By Anu Yagi
Our people are in great, great danger now… / Cry for the gods / Cry for the people / Cry for the lands that were taken away / And in it you’ll find Hawaii
– from “Hawaii ‘78,” a song made famous by Israel Kamakawiwoole
A PEOPLE OF SEA, SOIL AND SKY
Joseph “Sonny” Manaois, Jr. has fisherman eyes–the patient kind that see far and wide. He lives alone in a sturdy 16’ by 18’ cabin, open-beamed with bare plyboard walls and floor. “It’s just a bachelor’s house, a farm house,” he says–part proud, part apologetic.
Outside, his home’s paneling is painted crisp off-white and dappled with monkeypod shade. His roof’s Haleakala-facing corners are flanked with big old fishing buoys, orange orbs suspended like tattered twin suns cradled in macrame cord. Inside, under burgundy curtains, green mesh tarp is carefully stretched as screen across his windows, diffusing the daylight rose and chartreuse. His light at night is a kerosene lamp (because a generator, he says, “is too loud–I don’t want to disturb the neighbors”) which sits on a two-by-four railing, next to his bed that’s just a twin mattress atop a lawn chair.
And from his front door–if you look Southwest, past the hodgepodge accoutrements characteristic of many Hawaiian yards (barrels, tires, rings of chicken wire hung from branches to grow Pele’s Hair, milk crates, a yellow longboard, cinderblocks, tarp-covered piles of who-knows-what, a red muscle car…)–you’ll see Sonny’s burgeoning farm.
About a hundred banana trees (of several varieties, including the prized variegated banana) grow as a wall around whatever Sonny can eke from the parched ‘Iao streamside that was once a rich river delta. Walking along the rows, he perspires under the morning glare and points out each crop: eggplant, papaya, okra, pumpkin, bitter melon, tomato and dry-land taro.
“I plant every one by hand, dug every hole,” he says. “When I started out [three years ago], my health wasn’t so good. When I started this project I was 385 pounds.” Then he laughs and looks down to where a bigger belly once was.
Sonny pulls at his knits collar to reveal the contrast of his developing farmers’ tan–or rather how, under his shirt, his once all-over auburn is fading. See, Sonny wasn’t always a farmer.
“For 30 years, I fished. I grew up fishing… It’s my life,” he says.
Born in Hana in 1954–five years before Hawaii’s statehood–Sonny grew up learning to reap the bounty of Hawaiian waters. He camped in Waianapanapa’s caves before the State Park cabins were built, dove for lobster and remembers when the whole town descended on Hana Bay as the waters ran red with fish.
When asked what happened to his family land in Hana, Sonny says, “The state stole ‘em. The state and Hana Ranch… I come from an ahupua’a–56,000 acres–that stretched from Hana Bay to Kapipi Gulch. That’s how big it was.”
Sonny and his family moved to Wailuku in the mid 1960s. “I then grew up on Wells Street, in Wailuku Town,” he says. “I know all the back streets,” his laugh this time has a mischievous sparkle. “But I’m a country boy, you know? My classroom in Hana [had] 16 students. Then I came to a class in ‘Iao School and there were 500 students,” Sonny says. “I graduated from Baldwin High [in 1972].”
Still, fishing was his life–as it was the life for many young local men, then–and he talks about having worked at an old fish shack in Kihei, in the ‘80s. “Cut so much fish, their scales were growing on us,” he laughs, touching his forearm.
But fishing today is nothing like what it used to be, and Sonny simply can’t afford to practice his passion as a way of life anymore.
It’s because of pollution. Over-harvesting. Invasive species. Fish are scarce now, so harvesting rules are more stringent. Never mind that operational costs are now exorbitant. If your boat’s engine breaks, a new one will cost you $30,000, Sonny says. And just to fill your fuel tank will run around $1,000, plus the purchase of ice (about 40 bags) that’ll last a trip long enough to make fishing worth your while.
So instead, Sonny farms. In part because it’s good for body and soil, and in part because he has to. “I’m learning,” he says. “Little bit at a time… But my dream would be to return to my ocean and feed the people.”
