Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Who was William McKinley?

Who was William McKinley and why were so many places named for him, including the highest mountain in North America?

Depending on whom you ask, their political persuasion and even their home state, McKinley was either one of the best or one of the worst U.S. presidents. He was the 25th president of the United States, serving from 1897 until a September day in 1901, when he was assassinated, apparently by someone who believed that McKinley was one of the worst presidents.

McKinley, who had served as the governor of Ohio before he was elected president, was in the news recently. That was when the 44th president, Barack Obama, officially stripped the name of the 25th president from the 20,310-foot mountain in Alaska. It had been named Mount McKinley in 1896, when McKinley was merely the Republican nominee for president, by a gold prospector who apparently approved of his candidacy. Although the name of the surrounding park had been changed by the 39th president, Jimmy Carter, in 1980, it was not until August 2015 that the mountain became, in the eyes of the federal government, Denali.

A lot of people from Ohio raised a stink over the renaming, as well as a lot of rather right-wing, nationalistic Americans. They are the folks who believe that McKinley was one of the best presidents because he expanded United States territory, paving the road for America’s role as the world’s most powerful nation.

For starters, he got Spain to give up its colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific as part of the treaty ending the 1898 Spanish-American War. Suddenly, the United States possessed Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. Later, for good measure, the United States also claimed Wake Island – after annexing Hawaii.

The annexation of Hawaii, presided over by President McKinley in 1898, is still a sore spot for many Hawaiians. McKinley’s predecessor, Grover Cleveland, had refused to annex Hawaii, pointing out that it was against the desires of the Hawaiian people. But McKinley persevered. He failed to get a treaty of annexation, so he took a back-door route, achieving his aim through a joint resolution of Congress.

McKinley said that the U.S. possession of Hawaii was “manifest destiny” and was necessary for the nation’s trade ambitions in the Pacific Rim. He also feared that if the United States didn’t take Hawaii, Japan would.

This story leads us to another possible renaming of a McKinley landmark. On King Street in downtown Honolulu sits President William McKinley High School. Originally Fort English Day School at its founding in 1865, and renamed Honolulu High School in 1895, the school took McKinley’s name in 1907. It has been at its current location since 1923, along with the 8-ton bronze statue of McKinley that was dedicated in 1911. Ironically, the bronze hand of the McKinley statue is clutching a document with the words “Treaty of Annexation.” He never got the treaty; he took Hawaii anyway.

Perhaps spurred by President Obama’s action to rename the mountain in Alaska, Hawaiians have renewed their attempts to get the high school renamed to honor someone who is more agreeable to them or at least to restore the previous name of Honolulu High School. At MoveOn.org, a petition is slowly gathering enough signatures to put the question before the governor and the board of education.

On June 22, 2015, in The Hawaii Independent, Tyler Greenhill wrote in response to South Carolina’s removal of the Confederate Flag from its State Capitol, saying, “Should students of Native Hawaiian ancestry have to walk through entrances adorned with the name of an imperialist like William McKinley, the man who pushed for the United State to illegally annex Hawaii?”

Greenhill suggested, “Why not venerate the beautiful people who have made the most positive moral contributions to Hawaiian and local culture?”

I know that urges to rename landmarks to better reflect the current sensibilities sometimes get out of hand. In my own neighborhood some people want to rename the local high school, Wilson, because they say Woodrow Wilson was a racist. In Wilson’s day, true egalitarians were hard to come by, so I’m not persuaded that a name change is in order now.

But in the case of President William McKinley High School, I imagine that the name is a constant reminder to Hawaiians of a lawless time when powerful Americans wrested the rule of a monarchy from its queen and set in motion what was basically a land grab. 

Students should be able to wear the name of their school with genuine pride. Seeing the name McKinley every school day must be like picking at a wound that never heals. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Hana Hou! Debut

A new plaque at Kaluakauka
Of course, I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of months, to announce my first appearance as a writer in Hawaiian Airlines' inflight magazine, Hana Hou! But now only one week remains until the February-March issue is removed from seat pockets and the next issue appears!

My article, "The Curious Case of David Douglas," was the result of a trip I took to O'ahu and Hawai'i Island last October with my old friend Lois Leonard. Lois was the producer and director of "Finding David Douglas," a documentary film about the 19th-century Scottish botanist, David Douglas, who died tragically in 1834 while walking towards Hilo.

