DIaCrItiCal ReMaRkS by Kawika “Dumb” Haole


DIaCrItiCal ReMaRkS


Kawika “Dumb” Haole

Aloha people of Hawaii, this is Kawika Haole here on the Mainland, dumber than ever for leaving Hawaii nei.

I was thinking about diacritical marks before I got up this morning, and want to remark on them, but first I have a two or three criticals about who really owns the Hawaii motto, which the haoles say means “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness of the people.”

What people? Who is right? Am I dumb or what? Okay, I admit it. I am dumber than dumb to ask these questions. I hope native Hawaiians will not be offended and will forgive me because I am so dumb.

The motto is on the seal of the State of Hawaii, but the saying has been around before Hawaii became a state, before Hawaii was annexed, and even before haoles overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii and ran it as a temporary republic pending annexation in 1898. So what’s up with that?

The sacred Hawaiian motto was adopted by the Kingdom 1843 and appears on his coat of arms. It was spoken by King Kamehameha III in an address celebrating the return of the Kingdom of Hawaii to its people after a British captain named Lord George Paulet took it upon himself to cede it to Great Britain because British citizens were complaining they were being abused. The king surrendered under protest and complained to London, and Admiral Richard Darton Thomas sailed in and gave sovereignty back to the king, mentioning that he would, nevertheless, protect British citizens whenever necessary.

Queen Liliuokalani likewise surrendered sovereignty in protest, in 1893, to a so-called Committee of Safety, thirteen whites representing major property interests, especially the sugar industry, who claimed that American lives and property were threatened by the Queen’s intention to promulgate a new constitution taking power away from the House of Nobles controlled by the whites. Her brother King Kalakaua had that control taken away when he signed the Bayonet Constitution under coercion.

The U.S. foreign minister, John L. Stevens, without prior authorization from Washington, took it upon himself to recognize the revolutionaries as the government in fact. Marines had been landed from the U.S.S. Boston; whether that was a gun to the head of the Queen is still debatable. She expected she would get the sovereignty back, and President Cleveland figured that should be done, but he had to hand off the issue to Congress, where conflicting stories were told, and the outbreak of the Spanish-American conflict made complete control over Hawaii, where the U.S. had possession of Pearl Harbor thanks to a reciprocity treaty made with King David Kalakaua, Liliuokalani’s brother, that was convenient to imperialist aims.

Poor Queen Liliuokalani did not get sovereignty back. There was a sincere but feeble counter-revolution. Some guns were found buried in her garden. She was arrested and confined, then put on probation, and, when the coast was clear, her civil rights as a private citizen of the new Republic were bestowed upon her after she signed an abdication of no effect, because she signed it as a private person with her married name, and then she left to Washington to protest annexation, there being a petition of protest signed by over half her native Hawaiian people.  Nice try, she was one smart lady; forget about it: that was, and what is is is, at least according to President Clinton, right?

So what does “The life of the land is perpetuated in the righteousness of the people” mean to this dumb haole? Well, excuse me for being so dumb, which is the fault of Western libraries, but I think it means that whatever group of people can get possession of the land by any means whatsoever including force governs it as long as the people on it do not revolt and overthrow that government.  The principle is, sad to say, might makes right.

But try wait! Something is strange about “life of the land.” Since when does the thing we call the “land” actually “live,” as if it were animated? How superstitious can we be? Madam Pele is alive, of course, but not her creation, not unless we are pantheists who wish to burn in the forever volcano.  The missionaries like to say, while they scoop up property, that all is vanity because the world passes, but it looks like we pass and the real estate stays. What’s up with that, anyway?

I think what the King meant when he pronounced the motto in Hawaiian was that the life of his people as an identifiable people was rooted in the land, that the land was their birthright, and therefore their kingdom, or whatever form of government they prefer, is their right in the island lands perpetuated for all time.

Surely he spoke in the context of how it was seized by the British captain, but was given back to the right people, the Hawaiians, and surely that is exactly what Queen Liliuokalani expected to happen again. But history will not repeat itself here, that is, unless there is some apocalypse resulting in the restoration of the Kingdom of Hawaii to its natives having some blood from back then.

Okay then, until then, the people of Hawaii of all races can mix and make love and babies and money together, but make sure all the time that the virtues of the traditional Hawaiian culture are cultivated in homes and schools and maintained, right? And make sure all people with native blood receive a guaranteed minimum income for life, amounting to a proportion of 150% of the local poverty level, that portion to be determined according to the percentage of native blood running in their veins, from the time that they learn to speak Hawaiian fluently.

Okay, I wanted to say something dumb, as far as native Hawaiians are concerned, about diacritical marks, with apologies here that I have not used them for Hawaiian words written phonetically because I definitely have technical issues. I suppose that one can be certified in diacritalism somewhere if he has the latest word processing program and guidebook.

The state seal that I have a picture of needs to be updated because the motto it bears, “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono,” does not have diacritical marks! All such seals need to be somehow destroyed and replaced with the right ones, eh? The absence of diacritical marks goes to show just how dumb if not disrespectful haoles are, so what they say should be ignored.

For instance, I came across a review of a novel, entitled The Last Aloha, about the “mercenaries” who overthrew the monarchs of Kingdom of Hawaii. Celeste Noelani, who has native Hawaiian blood, said she took it out from the library, read some of it, thought the author was pretty accomplished, but put it down and would not buy a copy, although she usually loves everything about Hawaii, because the author, Gaellen Quinn, did not use proper diacritical markings. How critical is that?

