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Resisting Exile in the Homeland
He Mo'oleno No Lā'ie

Kānaka Maoli are under constant threat of becoming exiles in our homeland.1 With the steady encroachment of development such as new luxury subdivisions on Moloka'i, high-rise condominiums in Waikīkī, and new multi-million-dollar homes on the beaches of all the major islands, we are being pushed off our land and replaced by new wealthy migrants who can afford the high cost of living. As these and other development projects continually drive up land prices, many Kānaka Maoli struggle to manage the ever-expanding gap between salaries and the high cost of housing, whether buying or renting. For those who cannot manage to bridge this economic divide, their options are constrained: a family can find a way to make do, or they are forced to uproot themselves and follow the now well worn path to the continental United States. There is more than just an economic side to exile; for those who stay, the exile that they experience is cultural and spiritual as well as physical. In this article I explore how stories are one important strategy that Kānaka Maoli use to resist psychic and spiritual exile. I argue that keeping alive the mo'olelo, the stories and histories that live and give life to the sacred places that surround us, is a necessary stopgap against continued encroachment of development of the 'āina, or land.

Through mo'olelo Kānaka Maoli can know the long genealogical line that connects the ancestors to the living and the infinite generations to come. Follow the line back to the beginning of time, and we learn that the 'āina, including the winds, the waves, the migration of the fish, and all that comes from the land, is also a part of our genealogy. As Mary Kawena Pukui and Samual Elbert make clear, Hawaiian place-names and the stories that live in these places serve as a reminder of how Kānaka [End Page 70] Maoli identity is firmly grounded in the sights, sounds, and smells of the water, earth, and sky.2 Through stories, the past, present, and future exist simultaneously; just as single strands of hala (pandanas leaf) are woven together to become something altogether new, individual stories, when threaded through one another, produce a complex pattern of associations and meanings that at once maintain a resemblance to the original while becoming something entirely distinct.

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Figure 1.

Pictured in gray tones is the residential area of Lā'ie. Also pictured is the Lā'ie Temple, Brigham Young University of Hawai'i, and the Polynesian Cultural Center. U.S. Geological Survey, Kahuku Quadrangle, Hawai'i—Honolulu Co. 7.5 Minute Series, Map, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, 1998.

In Lā'ie, a rural town located on the northeastern shore of O'ahu island, stories and place-names join to produce a richly textured meaning of a place. This small town is an ideal site to explore how stories are an important part of how we resist exile because of its complex history of being simultaneously a pu'uhonua, a place of refuge, within the lexicon of sacred sites of O'ahu and, beginning in 1865, the headquarters of the Hawai'i Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church, popularly known as the Mormon Church). Today, Lā'ie is known for the Lā'ie Temple, which is recognized as a spiritual center; [End Page 71] Brigham Young University at Hawai'i, which people acknowledge as the educational center; and the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), the world-renowned tourist attraction that functions as a cultural center in this small town.

Embedded in the history of the LDS Church in Lā'ie is a tension between an Indigenous sense of place and the introduction of Western notions of land as private property. This relationship is further complicated in Lā'ie because the majority of the Kānaka Maoli who live there are members of the church. I use two complementary stories about this place to reframe the tension between indigeneity and modernity, a tension that too often is represented in academically based scholarship as irreconcilable, although in lived experience it makes perfect sense.3 Sometimes different strands of hala weave together to accent one another, while at other times the juxtaposition is jarring, unsettling. By placing traditional stories alongside more modern stories, I intend to trouble the distinction between tradition versus modernity and indigeneity in opposition to Christianity, in this case Mormonism. I argue that the acts of occupying the land and passing on the stories that live in this place allow Kānaka Maoli members of the church to resist psychic and spiritual exile. Admittedly, looking to the LDS Church for examples of Kānaka resistance is unexpected and indeed problematic. However, I hope to stress the ingenuity of Indigenous peoples, including Kānaka Maoli, to resist the "presumed" markers of colonization such as religious conversion and dispossession of land. As Aunty Dawn Wasson, whose genealogy links her to this ahupua'a (a smaller land division of a district of an island), teaches us, as we fight for our identity we must also fight to keep the land (pers. comm., December 11, 2006).

Lā'ie gets its name from the ka'ao, a type of mo'olelo that is a romantic and fanciful legend, of Lā'ieikawai, a young woman whose beauty captured the hearts of many suitors and whose connection to nature was legendary. According to Hawaiian scholar Jonathon K. Osorio, this particular ka'ao reflects

the fundamental themes of Hawaiian storytelling: the interrelationships of Nature, gods, and human beings; the prominence of love and physical attraction; the consequences of pettiness and betrayal; and above all, the overwhelming significance of family and relationships.4 [End Page 72]

The drama of this story begins with the birth of Lā'ieikawai and her twin sister, Lā'ielohelohe. Their mother, Mālaekahana, fearful that her husband, Kahauokapaka, who demanded a firstborn son, would kill the baby if it was a girl, conspired with her kahuna, or priest, to give birth in secret. On the day that the girls were born their father was sent on a fishing trip, completely unaware of the events transpiring at home. When he returned he was told that his wife had given birth to a stillborn daughter. In fact, the twin girls had been taken into hiding. The kahuna took Lā'ielohelohe to Wahiawā to a sacred place called Kūkaniloko, while his wife, Waka, hid Lā'ieikawai in a cave accessible only by swimming into the depths of a nearby pool called Wai'āpuka. As Osorio explained, Hawaiian stories are thick with meaning and what we might think of as metaphor. One characteristic of ka'ao is the intimate connection between the forces of nature and human beings. It is said that when an ali'i, or chief, was born nature would announce her or his birth. In this story two loud claps of thunder announced the birth of the twin girls, and a rainbow appeared over the pool where Lā'ieikawai and Waka hid.

