Sovereignty, Feed Me


Said in a standard length English paragraph, this is what happened:

In 1893 the kingdom of Hawaiʻi was illegally overthrown by the United States of America; our Queen Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamakaʻeha was imprisoned in her own chambers in the ʻIolani Palace. An illegal annexation followed from mischief and greed of business men, in 1898, as U.S. President Grover Cleveland conveniently left office. A (desperate) provisional government was made. The island chain became a (bullshit) territory in 1900, and a (fake) state in 19591.

Since the 19th century, native Hawaiians—spelt with whatever letters you would like captilized and holding any blood quantum or lack thereof that you wish—have been seeking separation from the initially forced upon U.S. government. Of all the global catastrophes and man-induced problems that we face today, living on islands that have been abused by the United States (and other foreigners) in our history still remains amidst the top five for many. Why?

Iʻm not entirely sure,… but

children are incredible. My say in the conversation of Hawaiian sovereignty is that I would like to expand the freedom of the generation I contribute in giving birth to: A freedom that so wonderfully surpasses the defintion displayed in the U.S. constitution and its statutes, because it is not documented, it is lived, and it does not die with each personʻs will, it is passed on as an heirloom seed that has no owner. Children are deserving.

Thereʻs already been much talk about lost culture, or perhaps more appropriately termed unperpetuated culture. Generational gaps, I mean too much layover between great grandsons and great grandfathers, where the eldersʻ practices have little influence on the childʻs lifestyle, have nearly wiped us clean of seeing the value in perpetuation and actually choosing to practice. I can speak for myself.

My great grandfather James Chai of Kāneʻohe, Oʻahu, who married Beatrice Ho of Kaʻōhao, Oʻahu, was a rice farmer. I do not know what kind of rice he grew, how he did it, or who taught him. My great grandmother Julia Peahu Smith Sueoka of Waimea, Kauaʻi, who married William Smith of Wainiha, Kauaʻi, then Thomas Sueoka, of Waimea, Kauaʻi, was a lei maker. I barely know what kinds of lei she made, how she did each, or who taught her. My list of unknowns could go on and on, you see.

Unperpetuated culture goes unseen because the culture itself loses surface value and us young guns would rather get a job to make money to buy food, than learn how to grow food. I grew up in Honolulu where Google showed me what a rice field looks like, and I had to go to a Westernized college to learn about lei making in my own culture. Not all youth are curious about their heritage and what uncle so-and-so did for a living. However for those who are, this is my main concern, in the context of sovereignty, especially for young children, especially for food; Iʻve now become aware of the relationship between the three.

Children are incredible. What difference does it make if they eat steamed ulu instead of a McDonaldʻs happy meal? None in the moment of eating. Eating is to satisfy the brain signals to the stomach saying “feed me”, not necessarily “nourish me.” So, we eat, and let our kids eat, not always paying attention to the difference between feed and nourish. Picture this.

I had a conversation with a friend about native Hawaiian youth and this came about: “Say I have a son one day. Heʻs pau breastfeeding and now Iʻm gonna ween him and introduce solid/real food. Lots to choose from Gerberʻs at Foodland down the street, but I want to give him poi. First few times he tried it, he ate nearly a whole bowl. Now seeing no real need for jarred carrot puree, I want to give him poi kalo and poi ʻulu regularly, maybe everyday if I can. What does that mean for me?”
Whatʻs even in kalo and ulu? Kalo is eaten mainly in three forms: kalo paʻa, where the root is steamed, cleaned, cut and eaten, paʻiʻai, where the steamed, cleaned, and cut, kalo is pounded with a stone on a wooden board, and poi, where paʻiʻai is mixed slowly with water to stretch and become pudding-like. The root itself is a complex starch. Ulu is prepared in similar ways. Two figures below show a comparison2.

