Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina: The Eyes of the Land

Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina: The Eyes of the Land

Written by Chesiree Moanamaliealoha Katter

Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina.

The Eyes of the Land.

Film still courtesy of The Tribunal.

That is the title that directors Puhipau and Joan Lander bestowed upon themselves as they used their talent for filmmaking and documenting for the good of Hawai’i and its people. 

Their work shows the side of Hawai’i that isn’t often shown on screen. It’s true that the land is full of aloha. Without a doubt, it is a paradise. But for those who have Hawaiian blood, their livelihood and ancestry are under threat every day.

People are always shocked when I give little insights into the history of Hawai’i. I was blessed to be born and raised on the island of O’ahu, the home of ‘Iolani Palace, which was our last queen’s residence before her kingdom was annexed by the U.S. Government. 

They are in disbelief when I tell them that ‘Iolani Palace, in all its grandeur, had electricity before the White House. The Kingdom of Hawai’i under the reign of King David Kalakaua had treaties with kingdoms across the world by the mid-19th century. 

When I tell them that Queen Lili’uokalani in all her beauty and grace, had traveled across oceans befriending fellow kingdoms, again, the look of wonder and awe on people’s faces always touches my heart. It’s the same awe I have for our Queen, who refused to give up her kingdom until it was forced out of her grasp in a weaponized overthrow.

We grew up learning this history on our islands. We took tests on it, we gave presentations. While our counterparts on the mainland learned about the Civil War, we were learning about the warring tribes of Hawai’i, of King Kamehameha, of the way our land worked – a beautiful relationship between embracing nature and welcoming its bounty with the highest respect, a flourishing agricultural system that gave more than enough back to the people who tended to it so well.

“We cherish and care for the land, for it gives us life.” – Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation

But what I’m learning more and more is that this history has become lost in other contexts. For many, the history of Hawai’i starts with its statehood, and our biggest highlight in history books is our role in the Pearl Harbor tragedy.

We grew up learning about Hawai’i’s history even as keiki (children), through our ancestor’s way of teaching and storytelling: hula. One of the first dances I learned from my kumu hula (teacher) was a song that narrated the overthrow itself. 

Me as a child getting ready to dance hula on Waikiki Beach. 

We were taught movements that imitated our beloved Queen Lili’uokalani – first, sharing the aloha and beauty of her kingdom, in all her grace, abundance, and wisdom. But slowly, our expressions, meant to mirror her’s, transitioned as we turned our faces away in sadness, holding our palms upward before us and signing with our right hand, symbolizing her forced action of signing away her kingdom. It wasn’t one of our happiest dances. But we needed to learn.

Our kumu told us that Queen Lili’uokalani was put under house arrest, barred from leaving her palace. I remember we all worriedly battered our kumu with questions. Did they feed her? Was she in a cell, locked up high like Rapunzel? Was she allowed to see her family? We had grown to love Queen Lili’uokalani, like she was a character in our favorite book. We had felt her spirit in us as we danced her story. We learned how lucky we were to be dancing, since our ancestors were taught to be ashamed of it less than a century ago. 

Oftentimes people shield their young ones away from reality. We turn our faces away from history because we’re ashamed and unknowingly pass that shame onto our children. Often people say, “The kids are too young to understand.”

Even as wide-eyed, not even 4’ tall children, we understood perfectly. And children are perhaps the biggest examples of true aloha that we should all learn from. If we all taught our children the reality of the sadness, joys, triumphs and unfair battles, imagine how much more aware and compassionate adults we’d grow into? 

The words of the song are lost in my memory now, but I could still show you the steps you have to take to that one move of signing away the Kingdom of Hawai’i, a Sovereign Nation.

Sovereign Cinema 

Film still courtesy of Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege

Our Sovereign Cinema program, which consists of four incredible films: Cane Fire, directed by Anthony Badua-Simon, Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation, Mauna Kea: Temple Under Seige, and The Tribunal, produced by Nā Maka O Ka ‘Āina.

Glenn Morris, representing the Shawnee Tribe, comes to advocate for the Kanaka Maoli. Film still courtesy of The Tribunal.

Within three minutes of watching The Tribunal, I was brought to tears. It documents the U.S. and State of Hawai’i going on trial for the crimes against the kānaka maoli, the native people of Hawai’i, in 1993. I had goosebumps as I watched representatives of indigenous nations, countries abroad and native Hawaiians come together to speak for the land and its people.

Film still courtesy of CANE FIRE

In Cane Fire, the people of Hawai’i are the main characters of our story – not the extras who fill the background.

In Act of War, I was reminded yet again of the grace of Queen Lili’uokalani and the resilience of the Hawaiian people. 

It is an incredible thing to be Asian and Pacific Islander during this time, during this Spring Showcase. This Sovereign Cinema program tells Hawai’i’s story in a light that anyone can watch, regardless of their knowledge of our history. 

All films will be able to watch from April. 23-May 2, 2021. Tickets include admission to the live panel, where we will have the opportunity to hear from Joan Lander and Anthony Badua-Simon. The panel is taking place Saturday, May 1, at 4 P.M. PST.