When Sonny laughs or speaks about simple facts, his voice is full, round and distinct. But whenever he speaks about anything tied to emotion–the battle for land and lifestyle since the 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the oroburous of human existence–he’s all stifling quivering lips.
It’s hard to hear him, but Sonny is telling me about his kupuna’s wisdom, about his personal path in life, his movement “from the ocean, to the land, and then–” he motions gently upward. “My journey is almost complete,” he says. And I tremble, too.
Later, I can’t help but reflect on of one of my favorite passages, from INTERESTING RUINS in Mark Twain’s Roughing It.
“Near by is an interesting ruin–the meagre remains of an ancient heathen temple–a place where human sacrifices were offered up in those old bygone days when the simple child of nature, yielding momentarily to sin when sorely tempted, acknowledged his error when calm reflection had shown it him, and came forward with noble frankness and offered up his grandmother as an atoning sacrifice–in those old days when the luckless sinner could keep on cleansing his conscience and achieving periodical happiness as long as his relations held out; long, long before the missionaries braved a thousand privations to come and make them permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there; and showed the poor native how dreary a place perdition is and what unnecessarily liberal facilities there are for going to it; showed him how, in his ignorance he had gone and fooled away all his kinfolks to no purpose; showed him what rapture it is to work all day long for fifty cents to buy food for next day with, as compared with fishing for pastime and lolling in the shade through eternal Summer, and eating the bounty that nobody labored to provide but Nature. How sad it is to think of the multitudes who have gone to their graves in this beautiful island and never knew there was a hell!”
And call it ethnic ego (or whatever), but I’d like to think he intended that INTERESTING RUINS pay subtle homage to kanaka cadence. After all, he described, “The native language is soft and liquid and flexible and in every way efficient and satisfactory–till you get mad; then there you are; there isn’t anything in it to swear with.”
Ha! Shit, I can’t help but then wonder how I’d have gotten by back then. Oh, right. I could never have been back then because I am the product of back then; and all the thens before and between.
So, now, even standing in Sonny’s sweet home and farm–with the alive bite of his labor hanging on the cool breeze; between the shadow of Haleakala and the light of ‘Iao Valley–I’m again overwhelmed by the creeping, sick feeling that has haunted me lately.
Because for all Hawaii’s beauty, all those thens have amounted to a very heartbreaking now…
TROUBLE IN RIVER SHANTY
Sonny lives a hard, simple life that’s in myriad ways idyllically reminiscent of a bygone Hawaiian lifestyle. But there’s trouble. Big trouble.
Sonny is just one of around 100 “shanty town” residents who face eviction for inhabiting a 34.24-acre parcel of land–the site of the old Wailuku Sugar Company millyard–between Happy Valley’s Pi‘ihana Road and the remains of the ‘Iao river. Most of the residents have lived there for years in hand-built cabins like Sonny’s.
But neither Sonny nor any other of the 100 residents actually own the property in question; at least, not according to county and state records.
According to a complaint filed on June 2, 2011 by the county’s Corporation Counsel, the problem began back in 2006 and 2007, a notice of violation for “engage[ment] in non-agricultural activities,” issued by the County of Maui’s Zoning Administration and Enforcement Division and served upon the property owners of record, Kehalani Holdings Company, Inc. (that in 2005 merged with Delaware corporation Hawaii Land & Farming Company, Inc., formerly known as C. Brewer Homes, Inc., and which in 1993 acquired the property by Warranty Deed from Hawaii corporation C. Brewer and Company, Limited).
The complaint states that the accrued fines for this violation, as of June 1, 2011, is $1,254,000–with an additional $100 daily fine added to that sum ever since.
But that’s just one of three violations against Kehalani, which is owned by Stanford Carr.
A 2008 building code violation (for “illegal dwellings on the property”) and housing code violation (“as shack dwellings, dog and chicken pens and junk cars were on the property without permits”)–both appealed by Kehalani but dismissed with prejudice–have respectively accrued fines of $905,500 and $932,200 as of June 1, 2011; and to each, $1,000 daily fines are mounting.
A preliminary hearing was held on Thursday, December. 30, and by the next court date on Thursday, January 19, the fines for these three violations will total $3,578,900.
The total assessed value of the land, according to the County of Maui’s Real Property Tax Division website, is just $1,182,700.
