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Being Blue in Hawai‘i: Politics, Affect, and the Last Queen of Hawai‘i

  • Author(s): Harvey, Bruce
  • et al.
Abstract

For Hawaiian self-rule activists, who retain ties to the land and forms of sociality emerging out of the land, the US is regarded as an occupier force, and nonnative ownership, whether white or Japanese, a blighting catastrophe justifying resentment and rage. The demise of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, when an oligarchy of US white settler businessmen overthrew Queen Liliʻuokalani (1838–1917) in 1893, reduced aloha ‘āina (or land-cherishing) to a ghostly affect; to be blue in Hawai‘i, today, is to be in a state of ongoing and implacable mourning. This essay explores several affective historical scenes of Hawaiian injury: from the early nineteenth century, when Protestant missionaries began their effort to transform Hawaiian sensibilities; onto the Queen’s forced abdication via the McKinley 1898 annexation; and finally to the contemporary era of Hawaiian nationalist protest. The Queen’s story, contextualized by brief case studies of native bereavement earlier in the century (David Malo and Henry Obookiah), leads in the final sections to a query of the relation of affect—whether melancholic or rageful—to political effect. The essay concludes with a critical coda on President Obama’s declaration (in a speech given in Hawai‘i, before elected) that the “Aloha spirit” is “what America is looking for right now.” The problem with liberalism, as it is with certain versions of local/global studies, is that wounded, grievous affect cannot readily be translated (there is no efficacious transference) into specific political praxis.

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