The remainder of the story chronicles Lā'ieikawai's relationships and adventures. After hiding for a time in Wai'āpuka, she and Waka eventually made their home in the remote uplands of Paliuli on Hawai'i Island, where Lā'ieikawai's beauty was legendary, inspiring a number of suitors to vie for her love. Jealousy and pettiness doomed these relationships; however, in the end she was reunited with her sister, and they lived the remainder of their lives in Paliuli. Today the ahupua'a of Lā'ie is adjacent to the ahupua'a Mālaekahana. Although Mālaekahana was not able to be with her daughters in life, she remains beside them in the land. The poetical name of the ahupua'a, Lā'ie i ka 'eheu o nā manu, meaning "Lā'ie, borne on the wings of birds," recalls the woman whose beauty exceeded all others and who lived in the 'ohia forest among the lehua blossoms surrounded by birds.5 It is said that above her home, made from the yellow feathers of the 'ō'ō bird, arched a rainbow.

The second story comes from the oral history of Lā'ie community member Thomas H. Au. Born and raised in Lā'ie, Au had fond memories of childhood antics taking place at a nearby swimming hole called Beauty Hole. Au, whose father was Anchi Au, a Chinese laborer from the Kahuku plantation, and whose mother was Ana Ha'aheo, a Kānaka Maoli, was born in Lā'ie in 1913. In his interview for the Lā'ie Community Oral History Program he shared the story of how he got the nickname "Five [End Page 73] Cents." When the interviewer asks him to tell this story, Au grounds the story by explaining where Beauty Hole was located.

Now, you know where our shopping center [is] now—Lā'ie? Right across the street, they have a few new homes over there where that little hill there—where they built that little hill, they had a swimming pool over there. They called it "Beauty Hole." Yes, and that's where we learned how to swim. As far as I know, all the children in Lā'ie before me, and my time, and below my time, never had no drowning over there.6

Whether ancient or modern, place-name stories are situated physically in the landscape, and people think about them not just as happening in the past, but these stories connect them to the present and future. The significance of Beauty Hole as an important place is not diminished because it was "man-made" or because the stories took place and were told in the twentieth century. What makes this place important are the connections the children of Lā'ie have to and meanings that live in these sites.

As the story goes, one Sunday Au and his friend skipped out on church services to go swimming. What was unique about this particular day was that there were a lot of tourists driving along Kamehameha Highway, "sailors especially, and the service boys" who threw coins into the pool and watched as the boys swam after them. Au admits that he was pretty skillful at catching the nickels before they sank to the bottom of the pool. Unlike his friends who dove directly on top of the coin, Au had a different tactic:

I jump on the side, you see; I'd wait on the side where it's clear. Now when they jump over there, where they throw the money, you can't see because a lot of bubbles, so the money would go on the side and I'll be there waiting, and I'll swim where it's clear.7

He was so successful at diving for nickels that his friends decided he should be called "Five Cents." When they tired from diving for coins, Au treated his friends to soda and pake cake, a Chinese pastry, at the nearby store.

Wai'āpuka is a sacred Hawaiian place because of the legend of Lā'ieikawai. For the children of Lā'ie Beauty Hole is legendary because it was where they learned to swim, dove for nickels to buy soda and [End Page 74] treats, and shared many good times with friends and family. According to William K. Wallace III, Hawaiian scholar and Lā'ie community member,

Beauty Hole came about as they were working on the highway (Kamehameha Highway) and as they were cutting into the side of Lā'ie Point the ground coral broke and the swimming hole which later became called Beauty Hole came to be. Some stories say that Beauty Hole got its name from one of the road bosses' daughter who had just picked a red rose (American Beauty variety) and as she was walking across a plank that had been laid across this hole in the ground her red rose . . . fell into the water and she cried out, "My Beauty, My Beauty, My Beauty!" Some of the old timers say that it was from that time that everyone started to call that hole, which became a favorite swimming hole for all of us, "Beauty Hole"! That's the story that was told to me by my Mom who was born and raised in Lā'ie.8

Kamoa'e Walk, Hawaiian language expert and Lā'ie community member, grew up thinking that Beauty Hole was a natural phenomenon. However, after talking with his grandfather and other longtime community members, he learned that Beauty Hole had no Hawaiian name and thus could not be an ancient feature of Lā'ie. Years later, in a conversation with Cy Bridges, he learned that

at first [Beauty Hole] was just a little hole through which one could hear the ocean but Cy Bridges' [great-grandfather, the supervisor of the road construction crew] made it bigger until it was about twenty feet in diameter and filled with brackish water. Later it became polluted with garbage and then was filled in [during the late 1980s, and a house was built on top of it].9

I use these stories because they are examples of the different levels of meaning associated with Lā'ie—a meaning I want to build on in the rest of this essay. The first story is a very brief summary of the Hawaiian ka'ao that was originally passed on through oral tradition. It appeared in literary form in the 1860s and was subsequently translated into English in the early twentieth century by Martha Beckwith.10 It reflects a Hawaiian sensibility of how humans and nature are intimately connected and offers insight into values that Kānaka Maoli hold dear. In this story there is a [End Page 75] strong connection between nature, the land, and humans that reflects a Hawaiian cosmology where all three are intimately tied together by mo'okūauhau, or genealogy. The second story was taken from Au's oral history of important events that took place in his life. It touches on various aspects of Lā'ie's more contemporary history, which includes tourism and development, and offers a glimpse of the different ways that land is valued outside of a Hawaiian cosmology. This second story reflects a very different relationship to land. Beauty Hole was a product of development and expansion and seen as progress. With the expansion of Kamehameha Highway visitors would be able to easily circle the island, and the military would have direct access between Schofield Barracks in Wahiawā and Kāneohe Marine Corp Base, thus bringing rural O'ahu within closer proximity to Honolulu, tourism, and the military.

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Figure 2.

The site of the old swimming hole known as Beauty Hole, Lā'ie, Hawai'i, April 2006. Photo courtesy of the author.

In my view, the history of the LDS Church in Hawai'i and the ways in which Kānaka members of the church resist exile fall somewhere between these two stories. Recently, I had the privilege of visiting these wahi pana, or legendary places, of Lā'ie. Wai'āpuka is physically located in the ahupua'a of Mālaekahana on what is now a cattle ranch. We pulled over onto the shoulder of Kamehameha Highway to see where the pool [End Page 76] was located. Kamoa'e Walk apologized for not being able to take us to the actual site, but he pointed out the location of the pool in the pasture. He explained that the large bushes and high grass surrounding the pool obscure it from the road and also prevent the cows from falling in and drowning.

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Figure 3.

