Journal of SCA: Winter 2017

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ANALYSIS Winter 2017

The cover photo and all other photography in this issue is by Katerina Voegtle. In society, each individual is tethered in place by a set of expectations, that, however subtle, rule their every action. The slightest transgression of these norms is enough to inspire a sense of unease in those around them, to the point of sparking reprisal. The limiting effects of gender roles have been extensively investigated as they pertain to women, but the rigid mold allotted to men and boys has largely gone unmentioned. In Western society, men and boys are held to a narrow definition of masculinity, the defiance of which brings severe social repercussions. In this series, I explore this space of subtle transgression– the slight bending of gender expectations. It is not intended to be an exploration of more flamboyant forms of gender expression and experimentation, but a look at how tightly gender roles bind, to the point that even the slightest affront to tradition can stand out to the average onlooker, can seem odd. In subtly subverting the expectations place on men and boys, I hope to suggest a new notion of masculinity, to imagine a masculinity of less rigidity, that emphasizes vulnerability over aggression. -Katerina Voegtle

Journal of Social and Cultural Analysis New York University College of Arts and Science

Issue 7, Winter 2017

FACULTY ADVISOR Michael Ralph EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Maya Singhal EDITOR Sean Waxman JOURNAL OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS We are a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to showcasing scholarship and artwork informed by the interdisciplinary fields of inquiry that are housed in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. The Department of Social and Cultural Analysis (SCA) combines topics and methodologies from the humanities and social sciences into seven interdisciplinary programs—Africana Studies, American Studies, Asian/Pacific/American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Latino Studies, Metropolitan Studies, & Social and Cultural Analysis. The students and faculty in SCA pride themselves in their use of intersectional analysis to consider race, class, gender, sexuality, and dis/ability while investigating apparatuses of power and critiquing the relationships between individuals, institutions, and governments. If you are interested in learning more about the department of Social and Cultural Analysis, please visit If you would like to submit work to the Journal of Social and Cultural Analysis or if you have questions about the journal, please email sca.


Photography Katerina Voegtle


The Bondage of Freedom: Paradox and Irony as Literary Leitmotivs in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus Kayode Odumboni


Photography Katerina Voegtle


Kanaka Maoli Betrayed: Life After ‘Ai Noa David Murphy



The Bondage of Freedom: Paradox and Irony as Literary Leitmotivs in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus By Kayode Odumboni

Purple Hibiscus is a novel that thrives on the journey motif. Practically all the major characters of this novel are on a journey, a search for (their) freedom. It does appear that all these characters are bound up in an intertwined destiny of freedom-searching, in a society where a reigning military dictatorship threatens their individual humanness. But as mutually bound as the fates of these characters appear to be, each of them has a peculiarly throbbing challenge that tugs at the heart of their dignity and, we may add, humanity. Papa’s lot is a frenzied search for freedom from the claws of traditionalist worship which his father represents, on the one hand, and a determined attempt to escape what he perceives as the backwardness of African cultures, what he calls “ungodly traditions,” (81) on the other hand. All through his career in the novel, we notice Papa’s gritty striving to attain ‘freedom’ from his father’s “gods of wood and stone” (55). Hence, he immerses himself completely in Western ways to the extent that he “changed his accent when he spoke, sounding British, just as he did when he spoke to Father Benedict” (54). This is why his sister, Aunty Ifeoma, remarks that he is “too much of a colonial product” (21). And therein lies Papa’s paradoxical bondage. As Anyokwu has correctly observed, “irony is the very leitmotif, the essential linchpin which energizes and valorizes the fabric of the tale 3

[of Purple Hibiscus]” (257). To be sure, Adichie deploys irony as a literary trope with which she ties together the soul of her narrative. Countless instances of irony run through this novel. And this trope of irony, expectedly and logically, touches on the novel’s central theme of freedom. Hence, we are confronted with the colossal circumstance of the irony of freedom for most of the characters, especially Papa. It is ironic that Papa, who frantically flees the fetters of traditional ways of life, would become so steeped in Western enslavement that when he speaks entirely in Igbo, it becomes “a bad sign” (21). This carries weighty implications. One’s language is supposed to encapsulate the entirety of one’s life; it is supposed to be an appropriation of his everyday life; his joys, sorrows, his aspirations and dreams. But now, Papa’s mother tongue has been relegated to the position of being only a conveyor of invectives and vituperations, and a sure sign of ill and malevolence. He doesn’t even like to make his confession in Igbo (112), and he is utterly impressed “when the villagers made an effort to speak English around him. He said it showed they had good sense” (68). All of these attempts to be free from his traditional background underscore his bondage to the Western culture. Hence, the paradoxical irony of his tragedy is that in seeking freedom from one thing, Papa is plunging himself headlong into the bondage of another thing. Perhaps, it is Anikwenwa that correctly captures the irony of Papa’s freedom. The old man tells him: “You are like a fly blindly following a corpse into the grave” (78). A fly would believe itself to be free because it can move at will and buzz in the air, but then, it is following the corpse (rather blindly, lured by the corpse) into the grave. Papa is extremely sanctimonious; he rebukes Father Amadi for singing in the middle of a sermon, saying that “people like him bring trouble to the church. We must remember to pray for him” (37). Ironically, Papa never for once thinks about how his own treatment of his family is an indictment of his religion, how his style of dealing with his family could bring “trouble to the church”, or that he himself needs to be prayed for. He is the quintessential Pharisee of whom Jesus says, “you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3). Papa rejects the traditional African faith of his father but forces his own family to live by the strictures of a fundamentalist strain of Catholicism. Ironically for him, in running away from the supposed primitiveness of African traditionalism, Papa is plunged into an even 4

more vicious abyss of soulless Catholicism, of bondage to a life dedicated to pleasing “the white religious” (54). Papa is Adichie’s landmark achievement in the execution of her paradoxical literary intentions. In Papa, we see a sharply marked, nay paradoxical, dichotomy between appearance and reality. Indeed, Papa’s is the grand exemplar of the innate oxymoronic Jekyll-and-Hyde (beauty-in-beast, saint-in-sinner) phenomenon in Everyman. Papa’s title is Omelora: The One Who Does for the Community (64), but his family suffers extremely. Ade Coker calls him “a man of integrity, the bravest man I know.” One cannot but wonder what kind is Papa’s bravery, that he will beat his children and weep as he rushes them to the hospital? And without a doubt, Ade Coker’s referring to Papa as a man of integrity (un)wittingly endows “integrity” a figurative meaning, one totally different from its literal meaning. Haruna, the gateman in Abba, also says that Kambili and Jaja are lucky to have such a father. Apparently, these people’s perception of Papa has been tainted by his faux, cloaked appearance, which is a complete far cry from his true personality, his reality. Papa seems to successfully reach this freedom, this severance from the backward religiosity of traditional African modes of worship. But that is only on the surface. The emptiness that gapes in his life throughout the novel shows that Papa never truly detaches himself from his traditional roots. Hence, even though he would not see his own father (Papa-Nnukwu) because Papa-Nnukwu has refused to be converted to Christianity, he would allow his children spend only fifteen minutes with their grandfather, and he would send only “slim wad[s] of cash” (75) to his father through the driver, the fact that he is still eternally tied to the roots of his father remains unassailable. Thus, despite all his frantic attempts to deny his father, he himself retorts that he has sent money for “nna anyi’s [i.e our father’s] funeral” (204), which implies an inseparable attachment to his father, even in the latter’s death. The narrator and protagonist’s, Kambili’s, search for freedom in the novel is the most profound. And considering that her trajectory is closely linked to that of Jaja, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discuss Kambili’s search for freedom independent of Jaja’s. For these two, freedom is as important to their existence (physically and metaphysically) as water is important to life. With their mother, Kambili and Jaja find themselves in a prison of a home. There is a pervading sense of imprisonment in the family home, a sense Adichie successfully makes us perceive and feel with her dexterous, 5

