most other parts of our country. My interest is in Okinawa – its history and culture – and not in local, provincial, small town issues faced by Americans who happen to be of Okinawan descent. But, that’s just me, and I do not mean to disparage anyone else’s interests…

I wish there were a way to embed any of these videos, or any of the content from that page, so as to make the link seem more eye-catching and attractive. Do take a moment and give it a chance; you won’t be sorry.

Read Full Post »