Wai'āpuka, Lā'ie, Hawai'i, April 2006. Photo courtesy of the author.

We drove approximately two miles to the opposite side of Lā'ie to visit the site where kids used to swim in Beauty Hole. Au's directions to Beauty Hole were absolutely accurate. We stopped in front of the house directly across the street from the Lā'ie Foodland and got out to look around. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised to see a house standing where Beauty Hole once was.

My experience of Beauty Hole from reading oral histories and talking to folks who used to swim there was of the way it used to be, not how it is today. Visiting these two sites and sharing these stories with my friends reminded me of what is lost when the old stories are not remembered. Due to development, globalization, and other forces of modernity, these wahi pana were unrecognizable to the people in the cars whizzing by us. Without direct intervention, the next generation will continue to speed [End Page 77] past other wahi pana, not knowing that another piece of their history and their future is being filled in and covered over with concrete. Kamoa'e Walk reinforces this point. He told us that the LDS Church's financial institution recently purchased a large portion of the ranch surrounding Wai'āpuka and planned to develop it for housing. He and other Kānaka community members are deeply concerned that without their direct intervention the fate of Wai'āpuka will be that of Beauty Hole.

A Story of the LDS Church in Hawai'i

When the first LDS missionaries arrived in Hawai'i in December 1850 the Mahele, or land division, was under way. The Commission to Quiet Land Claims, which had been given the task of negotiating land claims, was finalizing the process of awarding kuleana claims, or land allotments, to maka'āinana, or commoners.11 While the haole, or white Euroamerican business elite, used this transition from cooperative land use to private property ownership to greedily acquire land and expand their sugar plantations, Kānaka Maoli families in Lā'ie gave testimony that documented their genealogical connections to their land. Approximately seventy-two were awarded kuleana claims. As sugar plantations grew, the need for cheap labor also intensified. The Royal Hawaiian Agriculture Society, having already acquired large tracts of land from the Mahele, was looking to Asia to solve its problems.12 Additionally, Kānaka were increasingly unhappy about the restrictions and prescriptions placed on every aspect of their lives by Protestant missionaries, including the ban on the practice of hula.13 Within this highly charged economic and political climate, the first ten LDS missionaries, fresh from California, where they had been serving as labor missionaries in the gold mines necessary to support the growth of the church in Salt Lake City, attempted to establish a mission. The initial plan was for these gold-mining missionaries to spend the slow winter months in Hawai'i proselytizing the haole population, but they found the non-Mormon haole population hostile to their efforts. To their surprise, the missionaries found the Kānaka who gave them lodging far more receptive to their message. The three missionaries on Maui—George Q. Cannon, James Keeler, and Henry William Bigler—decided to shift their focus to preaching to the more open Hawaiians. Since the missionaries serving on O'ahu, Kaua'i, and Hawai'i had also been ostracized by the haole community, they decided to build a critical mass among the Hawaiian population. [End Page 78]

It was fortuitous, then, that Cannon shared a vision he had with his fellow missionaries. According to LDS historian R. Lanier Britsch,

while at Lahaina, Maui, [Cannon] had a revelation in which the Lord spoke to him telling him that the Hawaiians were of the House of Israel. From this time on, Cannon and his associates began to preach that the Hawaiian people were an offshoot branch of Israel through the posterity of Lehi, a Book of Mormon prophet.14

Within the context of the time, Cannon's vision provided the necessary legitimacy to shift the Mormons' attention toward preaching to the Native Hawaiian people and over time would be used to justify the establishment of a permanent mission in the islands. More broadly, Cannon's vision is significant because this single event expanded the racial boundaries of the church to include Hawaiians and, by extension, Polynesians as part of the broader cosmology of the church.15 By linking Polynesians to the House of Israel, Cannon's vision drew a genealogical connection between the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, the Indigenous peoples of Polynesia, and The Book of Mormon, a scriptural text equal to the Bible in LDS theology. Within the context of LDS cosmology, American Indians and Polynesians take on a venerated status as a chosen people, and Lā'ie comes to be figured as a Promised Land.

The significance of Cannon's vision has been far-reaching. First, Cannon's vision is important to the larger trajectory of the growth and expansion of the church; in addition to inspiring his fellow missionaries to continue forward in their work for the Lord among the Hawaiians, it also became the bedrock upon which the church built this genealogical connection between Polynesians and The Book of Mormon. Second, armed with this new theological explanation of the origins of Polynesians, LDS Church missionaries expanded their efforts throughout Polynesia, carrying this message with them. Finally, this connection was not solely important to the church. For Kānaka Maoli, the LDS missionaries appeared to offer a viable alternative to the highly restrictive Protestant and Catholic faiths. Many early converts did not feel pressure to give up their Hawaiian identity in order to join the church. On the contrary, they felt that Mormonism accentuated the cultural values and beliefs they already had, namely, love of family, significance of genealogy, and the ongoing relationship between the spirit world and the physical one. Additionally, the integration of Polynesians into the broader cosmology [End Page 79] of the church allows Hawaiian members to trace their genealogical line back through The Book of Mormon, and in these tracings new connections to the land begin to emerge alongside older ones.

The process of weaving a Hawaiian identity with Mormon beliefs can also be seen in Lā'ie. As a pu'uhonua, Lā'ie is a sacred place to Kānaka Maoli.16 As the Hawai'i Mission expanded and became firmly established in Lā'ie, this town came to be known by the LDS Church as a sacred site. Within the discourse of the church, Lā'ie was a gathering place, a community where coreligionists could practice their faith without persecution. One key symbol of this sacredness was the building of the first temple outside of the continental United States. As I demonstrate below, the gathering principle and the Hawaiian belief in Lā'ie's inherent sacredness at times were at odds. I contend that in the process of gathering, narratives of American expansion dominate the historiography by naturalizing the acquisition of land and the domestication of the Native. In contrast, the stories by Kānaka Maoli and Polynesian members of the church provide a counternarrative of Indigenous people who struggle to maintain their connection to the 'āina while being faithful to their newly acquired Christian beliefs.