In Kehalani’s answer to the county’s complaint, their general defense contends that if the county “suffered or sustained damages as alleged in the Complaint, such damages, if any, were proximately caused and were a consequence of the conduct, actions, omissions, negligence or intentional conduct of other persons or entities and were in no way the responsibility of Kehalani… Kehalani gives notice that it intends to reply upon the defense that liability to Plaintiff, if any, is due to that of persons and/or entities other than Kehalani.”
I first meet Sonny–and about 40 other “shanty town” residents–at the preliminary hearing on Dec. 30. Until then, all were but John and Jane Does 1-100, summoned by publication; so not much more was accomplished at the hearing but identifying as many residents as possible.
But of the dozens in attendance, only 16 went on record to affiliate themselves with the case. The rest remain unattached, and will have to face whatever ruling comes down without right of appeal.
The reason for their hesitance–and utter resistance, in some cases–is their leadership; primarily a pair who announce themselves as “Her Majesty Akahi Wahine” and her haole knight “Sir Edward,” who’ve instructed those there not to cross “the bar” in the courtroom. Amidst the murmuring in the courtroom, I heard the residents’ misinformed fears include “losing their rights” and even “being shot on the spot.” It’s a twisted rationale that edges on superstition.
Of those who did go forward, David Acedillo and Sonny were among the first. David turned around to address his lingering fellows. “What? You guys all leaving me now?”
The woman in the seat ahead of me turned around to address the man at my right. “Uncle, what should I do?”
He told her to stay put. and she did.
Judge Joseph Cardoza’s patient compassion deserved a medal. Realizing there was an apparent lack of understanding about court protocol, he courteously implored that the residents come forward for the record.
Some of those still unconvinced decided (as some sort of compromise) to shout their name from their seats at back.
When “Her Majesty” (who, too, remained behind “under duress”) attempted to present Judge Cardoza with a document from “The Kingdom of Hawaii” in defense of those residing on the property, Martin Luna, one of Kehalani’s defense attorneys, objected that it not be entered into evidence. Cardoza replied that nothing was being entered into evidence and that he’s simply making it known that he was presented with an un-filed document.
(Later, when I review the case file, I find this “Kingdom” document almost entirely nonsensical, printed on thick beige cardstock, in full color with every other paragraph written in red, bold, italicized font. At the end, it’s signed with a gold glitter pen next to a gold embossed sticker.)
The scene is so fascinating and strange, I left the courtroom shaking.
Outside, I tried to escape the sick feeling that’s crept steadily into my heart by dragging deeply on cigarette after cigarette, meanwhile making the acquaintance of folks like David and Sonny.
“Sir Edward” then called the group together for an informal debriefing. But first, he turned to Susan Halas, a reporter who’s been covering the story for Maui Now and who first tipped me off to the story.
“Excuse me,” he said, “but we cannot have any journalists here at this time… You will get your interview, but now you must disperse of your presence.” Susan backed off respectfully, but I did not. “That goes for you, too, young lady,” he said.
“Why?” I said, surprised by my defiant tone.
“This is a meeting just for us, OK?”
Against my nature, I burst into tears and babbled about how important this issue is to me–as a human, and further as kanaka maoli–and that I want to help by telling an honest story.
Uncles and aunties rushed to console me. I told them that if they wished that I leave, I would, but I don’t want to go anywhere.
“Sir Edward” asks, “Are you kanaka? Are you kanaka?”
“Obviously?!” I bawled, grabbing at my thick Polynesian fro, all the wilder in the wind (and once was undeniably Hawaiian when it cascaded well past my ass, but now is only shoulder length after four rounds of chemotherapy, two years ago).
“Well, I thought you were a haole! You look like a haole!” he said.
Funny thing is: he sure fuckin’ looks haole. Curly silver hair, dated sunglasses, a creme silk camp shirt tucked into kahaki slacks, a watch worn to impress…
I was about to shout that it shouldn’t–it doesn’t–matter anyway. And hell, I’m a member of the press and it’s a public place and–
“I’m sorry I made you cry,” he said. And the meeting began.
“OK,” he said. “We don’t have much time. Her Majesty and I have another meeting… I know I’m a haole, but I’m from Israel.”
