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

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.
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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...