The Gathering Principle and American Imperialism

Between 1854 and 1865 the LDS mission established two gathering places. The first was a temporary site on the island of Lāna'i called Iosepa, a Hawaiian translation of "Joseph," after Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church. The second, Lā'ie, was explicitly seen as a permanent gathering place that came to symbolize a Land of Zion or Promised Land in the Pacific. When the first colony, Iosepa, was closed in 1864, missionaries from Salt Lake City began looking for a new site for the gathering of Zion. This was accomplished in 1865, when Francis A. Hammond and George Nebeker purchased six thousand acres of land comprising the entire ahupua'a of Lā'ie. Their ability to purchase such a large tract of land was due to the Mahele, which through U.S. jurisprudence (or what University of Arizona professor Robert A. Williams Jr. terms a "jurispathic," rights-destroying form of racism) transformed the land from "that which feeds," the literal translation of the word 'āina, to a commodity that could be bought and sold. But in Lā'ie a binary between the sacred (land as 'āina) and the profane (land as real estate) can be neither [End Page 80] easily made nor sustained. Through the gathering principle the economic and religious imperatives of the church are woven together with the Hawaiian understanding of Lā'ie as a pu'uhonua. Thus, although the church's ability to purchase so much land has to be seen within a broader context of American imperialism and within a discourse of Manifest Destiny, the meaning of this acquisition cannot be limited to just this interpretation. We must also be attentive to the ways in which prior meanings continued.

Furthermore, as I read the oral histories of Hawaiian and Samoan members of the church who dwell in Lā'ie, I came to see how they managed to negotiate the complex relationship between the motivations and interests of the church and their own. They describe Lā'ie in complicated ways. Whereas many old-timers made a clear distinction between an "old" Lā'ie and a "new" Lā'ie, their descriptions reflect the complex relationships that operate in the town between the church, Polynesian community members, and, at the margins, Asian laborers. In the remainder of this essay I draw from oral histories in order to trace how Hawaiians and Samoans navigated between the poles of tradition and modernity. I limit my discussion to the period between 1915 and 1963. I use these years as benchmarks because they demarcate two critical historical moments of change. The dedication of the temple site in 1915 and the opening of the PCC in 1963 encapsulate a historical moment where structures of power began to shift dramatically. I contend that the events that take place between these two historical end points mark the distinction old-timers make between an "old" and a "new" Lā'ie.

Old Lā'ie

Old Lā'ie is described as "just like any Polynesian town" by Mataniu Fonoimoana, a Samoan member of the church who migrated to Lā'ie in 1935. She recalls: "The Hawaiians and Samoans are very good. They live together just like one family. We go to people's house and we eat and they come to my house. . . . The life here during that time was good, smooth, there's no problem, no problems between Samoan and Hawaiian. Just like a big family."17 But Lā'ie was more than a place where Hawaiians and Samoans lived without problems. It was also the mission headquarters until 1919, when it was moved to Honolulu, and a sugar plantation from 1868 to 1931. The church owned the land, leased house lots to the [End Page 81] Saints (the designation for LDS Church members), owned and operated the plantation, and managed all but one of the stores in the town. Although Fonoimoana and others describe the ways in which old Lā'ie was a Polynesian village, we must keep in mind the contradictions of that statement. When the church purchased this ahupua'a it became the owner of the land, with the power to determine its fate and to notably influence the lives of the people who lived there. Despite competing interests, Kānaka Maoli members of the church managed to maintain a sense of self that was simultaneously Hawaiian and Mormon.

A Polynesian Village

Although she was a small child when her family migrated from American Samoa in 1922, arriving in Hawai'i on January 1, 1923, Vailine Leota Niko recalls how her family was warmly welcomed into the Hawaiian community. When her family arrived, they lived in a small house on Iosepa Street next door to the Broads as well as other prominent Hawaiian families such as the Kekauohas, the Kailikeas, the Apuakehaus, the Nainoas, and the Logans. The act of naming the Kānaka Maoli families who lived on that street serves as a way to ground genealogy in the land and names this place as, first and foremost, Hawaiian. In addition, she describes the Filipino camp and a Japanese camp that housed plantation laborers at the edge of the village. Niko's memories of old Lā'ie reflect descriptions of a town peopled by Hawaiians, Samoans, and, on the fringes, Asian immigrant plantation workers. Her interview betrays a longing for the openness and feeling of welcome that characterized the olden days:

Well there is no comparison to what used to be before. Every house was open to anyone. The doors were open. When we first came from Samoa there was not a time when you passed a house and where the head of the family or anyone would come out and say "Hele Mai," you know, in their way say "Hele mai e ai." They would say, "come in and have something to eat," or "come in." They were happy and they welcomed you to their place and they were so hospitable. And that is the feeling.18

Although nostalgic and perhaps oversimplified, her description is not unique. Many longtime community members share Niko's sense of old Lā'ie as an open, welcoming place where people were happy. The [End Page 82] Lā'ie oral histories also tell the story of residents struggling to contend with the economic realities that surrounded them. Although Niko and Mataniu Fonoimoana describe a Polynesian village, this village is firmly situated as a church-owned company town.

After 1919, when the mission headquarters were moved to Honolulu, Lā'ie simply became a business enterprise for the church. Britsch makes it clear that "this is not to say that the Church suddenly turned its back on Lā'ie and its people, but times were changing."19 The severing of the mission from the plantation had at least two immediate consequences. First, when the headquarters moved to Honolulu, the highest-ranking haole church leaders migrated to town, leaving Hawaiian and, later, Samoan men as leaders in charge of the spiritual needs of the community. Second, it explains the absence of haole community members in Niko's description of Lā'ie in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite these changes, Lā'ie maintained its affiliation as a Mormon town. This sentiment is best expressed by Amoe Meyer, who migrated to Lā'ie in 1927 as a schoolteacher at Lā'ie Elementary. Two things struck her as unique about this village. First, it was a well-established Mormon community, and second, it was predominantly Hawaiian and Samoan. She remembers that the only haole families living in the community were missionaries or the family of the mission president. As a haole herself who grew up in Honolulu, she was not unfamiliar with the LDS Church; however, moving to an LDS community was an adjustment. She admits, "I was kind of scared and you know what? In Lahaina when I left, some of the people over there said, 'Now, you be careful, don't you go there and marry a Mormon!'" She laughs, "But the trouble was, the year hadn't even passed, and I was married to a Mormon."20

