Throughout history, we are reminded, again and again, that music can and does change minds.
If you study Hawaiian history, it is always so depressing. Hawaiians let foreigners into their homes, their businesses, their government, and, in return, they got diseases that decimated the native population, their kingdom overthrown and annexed by the United States, and a narrative of inferiority that persists in spite of our efforts.
I’ve heard that part of our story a million times. And I’m tired of it. I have another part to tell.
In the early 1990’s my dad, Chucky Souza, and I stumbled upon some unknown pieces of our family’s history. My great-great-great grandfather Kaiwi wrote a song called “He Mele Aloha no ka Na'auao,” and its lyrics were published in the pilot issue of the Hawaiian newspaper, Ka Hoku o ka Pakipika. The mele is a song of affection, celebrating education and learning.
Rewind to Honolulu in 1861. At that point in history, our people wanted to read more in Hawaiian. They also wanted greater control over media content, publishing traditional stories and printing contemporary features and opinions that church and government newspapers would not. This first printing and the concept behind Ka Hoku o ka Pakipika itself was highly controversial.
I felt a sense of pride in my ancestors and in myself, knowing that my ancestors were a part of this printing. My kupuna had a voice and he used it; he stood against censorship. It was also empowering to know that my gut reaction — what I felt when I learned about Hawaiian history in school — was right. Our people were not passively watching as foreign interests colonized Hawaiian business, culture, and government. I now had proof that my kupuna had used his knowledge and voice to uphold the right to speak and be Kanaka Maoli.
In every family there is a strong parent, grandparent or other influencer that can instill in children these crucial traits for success: courage, passion, and pride, among others. My kupuna Kaiwi was this person. He reminded me that these traits are strong in our family. His story is also my story. This is the story that I want to tell, a narrative of pride that flips the script on popular Hawaiiana.
Changing minds and attitudes
Fast forward to the 1990s. This story was part of the inspiration behind the song, "E Lei I Na Mamo" (Chucky Souza, Lava in their Soul). Here, my dad, Chucky Souza talks about that inspiration, its significance at that point in time and relevance today.
If you want more ... In depth commentary on the story and controversy of Ka Hoku o ka Pakipika can be found in: Noenoe K. Silva, Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism, Duke Univeristy Press, 2004 ... You may recognize the cover art.