mellow descriptive power. First, we are told that “the compound walls, topped by electric wires, were so high I [Kambili] could not see the cars driving by on our street” (17). This description of tall walls that do not make you see what is happening next to you is resonant of prison walls. Again, Kambili describes Papa’s bedroom in the following manner: “the room seem wider, as if it never ended, as if you could not run even if you wanted to, because there was nowhere to run to” (49). To complement the description of the compound walls which paints a visual image of prison and imprisonment, this description of Papa’s bedroom gives the reader an awareness of something more severe; a feeling of existential entrapment. And worse still, it is an entrapment marked by a tragic finality, because there is “nowhere to run to.” It is under these physical conditions (with utmost super-physical implications) that Kambili and Jaja find their existence. Extremely regimented, Papa plans the life of his children, deciding time for siesta, family time, eating, praying. He even decides when and for how long they can sleep (32). This gives us a hint to the extent to which Kambili’s and Jaja’s lives do not really belong to them. Sleep is a phenomenon that borders on the unconscious. And if it is Papa that controls their sleep, it means he has access to their unconscious. The implication of this is a conclusiveness of the absolute entrapment of these children, consciously and unconsciously. And this is why being with Papa, especially for Kambili, is like being with an enemy. Once, when she is left alone with Papa in his bedroom, she feels threatened. She says: “I slipped off my slippers and sank my feet into the rug and decided to keep them sunk in so that my toes would feel cushioned. So that a part of me would feel safe” (49). Already, there is an unconscious consciousness with which Kambili knows that she needs protection from her own father. A key component in Papa’s reign of terror is silence. The home in Nsukka is only a little louder than the cemetery. Anyokwu takes this graveyard image further; he says, “…sepulchral silence is an almost physical presence in the homestead as the fear of the father distils a poisonous aura everywhere” (256). Ogaga Okuyade expatiates more on this even with the title of his essay, “Changing Borders and Creating Voices: Silence as Character in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus,” cited in DeFonza (2009). Indeed, the silence in the home is forceful, powerful and wields incontestable influence over the inhabitants. Even the phone rings in muted purrs 6

in Enugu, unlike the one in Nsukka whose ring is loud and jarring (130). The consequence, then, is that the victims of this silence have to develop an asusu anya, a language of the eyes, with which, Kambili says, “Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our spirits than with our lips” (23-24). What is more, Mama “spoke the way a bird eats, in small amounts” (28). One of the fundamental rights of any human being is the freedom of speech. However, Papa has successfully deprived his family of this right. We can quickly draw a sharp contrast between this home in Enugu and Aunty Ifeoma’s home in Nsukka where “[Kambili’s] cousins seemed to simply speak and speak and speak” (128). This brings Adichie’s dialectics of locale to a conspicuously prominent position. According to Hewett (2005), “the liberated voices of her cousins’ household, symbolized by the rare purple hibiscus in her aunt’s garden, opens up new possibilities to Kambili; to draw from Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia, their polyvocal speech interrupts and contests the dominance of Eugene’s monologue.” But for a very long time, Papa’s “monologue” reigns supreme and unchallenged. We cannot, therefore, but agree with Tunca (2009) that “Eugene’s implication in these traumatic events suggests that his abuse not only maims [his family members’] bodies but it also serves to control their tongues” (2). And in DeFonza’s (2009) perception, “Kambili is more than shy; she is petrified, wanting to speak but too afraid that her words will get her in trouble, a fear deeply instilled in her by her father. Her silence is a symbol of her powerlessness and her struggle to find both her literal and figurative voice.” This silence, according to Kambili, is one that does not let her breathe (309). Kambili’s ‘imprisonment’ is the most entrenched in this novel. This is because she is even fixated on her ‘jailer’. Kambili is absorbed in her father, and this is her fetter. She sees him as someone who is more of a super-human. Hence, she says that “I wished that Mama would not compare him with Mr. Ezendu; it lowered him, soiled him” (28). Her whole life is built around Papa’s approval of her actions: “I needed him to hug me close… I needed him to smile at me in that way… that warmed something inside me” (47). This is, obviously, an unequivocal symptom of her absolute entrapment. Hence, when Jaja begins to show signs of early subversion, Kambili appears to be torn between showing him solidarity and taking sides with Papa. The next time Jaja would be going into Papa’s presence after Papa’s outburst of rage because of Jaja’s refusal to take 7

communion, Kambili’s action proves that she and Jaja have been held together in a subtle yet strong solidarity: “I reached out and clasped his hand shortly before we went into the dining room” (19). Yet, Papa seems to be an albatross of this solidarity, as Kambili’s tenderness for Papa pitches her against Jaja and Mama many a time. She repeatedly expresses the wish to have said what either Jaja or Mama says, just because she would have loved to please her father (33, 50, and 105). Therefore, we begin to see that Kambili is still torn between Papa (her bondage) and Jaja (her anchorage to freedom). Hence, Kambili’s career in the novel is to seek her freedom of self-thought, of detaching herself from the psychological strings of her father, and reaching a freedom to emerge in herself. Hewett (2005) captures her search in saying that “Kambili must literally “re-member” herself, having been dismembered by her father—she must end her alienation from her own voice and body—by putting together a coherent narrative of her past and present” (emphasis mine). All of her psychological confusions contribute to making Kambili a victim. Her bondage (further made complicated by her division of allegiances) is so palpable, so real that it makes her choke on her food on a number of occasions. It becomes a metaphor for her inhibitions, her awkward clumsiness and her psychological-cum-emotional imbalance. The effect of this damaging imprisonment cannot be overemphasized; it practically ruins her social consciousness and aptitude, ruins her “freedom to be, to do” (24); she can’t even maintain a conversation with her cousins, not to talk of her classmates in school. Papa’s presence stops them from doing what they please. Papa, therefore, strikes a chord with the words of the narrator in Richard’s Wright Native Son. With the protagonist Bigger Thomas’s life largely disrupted by the Whites, the narrator retorts: “To Bigger and his kind, white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force” (144). Also, when Bigger is in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Dalton, their presence stifles him: “it made him uneasy, tense, as though there were influences and presences about him which he could feel but not see” (77). It is exactly the same case with Papa and his children. He is a “great force” that stops them from being; he doesn’t even give them a reason to dream, or to desire to choose anything for themselves. Kambili has never thought of university education because “when the time came, Papa would decide” (138). It is Papa who chose Kambili’s confirmation name, Ruth (210). And this scenario is not altogether different from that which we find 8