At various points in the history of the church in Hawai'i, the interests of this religious organization has had unexpected benefits for Kānaka Maoli members of the church. For example, although the church hierarchy was clearly delineated along racial lines, with haole dispatched from the church headquarters in Utah occupying the highest leadership positions in the Hawai'i Mission, the membership was primarily Hawaiian. During his interview with Britsch, Edward L. Clissold notes that until about 1921 the church in Hawai'i was almost exclusively Hawaiian: "Out in the country districts the people spoke Hawaiian, their services were conducted in Hawaiian and the temple that had just been opened was attended by Hawaiians, for the most part. . . . Between 1920 and 1950 [End Page 83] we began to bring in the other nationalities" through the migration of Samoans and through a concerted effort to convert the local Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos living in the area.21 Clissold stresses that at its core the church continued to be Hawaiian. As a "Hawaiian" church, one of the unexpected outcomes was that ka 'Ōlelo Hawai'i, the Hawaiian language, continued to be spoken at home and in church until the 1960s, and Hawaiian and, later, Samoan men were the spiritual leaders in their community.

Paul F. Nahoa Lucas argues that after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 "the English-mainly campaign transformed into an English-only one, as advocates stepped up their efforts to accelerate the extermination of Hawaiian."22 Despite the strident campaign to assimilate Kānaka Maoli through the prohibition of Hawaiian, Lucas emphasizes that this campaign was not completely successful. He explains, "The use of Hawaiian went 'underground' and remained largely in use with families who continued to value the Hawaiian language, in churches, and Hawaiian societies."23 Thus, although we can trace the persistence of Hawaiian in these "underground" spaces, by the 1960s even these last bastions were beginning to shift to English. The oral histories with Lā'ie community members tell a similar story of how the Hawaiian language was spoken at church and at home; however, by the 1960s the shift to English was well under way, as Hawaiian-speaking Kānaka Maoli church leaders were replaced with younger English-speaking Hawaiians. Although this loss is devastating, I think it is significant that the Hawaiian language was able to thrive for so long in this Mormon community for at least two reasons. First, with the haole members of the church attending the English-speaking congregations in Waikīkī, church services were conducted in the Hawaiian and, later, Samoan language. Second, as Lucas suggests, communities that were beyond the surveillance of the public school system and that placed a high value on language and cultural practice continued to speak the language. It is a testament to the Kānaka members of the church in Lā'ie that the Hawaiian language was able to survive.

A Plantation Town

Folks also describe Lā'ie as a plantation town, although it was a Polynesian village. When the LDS Church bought the ahupua'a, it introduced and structured the community around market values. The impact of this was [End Page 84] felt most strongly after the mission and the plantation were divided. By contrasting the business interests of the church with the survival strategies of Lā'ie community members, we begin to see that the current conflict between church development plans and the community are not new. Additionally, this conflict also resonates globally as Indigenous peoples' desire to maintain a particular kind of rural subsistence lifestyle comes into conflict with externally motivated economic interests. According to oral history descriptions of early-twentieth-century Lā'ie, the plantation hierarchy resembled that of other plantation towns as "the missionaries were operating the sugar plantation."24 According to Viola Kawahigashi's personal memories and the stories she heard from her grandfather, many Hawaiian members of the community initially worked on the plantation but decided that working all day in the sun for only fifty cents a day was not worth it when they could work in their gardens and fish in the streams and ocean in order to provide for their families. She admits that her grandfather was able to make this choice because he also had a job as the tax assessor "and marriage license agent."25

Her oral history offers rich detail of the ways in which Lā'ie was both a company town and a Polynesian village. One of the characteristics of a plantation company town was that many of the commercial establishments were associated with the plantation. There was a plantation store that sold sundries and offered credit to plantation workers, which was taken out of their paychecks. Next door to the store was the plantation office, where workers could pick up their paychecks. There was a barbershop, a blacksmith shop, and an icehouse that was operated by the Lā'ie plantation store as well. The only other store in Lā'ie was the Nakayama store that was on the edge of town. As a child, Kawahigashi worked in the fields during the summer and remembers picking up her paycheck, once a month, at the plantation office.

Although the plantation provided many community members with employment, they did not earn enough to support their families. The oral histories are instructive because they document how local families were able to survive in a cash-poor economy by relying on traditional forms of utilizing the resources from the land and sea as well as from gardens, livestock, and communal agriculture. For example, Thomas Au explains how his family supplemented his father's meager income:

My father used to raise a lot of chicken, ducks—he makes salt eggs [from duck eggs] and sell some, and some for the family. And my [End Page 85] mother used to go down the river [to] catch small shrimp from the river, small little fishes. And when the sea is calm, she would go down, get squid for us, limu and all those things. Yes, that's how we lived.26

When Au married and started his own family he drew upon his parents' example in order to support his family. While he worked at the plantation, "the pay was cheap, so I had to do something. So I started raising animals, and that's how we had our meat and pork. Anytime we needed—the freezer get low—then we send them to the slaughter house, send the cow to the slaughter house."27

Even when children did not work on the plantation they still contributed to feeding the family. As a child, Au remembers collecting small shrimp in a nearby river:

Well, the only thing I knew—down the river here on the highway—right close to Matsuda's service station [located on the Kahuku side of Kahawainui Stream; Cackle Fresh retail store later occupied the building], is a river over there going [to] the ocean. And that river there, in those days, didn't have so much grass as now. And over there, little children can go swim, and catch little shrimp in there—they call it o'opu. We tried to catch the little fish, Aholehole.28

For Au, the lo'i kalo, or taro patches, that were spread throughout Lā'ie were a critical part of the families' survival strategy and must be seen as an expression of Hawaiian values. He explains:

Taro patches, yes. Where is the [Polynesian] Cultural Center now, we had all taro patches, mostly. All taro patches over there; I remember all taro patches. And right by the married student homes from there toward coming here to Goo's store—on your left side, on the beach side, they had taro patches over there, too. Hawaiians grow them over there too.29

Kalo is more than a primary source of nourishment for Kānaka Maoli. The reciprocal and caring relationship that Au describes between taro and the Hawaiian people mimics the kua'ana, or older sibling–younger sibling, relationship. As the older sibling, kalo provides nourishment to the younger sibling, Kānaka, who in turn provides mālama 'āina, or care for the land, thus ensuring the cycle of life. In Lv'ie this Hawaiian value was a regular practice: since each family had its own lo'i kalo, everyone supported each other in times of need. Au remembers it this way: [End Page 86]

Oh, everybody make their own poi, you see. And those days, if your taro patch not ready to harvest—the taro for make poi—you come see me, and then you can have some bag, whatever you want. Then when your taro are ready to harvest, then you give me back your taro. That's how we worked before. And that's how we worked together, lived together. So, not like today.30

As described above, today the PCC, Brigham Young University–Hawai'i student housing, and other development projects have replaced the lo'i. As Au intimates, when development is privileged over mālama 'āina, the price we must pay is our connection to the 'āina.

