The Value of Hawai‘i

What’s in The Value of Hawai‘i, anyway?
The Value of Hawaii / The Value of Hawaii
Craig Howes & Jon Osorio, editors
Biographical Research Center,

University of Hawaii, 2010,

In his terrific introduction to The Value of Hawaii: Knowing the Past, Shaping the Future, a collection of up-to-the-minute essays by various experts-in-their-fields about charting a new course away from Hawaii’s current ”malaise”–or “stagnation” or ”decline”–co-editor Craig Howes tells the story of coming up with the idea for the book during one of his thrice-weekly morning jogs in Manoa with the book’s other editor, Jon Osorio.

The talk turned to politics, the 2010 elections, and whether they could expect anything other than the “continued gutting of the quality of life we cared about,” Howes writes. The two UH profs decided to pull together a collection of essays about how Hawaii got into this mess and how to begin to get out of it. “These would be essay about the value of Hawaii, not the price.”

Howes notes three themes that pop up repeatedly in the essays. First, that Hawaii will remain troubled as long as Hawaiian claims to native rights, to land and to sovereignty remain outstanding. To put it another way, aloha ‘aina is the only homegrown, compelling thing going on in the state, so why not sustain it?

Second theme: “One surefire way to turn things around at least somewhat,” Howes writes, “would be to demand that the government have the will, and expend the resources necessary, to enforce its own laws. For whatever reasons, it currently doesn’t.”

Howes squarely blames the Linda Lingle administration for much of this: “In the last few years, the executive branch has seemed committed to a policy of destroying the government’s ability to plan, preserve, nurture or enforce.”

And third: “We are the unfortunate heirs of thirty years of a national demonizing of government, and a knee-jerk faith in an unregulated private sector, that together have damaged us profoundly.”

Wrapping up, Howes cites Hawaii’s manifest uniqueness and quotes a bumper sticker: “This ain’t da mainland.”

“That’s good,” he writes, “and it’s our greatest cause for hope.”

Twenty-eight essays divided into six thematic sections make up The Value of Hawaii. Its publication in late September stirred any number of kukakuka sessions, both online and in the flesh, involving the editors, the writers/experts and the public. Let’s say the team of Howes and Osorio successfully provoked a conversation.

To help get in on the conversation, here’s a completely subjective sample of some of the more interesting and prickly things the essayists committed to print in the book, a thoughtful snapshot of the challenges Hawaii faces today.

One of the liveliest writers in the stable, law professor and Roosevelt grad Mari Matsuda, tackled public education and took a few shots at the conventional wisdom.

“The kids aren’t learning, it must be the teachers’ fault. No,” she writes, “it’s our fault.”

Shifting the deck chairs doesn’t work, either. “Politicians offer restructuring because they are afraid to raise revenue to run schools well,” she says. She talks about the “student-owned classroom” and “school-centered management practices with strong principals aligned with supportive superintendents.

Addressing her print audience, Matsuda says, “You are holding this text…you are a reader. Education was a gift given to us. It is ours to bequeath.”

Waiahole farmer and water expert Charlie Reppun reported on the research project of a middle school class that visited his taro farm. In the course of the day, the students got around to wondering whether the Islands could ever produce enough food for the 1.3 million people who live here. Led by teachers Bob Tam and Emery Mitchum, the kids gathered tons of data–optimal caloric intake per person per day, vitamin and mineral intake, suitable crops, current acreages in food production, yields per acre, etc.

Conclusions: 140,000 acres would have to be committed to fruit and vegetable production, up from the current 1,530 acres; 28,776 acres in taro production, up from the current 380 acres; and for beef production to meet the protein needs of the population, we’d need a whopping 6 million acres (or 1.9 million more than the archipelago has).

The kids dreamed, Reppun says, of independence from North American factory farms, of reducing carbon emissions, of tasty fresh produce and farming jobs for the unemployed, and of a self-sufficient Hawaii.

“Does it make sense to pursue self-sufficiency in our island home?” Reppun asks, answering: “Nainoa Thompson often talks about Hawaii as a model for the world. When people finally realize that planet earth is a closed system, our ‘island mentality’ can inform all.”

Hawaiian activist Dana Naone Hall begins her multi-targeted fusillade “Sovereign Ground” with a moolelo about the historic 1988 battle over the iwi of Honokahua, Maui, a battle in which she played an active role, and how those iwi reminded the living of their stake in the ground.

She suggests that Kamehameha Schools might pay more attention to troubled, underserved and learning-disabled Hawaiian youth–the orphans and indigent that Princess Bernice had wanted to help–in its education programs, particularly at its newer Maui and Hawaii Island campuses. Referring to the Kapalama campus with its 3,000 gifted Hawaiian students, she asks, “We have one bright shining academy on a hill. Did we really need two more?”

Hall writes that she was disappointed that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs did not step up to purchase the 87-square-mile Molokai Ranch when it was put up for sale in 1990. (“…the price seemed reasonable,” she says.) With the sovereignty debate raging, she explains, “I thought that what was needed was a land base where sovereignty could actually be practiced. … I am concerned that without some experience of self-governance on a discreet land base, when sovereignty arrives we will be unprepared.” Instead, that third of the fiercely proud island of Molokai is now controlled by a Hong Kong-based global investment firm.

Political reporter Chad Blair, in his essay on “government” writes that “something is wickedly wrong in Honolulu.” He prescribes a unicameral state legislature, term limits, non-partisan elections, a streamlined legislative agenda, and even a measure to legalize gambling. Read the essay for his reasoning.

And lastly, in her essay, community advocate and consultant Trisha Kehaulani Watson got right to the nub of her subject, homelessness, by reminding readers of the legendary Mamahahoe Kanawai, the Law of the Splintered Paddle devised by Kamehameha I: “O my people, Honor thy god; Respect the rights of all men great and humble; See to it that our elderly, our women, our children Lie down to sleep by the roadside Without fear of harm. Disobey, and die.”

Watson concludes that the residents of Waianae’s beaches are not homeless, but houseless, “because Hawaii is their home. Right now, it cannot be much of a home to any of us, because we have dismantled what makes Hawaii home.

“It’s time to restore it.”