in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times where, stifled by her father’s highhandedness, Louisa retorts: How could you give me life, and take from me all the inappreciable things that raise it from the state of conscious death? Where are the graces of my soul? Where are the sentiments of my heart? What have you done, O father, what have you done, with the garden that should have bloomed once, in this great wilderness here? (216) All of these things that Louisa has accused her father, Thomas Grandgrind, of are the things Papa is guilty of: putting Kambili in a state of conscious death, taking away the graces of her soul, etcetera. And this much is the lamentation, the groaning in Kambili’s heart. Kambili’s case is, however, worse than Louisa’s case because unlike Louisa, Kambili does not even have the voice to air and vent her grief; hers are groanings that cannot be uttered. Papa’s presence forces his children to be what they are not, in his absence. Both Kambili and Jaja find it impossible to concentrate on the novena, the very first time they have to do so on their own, on their way to Nsukka. This further highlights Papa’s empty, otiose religiosity which he relentlessly strives (and apparently, fails) to bequeath to his children; this emptiness is again highlighted when Kambili says she didn’t know why was crying during the Celebration of the Passion of Christ (264). Papa merely stifles his children, particularly Jaja who desperately seeks his freedom of self-assertion (being a growing man); the freedom to take up manly roles, which he is denied by Papa’s overbearing, omniscient presence in his world. Papa causes Kambili to come second position in her class examinations and still punishes her for it. Suffering from trauma because of her mother’s loss of a pregnancy, Kambili begins to see “the print in [her] textbooks as a red blur, still saw [her] baby brother’s spirit strung together by narrow lines of blood” (60). This treatment parallels Malcolm’s words in The Autobiography of Malcolm X., where he talks about “a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight” (22). This much is what Papa does to Kambili; he sets the machinery for her failure in motion, and punishes her for not rising above that machinery. The foregoing helps us to appreciate the level of suppression and repression Kambili and Jaja suffer. The fatality of this bondage is even more accentuated by the fact that they are both inhibited from seeking answers to things they do not know: “We did that 9

often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know” (31). It is often said that unanswered questions are not as dangerous as unquestioned answers. Kambili and Jaja do not have the luxury of either getting answers to the questions raging in the mind, or questioning the answers they (don’t) have. Kambili appears to be irredeemably bound. She is so helpless and can only “wonder what it would be like to join [demonstrators on the road] chanting ‘Freedom’ (35). Here, there is a sense of ontological detachment from the action and world around her; there is no willpower to participate, perhaps because that willpower has been amputated by her father. Jaja, however, shows early signs of subversion. When they both learn that their mother is pregnant again, Jaja avers: “we will take care of the baby; we will protect him” (31), and as Kambili admits, this protection of the baby is from Papa. Jaja also begins to take responsibility for Kambili and his mother (110). When they leave for holiday at Nsukka, Jaja demonstrates detachment from Papa, ignoring Kambili’s observation that Papa was crying (117). But it is in Abba and Nsukka that they both find freedom. Abba and Nsukka offer them a new lease of life. “Abba was different…, because the very air we breathed moved more slowly” (67) and in Nsukka, “you could say anything at any time to anyone, [and]… the air was free for you to breathe as you wished” (128). We take a little while to expound on the symbolic significance of these two locations. Abba is their ancestral home, and more importantly, where their Papa-Nnukwu (with his gods, we must note) resides. It is a connection to their roots, their grandfather and their ancestral cultures (which Papa calls “ungodly traditions”) that kick-starts the liberation of Kambili and Jaja, particularly from their father’s fanatic and extremist brand of Catholicism. And for Nsukka, we must note that this is the location of the University of Nigeria, the university being renowned as a place of acquiring information and learning which would liberate anyone who receives it. Nsukka, therefore, stands as a metaphoric ground of freedom. It is no wonder then that this is where Kambili and Jaja finally attain their long-sought freedom. Moreover, the motto of the university is symbolically apt: to restore the dignity of man (120). Apparently, the dignity of man is his freedom. In Nsukka, Kambili sees a new kind of life: “I noticed the 10

ceiling first, how low it was. I felt that I could reach out and touch it; it was so unlike home, where the high ceilings gave our rooms an airy stillness” (121). The fact that Kambili feels she can “reach out and touch” anything at all shows how much the configuration of this new space, this new place, gives her the audacity (freedom) to dream, to aspire to something all by herself. She learns that her cousin Amaka has decided where she would live as an undergraduate on campus, and that she would be involved in activism. Aunty Ifeoma plays no little role in this process of emancipation. The first time they spend a holiday in Nsukka, Aunty Ifeoma gives them a new ideology on which to base their existence. Discovering the schedules their father had given them, Aunty Ifeoma instructs them to give the schedule to her. And in response to Jaja’s reluctance, Aunty Ifeoma intones: If you do not tell Eugene, eh, then how will he know that you did not follow the schedule, gbo? You are on holiday here and it is my house, so you will follow my own rules. (132) Apparently, Aunty Ifeoma’s “rule” here is that they must be free, that they must defy their father, which is what both of them had never been able to hitherto bring themselves to trying. What is more, it is in Aunty Ifeoma’s garden that Jaja’s freedom is perfected. Observing Jaja, Kambili notes: “I had never seen his arm move this way, never seen this piercing light in his eyes that appeared when he was in Aunty Ifeoma’s garden” (153). By the powers of Aunty Ifeoma’s garden, Jaja blooms and blossoms, very much like the flowers he is tending. Hence, immediately they come back from Nsukka, Jaja changes completely: he openly confronts his father about Papa-Nnukwu’s choice of religion, saying that Papa-Nnukwu “didn’t want to convert” (197); and he demands the key to his room, “because [he] would like some privacy” (198). Indeed, Jaja, here, lives up to the significance of his name- a childhood jabbering that stuck as a name (151). Beyond being what he said as a toddler, Jaja symbolically represents the defiance for which the Jaja of Opoboland is renowned. At this point, the walls of imprisonment in Enugu have come tumbling down because, like Amaka rightly notes, “putting up walls is a superficial fix” (139). But Kambili’s emancipation is not that swift because her father’s oppression affects her in a more dynamic and lethal way. For Kambili, it is harder because she needs to “…slip out from under the hand at her throat… in a struggle to free herself from her father’s stranglehold” (Hewett, 2005). Kambili’s experience is more of 11