He proceeded to ask the shanty town residents for money to cover the expenses of their defense. What defense, exactly, I’m not quite sure. And in an attempt to display authority, he produced from his pocket a “diplomatic passport issued by the Kingdom of Hawaii,” saying it was accepted by the Russian government.
Later, a man asked, “Where can I get one of those things?”
“Well do you have any money?”
“How much would it cost?”
“Well, we’re not there yet, but it will be about $50. But you’re not a diplomat. Are you a diplomat? No. I am.”
I turned away. Later, “Sir Edward” again apologized for “making me cry” and again said that I “look haole” and then chastised me for smoking.
“Yeah, well, you get cancer and die anyway,” I smiled.
Then he offered me a job as a journalist for the “Kingdom.”
I said nothing in reply.
As I left, a nice old auntie approached me. “I jus’ like say, good fo’ you fo’ standing up, yeah. Dat is true kanaka.”
She hugged me, and the sick feeling inside me was momentarily washed away. Exchanging pleasantries and commenting on the day’s fierce wind, we walked home together from the court house. Because I live and love and labor in Happy Valley, too–just a stone’s throw away from the “shanty town” in question.
Later, “Sir” Edward Cooper and Grace Gushigan–aka “Her Majesty Akahi Wahine”–hold a meeting, one of many semi-regular gatherings held with residents at the Pi‘ihana property outside Sonny’s house. Over 40 attend, plus a half dozen keiki. Some sit or stand close and nod approvingly, others stand back, arms folded, looking incredulous.
Cooper begins to speak, but “Her Majesty” stops him, saying that “We going puli before we start.”
Cooper says, “I’m going to have someone else do it. [Someone suggests Jimmy Russ.] C’mon, Jimmy. You do it.”
The group holds hands in a large circle, and Jimmy leads the prayer: “Father we thank you for this time. We thank you for your wisdom and your strength. We ask you to intervene into this situation here. We ask that you touch the hearts of the people here; give them hope. We pray and thank you for your many blessings; your power to do healing and miracles. We ask that you guide us, and open eveyone’s heart here to receive you. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Then Cooper whistles loudly, “Timing is important… I don’t want to yell. I already have a sore throat from that. All of you were in court the other day? So you all know or have seen one of these documents? Do you have it with you?”
He’s referring to a notice of eviction, mailed to only those who identified themselves at the previous week’s hearing.
David Legsay says he received it, but didn’t bring it with him.
Cooper’s frustration grows. “Well when you come to this type of meeting, people, bring the evidence that you have,” he says. “Without evidence, I’m not a miracle worker–only God is.”
“I thought was a meeting. We all get the same thing, eh?” David replies.
“I don’t know,” says Cooper. “Some people got some things and other people got other things. Are you the Kehalani Holdings Company?”
“No, I’m talking to the tree over there! C’mon, of course I’m talking to you,” says Cooper.
Someone in the crowd says it’s “time to move on.”
So Gushigan intervenes. “Our time is limited because we have a 6 o’clock meeting right after this,” she says. “We need you guys attention and you guys respond. Time is an essence in this. You guys get ‘til January 19 to answer. We gotta put together the papers before January 19. No later or you guys going be found default.”
Cooper then shouts, “I need to know exactly who is on this list. I need a list of everybody that is here who has been summoned.”
Cooper doesn’t seem to know anyone’s names.
So Stephanie Legsay, in an diplomatic attempt, starts to take roll call. “I’m going check off all the names that is on this list with who’s here.”
Cooper snaps back, “Well find out who’s who. This should have been done before, not now: And if you’re here today you’re already defaulted. Is there anyone who wasn’t in court that is here today? You? You, you, you? Then you all defaulted.”
A man pipes up, “What if I was in one oddah court on that same date–not for this but in one oddah court?”
“Let me explain you the problem here,” Cooper says. “The problem is they want to evict all of you from this place because big corporations want to take it over. Now, you want to protect your homes, you want to protect your area. Well, if you don’t give a damned shit about it then there’s nothing I can do.”
The man says again, “But I was in one oddah court–”
Stephanie tries to mediate again, “He’s saying he was in a different court.”