I wrote the script for that film, which was released in 2012. But, just like Lois, I wasn't able to drop my interest in the subject of the film. As often happens, one thing leads to another and a curious mind goes off on all sorts of tangents.

So when Lois told me of her plans to erect a new plaque on the David Douglas memorial at the site of his death, I was determined to find a way to accompany her and to write about the experience. When Michael Shapiro and Julia Steele, the editors of the magazine, said yes to my proposal, I was ecstatic. For one thing, I had long wished to see my byline in this exceptionally good magazine.

My article gives a history of David Douglas, for whom the Douglas fir is named, telling of how his scientific plant gathering in the Pacific Northwest led to a fascination with Hawaii's flora after his ship made a stop at Honolulu. Exploring further, he traveled to Hawai'i Island and there climbed three volcanoes, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Kilauea, collecting and pressing plants all the way.

On his final trip to the Big Island, he had a fateful encounter with a wild bull hunter. Although murder was never proved, some observers at the time made a connection between Douglas's body being found in an occupied cattle trap and the man who last saw him alive. Something about Douglas's missing money made people suspicious.                                                                                            
Lois Leonard, Gordon Mason, Lucy Douglas

Fast forward 100 years when in 1934 a state forester and Douglas aficionado named L.W. Bryan decided that the great botanist should be memorialized. Next to the cattle pit, which has since been filled in, Bryan built a lava stone cairn and affixed two plaques, one bearing the title "Kaluakauka." Meaning "The Doctor's Pit," it was what local natives called the death scene.

Lois's mission was to affix a third plaque on Bryan's monument, one that commemorated the 180th anniversary of Douglas's death and the 100th anniversary of the publication of his fascinating journal. On October 22, 2015, Lois, Doug Magedanz (her husband, who installed the plaque and is pictured above with Lois), Gordon Mason (a Douglas expert from England who was interviewed extensively in Lois's film), myself and a number of guests, including Lucy Douglas (David Douglas's great-great-great-great niece), conducted a brief but moving ceremony to honor Douglas and to dedicate the plaque.

You can read my article, complete with photos by Jeff DePonte, here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Help a Maui pet find a mainland home

Are you planning a trip to the Hawaiian Islands that includes a return flight from Maui? With absolutely no expense to you and only a few minutes of your time, you can rescue a shelter dog or cat that would otherwise languish at the well-meaning but over-burdened Maui Humane Society.

Thanks to the generous participation of Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines, pets can travel from Kahului Airport in Maui to Portland International Airport. Generous donors have paid for the airfare. All that's needed are ticketed passengers that the pet can be assigned to. Don't worry -- it's only paperwork! Once you've signed the papers at the airport, you are free of worries. The pet travels in cargo and once you've arrived at PDX somebody will pick up the pet and from there it will be delivered to its new loving home.

This wonderful program, known as Wings of Aloha, managed in 2013 to deliver more than 200 homeless
pets to new homes in Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Calgary, Canada. The Maui dogs and cats are flown off only to areas that can guarantee new homes for them. There are more petless homes in the Northwest that are just itching to be hooked up with some homeless pets from Maui, so as a traveler please do this one small thing that will make a huge difference to pets that are worthy of a second chance.

Just give the Maui Humane Society a call at (808) 877-3680 ext. 17, or email Jamie Fitzpatrick at jfitzpatrick@mauihumanesociety.org. She'll get your return flight info and arrange for someone to meet you at check-in to make sure the pet is listed on your ticket. 

One more thing. If you want to help out even more, the Maui Humane Society welcomes volunteers to walk dogs and pet cats every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. Kids 10 and older, in the company of an adult, are welcome to come play with the pets. 


Monday, December 31, 2012

Seasons Greetings!

My New Year's Resolution for 2013 is to post more frequently on my blog. I confess, I've been waylaid by another of my passions, Turkish language and culture.

But there's no reason why I can't continue to learn the Hawaiian language as I study Turkish, or to play the 'ukulele while I learn about the saz, a traditional stringed instrument played in Turkey.

But today my message is not a Turkish/Hawaiian mix, rather an Oregonian/Hawaiian mix. Pictured here are the Christmas shortbread cookies that I baked, frosted -- and ate. Yum!

As you can see, I had two themes in mind. There's the Christmas tree, looking very much like a Douglas fir. And there's an Oregon state map, complete with a heart. My daughter bought me this cookie cutter last summer at the gift shop in Oregon's Capitol in Salem.