For Niko, the ability to feed one's family by relying on the land and the ocean was what gave Lā'ie its special feeling. Her memories of old Lā'ie echo Au's. She remembers a time when there was little competition and individualism among families who relied on each other for their mutual well-being. There is a way in which we can read these examples as the persistence of a Hawaiian-Polynesian sense of land as that which feeds. The descriptions of Lā'ie as open, welcoming, cooperative, and reliant on the land and ocean for food are the characteristics that also define this company town as a Polynesian village. However, what seems to be missing from these narratives is any kind of explicit critique. In sharing her grandfather's decision to quit working for the plantation, Kawahigashi's narrative points to the presence of discontent between the church membership and the plantation; however, absent from the rest of her oral history is any kind of criticism of LDS Church business practices.

This kind of silence around the business decisions and practices of church leaders was not limited to the plantation days. As I describe in more detail elsewhere, disapproval is often muted or sometimes redirected onto other issues. I have come to understand the absent presence of critique within the context of an ideology of faithfulness where faithful membership in the church is premised on faithfulness to church business and managerial practices. To be sure, an ideology of faithfulness is not about one's active membership in the church; rather, it is a way to solicit community consent to church projects even when those projects go against prior beliefs, understandings, and values. Arguably, Kānaka Moali and Samoans living in Lā'ie during the plantation era experienced the distance between an ideology of faithfulness and traditional conceptions of the land, as 'āina was relatively narrow. However, as the [End Page 87] town continued to grow, it experienced growing pains associated with an increase in development, migration, and commercialization.31

New Lā'ie: "We're Still a Company Town"

Charles Barenaba describes the 1950s and 1960s as a time when the sounds of hammers and electric saws could be heard on a daily basis because of the number of construction projects undertaken at that time.32 Historians and community members alike attribute the upsurge in development and the physical transformation of Lā'ie to the calling of Edward Clissold as stake president on O'ahu.33

At first glance it may seem strange to identify a single individual as a locus for change in a community. But in the case of Lā'ie, Clissold was behind many of the most significant changes that took place; in addition, his role as both spiritual leader and prominent businessman exposes the structural workings of the church in relationship to the town. Whereas the separation of the mission from the plantation redistributed power for these two dominant institutions of the church between two different men, it was not uncommon to find high-level church leaders simultaneously holding secular jobs in church-owned operations. For example, during his interview with Britsch, Clissold acknowledges that his ability to bring about the establishment of the PCC was due in large part to his positions as stake president, manager of Zion's Securities Corporation, and chairman of the board of trustees for the Church College of Hawai'i (CCH).34 Furthermore, it was his multiple positioning in spiritual and secular positions of authority that brought about two significant changes in Lā'ie. First, he determined that haole members should attend the congregations in the area in which they lived rather than attending church services in Waikīkī. The consequence of this decision was that church services were no longer conducted primarily in Hawaiian or Samoan. Second, he reviewed and changed the existing rental relationship between Zion's Securities Corporation and the Lā'ie community.

Clissold is often acknowledged for being a visionary as well as a shrewd businessman. I contend, however, that attention to the transformations Clissold was able to institute sheds light on the competing interests between the church and the community as well as on the workings of an ideology of faithfulness in which church leaders were able to gain the consent of the community for various projects by leveraging their standing [End Page 88] in the church. The renegotiation of lease amounts in Lā'ie punctuates the problems associated with the common practice of having (economic) power and (spiritual) authority located in a single individual.

One of Clissold's first tasks was to review all of the leases held by Lā'ie community members. He found many thousands of dollars on the books of unpaid rents, taxes, and debts to Zion's Securities Corporation, the church-owned bank. His solution was to divide the town into three zones: one was a

completely modern area where there were underground utilities, paved roads, gutters, and so on; another, where they had the water system and some of the improvements; and another, the old section, where there was no drainage, they had water but the sewage system was just the septic tanks.35

The rent for the more developed areas was raised to be comparable with rent in other North Shore communities, while the older sections experienced only a modest increase in rent. Clissold also determined that lease contracts would be renegotiated every five years. Under the direction of Clissold, Lā'ie was no longer a gathering place, nor was it a Polynesian village. Clissold was committed to bringing progress to the community and turning Lā'ie into a "modern" town.

Clissold's plan punctuates an important tension between the interests of the haole church leaders, who saw Lā'ie as a business arrangement, and the local Hawaiians, who felt a genealogical connection to the land and who saw themselves as a chosen people within the church. From their perspective the church had purchased the ahupua'a in order to preserve it as a pu'uhonua where Hawaiians would thrive. Once again, Lā'ie was more than a city of refuge in the lexicon of Hawaiian place-names. Hawaiians were able to draw sustenance from all aspects of the land in this ahupua'a, which stretched from mountain to sea. As the aforementioned examples demonstrate, they felt a sense of belonging in this place because in a small yet not insignificant way they were able to maintain some aspects of their traditional lifeways. Kawahigashi's memories of her grandmother collecting hala from the uplands where her family had genealogical ties and the weaving of lauhala mats for family in Honolulu who did not maintain the practice reflect what was at stake for Hawaiians living in this village that Clissold labored to change so dramatically. They recognized that the lifestyle they were able to sustain was quickly becoming [End Page 89] obsolete in other parts of the islands. Their desire to hold on to traditional ways of life speaks to how they resisted changes to this place they had been told would be their Promised Land.

