The Pacific Jewel in the Liberty Cap

UnknownQuestion: which state’s flag incorporates the British Union Jack?

Answer: Hawaii, which was (consensually) a British protectorate for most of the 19th century, while an independent kingdom.* In 1893, Queen Lili’uokalani was deposed in a coup organized mainly by American planters. Annexed in 1898, Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959.

Dennis

Dennis

We spent a week in Maui in January as guests of my Albany coin collecting friend Dennis Ryan and his wife Paulette. Dennis is an amazing character. Though in Maui only a couple of months each year, he seems to know everybody and is very active in local history and preservation communities; his knowledge is legion, and he is voluble in sharing it. We got an intensive tour. It was a bit weird to travel 6,000 miles** and find Dennis’s familiar squirrely handwriting in a museum exhibit case; several sites display his coins and other objects.

The Hawaiian islands were settled many centuries ago by people from other, quite distant Pacific locales. I was astounded yet again to contemplate the gutsiness of those people setting out in flimsy vessels to cross vast stretches of open ocean. And what it took, once they arrived, to survive and prosper. They had nothing of the technology we so take for granted (not even the wheel). images-1They were handed no instruction manual for how to utilize the stones, bones, plants, animals, and shells, etc., they found. They had to figure it all out for themselves. “Primitive savages?” I don’t think so.

Hawaii, consonant with its geographic remoteness, is certainly culturally the most distinctive of the 50 states. It’s American diversity par excellence. Unlike in the continental U.S., the natives were not driven out or marginalized, but remain an integral part of Hawaiian life – albeit with ethnic admixtures from all the Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese, Germans, Koreans, etc., and of course Americans who migrated mainly to work the plantations.

My wife Therese doing yoga on Maui

My wife Therese doing yoga on Maui

There is a viewpoint that sees 1893 as a crime; and controversial legislation has been promoted that would give native Hawaiians (as if that status could be definitively determined) some sort of special status, almost a parallel government to negotiate with the U.S. one. It’s all very politically correct, but I consider it un-American. Of all the crimes in the annals of world history, 1893 wasn’t much of one. I’m no fan of monarchy generally as a political system, and while Hawaii’s later royals may not have been bad, earlier ones were not mild Barack Obama types. America took the islands virtually without bloodshed and comparatively little dissension; and few of those with native Hawaiian ancestry today seem desirous of undoing the past century’s developments.

Unknown-2I certainly did not feel like I was touring a crime scene. Instead, I glory in how so many different kinds of people get along so well in Hawaii. To me, that we have taken to our bosom this remote speck of civilization in the middle of the Pacific, as an equal and valued member of our polity, bespeaks the great soul of this nation. I came back – if this were possible – loving America even more.

* In 1843, a British naval officer arrived and forced the king to cede the islands to Britain; but the British government quickly disavowed his action and returned sovereignty to the natives.

** Hawaii is not our westernmost state. Alaska is.

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2 Responses to “The Pacific Jewel in the Liberty Cap”

  1. EriK Says:

    I agree, it is un-American.
    Loved the two weeks my wife and I spent in Hawaii (Kauai and Maui). Hope to get back some day.

  2. Richard Says:

    We spent a few months in Hawaii back in the late 60s when our 3 kids were in elementary and junior-high school. Early important lesson; everyone there is a minority – Polynesians, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, us haole white mainlanders, and probably other groups I’ve forgotten. (But almost no blacks). Everyone gets along. Kids had many friends of all colors. And of course we got tan, too. Memorable image: little 5th- or 6th- or 7th-grade boys playing flag football in shorts and bare feet all top-heavy with helmets.
    Dick McMahan

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