But when I was last in Hawaii, in early October, I visited the Christmas shop at the Outrigger Reef in Waikiki. I bought four Hawaiian-themed cookie cutters: a honu, a mano, a palm tree and a pineapple. I chose just to use the two animals for my cookies. It's one way to bring 'aumakua, spirit animals, to life.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What's with all the pigeons?

Pigeons on Waikiki Beach
Anyone who has ever strolled along the beach at Waikiki has probably noticed that they shared the sand with a flock or two of pigeons. Meander down Kalakaua Avenue and you'll see many other flocks, some roosting in the nooks and crannies of the banyan trees, such as the tree near the Duke Kahanamoku statue.

I had noticed the pigeon population on earlier trips to Honolulu, but when I was staying last week at the Outrigger Waikiki I saw a photo which made me wonder who brought pigeons to O'ahu in the first place. The photo was of the Outrigger hotel chain's founder, the late Roy Kelley. His arms were full of white pigeons, the kind that are most prevalent in Waikiki. The caption noted that these were his "beloved pigeons."

Was Kelley the pigeon lover who introduced the now ubiquitous birds to Waikiki?

Not even close. I learned that pigeons first started strutting along Hawaii's beaches in the late 1700's, when Kamehameha was first rising to prominence on the island of Hawai'i.

White Kings roosting in a banyan tree
According to the Bishop Museum's Hawaii Biological Survey, which I found online, gray-colored rock pigeons are thought to have been introduced to Hawai'i in 1788, when a ship from China brought its cargo of wild turkeys and pigeons. Shipping records show that pigeons came from the other direction, from Europe, when a ship brought them to Hawai'i in 1796. Those were thought to be gray, as well. Rock pigeons, also known as rock doves (Columba livia) are native to the Mediterranean.

That accounts for the gray ones, but what about the white ones? They're everywhere. Known as White Kings, they're prized by pigeon fanciers. They are also prized for their meat and raised as squab.

Menus from 'Iolani Palace when Kalakaua was king (1874-1891) show that a popular tidbit at state dinners was pigeon on toast. Kalakaua was a man of prodigious appetites, but he also was a lover of beauty and nature. He loved birds and had his own exotic bird collection, located where the Honolulu Zoo is now.

In a 2004 article in the Honolulu Advertiser, a columnist tackled the subject of Waikiki's pigeons. He unearthed the fact that someone named S.Y. Chun brought four pairs of White Kings from Canada  in 1876 for the dedication of the Kapi'olani Bird Park, which originated as Kalakaua's personal bird collection.

I found other articles about how the city of Honolulu has over the years tried to control the pigeon population, even by feeding the birds birth control grain. The fact is, plenty of other people feed them and accept them as part of the landscape. Whether you regard pigeons as flying rats or as doves of peace and beauty, they're in Waikiki to stay.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's Kava Time!

Due to popular demand (well, one person), I'm breathing new life into my blog after months of neglect.

I'm embarrassed that I even failed to remark on the death of the subject of my last post, Herb Kane. He died March 8, 2011, about eight months after my interview. So alas, I never got to collect on his kind offer of an adult beverage served on his lanai. But I was lucky to have a long phone conversation with the legendary artist, whose paintings grace so many rooms throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Today, on the first day of the new year, I decided to start things out in a mellow manner by reporting on my visit to Portland's first and only kava bar, Bula Kava House. This was not my first experience with the tranquility-inducing drink, made from the powdered root of the kava, or 'awa, plant. I wrote a blog post about imbibing kava from a coconut shell at Portland State University's lu'au in May 2009. After sampling kava, I didn't mind a bit that the dancing part of the program kept getting delayed. I had all the time in the world.

At Bula, I was served by Jamie Campa, the bartender, or shell tender. I had my choice of two varieties of kava: borogu, which is spicy and energizing ($3.50 per shell); and fu'u, which is more potent and would leave me feeling really mellow ($3.75). I chose fu'u and Jamie ladled the brown liquid from a large glass container into a half coconut shell.

Jamie didn't want me to have to drink alone. After all, kava is a social libation. So she poured a shell for herself and led me through the proper ritual.

