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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, August 13, 2001

Island Voices
Pauahi will intent is clear

By Wesley Kamakawiwo'ole
Mililani resident

One of Hawai'i's most precious legacies is the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Her will is precious to Hawaiians because on Oct. 31, 1883, it established the Kamehameha Schools for Boys and Girls and thus secured an educational foundation for future Hawaiians.

Blessed with the mind-boggling inheritance of 353,000 acres of land from first cousin Ruth Ke'elikolani, Pauahi, already quite wealthy from both her own inheritance as well as her husband's financial ventures, envisioned her new great wealth as an opportunity to forever improve the dismal conditions facing her people.

In Pauahi's own lifetime, she witnessed the gradual depletion of Hawaiian blood. In 1831 there were approximately 124,500 Hawaiians. At the time of her death in 1883, the number had dwindled to approximately 40,000, while the foreign population rose to 40,000.

Imagine the sense of loss Hawaiians must have experienced realizing that they would soon be a minority in their own homeland. As a caring and responsible member of the royal family and now the wealthiest person in Hawai'i, Pauahi must have felt a greater burden to help her beloved people.

Today, anti-Hawaiian proponents again want to reinterpret her will to include all children and force open the doors of Kamehameha Schools. With the success of Rice vs. Cayetano and the continued onslaught of lawsuits against Hawaiian programs such as OHA and the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, the time seems ripe for a direct hit against the Bishop Estate beneficiaries: Hawaiian children.

After approximately 120 years of assumed intent on the part of people close to Pauahi, modern-day revisionists seek to redefine her wishes to conform to today's understanding of what is right, proper and legal.

What did Pauahi's will mean by "... giving the preference to Hawaiians of pure or part aboriginal blood ... "? Does preference merely mean first priority and so imply secondary preference to non-Hawaiians, or does preference refer to exclusive priority for Hawaiians only?

Some historians point to Pauahi's highly controversial marriage to haole Charles Reed Bishop, the influence of haole missionary schoolteacher Mrs. Amos Cooke and Pauahi's genuine appreciation of haole (Western and European) cultures as justification for an inclusive interpretation. No doubt Pauahi absorbed as much of the outside world as possible. Lover of European art, music and literature, Pauahi and Charles spent over a year traveling throughout Europe and America.

But does appreciation of non-Hawaiian culture preclude bloodline and tradition? Pauahi was first and foremost a Hawaiian of the highest lineage, that of King Kamehameha the Great. Born to Abner Kaehu Paki and Kanaholo Konia, adopted by her aunt Kahoanoku Kina'u, eldest daughter of Kamehameha, Pauahi learned almost at birth about her sacred place and responsibilities as an ali'i.

As a respected member of royalty, Pauahi gained the trust and confidence of her peers. Why else would Kamehameha V (Lot) ask Pauahi to be his successor despite her refusal to marry him? Why else would Ruth bequeath such a huge inheritance to her? They both knew Pauahi had a deep and abiding love for her people. Who else could Pauahi have meant to reap the benefits of a "good and industrious" life but Hawaiian children?

Perhaps most revealing in understanding Pauahi's will is a statement made in a letter written by her husband Charles dated Feb. 11, 1897: "There is nothing in the will of Mrs. Bishop excluding white boys or girls from the schools, but it is understood by the Trustees that only those having native blood are to be admitted at present, that they are to have the preference so long as they avail themselves of the privileges open to them to a reasonable extent."

Without Pauahi alive to explain her intentions, her husband's remarks should be seriously considered. There was no one closer to Pauahi than Charles, no one more privy to her inner thoughts and dreams than her faithful husband. And while they openly disagreed on the Reciprocity Treaty, there was no apparent disagreement on the conditions of her will.

It should be clear that Pauahi's will is a challenge to all Hawaiian children to take advantage of the good education afforded them at Kamehameha Schools or else forfeit their priority to others. Conditional exclusivity was her purpose in designing her will. Unable to have children of her own, Pauahi decided to adopt every Hawaiian child: past, present and future.

Bernice Pauahi Bishop could not have foreseen Hawai'i today. While the pure Hawaiian is a rare entity, the part-Hawaiian population steadily grows. Her once seemingly limitless estate now worth in the billions is still inadequate to the needs of every Hawaiian child.

Recent 9th-grade applications revealed that out of 881 applicants, only 130 were accepted. Pauahi's challenge for excellence has not gone unheeded by her children. The challenge now is for Kamehameha Schools. Imua!