Continuing Value

“We are ‘Oiwi and settlers who have benefitted from the Hawaiian renaissance, and still we see so many unfulfilled promises and obligations to the Hawaiian people and nation,” write co-editors Aiko Yamashiro and Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua in the preface of The Value of Hawai‘i 2: Ancestral Roots, Oceanic Visions, published this year by University of Hawai‘i Press. As a series of autobiographical essays, the book is explicit in its goal of crafting a new series of narratives of Hawai‘i. Making the rounds on public radio and community talk story sessions, Yamashiro, Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, and their contributing authors represent the front lines of those making progressive change in the state.

When The Value of Hawai‘i: Knowing the Past, Shaping the Future was published by University of Hawai‘i Press in 2010, Hawai‘i was having some personal issues. Trailing the years of the Bush presidency with a housing crisis and unemployment rates nearing the teens, students and teachers were being furloughed, incarceration rates for indigenous peoples were heartbreaking, and affordable housing was off the table. As a series of essays written by esteemed academic and legal writers, The Value of Hawai‘i was intended to change the conversation and was distributed to lawmakers and students of all ages and positions. It’s too early to tell, but it may have worked: Public education has gotten major boosts from federal investment and state requirements, and the conversation regarding homelessness statewide is becoming gentler. The second edition of the series is written by 40 different authors, most of whom were born in the 1980s. Canoe captain and educator Bonnie Kahape‘a Tanner tells sea tales of the small voyaging canoe Kānehūnāmoku in Kāne‘ohe Bay, and the lessons it imparts to keiki. PhD candidate and University of Hawai‘i regent Jeffrey Tangonan Acido reframes the capacity of faith as a tool of equality in the Philippines and urban Honolulu. It is a collection of what it means to work for the people of Hawai‘i, now.

The Value of Hawai‘i volumes are, in part, a reaction to policy discussions that have been informed by The Price of Paradise: Lucky We Live Hawaii? and The Price of Paradise II, first published in 1992, which decry tax rates, business markets, and development culture across the state. Those volumes remain influential because their editors were not skittish about discussing economics or whose rights matter in an island community.

The Price of Paradise was itself a reaction to the Hawaiian renaissance and a judicial return to island values, which had been absent for half a century. Legal decisions from 1966 to 1982 by the Hawai‘i Supreme Court penned by Chief Justice William S. Richardson, the first Hawaiian chief justice since the overthrow, challenged Anglo-American notions of property law. “Our examination of the relevant legal developments in Hawaiian history leads us to the conclusion that the western concept of exclusivity is not universally applicable in Hawaii,” the Court famously wrote in defense of the public’s access to the sea. Limits were placed on landowners’ rights to develop, improve, and exclude property. The Court granted the public access to the “upper reaches of the wash of the waves,” citing laws of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

In retrospect, as discussed in The Price of Paradise, the private-property developers won. Hawai‘i now ranks fourth among states with the most millionaires per capita. The south shores of Kaua‘i and Maui and the west sides of Hawai‘i Island and O‘ahu have seen the development of massive resorts in the intervening years. The discussions of ideology regarding property and value systems are becoming as apparent as construction cranes. Honolulu’s interior is now experiencing aggressive commercial development with questionable outcomes for the state’s middle class. “We know that our children and grandchildren will carry the full weight of ecological and social problems, such as climate change, growing economic inequality, and erosion of public safety net services, which have been left to us to address,” write Yamashiro and Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua. And the way they address those issues are the ways they have been taught by family and academia: through stories of hope, work, and joy.

The Value of Hawai‘i 2: Ancestral Roots, Oceanic Visions
Edited by Aiko Yamashiro and Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua
Released April 2014.
320 pp. University of Hawai‘i Press. $19.99

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