Before drinking, we each clapped once. That action would invite positive energy and even friendly ancestors to witness our imbibing. We lifted the shells to our lips and drank without stopping, until the shells were empty. Then we each clapped our hands twice, dispelling any bad energy that managed to sneak in. Finally, we each ate a chunk of fresh pineapple to refresh our palates.

I felt the effects of the kava almost immediately. My lips began to tingle. Warmth spread down my limbs and through my body. I felt -- yeah, real mellow. And I still do.

Jamie told me that although kava's physiological effects are obvious, we were certainly not intoxicated. "There's no foggy thinking, no poor judgment," she informed me. She said I'd feel relaxed, perhaps a tad euphoric. As for her, she said kava makes her feel meditative.

In fact, she said kava is an effective hangover cure. She was surprised there weren't more customers on New Year's Day.

Bula is a multi-purpose word like aloha. In Fijian it means cheers, hello and goodbye. Bula Kava House fits in snugly with some of the hip new eateries on Division Street, including Wafu and Sunshine Tavern. Jamie says the place is hopping every Thursday night, when there's live music, and the first Friday of each month, which is open mic night.

It's an attractive space, with Polynesian masks and local art on the walls. There's even a small library of books about the featured beverage. Titles include "Kava: Nature's Relaxant," "The Pacific Elixir" and "Hawaiian 'Awa: Views of an Ethnobotanical Treasure."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interviewing Herb Kawainui Kane

I'm back!

I've had a bit of a hula hiatus. In fact, I bid adieu to my halau at the first of the year. Since then I've just been struggling with more immediate things, like trying to make a living. Hula and all things Hawaiian got put on the back burner.

But about two weeks ago I got a response to a story proposal I had sent to a magazine nearly a year ago. My idea was to profile the great Hawaiian artist Herb Kane for the University of Chicago magazine. I had read that he got his M.A. there in 1953, back when the UC gave degrees to graduates of the Art Institute of Chicago. My clever plan was that I'd get the assignment from the alumni magazine and then work some freelance-writer magic to finagle a free trip to the Big Island.

It didn't work out that way. As so often happens when editors give assignments, she wanted the story wikiwiki. (See? My Hawaiian is coming back to me already!)

Months earlier I had emailed Herb to ask if I could do a story, assuming I'd get an assignment. Now I had to email him and ask him to sit on the phone with me for an hour or so. I got the answer right back: "Let's do it tonight!"

When I called I first expressed my disappointment that I couldn't interview him in person. No worries. He said I'll always be welcome to stop by, sit with him on his lanai and consume some "adult beverages." I wished I were there right then, especially when he described his view -- 1200 feet above Kealakekua Bay. He said he had just done some pruning to keep his view clear, "in case Captain Cook comes back."

I learned some surprising things about a man who is considered a father of the Hawaiian Renaissance. For starters, his mother is Danish and he spent most of his childhood in Wisconsin. But his dad was from a family of taro farmers from the Waipi'o Valley and young Herb spent enough time there to be intrigued by family stories about kings and goddesses and Polynesian voyagers who crossed the ocean before settling the Hawaiian Islands.

After he got out of the Navy and returned to the Midwest, Herb entered the School of the Chicago Art Institute on the GI Bill. Herb spent his free time researching ancient canoes in the libraries of the University of Chicago and at the Field Museum. When he wasn't poring over books he was on the water, trying to imagine what Polynesian sailors experienced on the Pacific Ocean by sailing his racing catamaran along the choppy waves of Lake Michigan.

You might say, then, that the Hawaiian Renaissance was born in Chicago, on Lake Michigan. After the director of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts flew to Chicago to buy from Herb his series of canoe paintings, Herb decided he needed to continue his research in Hawaii. In 1970 he left Chicago and moved to Honolulu, where he and two friends founded the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Herb designed and helped build a replica of one of the large voyaging canoes with which the Polynesians explored the Pacific. The name came to him in a dream. He called it Hokule'a.

The pride Hawaiians felt when they were able to take the Hokule'a on long ocean voyages without navigational instruments, just as their ancestors did, helped the Hawaiian Renaissance take root in a land that was thirsty for self-knowledge. Herb's historically accurate paintings depicting people and places from Hawaii's past helped build interest and pride. The native language was rescued from the brink of extinction. People who now have the opportunity to learn Hawaii's language, its folk arts, music and history owe Herb Kawainui Kane their great thanks. Check out his paintings at his Online Retrospective, here.