Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hawaii Street Names as an Anti-Conquest Act

The politics of language, gender, power and place, impacts the interpretation and articulation of Hawaii’s colonial history. Power, according to Geographer RDK Herman, is reasserted though Hawaii’s physical land as well as the symbolic space of memory. People in positions of privilege (historically white males) give themselves the authority and right to use words and speak words, often silencing and marginalizing women and people of color. In Hawaii, for example, European colonizers forcefully asserted the right to name and claim space on the Hawaiian islands. They took down Hawaiian street names, and replaced them with their own street names using English words, names and systems (e.g. Boyleston Street; 10th Avenue). Because street names were often named after significant male Hawaiian leaders, its removal from neighborhood street posts is a symbolic act of castration, an erasing of power, masculinity and legacy of indigenous Hawaiian leaders. As colonizers re-name and reclaim space, they assert power through the act of erasing historical memory and its symbolic meaning, as well as the voices and presence of the native Hawaiians who occupied, ruled and claimed ownership over land.

In the contemporary, I notice that Hawaii has re-asserted power by re-naming the streets with Hawaiian names. The persistence of Hawaiian place names is an anti-conquest act that not simply glorifies but preserves and represents native Hawaiian history and culture. It pacifies colonization and puts power back into the hands of the local people. This re-articulation reminds us that Hawaii’s history and heritage cannot be and will not be forgotten. Herman critiques however, that despite these measures, Hawaiian place names are unfortunately used for the commodification of culture. They are used to conjure stereotypic images of both nativity and paradise to sell Hawaii as a desirable place for national tourism. Regardless, place-naming is an important political act because it shapes the ways in which the history of Hawaii is remembered, forgotten and interpreted.

Reference: “The Aloha State” by RDK Herman; Annals of the Association of American Geographers 89(1): 1999.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Very nice post. I heard a person selling tours yelling out "Aloooha!" to beckon tourists to experience some kind of Hawaiian adventure. It grated on me because this word was exploited as a cheesy sales tool. Or when I'm flying and the inflight magazine has pages of luxury home developments on prime Hawaii beach fronts pimped out to well-heeled retirees from out-of-state. Hawaii is constantly being colonized in a sense.