“The detail that made me return this book to the library rather than renew it or purchase it to add to my collection was the absence of two critical parts of Olelo Hawaii (Hawaiian language). The kahako (macron) is placed above vowels to lengthen the sound of the vowel, which can completely change the meaning of a word. The okina is a Hawaiian language consonant that looks like a backwards apostrophe (sort of) and indicates a glottal stop. This also completely changed the pronunciation, and there the meaning, of a word.” (kahakos and okinas omitted)

Forgive me for being so critical, like the insecure haole that I am, but “diacritical” is not a Hawaiian word; it is the English version, using the Roman alphabet introduced by Christian missionaries, of the Greek word “diacritikos,” meaning “to separate one thing from another,” derived from “diskrinein,” meaning “to judge.” The Greeks, of course, use the Greek alphabet, which comes from the Phoenician alphabet the Greeks adopted in the 8th century before the missionaries’ Christ.

The ancient Greeks, by the way, did not need punctuation, sentences and paragraphs, and wrote in one case:


“Celeste,” by the way, which is derived from the Latin caelestis, meaning “heavenly,” is also not a Hawaiian word. The French version is “Celeste,” with a diacritical mark over the “e” i.e. Céleste. The diacritical marks indicate how words are pronounced, other than according to the manner of pronunciation of the normal Latin alphabet. I am pretty dumb, and I do not want to offend Italians, but I think the Italians have a different way or pronouncing “Celeste” than the English and French, but diacritical marks are not used.

The Hawaiian language was traditionally oral, and was not written down until Protestant missionaries, most of them from New England, arrived, shortly after Kamehameha the Great died, and used the Latin alphabet to transcribe the language.

Excuse me for being judgmental, but Celeste, who thinks of herself as a kanaka maoli, or proud, indigenous Polynesian, is, like so many of us including moi, having identity issues. Like, who am I anyway? Am not part of you and you part of me? Did we not start out in Africa? Did not some get to the Caucasus and go on from there to Asia and then to the Pacific Islands? Don’t worry, be happy. Celeste was moved to Seattle, which is understandably depressing given the weather and the number of annual suicides, so, like many writers, she writes to belay the gloom, and wishes she was that little hula girl back in Hawaii. I recommend she visit Rosario Resort on Orcas Island. As for me, I wish I was a dumb haole back in Hawaii.

By the way, Celeste does not provide a diacritical mark over the first “a” in “kanaka.” What’s up with that? Isn’t it supposed to have one there?

“I am Kanaka Maoli and grew up in Hawaii. I learned a lot about the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and some of my family members are active in the Sovereignty movement. What I am trying to say is that I wanted so much to love this book and am disappointed that I did not.” (sic)

No problem.  People identify with their languages, and when they speak the same language, they are jealous of their regional pronunciations and inflections.

Hawaiian natives, of course, just like haoles, know how a word is pronounced to have the meaning within the context in which it appears. Like some English words, a Hawaiian word with the same Roman spelling may have different meanings depending on context. Those words, called homographs, may be pronounced differently although they are spelled the same way. They are really different words when spoken, and native Hawaiians, unlike the English, may like to indicate that with diacritical marks, which in effect produces a different spelling. After all, the haoles at one time banished their language from schools, so for many natives it lost its second nature, and these diacritical marks are more than helpful, and only two are used, but who really owns them?

Celeste said she “rolled” with laughter yet also impatiently “rolled” her eyeballs because the author of The Last Aloha gave the protagonist the name Malolo without using a diacritical mark, which can have the meaning “flying fish,” or maybe a “low tide” or a dirty person who does not take baths, and so on. I always thought it meant “crazy mama” who smoked to much pakalolo. I recall some such distinctions with my favorite word in Hawaii, “pau.”

Okay, Celeste, I am not rolling my eyeballs at you, really, because I know what you mean. Like some words in the Hawaiian language, you have a hidden meaning that only you can know, so Aloha to you. The blacks in my New York City neighborhood called me “gray boy,” and said I could never fully understand anything they said because I am not black.

Anyway, since my word processor does not have a backwards (“sort of”) apostrophe, I sometimes use a regular apostrophe simply make the spelling of words with double vowels easier for me, although that way of indicating glottal stops is not recommended by the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

I practically lived on the UH campus for a few years while I resided in a neighborhood on its edge called Moiliili. My eyes are bad. That is too many small “i”s for this Big I to easily distinguish, and writing it as Mo’ili’ili, meaning “lizard,” which is the shape of the mountain I looked at every day, made the writing and pronunciation much easier. Yet, using that apostrophe proved to the kanaka maoli people that I was just a dumb haole.

Now I am sure that the kanaka maoli are wondering where all this is going to lead since it is going over like a lead balloon because I am a dumb haole, meaning a foreigner who is ignorant of their culture. They may believe I am so dumb that I do not know the difference between flour and a flower. If they are homophonic, they may pray that I do not prey on them like my ancestors from Scotland. That is okay, because if I were a smart okole, they would hate me.

Now I do not mean to be too diacritical, but there is one thing I do know: Hawaii and Hawai’i are two different places if you put the right okina in Hawaii.


The Mainland 2016


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