January of 2018 will mark the 25th anniversary of ʻOnipaʻa, the Centennial Commemoration of the Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. “‘Onipaʻa,” translated as “immovable” and “resolved,” is the motto attributed to Kamehameha V (Prince Lot) and Queen Liliʻuokalani during their tumultuous reigns, undaunted in the face of high-powered foreign-born political influences. “‘Onipaʻa” defined their conviction to “hold fast” to the traditions and sovereignty of the Hawaiian Kingdom ensuring our birthright as stewards of Ka Pae ʻĀina O Hawaiʻi.
I, like most Hawaiians, had not learned the truth about how and why we are part of The United States of America. Moreover, I had been educated in the ‘50s and ‘60s “On The Hill,” a reference to The Kamehameha Schools at the time. I was there for 13 years, when Hawaiʻi was a territory and a state. I grew up feeling there was more to this story, that something was missing.
Years later, it was Liliʻu’s own account of this history as told in her republished autobiography, Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen, that spoke to my naʻau. Many of my contemporaries had been searching for answers as well. Kūpuna, kumu, artists and scholars collaborated in gathering, retrieving, translating and recording oral histories, Hawaiian newspaper articles, land court records, letters, chants, words spoken and written by Kanaka Maoli.
It was an extraordinary time in Hawaiʻi’s contemporary history. We were learning who we are by reviving who we were. Pride and honor for our ancestors, cultural practices, beliefs and language were restored. We sat at the feet of our masters of music, hula, genealogy, political history, farming, fishing, navigation and medicine. Our renewed relationship with our cultural knowledge brought with it a bittersweet revelation. Shedding light on the true facts of our history also led us to a dark place, where we know we were lied to, deceived and damaged by those who perpetuated those lies. Now we understand that unexplained kaumaha we saw reflected in the eyes of our kupuna and how that undefined, unspoken pain transferred to our makua, ourselves and our keiki. Now we know why many Kanaka Maoli fill our prisons, succumb to self-destructive behaviors, suffer from debilitating diseases, living houseless and hungry in their own home land. This is the face of generational trauma. When Liliʻu implored her people to “‘Onipaʻa” on January 17, 1893, she never relinquished our Sovereignty. Hold fast to that truth!
I portrayed Queen Lili‘uokalani for “‘Onipaʻa” the Centennial Commemoration in January 1993. I still recall what it was like hearing the grieving wails as I waited inside ʻIolani Palace, and then the gasps from the thousands of people as I came through ʻIolani’s doors, how I fought back my tears delivering her words, my heart breaking seeing the tears streaming down the faces before me. “This what she heard,” I thought. “This is what she saw. This is what she felt.” Mahalo nui, my Queen.