Cooper dismisses this, “I understand. I saw you at court. I remember you.”
People in the crowd snicker subtly. Cooper doesn’t seem to know anyone’s faces, either.
Exasperated, he bellows, “We need those papers. That’s number one. Number two is the Kingdom of Hawaii is represented by Her Majesty and–excuse me [he turns to two little girls sitting at a picnic table]–can you lower your voice or play somewhere else? The Kingdom of Hawaii is going to put a rebuttal to defend your case. This is not easy. I’ve asked… to gather to get us money together because we have to, each one of you has to, be submitted a document of your defense. When you go to court with it, it’s a document that you present that the court has an understanding in association with the Kingdom. And if you don’t have the document, you’re not going to be represented by the Kingdom. The Kingdom doesn’t mind doing the work, and we’re doing it practically for free by comparison to what a lawyer would charge. I am not an attorney but I studied law. And I’ve already put documents together… that defended the people in a trespassing case similar to that on Molokai. Immediately after we filed the rebuttal, the judge called the prosecuting attorney and said these guys have a case you better do something. And the plaintiff immediately called the people, the one who I was defending, and said, ‘Hey, let’s do a compromise.’ So that’s exactly what’s going to happen here. We want to make sure that they understand that they cannot kick you out of this land ‘cause this land belongs to the Kingdom of Hawaii and the Kingdom gave you the authority to do whatever, to farm it and to do everything else. Free of charge! But your freedom is not free. And you gotta start understanding that putting all these things together cost a fortune by comparison. The lawyer that charged them in Molokai was like $300,000. I’m not asking for $300,000. Nowhere near that. All we’re asking for is at least $200-$300 per person because we have to give to you documents. [Someone in the crowd scoffs.] You can laugh, but if you do not have $200-$300, I cannot do a paper for you. Then you will lose out your money. You will lose out your home.”
The nonsense and doublespeak is staggering. There, again, is that sick feeling, creeping up from my toes and ankles, weakening my knees, wrenching my gut and strangling my heart. My breath is short, but I fumble in my purse for a cigarette anyway, as if it was a smokable sanity.
Residents have told me they’ve already given more than $3,000 to “Sir Edward” and “Her Majesty,” both for the right to live on a property (that’s again, owned by Kehalani Holdings Company) and for their defense in court. Sonny would later tell me, he even sold his boat.
Thankfully, someone speaks up. Lorna Nahooikaika is livid, and tells Cooper “We like see the documents of the first payments.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Everybody wanna know because nobody’s seen anyting.” Lorna says.
Gushigan attempts to explain, “There is researches waiting to be done pertaining to these documents. A lot of research has to be done on Oahu… It’s not something you can do just one day. It takes a lot of work. That’s why you folks have to come out to the meetings. A lot of times meetings were called and you guys, most of you guys weren’t present. Would just be a handful sometimes. It’s important for you guys to come and be here and know what’s going on. You folks don’t come out here, we not going to you folks individually. If you guys think you get someone better to do the job, you guys better start doing it now because you guys get just to the 19th…
There’s a lot of you here, but there’s only Sir Edward and I to do paperwork and to do research. It’s not an easy thing where you guys can just go sit at a table and read one book. It doesn’t work like that. Sometimes it takes years. It took me seven years to do one document–it ain’t easy to do researches. Some of you folks have never been there so you don’t know what it’s like.”
She then launches into a long, impassioned albeit repetitive speech, begging for unity, “We’re here to help you guys. So unite and come together. You guys gotta come together to work together. One here, one there–scattered–that’s what the government wants, to divide and conquer. We’re here to bring you guys together so we can work together as one….Let’s get our minds and put our minds together. We’re talented people. I’m sure our ancestors did not bring us here on this earth today to be stupid. No. We’re here to start to stand up for our rights and show our inheritance that we can stand together and work together and claim victory to our ‘aina. You guys want the ‘aina you gotta work together, come together… Don’t cry when it’s to late. Now let’s come together and work together!”