crawling towards freedom, pulled and assisted there by a number of factors. One of such factors is the death of her grandfather. For the first time, we get an inkling that Kambili is detaching from her father because Papa Nnukwu’s death “overshadowed everything, [and] pushed Papa’s face into a vague place” (194). As a matter of fact, Papa-Nnukwu’s death brings about a number of incidences that help propel Kambili towards her destination of freedom. For instance, after Papa pours hot water on Kambili’s and Jaja’s feet as punishment for staying in the same house with their heathen grandfather without his knowledge, Kambili demonstrates another hint of detachment from her father. Before this incident, Kambili always justifies Papa for punishing them, but now, she records that: After Papa left, I did not think about his hands soaked in hot water for tea, the skin peeling off, his face set in tight lines of pain. Instead I thought about the painting of Papa-Nnukwu in my bag. (203) It is instructive that, again, it is the painting of Papa-Nnukwu that replaces the thoughts about Papa in her mind. Besides, the significance of this incidence is further established later in the novel, in Kambili’s dream where Aunty Ifeoma experiences the same thing in the hands of the sole administrator. Interestingly, “Aunty Ifeoma jumped out of the bathtub, and in the manner of dreams, jumped into America.” This dream is very important because it is, metaphorically speaking, Kambili’s leap into freedom, more than Aunty Ifeoma merely jumping into America. Again, Kambili’s trudge towards freedom is propelled by another punishment she gets from her father. After discovering PapaNnukwu’s painting, Papa beats Kambili to coma. I curled around myself tighter, around the pieces of the painting; they were soft, feathery. They still had the metallic smell of Amaka’s paint palette. The stinging was raw now, even more like bites, because the metal landed on open skin on my side, my back, my legs. Kicking. Kicking. Kicking. Perhaps it was a belt now because the metal buckle seemed too heavy. Because I could hear a swoosh in the air. A low voice was saying, “Please, biko, please.” More stings. More slaps. A salty wetness warmed my mouth. I closed my eyes and slipped away into quiet (216-217). The above excerpt has been so fully extracted because of its overwhelming significance. Kambili’s posture (curled around herself, like a foetus) while all this happens is very significant. Indeed, like 12

Tunca (2009) appropriately notes, “this position also acquires high symbolic significance because Kambili’s temporary withdrawal may prefigure her own rebirth, a plea for life contained in her first name, which means ‘let me live’ in Igbo.” It is perhaps with this rebirth that she finally attains her freedom. This opinion is substantiated by the fact that at the hospital, when she is told that her father has been keeping vigils by her hospital bedside, Kambili records: “it was hard to turn my head, but I did it and looked away” (220). Her looking away means more than merely moving her head from one position to another, it signals a final detachment from her age-long ontological captor, Papa. This newfound freedom is welcomed and nurtured by another important event in Kambili’s life; her falling in love with Father Amadi. As Kambili finds love, she finds pure, unalloyed freedom, a freedom that is ‘personified’ in laughter. The first time she is left alone with Father Amadi, Kambili recalls: I laughed. It sounded strange, as if I were listening to the recorded laughter of a stranger being played back. I was not sure I had ever heard myself laugh. (186) It is with the symbolism of laughter that Adichie perfects the emancipation of her characters, especially Kambili. And this, symbolically too, begins in Abba, with a dream where Kambili dreams that she laughed and her laughter “was cackling and throaty and enthusiastic, like Aunty Ifeoma’s” (96). We have noted that a chief instrument in Papa’s hands is silence. Little wonder, then, that it is laughter (a proximate opposite of silence) that effects the work of Kambili’s emancipation. Laughter is what the house in Enugu is bereft of. But in Nsukka, “Aunty Ifeoma and her family prayed for, of all things, laughter” (134). And in answer to that prayer, “laughter always rang out in Aunty Ifeoma’s house, and no matter where the laughter came from, it bounced around all the walls, all the rooms.” (148). Very appropriately, Kambili herself describes her laughter as a freedom song. She records: As we drove back to Enugu, I laughed loudly…because Nsukka could free something deep inside your belly that would rise up to your throat and come out as a freedom song. As laughter. (302-303) However, all of the foregoing notwithstanding, there is a hugely significant sense in which we can question the authenticity of Kambili’s freedom at the end of the novel. It is instructive to note that Kambili’s laborious trudge towards freedom terminates in a 13

paradoxical attachment to her father, even in death: I have not told Jaja that I offer Masses for Papa every Sunday, that I want to see him in my dreams, that I want it so much that I sometimes make my own dreams, when I am neither asleep nor awake (309). This symptom that Kambili exhibits is explained by Tunca (2009) in her essay, “An Ambiguous ‘Freedom Song’: Mind-Style in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus”. She posits that: If Kambili has indisputably developed a form of resistance against Eugene, her quest for independence nevertheless remains an ambiguous one… Thus, many of the responses surrounding his memory are the same as those his presence produced when he was alive—a mixture of love, silence and fear (14). To this extent, we see the irony of Kambili’s freedom: despite all her “Odysseyic” search and attainment of emancipation from Papa, she still has an impossible-to-sever connection to her father, and worse still, in his death. This new kind of bondage, we must point out, is even worse than what Kambili initially struggled to free herself from. The reason is this: Papa was her captor from the beginning, but now, it is Kambili herself that is consciously seeking to entrap herself – she is her own captor now! And for Jaja, eventually attaining freedom from this ghoulish father of his comes with an implication bordering on the physical and ontological. On the physical level, Jaja is imprisoned; a rather literal (yet still important) evidence of bondage. But beyond that, we can tell that an irreversible damage has been done to Jaja; that something has evidently snapped within him. This is, perhaps, the more fatal implication of bondage that freedom earns Jaja in this novel. Amaka, the cousin of Jaja and Kambili, is used by Adichie to juxtapose the career of Papa in this novel. While Papa wants to be free from African ways of life by embracing everything Western, his niece Amaka embarks on a serious, soul-searching journey of freedom from Western ways of life by embracing her traditional African customs and cultures. First, from her “culturally conscious music” of Fela, Onyeka Onwenu and Osita Osadebe (126), we notice a conscious rebellion against the trend of contemporary teenagers subscribing to American pop. Instructively, Kambili brings to the fore Amaka’s disregard for this brand of music by telling us that “she [Amaka] said ‘teenagers’ as if she were not one, as if teenagers were a brand of people who, by not listening to culturally conscious music, 14