(Reprinted from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website)

ʻUlu beats white potatoes and white rice, per 100g serving, in grams of protein (4.0-1.7-2.4), grams of carbohydrates (31.9-15.7-28.6), grams of fiber (5.4-2.4-0.3), miligrams of calcium (16.8-9.0-3.0), miligrams of magnesium (34.3-21.0-13.0), micrograms of vitamin A (1.4-0-0), micrograms of lutein (96.3-0-0), and micrograms of beta-carotene (15.1-0-0)3. It is also very high in potassium (mg) (376.7-407.0-29.0)3.

Back to the question in the conversation with my friend: what does this mean for me? If I want to feed my son breadfruit and taro because of these nutritional facts, I need to make it happen. Buying either at a store or from a farmer is doable. The latter would be a better option because it would support local farmers. However, here is where sovereignty can be real: I commit myself to growing both crops in my backyard, or growing something else that I can use to trade for both from someone nearby who is growing them. Leave the U.S. dollar completely out of it.

In my eyes and mind, this is how a revolution can take place. This is Hawaiian sovereignty. If we want to eat, then there is no way we can seek separation from the United States. Seemingly big jump in ideas, but not really. If, however, we would like to nourish ourselves, then it absolutely makes a difference if our children eat steamed ʻulu instead of a McDonaldʻs happy meal. Resultingly, it makes an enormous difference if we choose to eat McDonaldʻs instead of steamed ʻulu, in front of them.

Letʻs first fill the generational gaps. Since Hōkūleʻa and Kahoʻolawe in the modern day, ancestral knowledge has become more and more intriguing to the youthful eye, but we need more. We need more car rides to be conversations about family and not neck-aching social media time. We need to know more about who we came from and specifically what those people did to survive in their time; we need to relearn those practices and not be afraid to do them ourselves, believing in our genetically passed down capabilities. We need to be unafraid of how much money it will not make us.

Take action. I grow the kalo my grandpa used to grow, you fish the waters your grandma used to fish. Weʻll trade our harvest and catch every week, and take our kids with us, and talk more about our grandparents. Heirloom seeds, in the literal and metaphorical sense, have no owner and are genetic packages of past lineages. We need to save our seeds, our huli, our kaula, our makau, our ʻōʻō, our moʻolelo.

Sustenance through ancestral knowledge, then, becomes the cornerstone of physical, mental, spiritual, and intellectual, Hawaiian sovereignty. Children are incredible, because they have more time than us. It becomes both their shield and sword, their aloha and their war stance, in a processed world that, without the stories of their grandparents, can only offer them one way. Food sovereignty becomes the freedom beyond the Constitution, that includes any which way they desire to go, because innovation and brilliance was cultivated at home in the lepo. They need to know that they have the power to choose, and the power to be sovereign because they have the knowledge to be so– we need to work on teaching. We need to nourish and be noursihed.



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Lei  –  garland, several types usually made of flowers and or plant material

ʻUlu  –  breadfruit,

Kalo  –  taro, Colocasia esculenta

Pau  –  finished, done

Poi kalo – poi made of kalo

Poi ulu – poi made of ulu

Hōkūleʻa – double-hulled voyaging canoe, currently traveling around the world less-compasses               and modern day technology

Kahoʻolawe – small island off south Maui, historically bombed by the U.S. Navy, culturally very               significant and undergoing restoration for the past 40-50 years by local organizations

Huli – in this context, the traditional propagative part (stem) of a kalo plant

Kaula – rope, cordage

Makau – fishing hook

ʻŌʻō – traditional digging stick typically made of hard woods (most native hardwoods are extinct            or highly endangered today)

Moʻolelo – stories, traditions, legends


2 thoughts on “Sovereignty, Feed Me

  1. OMG tita, when I read this I thought you had pulled my thoughts right out of my head! Like verbatim. You write wisely and eloquently and with aloha on a topic that (to me and I know to you as well) ought to be at the forefront of every dialogue and decision. I wanna use your research in my research! Aloha iā ʻoe no kāu kākau nani a pono. ʻOnipaʻa nā tita aloha ʻāina!

  2. You are what you eat, so eat Hawaiian, eat homegrown. Mahalo nui for shedding some major light on sovereignty through our diet!

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