Sunday, June 26, 2011
Hawaii’s hidden history—slave labor, profit, and the taking of Waikiki
by Larry Geller
If you’re a visitor to Hawaii, or planning a trip, and a Tweet or Google search has brought you here, there’s a movie about Waikiki below. You can skip the words (but please come back later) and just watch the 35 minute documentary about Waikiki. Click the little thingy at the lower right for full-screen. Enjoy!
This film might be shown in all of the schools as a history lesson, but of course, no such thing will happen. It’s a documentary centered around how Waikiki, originally a rich center of agriculture and aquaculture, became the present tool of the tourism industry. Tourism (and to a lesser extent, service to the military) drives the economy of the state and separates us from other Pacific islands wallowing in intractable poverty.
Why post it now?
For one thing, when the film was made, there was no Internet to post it on. Now, a documentary can be seen by millions, by people anywhere in the world. This film needs to be seen. When it was made, the extensive effort needed to produce a film could attract only a few eyeballs. I assume it was aired on `Olelo, the public television channel, but it could not have gone viral. Without YouTube, it that would have been tough.
For another, as we follow the development of Waikiki, we learn some history that is uncomfortable today, and so likely to be neglected. Particularly as the first of a series of human trafficking trials is set for July in Honolulu, that is, not even a month away, it may be revealing to many to learn that Hawaii’s plantation economy was based on slave labor. The documentary touches on that. Slave labor is nothing new here, and if the federal charges stick, we will sadly learn that it has not yet been wiped out in “Paradise.”
Next year Hawaii will be the scene of another trial, the largest human trafficking trial in US history, potentially involving as many as 600 Thai workers kept in indentured servitude. From the documentary we learn that the penal code and voting laws of the nascent “Republic” were based on the laws of slave states Louisiana and Mississippi, respectively. Slavery and voter disenfranchisement were built-in to the laws by those who stood to make obscene profits by exploiting both the land of Hawaii and its people.
As to Waikiki, I first learned about the rape of the land during a visit to the lookout point up on Tantalus. I can’t remember who was with me, but looking out over the vast space between Tantalus and Diamond Head on a stunningly beautiful, clear tropical day, I was told that the entire area was planted in breadfruit and taro. Indeed, the documentary describes the advanced engineering that went into the irrigation system of pre-contact Hawaii. What happened to that land and the Native Hawaiians who farmed it and fished nearby? Watch the documentary.
Finally, the state administration is upset just now that it cannot wring unending growth from tourism. It is also undertaking the privatization of public lands based on a law passed this year. And it’s in the news that the best agricultural land in the state (perhaps in the country, capable of four harvests in a year) is on the verge of takeover by developers.
So the documentary might have been made yesterday. We seem still to depend on slave labor, low-paying jobs in the tourist industry to profit the rich, and the loss of farmland to development. We still have a government that knows how to do nothing else for the economy but rape and exploit the land and people. We’re in no position to dismiss our history because it continues to the present day.
Watch the video.
Taking Waikiki Directed by Edward Coll and Carol Bain (1994).
Thanks for posting. Absolutely riveting. Showing this video now describes what we will be up against at the upcoming APEC meeting in November. The corruption translates well to what is likely about to occur throughout not just Hawaii, but the Pacific in the form of mining, agri/aqua culture.