were a step beneath her” (126). Similar instances of her rebellion against western imperialism run through the entire novel. For example, while insisting that “what the church is saying is that only an English name will make your confirmation valid” (276), Amaka blatantly refuses to take an English name, preferring to miss her Confirmation instead. Amaka is the devout fighter of imperialism and anything that bears its shadows. In her determined effort to prove that the apparition of Our Lady is truly appearing in Aokpe, Amaka blurts: “Besides, it’s about time Our Lady came to Africa. Don’t you wonder how come she always appears in Europe? She was from the Middle East, after all” (145). It is very clear that Amaka’s life is a dedicated effort to free herself from imperialism and Eurocentric-cum-Christian-instigated inferiority (on the African’s part), and prove to everybody that Africa has as much prestige as Europe in every facet of life, religion inclusive. She also does not subscribe to the idea of seeking greener pastures in America, like her brother Obiora. When Obiora suggests that their family relocate to the United States, Amaka charges: “what do you mean, leave? Why do we have to run away from our own country? Why can’t we fix it?” (237). These words portray her unapologetic disposition towards the West, and her readiness to remain in her roots (unlike Papa). But, ironically, Amaka leaves Nigeria for America. It is instructive that she leaves when it becomes obvious that Nigeria (her supposed haven of freedom) can no longer ensure the sanity of her existence. We need note that Amaka’s personal insurgency against what she perceives as the bondage of Western imperialism largely verges on some dilettante temperament. It is an activism spurred by a hot-headed, more or less puerile, spasm of youthful exuberance. So, she eventually moves to America, the archetypal personality that embodies the Western superimposition that she so detests and stands against. She, then, inadvertently, embraces her own bondage. Even when Amaka gets to America and to writes “what she thought” to the secular American magazine that had “sounded pessimistic that the Blessed Virgin Mary could be appearing at all, especially in Nigeria: all that corruption and all that heat” (304), we can clearly infer that, essentially, her “freedom-fight” has been jeopardized. Amaka’s mother, Aunty Ifeoma initially appreciates America as a symbol of her freedom; freedom from a rather backward university system and a draconian university administration that thrives on 15

intimidating its outspoken and change-seeking employees. Her departure from Nigeria highlights her search for freedom from the political scene pervading the university institution. It is, therefore, not only a physical journey that she embarks on from Nigeria to the United States; it is also a metaphysical and spiritual journey. The campus is a microcosmic Nigeria, from which Aunty Ifeoma seeks escape. Nevertheless, for Aunty Ifeoma and her children, America turns out to be not so much of the land of freedom they had all thought it would be. As we learn through Amaka’s letter, “we don’t laugh anymore… because we don’t have the time to laugh, because we don’t see one another” (305). The overarching significance of the ‘personality’ of laughter (the explicit image of the freedom in which Nsukka luxuriates) is compromised in far-away America. We cannot afford to close this paper without turning our attention to Mama, a character who, in many ways, holds the story of Purple Hibiscus together. For a long time, Mama remains tied to the fettering whims and caprices of her husband. She does everything to please him (“You know Eugene likes me to stay around” (88)); she accepts the many beatings she gets, in a tension-laden quiet (“You know that small table where we keep the family Bible, nne? Your father broke it on my belly” (253)); she does not talk, does not even seem to have a voice, and this is why Papa would “stare at her as if surprised that she had spoken” (115). Yet, this express image of bondage, Mama, is the nexus upon which hangs the grandiose coliseum of freedom; she is the point that tidies up all the loose ends in this novel. To really appreciate the all-important role Mama plays in this novel, we need to take this analytical perspective from the scratch: to begin with, it is very significant that it is his missal Papa flings at Jaja in the opening scene of the novel. The damage the missal wreaks is that it breaks the ballet-dancing figurines on the étagère. Metaphorically, the figurines represent the fragile peace of the home, a home held together in a tension-laden quiet. The fact that Mama spends “at least a quarter of an hour on each ballet-dancing figurine” (18) shows that she is the one who nurtures the family and functions as its fulcrum. Her maternal presence, then, is what holds the family together. But Papa finally breaks the tiny bits that still hold the family together, and he does so, ironically, with the book that represents the orthodoxy of Catholicism (15). It is symbolic that it is what encapsulates and embodies the ideals of Catholicism (which Papa strongly subscribes 16

to) that finally shatters Papa’s home. This goes to validate the biblical saying that “he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). And it is instructive that the family’s destruction that Papa and his Catholicism have wrought is irreversible. As Kambili notes: Maybe Mama had realized that she would not need the figurines anymore; that when Papa threw the missal at Jaja, it was not just the figurines that came tumbling down, it was everything (23). And when Mama, the nurturer of this home, is asked, she retorts, “Kpa… I will not replace them” (23). To further heighten the irony pervading this turnout of events, we are drawn to the awareness that all of these happen on Palm Sunday, a day noted for the Triumphant Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem: “Everything came tumbling down after Palm Sunday” (261). Pushing this analysis of ironic paradox further, Mama’s shirt, bearing the inscription God is Love (15), sharply contrasts with the prevailing atmosphere which has just witnessed Papa’s unloving display of rage. To agree with Anyokwu, this inscription “rings with irony against the backcloth of the Mephistophelian high-handedness and despotic violence of her [Mama’s] husband” (112). Again, the description of the compound of the home is significant. The lush vegetation which surrounds the home (17) contrasts with the reality of the lives of the inhabitants. And as Anyokwu again notes, the “gilded inferno of a ‘home’ is made all the more beguilingly welcoming by a profusion of floral lushness presided over by an overbearing martinet father” (256). Another manifestation of paradox lies in Papa’s newspaper, The Standard, which is a depiction of freedom. The “subversiveoriented agit-prop paper” (according to Anyokwu) refuses to be silenced by the oppressive military administration. And according to Kambili, “the Standard, too, was different; it was more critical, more questioning than it used to be” (35). Yet, Papa stifles every attempt of questioning in his home. When his wife makes the suggestion that the children should not visit their aunty empty-handed, Papa “stared at her as if surprised that she had spoken” (115). It is to this extent that Papa has perfected the silencing of his own family members while hypocritically “[speaking] out for freedom” (13), according to Father Benedict: a case of the irony of freedom. Ade Coker, however, brings out the paradoxical reality of Papa’s hypocrisy when he intones, rather rhetorically: “Imagine what the Standard would be 17