“Her Majesty” is wearing a dark navy sheath dress, skeuomorphic gold buttons–a double-breasted illusion–hanging loosely. This alone warrants no second thought; but within the context of putting on imaginary monarchal airs, it seems calculated and slightly sad. Clearly, she has a deep care for the cause of her people. But I find myself wishing that–in some parallel universe–this is instead a truly defining moment; a queenly woman inspiring her people and making real change. But with all I’ve seen and read and heard, quite the opposite is happening…
Cooper then chimes in, “And don’t blame anybody else but yourselves for it. Now, your [Lorna’s] question: What you see here are the official, duly registered in the Bureau of Conveyances in Honolulu because the original Kingdom of Hawaii through a conveyance. Every square inch of the archipelago [he pronounces this a-shee-pe-lah-go] of Hawaii is duly registered under the Kingdom name. We own this land. The Kingdom of Hawaii owns this land. They cannot kick you out. But like Her Majesty said, you guys are all acting independents and also sitting comfortable in your chair. You want to see documents? All of these documents took seven and eight years to put together. You didn’t do it. Her Majesty did…
The queen has the power lock, stock and barrel. And that includes the royal seal. Without the royal seal, we cannot go to court. The document has to bear the royal seal. Without the royal seal, we can’t present anything. Another thing, when we go to court, do not cross the wooden bar. The moment you cross that wooden bar, you are on U.S. laws. When you’re on this side of the fence, you’re on kanaka maoli laws, the Kindgom law. Is that understood?
Putting these documents together is only part of what each of you will receive. This is $30 just for printing. So if I have to give each one of you–and your 30 or 40 or 50 people–hey, I have to put out of my pocket for you $30 or $40 per person…Because we also need to include treaties that we have with the Kingdom of Hawaii had with other governments. It’s a big, thick file. How big was the other file? It was that thick,” he says, holding up fingers to indicate several inches.
“They’ll come one day bulldoze the whole thing and get you out of here,” Cooper says. “If that’s what you want, then tell me now so I don’t waste my time. I’m here to help you all, with Her Majesty… If you have the intent of going forward lift up your hand and we’ll work together. Let me see how many hands are up: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten–” he stops, and addresses a young girl–not more than two-or three-years-old, standing on the red muscle car in Sonny’s yard, proudly raising her hand. “Not you, young lady.”
Cooper and Gushigan must now jet off to their all-important next engagement, but not before he again asks for money, this time “at least $5,000.”
“I’m going to leave you with one word because I have to get going.” Cooper says. “I accepted to come here and represent the independence of this Kingdom for the sum of one symbolic dollar. I don’t want any money. I came here and I got my symbolic dollar. I got paid. When I die that symbolic dollar goes back to the museum of the Kingdom. I don’t need it. In the meantime, I’ve been here doing a lot of work to resurrect the Kingdom back to prosperity, to independence. If you guys want to stay on this land, then come forward and give money… And do it quickly because timing is of the essence. To print out these documents may well take a week. If you don’t want to do it, then step backwards–and only those who come forward, we’ll defend. Thank you very much.”
And just before he leaves, “Sir Edward” pulls me aside.
“There are certain people that are against the Kingdom of Hawaii,” he whispers. “So when you write, you have to write that the Kingdom and the people–make your story in such a way that your words are an inspiration… Don’t talk about the Kingdom of Hawaii–Listen, I’ll guide you. That’s another thing I need to talk to you about. The Kingdom is looking for a press attache. You should think about it. Good salary,” he says, nudging my elbow.
The people in this “shanty town” are being promised by the “Kingdom of Hawaii” healthcare, housing–”good houses–not shacks–no less than three bedroom, two bath”–and fully funded higher educations. It’s a beautiful dream, but when I ask where the money to pay for all this is coming from, the answer is “a humanitarian foundation that we cannot say the name of at this time. This foundation is very committed to us.”
And when I ask if this foundation can finance healthcare and homes and educations, why can’t it pay for proper legal defense, there is no answer.
But for giving him the benefit of the doubt upon our introduction, I’ve refused to address Cooper as “Sir Edward.” He eventually notices during a phone conversation last Friday, January. 6.
“Hello, this is Sir Edward.”
“It’s SIR Edward–and if you address me by my proper title, I’ll do good work for you.”
“Uh, sorry ‘bout that, Edward.”
I’d been waiting for him at Wailuku Coffee Company for a half hour (and would go on to wait a total of two hours), and he’s finally called to inform me he’s on his way from Kihei.
