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Feb 5, 2017

Hawaiian Ali'i and Western Architecture



There always was criticism about the houses and dress of Hawaiians in the 19th century particularly the ali'i. I have heard Hawaiians say "Oh they wear haole clothes" and "Oh they live in haole houses". Statements such as that are totally poho and po'opa'a. In this century, we live in a time that Hawaiians can wear a malo during a graduation ceremony at UH. But the mentality back then a century ago was sharply different due to political, social, and cultural pressures. Hawaiians were a recognized nation and one of the last Pacific countries to avoid colonialism. Tahiti and Aotearoa's colonization had directly impacted the minds of many of the Hawaiian ali'i. Hawaiians were being --yes even during the Kingdom era--to become "civilized" (read Westernized. That was not only true of Hawaiians, but also of Japanese, Chinese, Turks, and Thais. There was a long period of time in the 19th and 20th century where the Japanese Imperial Family and the Thai Royal Family was rarely ever photographed or painted in their national attires. Japan and Hawai'i in particular pursued a strong and deliberate national policy of internal-Westernization in order to cope with the traumatic changes emanating from Europe and America as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The motto of the Meiji government at that time was "Western Technology, Japanese spirit". In Hawaiian newspapers there's tons of comments about being "civilized". 
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Queen Emma's pili grass hale

The ali'i were constantly being pressured to adopt English, to behave as proper English aristocrats, and to be well versed in European history and law in order to project to the major powers that Hawai'i was a country that the West could do business with on equal terms. There was also the mana'o of many Hawaiians that we needed to adopt these ideas, ways of living and technology because it would improve the lives of the people (i.e. hospitals) and would put Hawai'i on an equal footing with other powers. But the ali'i were still Hawaiian. Queen Emma lamented on her travels to England how she missed fish and poi. The photo attached is a photo of Queen Emma's pili grass hale that one stood at Hanaiakalama. This is where she would relax, talk in Hawaiian with her staff and be Hawaiian All of the ali'i were like that. All of them felt more comfortable in the traditional Hawaiian ways than what they were being pressured to adopt. Western clothes did not make a Hawaiian ali'i less Hawaiian. It is only when a Hawaiian has decided against maintaining their ancestral ties to the land, turns away from his/her kuleana to the community and has adopted values alien to Hawaiian culture such as unbridled consumerism that the Hawaiian has lost touch.

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