if we were all quiet” (66). In drawing the curtain on this paper, we shall take recourse to an extract from a certain short story to summarize the thesis of this paper, namely: there is a paradoxical, ironical way in which bondage finds itself embedded in freedom and vice-versa. In Maria Machado’s story, “The Husband Stitch”, she creates a beautiful picture of how many different things can get lost in one another. Machado writes: Stories have this way of running together like raindrops in a pond. They are each borne from the clouds separately, but once they have come together, there is no way to tell them apart. It is in this same sense that we cannot tell raindrops apart that it is difficult to make a clear-cut distinction between freedom and bondage when it comes to the intricacies of human experience. When people act, it is difficult to really tell whether they have acted out of freewill or whether their action has been influenced by external factors such as family or societal expectations. BIBLIOGRAPHY Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus, Lagos: Kachifo Imprint, 2003. Print. Anyokwu, Christopher. “Two Slopes of One Hill: Terrorrism and the Quest for Freedom in Salman Rushdie’s Fury and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus” in Olukoju, Ayodeji and Falaiye, Muyiwa (eds.) Global Understanding in the Age of Terrorism, Lagos: University of Lagos Press, 2008. Print. ……….. “Postmodern Gothic and Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus” in Atoye, R. O. (ed.) Papers in English and Linguistics, Vol. 10, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, 2009, pp 105-125. Print. Cameron, David. The Social Thought of Rousseau and Burke: A Comparative Study, Birkenhead: Willmer Brothers Limited, 1973. Print. Dickens, Charles. Hard Times, London: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004. Print. Hewett, Heather. “Coming of Age: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the Voice of the Third Generation” in English in Africa 32, No. 1, May 2005; pp 73-79, available at

clnk&gl=ng. Web. Hobbes, Thomas. De Cive, London: R. Royston, available at: www. Hobbes. Web. Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (As Told to Alex Haley), New York: Ballantine Books, 1964. Print. Machado, Carmen Maria. “The Husband Stitch”, available at http:// Ndubuisi, F. N. Freedom and Determinism: An Inquiry into Man’s Moral Responsibility, Lagos: Foresight Press Nig. Ltd., 2006. Print. Okuyade, Ogaga. “Changing Borders and Creating Voices: Silence as Character in Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus,” in The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), available at https:// Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness, New York: Washington Square Press, 1966. Print. ……………….. “Existentialism” in Cahoone, Lawrence (ed.) From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003. Print. Smith, Colin. Contemporary French Philosophy: A Study in Norms and Values, London: Butler and Tanner Limited, 1964. Print. Stivers, Richard. The Illusion of Freedom and Equality, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008. Web. Tunca, Daria. “An Ambiguous ‘Freedom Song’: Mind-Style in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus” in Postcolonial Text, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2009, available at Web. Unah, Jim and Osegenwune, Chris. Phenomenology and Existentialism, Lagos: Fadec Publishers, 2010. Print. Unah, Jim. On Being: Discourse in the Ontology of Man, Lagos: Fadec Publishers, 2002. Print. Wright, Richard. Native Son, U.S.A: Harper & Brothers Publication, 1940. Print. 19



Kanaka Maoli Betrayed

Life After ‘Ai Noa

By David Murphy

Hawai’i Under the Kapu Prior to the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778, the inhabitants of Hawai’i followed a highly organized set of spiritual rituals and practices called the kapu. The kapu shaped what actions an individual Hawaiian could take throughout their life. Although it was a set of religious laws, the nature of Hawaiian society was such that the kapu was intrinsically linked to both the system of governance and recognition of legitimate authority. A number of independent Kanaka Maoli kingdoms, governed by professional administrative bureaucracies and priesthoods, existed prior to the arrival of western explorers. Some historians, notably Robert Hommon, have argued that Hawai’i should be characterized as one of the historically recognized regions that collectively served as birthplaces for primary states such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, China, Mesoamerica, and Andean South America – regions in which a state emerged endogenously.1 Hommon notes that the ancient kingdoms of Hawai’i developed aspects of government such as those paralleled elsewhere throughout the world. Hommon writes that ancient Hawaiian polities developed centralized forms of government, having at their center a broadspectrum ruler, or diarchy, who commanded with power recognized 22

by the populace and who thereby ruled legitimately, which Hommon characterizes as a key indicator of statehood.2 Historian Tom Coffman similarly writes that the islands, governed by various chiefs at the time of western contact, were still “governed by a centralized authority” and that the authority these rulers wielded was recognized as legitimate by the people, which corroborates Hommon’s assertion.3 This diarchal structure bears a remarkable resemblance to the structure of a number of modern nation-states today. The distinction between a head of state and a head of government, inclusive of distinctly separate responsibilities, clearly indicates that the Hawaiian bureaucratic governance structure existing prior to western contact was, indeed, far more complex than the vast majority of westerners at that time understood it to be. Hommon provides further evidence of the complexity of Hawaiian society, noting that there existed a hierarchically organized professional bureaucracy, including a professional priesthood, that developed in order to efficiently manage the large-scale tasks of the Hawaiian polities.4 Although the Hawaiian Islands were not unified under Kamehameha until after western contact, the three separate and independent kingdoms that existed in the islands prior to Kamehameha’s war of unification exhibited various characteristics of modern nation-states, and all had firmly established traditions and cultural practices prior to the arrival of European influences. Due to the fact that the three kingdoms had expansive bureaucracies characterized by a central authority figure, Kamehameha I was able to consolidate control over the entirety of the islands following his war of unification. Because the members of the various polities were accustomed to having a king, Kamehameha I did not have to dramatically restructure the polities he conquered; rather, he simply replaced whoever was in power at the time of his conquest. Unfortunately, it was precisely this degree of centralized authority that allowed for one actor within the system, the monarch, to single-handedly restructure the entire society should he or she choose. Kamehameha II would do just that – his decision to abolish the traditional spiritual system that had been in place for more than a millennium irrevocably changed the nature of Kanaka Maoli society, and Kamehameha II’s position as monarch ensured that the entirety of the islands would be affected by his decision. Contact with the West The arrival of western explorers, followed by their merchants and eventually their settlers, affected Hawaiian society dramatically. 23

Ultimately, it resulted in the abolition of the traditional Kanaka Maoli spiritual system. This shift did not occur instantaneously, but rather throughout a century of western contact, beginning with Captain Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i in 1778. Tom Coffman’s Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawai’i gives a remarkable account of the progressive destruction of traditional Hawaiian society. Coffman describes Hawai’i as a polity prior to the arrival of western explorers, and characterizes Captain Cook’s arrival in Hawaii as the beginning of Hawai’i’s history in western terms, providing “a “fundamental clue to the Western process of devaluing an indigenous people.”5 Traditional Kanaka Maoli society was organized around the kapu, with a barter system allowing for commerce between the various polities that existed in the kingdoms. Coffman writes that the arrival of westerners negatively affected Hawaiian society in that it resulted in “the obsession with trading, the stockpiling of metal weapons, the distorting of traditional relationships between chief and commoner, and the bewildering spread of disease” that would eventually cripple the preexisting spiritual, political and economic structures.6 In fact, the diseases that swept through the islands were instrumental in causing the dramatic shift in Hawaiian society, which was deeply linked to Hawaiian spirituality as a whole – “from [Captain] Cook’s low estimate in 1779 of a population of 400,000 (compared with a modern estimate of 800,000), the Hawaiian [Kanaka Maoli] population declined to 40,000 by the time of the overthrow of the Hawaiian government in 1893.”7 The loss of much of the ruling class due to disease destabilized the traditional hierarchical relationships between commoner and noble and served to weaken the nature of the traditional relationships that existed between ruling families and their vassals, leading to a breakdown in effective governance.8 Furthermore, the inability of the Kanaka Maoli to heal these diseases in the traditional manner served to shake the confidence of the Kanaka Maoli in their traditional spirituality, leading to many conversions to Christianity; the rise of Christianity in Hawai’i was a direct result of the perceived inability of the Kanaka Maoli deities to protect the Kanaka Maoli from western diseases.9 Jon Osorio speaks to this exact point in Dismembering Lahui, and describes that the loss of pono (balance/righteousness) experienced as a result of the devastating diseases that swept through the islands after haole (non Kanaka Maoli) contact resulted in the conversion of a significant 24