By the time they arrive, the setup for Wailuku First Friday is already in full swing. The streets are beginning to fill with pre-party hubbub, the air bristling with an electric din.
We’re about to begin when Cooper gets a call. It sounds like it’s going to take awhile, so Gushigan and I speak quietly to each other, mostly about our shared Okinawan heritage (well, sort of).
Again, I see a heartfelt passion for people and prosperity–but then there’s “Sir Edward” sitting beside her, on the phone, saying “We’ve secured the funding… I don’t care what you do. Pitch a tent if you have to…” among other troubling things.
In its complaint, the county says that “this Court has jurisdiction over the parties and subject matter, pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes 603-21.5 and 603-23,” and Kehalani’s answer states this indeed “set(s) forth legal conclusions to which no answer is required.”
However, it’s exactly this that offends those who believe in the authority of this self-appointed “Kingdom of Hawaii” (and it should be noted there are many others who make the claim, too, as there are upwards of 30 sovereignty groups, by some estimates).
The residents of the Happy Valley “shanty town” believe they are entitled to occupy the land because, as Gushigan explains, “[the Kingdom] issued letters of affirmation to individuals that are there, and we can revoke it at any time at which we choose… Giving them the authority to occupy parts of land. And the reason for that is for them to become sustainable off the land, reaping whatever they plant as a sustainable food for the table–for people or friends or whatever they need to do with the crop.” Many of the residents claim to have paid hundreds of dollars for these “letters of affirmation.”
They residents believe in these “letters” because they also believe in the promises of healthcare, housing and education. And, “a no tax nation,” as Cooper further describes. “No income tax, no sales tax, no road, um–the kingdom has the funding and the money to pay for things,” says Cooper adding that the Kingdom is completely self-financed. “This was a very critical week for us. My foundation is providing funding for the Kingdom. A lot of funding. In the billions… I’m not the owner but I’m the world representative. [But] it’s not to be published.”
“Not the what?”
“Not to put it in the story yet,” he says. “But remember what I said to you after the meeting? We’re looking for a press officer. A very good salary. Remember me telling you this?”
“I may hire you on a full time basis… Do you know how much your salary is?” Obviously I couldn’t possibly know what a pretend position would pretend to pay. “Would a quarter of a million dollars make you happy? Would you be happy with that?”
“You wouldn’t be happy with that?”
“That’s just far to much,” I laugh.
“I mean, I’m employed by this paper,” I say, tapping the cover of a nearby MauiTime, “but I work for the Fourth Estate.”
“You would turn down the job?”
“I’m not bribing you, don’t get me wrong. I’m saying to you if you ever want a permanent job with a good salary the Kingdom of Hawaii wants you to become, will offer you, this position as press attache.”
It’s all so absurd. A foundation with billions of dollars? A $250,000 salary as a “press attache?” Meanwhile “Sir Edward” is asking 100 poor Hawaiians who live in shacks on derelict land to each give him hundreds of dollars.
When asked the name of the foundation and where the money comes from, Cooper says, “I cannot name it now. Listen, I cannot release the information yet. But I will in the next week. We’re going to have a whole team of professionals… We’re going to register people to provide free healthcare examinations. If need be, registering for housing. We have a plan to build 200,000 homes here. Good homes… I have put aside, for these homes alone, around $14-15 billion. Billion dollars… These homes are costing us around $60,000 each. These are not going to be shacks… Electricity, sewer and everything else and we’ll pay for it accordingly… We have the machines to assemble these homes. It’s a fantastic system. Very, very modern. They’re prefab, but they’re like celluloid. They’re like the Rock of Gibraltar, OK?”
“I like that,” I say. I like it not only because it’s an idiomatic expression meant to evoke the highest confidence, but because, as the BBC reports, in 2002 the U.K. and Spain were working to “[end] the centuries-old [sovereignty] dispute over the rock.” Ironic.
When asked about exactly how, logistically, the government is going to operate, there are few straight answers. “Well, it will be built… Everything is going to be registered… There are mandatory requirements… [If they don’t?] They have to. [Says who?] Says the Kingdom.”
