On Thursday, Jun. 21, Dr. Willy Kauai, Director of Native Hawaiian Student Services at UH Manoa, will speak at the Na‘aikane O Maui Cultural Center in Lahaina as part of the HK West Maui Speaker Series. He’ll talk about his research on nationality in the Hawaiian Kingdom.
“When people talk about the term ‘Hawaiian,’ usually it’s used in the sense of race or ethnicity” Kauai told me. “In the 19th century [before the overthrow], however, in the Hawaiian Kingdom where the term originated, it didn’t denote race and ethnicity, it denoted membership to the Hawaiian Kingdom… It was an inclusive marker. The Hawaiian Kingdom is one of the first countries in the world to embrace universal racial suffrage. Regardless of the color of your skin, your race or ethnicity, in the 19th century you could acquire citizenship under the Hawaiian Kingdom. That history is one that is important for us to come to better know because it informs our optics of today, to show how far off track we might have gotten.”
Let me emphasize: decades before the Civil War and the U.S.-backed overthrow of the sovereign Hawaiian Kingdom, there was universal racial suffrage in Hawai‘i. Further, there were no laws prohibiting women from voting, and wahine commonly held positions of power and influence. With immigration and women’s rights at the forefront of the national conversation, perhaps it’s time to look at the history of this land as a blueprint for a bright future.
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