amount of the Hawaiian populace to Christianity, given that the massive scale of death “disrupted the faith that had held Hawaiian society together for centuries.”10 Because the kapu determined permissible actions for Kanaka Maoli society, it provided stability and continuity for countless generations of people. The ultimate responsibility for maintaining the kapu was the monarch’s, and the Kanaka Maoli strictly adhered to the guidelines of the kapu prior to 1819. Following the ‘Ai Noa (Ai’noa), or abolition of the kapu by Liholiho in 1819, a spiritual and legal vacuum arose, leading to the breakdown of a number of Hawaiian cultural mechanisms. For example, the foundation upon which ali’i legitimacy was based, and which justified ali’i governance, disappeared. Furthermore the regulations that dictated rituals, sacrifices, and how to appease the spiritual entities of the islands were assaulted relentlessly by the state under Liholiho.11 This then paved the way for western norms and institutions to replace many Kanaka Maoli equivalents, leading to a rise in conversions to Christianity and in the usage of capitalism in concert with a greater degree of mercantilism.12 Historian Dean Saranillio recognizes that much of Hawaiian society underwent a fundamental restructuring as a result of the attempts by the ali’i nui (ruling chiefs) to maintain pono as the population was decimated by disease. Many of the drastic changes to the traditional systems of Hawaiian governance resulted from the ali’i’s efforts to institute a restructured system of social organization that embodied the idea of pono to a greater degree, in an endeavor to maintain their place at the top of Kanaka Maoli society. Kamehameha I strictly adhered to the kapu system, even after contact with the west, and “regarded the kapu system as the central force stabilizing the political and social systems of the culture.”13 However, by the end of Kamehameha I’s life many of the ali’i had begun to adopt western norms, inclusive of “outward manners and accouterments of European civilization,” as a result of the increasing influence westerners had on Kanaka Maoli post contact and the introduction of capitalism and mercantilism.14 Another devastating effect of contact was that the common people began to doubt the potency of the traditional spiritual system, as they were continuously exposed to westerners who did not adhere to their traditional spirituality and “whose ridicule and disregard of the restrictions did not appear to bring them either misfortune or death.”15 This perceived “objective” evidence of the “inefficacy” 25

of the traditional Kanaka Maoli belief system paved the way for a massive structural change, especially given the state of the monarchy following the death of King Kamehameha I. Abolition of the Kapu – Life After Ai’noa Liholiho was King Kamehameha I’s son, and took the name Kamehameha II upon his ascendency to the throne in 1819. However, Liholiho’s penchant for “drinking, carousing, general debauchery, and…[an] insatiable taste for Western trade goods” greatly limited his ability to perform his monarchal duties.16 Therefore, after the required 10 days of mourning following the death of his father, when Liholiho was traditionally expected to establish the kapu under his leadership, he stayed away from the Hawaiian court at Kailua and filled his days with “feasting, drinking, and dancing to delay events as long as possible.”17 When Liholiho finally returned to Kailua, he enjoyed a feast prepared for his return, at which there were several foreigners present (among them John Young, an important military advisor to Kamehameha I during the war of unification).18 Liholiho, as a result of his lack of reverence for the kapu and the influence of foreigners, and at the urging of his mother, decided to abolish the kapu (called tabu in some sources) by eating with the women of his court, an act proscribed by Kanaka Maoli traditional spirituality.19 King David Kalakaua, a monarch of Hawai’i and noted Kanaka Maoli historian, describes the chaotic scene as the various members of the court witnessed the symbolic act that would eradicate the traditional social structures of the kingdom, when people began to yell, “the tabu is broken! the [sic] tabu is broken!”.20 People throughout the Island of Hawai’i, believing that the king “was acting deliberately and with the approval of the most influential dignitaries of the kingdom, including the supreme high-priest,” echoed the call, and began to break the kapu “indiscriminately.”21 For example, men and women began to eat together, and people generally began to disregard the behavioral regulations that the kapu dictated. However, it is important to note that Liholiho seemed to have little compunction about his decision to abolish the spiritual and political system of his ancestors that had governed the kingdom for countless generations. Indeed, he seems to have had the opposite reaction, as described by Kalakaua, who notes that Hewahewa (highpriest of the kingdom) informed Liholiho, “the gods and heiaus cannot survive the death of the tabu,” to which Liholiho responded in a manner devastating to Hawaiian traditions.22 Liholiho exclaimed, 26

“Then let them perish with it! If the gods can punish, we have done too much already to hope for grace. They can but kill, and we will test their powers by inviting the full measure of their wrath.”23 Liholiho seems to have purposely and unabashedly made the decision to abolish the kapu – he does not appear to be coerced, but rather seems intent on instituting a societal shift of his own accord, even though, as Dean Saranillio notes, there exists a story that “Kamehameha I told Liholiho that if the religion falls, the Kingdom will fall.” As the King of Hawai’i, Liholiho had supreme authority to decide whether or not to reinstitute the kapu following the death of his father. This is exceptionally important in terms of the effect that it had on Hawai’i as a whole, given that it was ultimately the responsibility of the king to enforce and maintain the kapu.24 A majority of Hawaiians accepted this decision, because he was the supreme ruler of the islands and because his decision had the support of the highest religious representative of the kingdom.25 Immediately following King Kamehameha II’s decision, and by his decree, sacred Hawaiian sites and property were burned, and “a religious system which for fifteen hundred years or more had shaped the faith, commanded the respect and received the profoundest reverence of the Hawaiian people” was overturned.26 However, some Hawaiians fought against Liholiho’s decision, key among them Kekuaokalani, King Kamehameha I’s favorite nephew and Liholiho’s cousin, resulting in a brief civil war.27 On the lava field of Kuamo’o, Kekuaokalani was defeated by Liholiho’s forces in battle, and died to “defend the old Hawaiian gods and the kapu.”28 After the death of Kekuaokalani, Liholiho consolidated his position and sent warriors to fight those who had supported his cousin, killing most at Waimea.29 Liholiho, through his concerted efforts, succeeded in eliminating the last “armed opposition to the breaking of the kapu.”30 However, this act did not spell the doom of Kanaka Maoli traditions as a whole. The fact that it ended state sponsored Kanaka Maoli traditional spirituality was a result of the highly centralized authority that characterized the Kingdom of Hawai’i. The betrayal of these traditions by the individual responsible for their maintenance and protection did not result in the overall elimination of Kanaka Maoli traditions, because not all Kanaka Maoli accepted the legitimacy of the decree, even of the person at the head of the hierarchical structure, but the decree did affect the official state position regarding Kanaka Maoli traditions and spirituality. As Dean Saranillio notes, the fact that Hawai’i was a single 27