As Clissold instated his plan, various social, economic, and cultural changes followed, making it even more difficult for Hawaiians and Samoans to maintain their traditional practices. For example, beginning in the 1950s, Barenaba notes, Hawaiian music could no longer be played during church services.

We used to bring the steel guitar, the bass, and the ukulele. Then they got banned because somebody determined that the wordings were not appropriate to the occasion even though the harmony was sweet and beautiful. . . . Then the umu [called an imu, or underground oven, in Hawaiian] in Laie was banned because of the pollution or smoke. If we wanted to kalua something we had to go way down to the designated spot in the Zion Security yard.36

His next statement reveals the irony of banning the regular practice of cooking with an umu or imu in the town while promoting it for tourism at the PCC. "And here they were going to promote this over at the Polynesian Center for money, for show, and not permit it in the community where it's all for real."37 Over time, Hawaiian and Samoan community members found their ability to maneuver within this system constrained by these new policies and by the attention turned to building and promoting the Polynesian Cultural Center.

New Growth: The Polynesian Cultural Center

When the PCC opened in 1963, it became an important employer of community members. However, the construction of the PCC was only one of many construction projects that transformed the landscape. Tom Fanene's brother's watermelon patch was cleared and became the entrance to the main building of the CCH.38 The sugarcane fields on the Hau'ula side of the temple were cleared for CCH faculty housing and, later, for married student housing, and the Lā'ie stream was redirected underground so that other CCH buildings could be constructed on top of it. Finally, the taro patches that sustained the families in Lā'ie located along Kamehameha Highway were leveled to make way for the PCC. The town also underwent a renovation in the 1960s as Zion's Securities, [End Page 90] then under the direction of Howard Stone, paid to have old, dilapidated homes torn down and new ones built in their place. Under Stone's direction a new water system was constructed, and new electrical lines and streetlamps were installed.39

Au and other Hawaiian and Samoan community members did not experience these changes as progress. "Laie had changed lots. And not only that—Laie, before, the home, we don't have to lock, just leave the door open. It's free, you can go any place, come back, there's nothing touched, not like today. . . . Today you have to lock your doors, lock your windows."40 Niko suggests that some of the differences between old Lā'ie and new Lā'ie were because new people moved in and young people went away to school and came back with new ideas. As the community adopted new ways of living and new ideas, Niko believes they began to lose the "spirit that we had of Lā'ie."41 One reason for this shift was perhaps because of the changes to the standard of living. In the old days, Niko recalls, "we relied more on the ocean for our livelihood, but later on, you know, as we grew up, I knew we sort of sought for something better for the family."42 As young people went away to college and came back, other families were inspired to want the things and ideas these young people brought with them. Niko did not see English-language education as a bad thing, but it did change one's way of thinking and the things people desired.

It is interesting that Niko and others identify the new generation as the problem. Barenaba was one of those young people who went away to be educated and came back with new ideas about how things should be run. But in his interview he questions his own faithfulness and his right to challenge the ways things have been done in the past. I am not satisfied with this reaction. As I have tried to illustrate, the relationships of power in Lā'ie are not easily delineated between the church as colonizer and Kānaka Maoli as oppressed. I think if we read the stories of old Lā'ie and new Lā'ie across the grain we can see that the distinction they make is one way for them to articulate their discontent without appearing unfaithful. Blaming the next generation for a lack of faithfulness or longing for a time when doors remained open can be seen as a meaningful reaction to the dramatic transformations taking place around them. It can also be seen as a way of mourning the loss that comes from development projects, the transformation of the land from a giver of life to a commodity, a shift from communal sharing to individual ownership. [End Page 91]


Kānaka Maoli resisted exile in their homeland. They remained connected to the land through story. And because of this persisting connection, today Lā'ie cannot easily or simply be categorized as a Mormon or tourist town. The Hawaiian meaning of this place lives on, although it may not be readily recognizable to those whizzing by in their cars. On my research visit to Lā'ie my colleagues and I were invited to meet some Hawaiian-language immersion students at their school. We learned that several of these students were reading the story of Lā'ieikawai in the original Hawaiian language. Their kumu, or teacher, has also taken them to visit Wai'āpuka. Through the efforts of this kumu and with the support of other Kānaka in the community, they have ensured that the next generation will know the mo'okūauhau of Lā'ie as well as the significance of a pool in the middle of a pasture. By passing on this knowledge through this story, we are hopeful that the next generation will continue the fight to preserve this wahi pana.

While story and language enable Indigenous relationships with place despite colonization and selective assimilation, an ideology of faithfulness works in Lā'ie in a manner that at times silenced or redirected Indigenous criticism of LDS Church practices. However, this same ideology allowed Kānaka Maoli and Samoan members of the church to maintain and preserve a sacred relationship to this 'āina. The story Tom Fanene shared during his oral history interview in 1982 about how the site of the Church College of Hawai'i was divinely chosen is particularly instructive. As the story goes, one morning at about 9:30 a.m. Tom's brother Ailama, Clinton Kanahele, and Tom were about to begin working his brother's watermelon patch when two angels appeared above the temple. They watched as one angel pointed his finger at the site that would become the gateway into the college and the other pointed toward the village. Then they watched as the angels ascended up the hillside and disappeared. At the time they were amazed and confused about the meaning of their vision, but when the plans were revealed for the college, they knew that the angels had shown them the site where the buildings would stand. This vision only strengthened Fanene's belief that the Lord had a purpose for Lā'ie and that the temple, the college, and the PCC were built using the Lord's money. For him this story was a reminder to himself and a message to others that each community member has a responsibility to give his or her time and energy to building up Lā'ie and [End Page 92] preserving the sanctity of this place.43 Fanene's vision of angels above a watermelon patch speaks to the work an ideology of faithfulness is able to get done. My critical academic self reads this story as an example of how religious belief and faith can be used to garner consent for capital accumulation and development. But even this reading would be too simple. In Lā'ie people have found a number of different ways to maintain a spiritual connection to the land despite conversion to Christianity, tourism, militarization, crime, and all of the other social problems that come with modernity. My attention to the stories of the past provides a way of looking to the future that does not reproduce narratives of a conquered people but combines stories of resistance with those of consent in order to lay the groundwork for the next generation of Kānaka Maoli Latter-day Saints to weave new stories and keep alive the wahi pana of Lā'ie.

