issue 245 - July 1993
That’s what the tourist industry promises the visitor to Hawaii.
Kaleo Patterson excavates the foundations of fantasy land.
On 11 September 1992 Hurricane Iniki suddenly swerved west to pass directly over the island of Kauai. Two-hundred-mile-an-hour winds buffeted the island paradise. Everything, including the mighty hotels and resorts, suffered destruction and disaster.
But I breathed a sigh of relief.
On a protest against a missile programme shortly before the hurricane, it struck me that there is already a state of emergency among native Hawaiians. Many local people defended the programme, saying they would sooner have a missile base in their community than a hotel. What can have happened to us native Hawaiians that we welcome a hurricane and see opportunity in a missile base?
I have counselled the prostitute, the desk clerk, the maid and the bartender. I’ve counselled and prayed with the whole housekeeping staff of a major resort. I’ve been involved in hundreds of reburials at ancient Hawaiian grave sites because of tourist developments. I have witnessed the desecration of our sacred places and cried over the senseless pollution of our reefs and rivers. I have seen the exploitation caused by an out-of-control global industry that has no understanding of limits, nor responsibility or concern for the host people of a land. I can say with certainty that the majority of Hawaiians long for a better way of life, of simple respect and dignity, that today’s tourism industry has systematically undermined.
Reefs and fishing grounds have been destroyed because of golf course irrigation and hotel sewage runoff. Access to the areas we traditionally used for foraging has been prohibited. Most shocking for native Hawaiians is the continuing desecration of sacred sites and burial grounds which are eyed as ‘prime coastal locations for development’.
Tourism has meant an invasion of all that is sacred to our people. Our culture has been turned into a ‘Hula marketing’ campaign. We are romanticized, to appeal to the fantasies of world travellers. Popular images show smiling, flower-adorned girls and hula dancers, exotic moonlit feasts with natives serving hand and foot. This kind of marketing and promotion perpetuates racist and sexist stereotypes that are culturally inappropriate and demeaning. It sells an artificial cultural image with complete disregard for the truth.
Meanwhile the ground is literally cut away from beneath us.
Last year, on the southern shores of Kauai at a development site called Keonaloa, a well-known ancient Hawaiian burial ground was excavated to make way for a condominium resort project. Community opposition saved one acre to relocate all the graves excavated from a total of 22 acres of burial grounds. The one-acre parcel has been incorporated into the planned resort and will be used as a marketing feature of the development.
Native Hawaiians will continue to be angered at such disregard for sacred sites and the bones of our ancestors, whose spirits will be further desecrated by the inquisitive stares of flocks of tourists.
On Maui island, at a place called Honokahua, a developer’s excavations unearthed over 1,100 intact burial bundles, while local community groups protested in anger. It took mass demonstrations before the developer stopped. Elsewhere we have not been so lucky, losing a Supreme Court ruling to prevent drilling on religious sites.
Hawaiian families and communities who have lived for generations in a particular valley or along a river are still forced out by a proposed golf course or hotel. Recently this happened to families in Hana and Maui, as well as to farming communities in Maunawili and Waianae on Oahu. Displaced Hawaiians commonly find their way to remote beaches only to be evicted later. Crowded beaches and commercial tour-boating threaten shoreline fishing through noise or chemical pollution. Tourism is cutting the ties between native Hawaiians and our land, culture, tradition and lifestyle. As it gets more difficult to continue our traditional ways of life Hawaii becomes more and more dependent on an already uncertain and overdeveloped tourist industry.
Tourism remains a major obstacle to our struggle to regain a foothold on the land. The question now is: how can tourism be reshaped to meet the community’s needs?
The closing declaration of a recent international conference on tourism sponsored by progressive churches and lobbyists such as the Third World Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism summed up the situation: ‘Contrary to the claims of its promoters, tourism, the biggest industry in Hawaii, has not benefited the poor and oppressed native Hawaiian people. Tourism is not an indigenous practice; nor has it been initiated by the native Hawaiian people. Rather, tourism promotion and development has been directly controlled by those who already control wealth and power, nationally and internationally. Tourism... expands upon the evil of an economy which perpetuates the poverty of native Hawaiian people and which leads to sexual and domestic violence and substance abuse among native Hawaiian people. In addition, sexism and racism are closely interlinked with tourism. In short, tourism, as it exists today, is detrimental to the life, well-being and spiritual health of native Hawaiian people. If not checked and transformed, it will bring grave harm, not only to the native Hawaiian people, but to all people living in Hawaii.’
While local élites and transnational corporations benefit from tourism, native Hawaiians remain the poorest, sickest and least educated of all peoples in Hawaii. Current trends show that tourism will never benefit us.
At the same time native Hawaiians are achieving unprecedented political support for self-governance. In the summer of 1991 40 major Hawaiian organizations formed a united coalition to begin the work of restoring the Hawaiian nation. The action has Federal Government support and a grant of $1.2 million over three years. State and Congressional politicians are drafting legislation to address the rights of native Hawaiians. Recently a Civil Rights Commission report titled Broken Promises underscored the political injustices that have plagued native Hawaiians and called on the US to right those wrongs.
Just months before Hurricane Iniki we scored a victory when a large tour-boat industry on the north shore of Kauai was shut down after years of opposition to its environmental and cultural effects. The State has begun to identify beaches and shore areas that are exceeding capacity and where conflicts between residents and visitors continue to escalate.
In the last ten years Hawaii has gone through a spurt of speculative development in which mega-resorts have been built by the dozen on each major island. They were based in part on the fantasies of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau, which projected a doubling of the number of visitors to Hawaii from six to eleven million by the year 2000. These projections were made by political bureaucrats indifferent to the impact of tourism and consumed with greed. While the hotels go up, community infrastructure such as sewage, roads, housing and schools are already 10 to 15 years behind current community needs.
But in the aftermath of the Gulf War demand has collapsed. On Kauai almost every hotel has had ownership transfers or filed for bankruptcy.
What happens to an island when it finds itself lying bruised and naked in the aftermath of a hurricane? What happens to an island which has been selling its soul to tourism and cannot survive without the tourist dollar and yen? What happens to a visitor industry that wants to rebuild when native Hawaiians say ‘not now’ and ‘no more of the same oppression upon our people and the desecration of our lands’?
After a hurricane as destructive as Iniki you realize how quickly we can get in touch with deeper community values. Pacific cultures are based on a high level of environmental awareness. The relationship of people to land and of people to sea is spiritual and religious. When tourism takes away the land, the fishing grounds or the right to gather food or medicine the Hawaiian loses a primary means of livelihood and – more important – meaning in life.
The absence of tourists after Hurricane Iniki came as a welcome realization. Within a week most of the many thousands of visitors and tourists who huddled through the raging winds of destruction fled like refugees. Local residents were ecstatic at being able to return to a favourite beach. Kauai, its people, land and sea seemed appreciative of the solitude and measured pace of life.
As the tourism industry cheerleaders scurry to rebuild an industry based on the values of global and mass tourism, Kauai residents and native Hawaiians are taking a good look at what is important to us. What we have discovered over and over again is that yes, there is life after the hurricane and yes, there can be life without tourism. As we grow in strength the day will come when the tourist industry will have to deal with the new Hawaiian nation. In the meantime native Hawaiians will continue to question and oppose inappropriate tourism that exploits our culture and beliefs.
Reverend Kaleo Patterson is a pastor on the island of Kauai and activist with the Hawaii Ecumenical Coalition, campaigning for Hawaiian sovereignty.