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  • Reflecting on Ea
  • Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada (bio)

I was parked at the Kapi‘olani Community College farmer’s market, of all places, and my mind kept flashing back to the words I had heard two weeks before, from a speech given in 1871. I sat in my minivan, looking up toward the mountains. A warm June wind blew through my window. Manuokū danced around the tops of the trees. To my right, the dark blue of the ocean moved imperceptibly below the lighter blue of the sky. I knew that I was seeing ea all around me. For Hawaiians, ea means a number of different things: rising, life, breath, sovereignty.

In the speech, reprinted in the August 12, 1871, issue of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, a man named David Kahalemaile talks about the importance of ea, describing it as something vital that we cannot live without.

Ke ea o ka i‘a, he wai. The ea of fish is water.
Ke ea o ke kanaka, he makani. The ea of the person is wind.
Ke ea o ka honua, he kanaka. The ea of the earth is the person.
Ke ea o ka moku, he hoeuli. The ea of the ship is the steering paddle.
‘O ke ea o ko Hawai‘i Pae ‘Ā ina, And the ea of the Hawaiian Islands is our
‘o ia nō ka noho aupuni ‘ana. independent governance.

With those words in mind, relayed by my friend Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua to a group of us who had come together to learn about the Hawaiian Kingdom holiday Lā Ho‘iho‘i Ea, I was moved to write this poem. I had never written a poem before, but I had been assisting another friend, Lyz Soto, and the team of four women (three high schoolers and one college freshman) she was coaching for the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, and being around these smart, generous, courageous, and hilarious women had kindled a strong desire in me to write. But like most creative impulses I have had, I mostly put it out of my mind. The more I was around inspiring people in the community, however, the more I realized I was drawing ea from them, getting breath to speak. It had taken years for me to realize this, but this loud voice of mine had been given to me as a tool of reciprocity. It wasn’t just for [End Page 577] me to speak my own desires. My voice was for me to pass on what I had been taught and give back to people who had inspired me.

A few days before I was sitting in that parking lot, I had attended the first Department of Interior hearing about proposed rulemaking for federal recognition. It was perhaps one of the first times in recent memory that the federal government thought to get the Hawaiian community’s feedback on moving toward a so-called government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Hawaiians along the lines of recognized Native American tribes, a relationship that, needless to say, has had a long history fraught with controversy. I was moved by how many Hawaiians had shown up at that meeting and the subsequent meetings to call for justice for what had been done by the United States to our people, and these calls very often included independence for Hawaiians. Almost as much as Kahalemaile’s words stuck with me, so too did the impassioned, articulate, and often elegant two-minute testimonies of our community. Yet in the media coverage and even the response from some of the Hawaiian civic clubs, all we heard about was the “embarrassment” caused by these ignorant, loud and angry Hawaiians. Normally I would just let my own anger at the way we view our own people fester inside me, helped sometimes by the healing balm of talking with friends, but this time, the expressions of ea that were around me, coming from the people around me, coming from the land around me, coming even from the sea around me, were giving me breath to say something.

That anger, and at times despair, that we have so often as Hawaiians is...


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