Honolulu, Oceanic Urbanism
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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Honolulu, Oceanic Urbanism

  • Author(s): Evangelista, Jonathan "TookHNLA"
  • Labrador, Roderick N.
  • et al.

The city of Honolulu is usually figured as Waikīkī, a global tourist playground often imaged/imagined as a tropical paradise with swaying palm trees and white, sandy beaches. Honolulu is also an urban center, surrounded and constituted by water, thus exhibiting an oceanic urbanism. This photo essay by photojournalist Jonathan Evangelista and anthropologist/Ethnic Studies scholar Roderick Labrador explores what this oceanic urbanism can mean by visually representing contemporary legacies of the 1920 Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, which set aside roughly two hundred thousand acres of Hawaiian homestead land that effectively created a reservation-type landscape in the islands, relegating and regulating Native bodies to contained spaces. Although the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act sought to “rehabilitate” Kānaka Maoli by returning them to the land, it primarily reinforced the colonial relationship between the United States and Kānaka Maoli and racialized Native Hawaiians through blood quantum regulations.


The photos are organized using the oceanic metaphor of sets, which are composed of groups of waves, which collectively form swells. In this case, these sets of photos would form a (global) south swell. Photos of Waikīkī are sandwiched by photos of two Hawaiian homesteads, Wai‘anae on the west side of O‘ahu and Waimānalo on the east side:

SET 1:



SET 2:



SET 3:




The photo/cards play with the idea of “home” and the various iterations and possibilities of home. Does the bronze statue of Duke Kahanamoku reflect the erasure/exposure of the Native in this oceanic urbanism? What does “home” mean for dispossessed Natives in this global city? Where is “home” in these homesteads?

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