Posted tagged ‘Annexation Debate’

Learning from the Annexation Debate

March 13, 2018

Chanters descended from the twin curving staircases, their soaring voices filling the rotunda of Ali‘iolani Hale. Barefoot, they led the way through the open doors of the restored 1913 courtroom. We followed silently and sat in hard wooden benches in front of a judge’s bench.

Recently, I attended a performance “Mai Poina: The Annexation Debate,” an eloquent and insightful reenactment that presented the background of Hawai‘i’s annexation through the words of people involved in the debate.

Emma Aima Nāwahī, Ke Aloha Aina newspaper editor and confidant of Queen Lili‘uokalani, and James Keauiluna Kaulia, president of Hui Aloha ‘Āina, greeted each other after a long absence, wondering why they have returned. They drew in the audience by acknowledging us, and realizing that they have been called back for a purpose: to educate us about the events leading up to Hawaii’s annexation in 1898.

Dressed in period costumes, performing in a historical courtroom, Emma (played by Karen Kaulana) and James (played by William Murray) began talking about the annexation debate – using the power of their voices and first-person accounts to walk us back through history. They took us through the so-called “bayonet” constitution of 1887, signed by King Kalākaua,  Queen Lili‘uokalani’s attempt to restore power to the monarchy, and her subsequent overthrow in 1893, to the efforts of Native Hawaiians to organize, petition, and send delegates to the U.S. Capitol to oppose annexation.

They were joined by other historical figures, such as William O. Smith, who played a role in the creation of the Republic of Hawaii, and Senator John Tyler Morgan, U.S. Senator from Alabama who strongly supported annexation. They presented their side of the debate: that the monarchy was ineffective, that Hawai‘i was strategically located, that America needed to ensure their power in the Pacific, and that foreign powers like Japan might seize Hawai‘i – against the wider American policy of nation-building.

With minimal props – chair and podiums – and nothing to distract us from the power of their words, the cast brought to life the emotions, determination, and conviction of the people involved, on both sides of the debate. Karen Kaulana’s clear, incisive voice echoed in the courtroom, a powerful complement to William Murray’s smooth, confident baritone.

In the discussion afterward, we were fortunate to have some knowledgeable audience members who started a discussion about the legality of a Congressional Resolution, whether an attempt to write a new constitution can be considered treason, and how students today are learning about both sides of the annexation debate. We all received an informative viewer’s guide with a timeline, historical photos and illustrations, articles, and the text of the 1897 Resolution Protesting Annexation so that we could take the discussion home.

“Mai Ponina: The Annexation Debate” was free and open to the public, presented by the Hawai‘i Pono‘ī Coalition, a consortium of Native Hawaiian-serving organizations.

What did you learn about Hawai‘i’s annexation in school? How different was it from what students learn today? What can or should be done to address the annexation debate?