political entity shortly after contact with the west dramatically affected how the society could be restructured through the actions of a single individual in power.31 Jon Osorio speaks to this point specifically, noting that less than six months after the death of Kamehameha, Liholiho and Kauikeaouli (Liholiho’s brother) sat with their mother and aunt, respectively, breaking the ‘Aikapu (kapu related to eating).32 In this way Osorio describes how the ruler of Hawai’i, as the ultimate spiritual and political authority within the kingdom, was instrumental in the decline of traditional Kanaka Maoli spirituality as a direct result of his decision to abolish the kapu. After the abolition of the kapu system the practice of passing down Kanaka Maoli spiritual traditions deteriorated swiftly and widely throughout the islands, although some missionaries noted that “the multitude of gods of wood and stone, formerly worshipped, have been rather hidden than extirpated” and that “there are still, in many places on the island, multitudes who continue in rather a secret manner to worship their old false gods, but the number is every month growing less.”33 Therefore there were still communities who tried to keep the old ways alive, but because the state under Kamehameha II actively sought out and destroyed “idols,” the followers of traditional Kanaka Maoli spirituality could not pray openly.34 There was still hope for Kanaka Maoli traditions, however. Following the ‘Ainoa (Ai’noa), a number of specific repositories for the maintenance of more public cultural knowledge arose, such as the Hawaiian language newspapers and various pieces of literature written by Kanaka Maoli authors (origin stories, creation myths, and other culturally relevant data recorded by Kanaka Maoli as part of an effort to resist colonial influences on Hawaiian culture), which allowed for the knowledge to be retained. Unfortunately, there also existed certain parts of the traditional kapu culture that were dependent upon familial relationships for knowledge transfer, and it was these aspects of Hawaiian culture that were decimated by the abolition of the kapu. It was both the abolition of the kapu by the king coupled with the devastating nature of western diseases (King Kamehameha II died of measles in 1824) that truly solidified the end of state sponsored traditional Kanaka Maoli spirituality. Although Kamehameha II had officially abolished the traditional religion, were it not for the widespread and devastating effects of disease, the Kanaka Maoli common people (as opposed to the ali’i) may not have 28

also abandoned their spiritual traditions. However, because so many common people had begun to doubt their own spiritual traditions, and, due to the arrival of the first Christian missionaries in 1820, many people began to convert to Protestantism as a result of state sponsored opposition to “idolatry” and the eventual royal promotion of Christianity.35 The arrival and influence of western missionaries was characterized by the fact that they offered a replacement for the traditional Kanaka Maoli religion, and their power was due in part to the power westerners wielded in other parts of Hawaiian society. The Englishman John Young, for example, was a prominent member of Kamehameha I’s court and a chief advisor to the king – he was even declared the Royal Governor of Hawai’i Island from 18021812.36 The increasingly evident power and presence of Westerners in the courts of the Hawaiian monarchs by extension paved the way for the massive amount of power that would be wielded by the missionaries in later years, and contributed to the continuing decline of Hawaiian traditional spirituality, as these westerners did not have the same reverence for traditional Kanaka Maoli traditions. There are records of various groups of Kanaka Maoli who attempted to retain their traditional spirituality through ceremonies and reverence for idols, but between the royal opponents of tradition and the Christian missionary influence, this maintenance of traditional beliefs and practices proved to be extraordinarily difficult for the vast majority of the Hawaiian people.37 Furthermore, because the societal shift was partially voluntary, rather than completely forced, and because no provisions had been made to replace the traditional spiritual system with another formal system linking political and spiritual autonomy, the Hawaiian people were susceptible to the various methods employed by the missionaries to gain converts. The decision by King Kamehameha II to abolish the kapu devastated the traditional system of spirituality in Hawai’i, but it did not eradicate it. Rather, it made it necessary for various Hawaiians who sought to maintain the ways of their ancestors to hide their sacred spiritual artifacts and practice their beliefs in secret, and many of these families were able to maintain knowledge of their aumakua, or household deities specific to their genealogy.38 Many aspects of Hawaiian traditional spirituality survived Liholiho’s assault, and due to this a number of Kanaka Maoli were able to retain some degree of the traditional spiritual knowledge necessary for their descendants 29

to learn and practice the religion of their ancestors. This then provided Kanaka Maoli descendants with the ability to enact a spiritual revival during the following century, similar to the spiritual revivals experienced by other indigenous populations around the world throughout the 1900s. 1

Notes Robert Hommon, The Ancient Hawaiian State: Origins of a Political Society (New York: Oxford UP, 2013), 2.


Hommon, The Ancient Hawaiian State, 258.


Tom Coffman, Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawai’i (Kihei, Hawai’i: Koa, 2009), 26.


Hommon, The Ancient Hawaiian State, 258.


Coffman, Nation Within, 24.


Coffman, Nation Within, 27.


Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa, Native Land and Foreign Desires = Ko Hawai’i ‘aina a Me Na Koi Pu’umake a Ka Po’e Haole: A History of Land Tenure Change in Hawai’i from Traditional times until the 1848 Mahele, including an Analysis of Hawaiian Ali’i Nui and American Calvinists (Honolulu, Hawai’i: Bishop Museum, 1992), 20.


Dean Saranillio (Hawaiian historian) in discussion with the author, October 2016.


Jon Kamakawiwo’ole Osorio, Dismembering Lahui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887 (Honolulu: U of Hawai’i, 2002), 10.


Ibid., 10.


Diane Lee Rhodes, Linda W Greene, “A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai’i Island,” National Park Service, 1993. htm 30


Coffman, Nation Within, 27.


“A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai’i Island.”










David Kalakaua, The Legends and Myths of Hawaii; the Fables and Folk-lore of a Strange People (New York: C.L. Webster & Company, 1888), 436.


Ibid., 437.








Ibid., 438.


“A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai’i Island.”


Kalakaua, The Legends and Myths of Hawaii, 437.


Ibid., 438


Julie Williams and Suelyn Tune, Kamehameha II: Liholiho and the Impact of Change (Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 2001), 72.


Ibid., 75.


“ Ibid., 76. 31




Dean Saranillio (Hawaiian historian) in discussion with the author, October 2016.


Osorio, Dismembering Lahui, 11.


“A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai’i Island.”




Dean Saranillio (Hawaiian historian) in discussion with the author, October 2016.


“A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai’i Island.”




Ali’i descendant in discussion with the author, November 2016



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