The Hawaiians And Kamehameha

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - August 10, 2005

I’m told that John Goemans, the plaintiff’s attorney who in Rice v. Cayetano ended the Hawaiiansonly trustee elections for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, is a man “who loves the law.”

For the sake of argument, I’ll ascribe a like passion for legal writ — rather than lawyer’s fees — to Eric Grant, the San Francisco attorney who before a three-judge panel last week argued the winning side in John Doe v. Kamehameha School.

Love for the law, however, does not always equate to love of justice or equality; and I would contend that in Grant’s argument in the Kamehameha School case justice and equality lost out to love for the law that resulted in a perversion of it.

Grant based his case on an 1866 federal statute, a product of the American Civil War and post-war congressional efforts to right the wrong of 200 years of Negro slavery in the United States. American slavery, of course, constituted the nadir of America’s egalitarian principle: the buying and selling of human beings, arbitrary punishments, abject discrimination.

With the end of Reconstruction 10 years later and the removal of military forces from the South, the 1866 statute became nothing but words on a page. Black children were not allowed to go to school with whites, and in Plessey v. Ferguson in 1893 the United States Supreme Court approved the constitutionality of “separate but equal” facilities.

Three score years would pass before the Court reversed itself in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), declaring separate but equal schools “inherently unequal” and mandating school integration. Despite the psychological victory of Brown, despite the landmark civil rights legislation of 1964 and 1965, America’s schools today remain segregated. It is de facto segregation, to be sure, but segregation nonetheless.

In his 1991 study Savage Inequalities: Children in American Schools, Jonathan Kozol wrote of a nation in which segregation had intensified since Brown, one in which children of color attended inner-city schools with garrisonlike campuses, insufficient supplies or texts, laboratories that lacked equipment, and chronic fiscal shortages.

White children, on the other hand, living in affluent suburbs sometimes only 20 or 30 minutes away from the inner-city, attended well-housed, well-supplied, well-equipped schools, paid for by the property taxes of their parents.

In short, Kozol found educational inequality and segregation run amok in a nation whose holy writ states that “all men are created equal” and schools shall be integrated.

In 1884, Bernice Pauahi Bishop lavishly endowed schools for the children of a race in a race to extinction. Like many of her class – the ali‘i nui who had stood at the top of Hawaiians for hundreds of years, Pauahi feared that someday there would no longer be any Hawaiians.

By 1884 the Hawaiian population had dropped from a high of anywhere from 250,000 to 800,000 (or more than a million in the minds of some) to less than 50,000. Sexual diseases lowered the Hawaiian birth rate. Measles killed Hawaiians. So too did influenza, small pox, Hansen’s disease. Western germs — hell, anybody’s germs — killed Hawaiians by the thousands. If Hawaiians didn’t die, most lost their sustenance — the land. They lost a lot of land — all legally — or, at least, by law: Western law, perhaps the worst plague of all to infect the Hawaiian people.

Historian Jonathan Osorio has called the Hawaiian land division of 1849 “the single most critical dismemberment of Hawaiian society.” When it was concluded the king and the chiefs possessed more than 2.5 million of the kingdom’s 4.2 million acres. Commoners received only 28,000 acres.

Some commoners did. More than two-thirds of adult Hawaiians — 40,000 of them — received nothing. Things got worse. By the end of the century, three out of every four privately held acres had passed into the hands of haoles or haole corporations involved in the land-hungry sugar business.

So Pauahi created a school — two, to be exact, one for boys, one for girls. She put her faith — and her land — into education for her people: a good education, on the model of the Chiefs Children’s School that she had attended or Punahou School, the academy haoles maintained for their children — private schools that excluded some, admitted others.

The Kamehameha Schools operated quietly in Kapalama Heights for much of the 20th century — in part, no doubt, because their curriculum was based on the paternalistic assumptions of Hawaii’s oligarchy as much as on the best interests of Hawaiians.

So Kamehameha educated future electricians rather than future electrical engineers, future police officers rather than future lawyers and judges. It required Reserve Officer Training Corps membership for the boys — and home economics training for the girls. But that said, Kamehameha also did much to grow a Hawaiian middle class — one had that been slow to develop in the landless second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

And in the past four decades, as Kamehameha’s curricular horizons have broadened, as a cultural renaissance has fostered greater pride in all things Hawaiian, Kamehameha has produced physicians, lawyers, business people, and cultural and political leaders — some of whom have loudly demanded justice for a deeply wronged indigenous people.

Now, attorney Goemans will cite the Kamehameha Schools’ Hawaiian-preference admission policy as evidence of a “pernicious racism” in Hawaii, and attorney Grant will argue from an 1866 law that was passed to right wrongs against a previously enslaved race to change the direction of a school whose object has been to benefit a people who were stripped of their land and almost obliterated from this earth.

There’s a “pernicious racism” at work here and throughout the country when it comes to educational equality, but it’s not to be found on Kapalama Heights.

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