Hokulani K. Aikau

Hokulani K. Aikau is an assistant professor of Indigenous and Native Hawaiian politics in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled "Negotiations of Faith: Mormonism, Identity, and Hawaiian Struggles for Self-Determination." She has also coauthored an edited collection of personal narratives from three generations of academic feminists entitled Feminist Waves, Feminist Generations: Life Histories from the Academy (University of Minnesota Press, 2007).


1. Throughout this article I have chosen to use the Hawaiian term Kānaka Maoli to refer to the Indigenous peoples of these islands. As my colleague Noenoe Silva notes, "This is an old term seen frequently in the nineteenth-century Hawaiian-language newspapers. 'Kanaka' means 'person,' and 'maoli' means 'real; true; original; indigenous'" (Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism [Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2004], 12). In addition, I use the terms Hawaiian and Native Hawaiian interchangeably. In doing so I signal not a racial or ethnic connection amongst us but the genealogical connection that we have to the 'āina.

2. Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert suggest that place-names of Hawaii are as rich in meaning as the genealogy of the ali'i: "Both required feats of memory, both were links with the past, and both were connected with the inner man [sic]" (Place Names of Hawai'i and Supplement to the 3rd Edition of the Hawaiian-English Dictionary [Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1966], 37).

3. Frank Hirtz is instructive for his refiguring of the paradox that Indigenous peoples face between tradition and modernity: "Modernity needs the contrasting concept of indigeneity and tradition, whereas traditional societies in pre-modern or pre-colonial time did not need to establish their 'otherness' [End Page 93] in opposition to modernity or their own history. In other words, through the very process of being recognized as 'indigenous,' these groups enter the realm of modernity" ("It Takes Modern Means to Be Traditional: On Recognizing Indigenous Cultural Communities in the Philippines," Development and Change 34, no. 5 [2003]: 887-914). This suggests that indigeneity as a political strategy of resistance to development, globalization, and other manifestations of modernity in fact needs modernity to declare its political position.

4. Jonathon K. Osorio, introduction to The Legend of Lā'ieikawai, retold and illustrated by Dietrich Varez (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2004), ix-x.

5. Mary Kawena Pukui, 'Ōlelo No'eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983), 208.

6. Thomas H. Au, interview by Faith Wrathall, July 18, 1980, transcript, Lā'ie Oral History Program, Special Collections, Brigham Young University Hawai'i Campus, Lā'ie, Hawai'i (hereafter cited as LOHP), 4.

7. Au, interview, 5.

8. William K. Wallace III, e-mail message to author, September 26, 2005.

9. Kamoa'e Walk, e-mail message to author, September 26, 2005.

10. See Osorio, introduction.

11. For a more extensive discussion of the Mahele see Lilikalā Kame'eleihiwa's, Native Lands and Foreign Desires: Pehea Lā E Pono Ai? (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1992).

12. Noel Kent, Hawaii: Islands under the Influence (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1993).

13. Silva, Aloha Betrayed.

14. R. Lanier Britsch, Mormona: The Mormons in Hawai'i (Lā'ie: Institute for Polynesian Studies, 1989), 15.

15. Tamara Gordon makes a similar argument in "Inventing Mormon Identity in Tonga," PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1988.

16. A pu'uhonua is a place of refuge or sanctuary where a person who had violated a serious kapu, or rule, for which the consequence was death, could go and his or her life would be spared. It was also a place of peace where one could go to find comfort and solace.

17. Teila and Mataniu Fonoimoana, interview by Kenneth W. Baldridge, December 2, 1979, transcript, LOHP, 22.

18. Vailine Leota Niko, interview by William Wallace, January 16, 1972, transcript, LOHP, 5.

19. Britsch, Mormona, 151.

20. Amoe Meyer, interview by Palota Purcell, February 19, 1985, transcript, LOHP, 5.

21. Edward L. Clissold, interview by Lanier Britsch, June 11, 1976, transcript, LOHP, 13. [End Page 94]

22. Paul F. Nahoa Lucas, "E Ola Mau Kākou I Ka 'Ōlelo Makuahine: Hawaiian Language Policy and the Courts," Hawaiian Journal of History 34 (2000): 8.

23. Lucas, "E Ola Mau Ka kou I Ka 'Olelo Makuahine," 9.

24. Viola Kawahigashi, interview by Kalili Hunt, March 15, 1983, transcript, Polynesian Cultural Center Papers, Special Collections, Brigham Young University-Hawai'i, Lā'ie, Hawai'i, 5.

25. Kawahigashi, interview, 2.

26. Au, interview, 10.

27. Au, interview, 2.

28. Au, interview, 6.

29. Au, interview, 8.

30. Au, interview, 20.

31. I recognize the methodological limitation of my interpretation of how critique operated in this community. Oral histories can only tell us part of a much larger, complex story. Admittedly, my approach to an ideology of faithfulness is based on what individual people chose to share in their interviews, and I also recognize that resistance, critique, and dissent could have and I assume did take place in other forms and in other contexts. I want to stress that just because explicit criticism is not present in the majority of interviews does not mean it did not exist. I want to thank Rose Ram for reminding me of this important distinction.

32. The quote in the subhead is from Kenneth Baldridge, interview by Kalili Hunt, November 1, 1982, transcript, Polynesian Cultural Center Oral History Program, Special Collections, Brigham Young University-Hawai'i, Lā'ie, Hawai'i (hereafter cited as PCCOHP); Charles Barenaba, interview by Kalili Hunt, December 22, 1982, transcript, PCCOHP, 13-14.

33. "A stake is a basic geographical unit of the Church. . . . Stakes are comprised of several small congregations called wards. . . . Each stake is presided over by a stake president and two counselors" (Britsch, Mormona, 204-5).

34. Clissold, interview.

35. Clissold, interview, 24.

36. Barenaba, interview, 13-14.

37. Barenaba, interview, 14.

38. Tom Fanene, interview by Kalili Hunt, October 18, 1982, transcript, PCCOHP.

39. Rita H. Stone, interview by Kenneth W. Baldridge, April 26, 1983, transcript, LOHP.

40. Au, interview, 8-9.

41. Niko, interview, 5.

42. Niko, interview, 5.

43. Fanene, interview. [End Page 95]