Eventually, exasperated he says, “The kingdom is an independent nation! The kingdom is going to have everything, OK?!”
When asked about the form of government–unicameral or bicameral, or if all decisions come by monarchal decree–Cooper says, “Look, I have to go over everything with you. This is not something that takes five minutes. I have to show you everything it takes to set up a government.” When pressed, Cooper says “a democratic government,” just as Gushigan says “a monarchy.” Which one? “A democratic government with a symbolic monarchy,” Cooper clarifies.
“There’s a system how to get there. But I cannot release the information,” Cooper says. “And you have to be very careful what you print because if you print something that would hamper–and we could get raided by the police for saying we’re trying to overthrow–we’re not trying to overthrow anybody.”
“OK, I’ll make that very clear,” I say. “You’re not trying to overthrow anybody. Verbatim. I will use that quote.”
“And we’re not here to kick anybody out,” he adds. “The kingdom can have very, very nice American people who’ve been here and were even born here. We don’t want to kick anybody out. We just want to the recognition of our kingdom a sovereign nation like we were before. ‘Cause the Apology Bill that Bill Clinton signed.”
Ah, the infamous Apology Bill. So misunderstood. Many Kingdom people believe this document gives Hawaii back to, um, somebody. It does not. It just says sorry.
Wailuku First Friday is now underway, and I stumble, sickened and dazed, into the sweet cacophony of my beloved Market Street and the sights and sounds of its monthly street fair. A crowd has gathered around a Maui Taiko performance, and I am, for a moment, uplifted. Here, here is Hawaii, now, in all its gallimaufery glory–every imaginable ethnicity, in every imaginable frock, listening to a group of young Japanese Americans doing well by remembering their roots.
And down the way, firecrackers and a Chinese lion dance; a beer garden benefit for a Hawaiian language program; a steel guitar player; a bevy of bands and food vendors…
But, then–that creeping sick feeling. I weave my way through the crowd, back to my office to clickety clack-away another sleepless night.
A quick Google search of “Her Majesty Akahi Wahine” reveals her previous strides for sovereignty, namely a 2008 story where she–and the then King Akahi Nui–about, as a Rome News piece titled,”impostors occupy [Iolani] palace”; and a subsequent report by TV’s Hawaii News Now where “the judge told defendants they’re placing themselves at a disadvantage if they don’t hire an attorney.”
As for Cooper, there’s very little but for a Consumer Watchdog blog based in Botswana, which details their dealings with “Sir Edward,” including his claims of being associated with a humanitarian foundation (which they name as Fundacion Donacions Humantarias), and report of his ties to another dubious organization called the “Pureheart Foundation.”
“[H]e refused to say where the truly staggering amount of US$800 billion would come from. He couldn’t explain why a private donor would give a country twice its GDP as a gift,” writes Richard Harriman.
The blog also posted a reply from “Sir Edward” that called their reporting “blackmail [to] those who would bring prosperity to the multitude of humanitarian sufferings not only in South Africa, but in the rest of the world as well. By the way I herein include Botswana who thanks to you, will now be in last place for humanitarian funding.”
That sick feeling creeps, and this time, overwhelms me. I wake up on the floor. Everything is quieting now. The drums, the dragons, the steel guitar, the crowd–all gone now.
For a moment, all there is in my world is a rogue staple stuck in the short polypropylene pile that’s imprinting its weave into my cheek. I try focusing on the single point of the staple’s skyward-pointed bend; and meanwhile my mantra’s “in through the nose and out through the mouth.” Caught between exhilliartion and exhaustion, my jittering emotions give way to dry heaves.
I get up and try to write again–about these people, of my blood and in my town, who believe they’ve paid someone to help them defend their homes. But it’s hard to type when punching the wall, and all the while I cannot help but cry for my people.
Photos by Scrappers
About Anthony Pignataro
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He started work as MauiTime's Editor in 2003, took a couple years off starting in 2008, then returned to the staff in 2011. He's the author of "Stealing Cars With The Pros," a 2013 collection of his journalism and the Maui novels "Small Island" (2011) and "The Dead Season" (2012)–all of which were published by Event Horizon Press. In 2014, his one-act play "War Stories" won second place in the Maui Fringe Festival.