- Rooted in WonderTales of Indigenous Activism and Community Organizing
On August 9, 2015, 10,000 people marched in Waikīkī. They were a sea of red—the color of our ali‘i, our chiefs, the color of ‘āweoweo swimming in schools, the color of our blood that has nourished this land for generations. Some marched to speak out against land abuse related to pesticide use and GMO (genetically modified organism) testing; others marched to stop the urbanization of agricultural land. But the vast majority of the people marching, the indigenous Kānaka Maoli and their allies, all of us who call this place home, were marching in support of the sacred mountain, Mauna Kea, to prevent its further desecration.
Throughout the march—and this whole struggle, in fact—we have heard the wondrous names of our akua, our gods: Wākea, Poli‘ahu, Mo‘oinanea, Kūkahau‘ula. The mo‘olelo (story, legend, tradition, or history) and practices that Hawaiians have passed on, often mainly within family traditions, were on the lips of the entire Hawaiian community, across our islands, and even on Turtle Island, where some of our family now lives. The movement for Mauna Kea, often seen on social media through the #WeAreMaunakea and #TMT-Shutdown hashtags, has captured the imaginations of our community in a way that no other issue has in decades, some say since the mass mobilization of Hawaiians protesting the overthrow in 1893 and subsequent illegal annexation to the United States in 1898.
Kanaka Maoli stories have persisted through this time of struggle, but we have often been looking to other places for the magic that came with them. Now, our mo‘olelo have energized us, awakened us, moved us. Part of it is the awe and [End Page 17] wonder that we feel at the top of the mountain. Even if we have not been to the peak of Mauna Kea, we know the awe and reverence of being in such a place: the wonder at the dedication of the protectors who have camped on the mountain—as we write this in September 2015, for over six months now1—in the thin air and cold that comes from being 9,000 feet above sea level, but also the wonder at the power of our collectivity, what happens when we tell our stories and do our chants, in larger and larger numbers across the world. After a day of pule, of chant and ceremony, carried out across the Pacific, during the middle of the hottest July we have experienced in some years, it snowed at the top of Mauna Kea, shutting down the road leading to the telescope’s construction site.
What has really set this movement apart is the visibility of the younger generation leading the movement. They are still guided by the kūpuna who have come before them, but it is clear that they are taking the reins in their own hands. The previous generations of activists and others who fought to protect our sacred spaces and revive and maintain Indigenous language and cultural practices set the stage for the emergence of this new generation of politically active and culturally aware aloha ‘āina, the deep connection to land that motivates so many of our actions. They are both activists and keepers of story at the same time, recognizing the responsibility that has been given to them with the knowledge of our wonder-filled traditions.
Historically, Indigenous wisdom and wonder have had a fraught relationship with the fields of folklore and fairy-tale studies, cultural anthropology, and ethnography, with Indigenous knowledges being relegated to folk wisdom or fairy tales as a way to undermine their authority in colonial knowledge systems, to make way for colonial projects of modernization or development on Indigenous lands. Critical folklore and fairy-tale scholars, however, have also worked to map the global circuits and world making of these colonial traditions (Naithani) and to repoliticize the power of wonder—a potentially transgressive power of questioning, curiosity, amazement, and awe that call forth “our own active—and even more so, activist—responses to and participation in the process of...