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  • Mourning the LandKanikau in Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawai‘i
  • Marie Alohalani Brown (bio)

Anne Keala Kelly’s Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawai‘i is a filmic narrative and testimony organized around and about Native Hawaiian resistance to three different (and all too similar) abuses of the land: US military occupation of Hawai‘i, settler colonialism, and corporate tourism.1 Kelly brings together different aspects of these issues in a meaningful way to form a coherent testimony that contradicts the colonial and neocolonial reimagining of Hawai‘i as a peaceful Paradise. By depicting Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) struggles in a format that layers auditory truth telling over backgrounds that visually represent the issues being discussed, Kelly has created something akin to a contemporary multimedia kanikau (mourning chant).2 My analysis of Noho Hewa examines the ways in which mourning acts as a central cohesive element that relates many of the issues portrayed in the film. The theme of mourning speaks to intergenerational trauma from which many Native Hawaiians suffer in the aftermath of the US-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Kelly draws upon elements of the kanikau to create a documentary that tells the story of the US occupation of Hawai‘i through the desecration and destruction of sacred sites.

I teach this documentary as a graduate assistant in the English Department at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa for a first-year English composition section titled “Hawai‘i—Writing Place, Writing Culture.”3

I observe my freshmen students as they watch Kelly’s Noho Hewa. I warn them that the film content will cause discomfort. They become absorbed in what they are seeing, and their facial expressions and body language clearly reflect their unease. When the film ends, I turn on the lights. Twenty faces stare at me in silence. Normally exuberant, these [End Page 374] students are clearly disturbed by the film. Noho Hewa is a documentary that provokes. During the period that I have used this film as a pedagogical tool, no one walks away untouched: whether they are angry or hurt, whether they are Native Hawaiian or not, everyone reacts to this film. Their reactions form the basis for class discussions and papers about the politics of place in Hawai‘i.

Before showing my students Noho Hewa, I have them watch another well-known documentary, Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation, which was released in 1993—one hundred years after the 1893 US-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation. Act of War served as a kāhea (call to action): “Today, after another century of dispossession, we are asserting our independence and sovereignty. We invite you to see Hawaiian history through Hawaiian eyes.”4 Noho Hewa fills a different need than Act of War. Nearly twenty years later, Noho Hewa is also a kāhea, but the stakes are higher now: settler hostility toward Kānaka Maoli, expressed vis-à-vis the colonizer’s legal and institutional apparatus, appropriates human rights discourse as a strategy to negate Native Hawaiian claims, countering every political move we make. Lisa Kahaleole Hall explains:

The ignorance of the US public about issues of sovereignty and the trust lands of the Hawaiian people, the miscategorization of indigenous issues as “racial,” and the right-wing resistance to “minority rights” have brought us to a point where Hawaiians are in great danger of losing the limited entitlements that already exist, much less the immensely greater resources and rights to which we are legally entitled and do not currently receive.5

Class discussions before viewing these films revealed that the large majority of my students knew very little or nothing about the circumstances that led to Hawai‘i becoming the fiftieth state or why so many Native Hawaiians are opposed to the US military’s presence in and the US militarization of Hawai‘i. Combined, these two documentaries provide answers to my students’ questions. Noho Hewa continues where Act of War left off.

Noho Hewa examines sensitive, complex issues arising from the ongoing illegal occupation of Hawai‘i, which include (but are not limited to) Kānaka Maoli struggles for self-determination, militarization...


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