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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Kamehameha the movie

By Malcolm Naea Chun
Cultural specialist at the University of Hawai'i

Before the recriminations, legalism and deep cultural misperceptions settle in over the development of a film on the life of Kamehameha I, we could at least consider some cultural precedence.

Hawaiian scholars like Davida Malo gave praise to Kamehameha, saying "There were a few just ali'i like Kamehameha I, for he was a just and caring ali'i." In today's terms, part of the "greatness" of Kamehameha was due to having very good public relations.

We know this from the commentary of historians like Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau, who wrote, "Kamehameha was known as a good provider. ... He did this in order that the people might speak of his kindness and of the pains he took to care for the chiefs and people; the orators were instructed to speak of his kind acts."

This is not to belittle the multitude of acts of kindness, generosity and caring for which Kamehameha is known, but we must recognize that it has been the nature of chiefs to have their lives made "bigger than life" to emphasize their godly descent and mana, which is their extraordinary powers of strength and wisdom.

With this in mind, the opportunity of having his legacy reach a worldwide audience would be immeasurable. However, the justifiable apprehension and fears of this Hollywood production are derived from the motion picture legacy of sensationalism, convenience and pandering to audiences, drawing themes of violence, overt sexuality and vulgarity.

The legacy known to Kamehameha's descendants, the Hawaiian people, is of great military prowess and strength, but it is more than that. He was politically shrewd and understood how alliances worked. He listened to advice and sought the best counsel. He ensured stability by making laws, enforcing them and regulating a governance so that "it was possible for old men and women and children to sleep in safety by the wayside."

So great were his accomplishments in achieving the elusive unification of the Islands that his deathbed words to Kaikio'ewa were actually a taunt to future usurpers of this legacy: "E oni wale no 'oukou i ku'u pono, 'a'ole e pau" ("Try to undo my legacy of good (pono), you will not succeed").

Will the script writers choose the sensational images of Kamehameha lifting the Naha stone, or having his head bashed with a canoe paddle when his foot was caught in the rocks at Kea'au, or the infamous human sacrifice of his nemesis and relation, Keoua Kuahu'ula, at Pu'ukohola at Kawaihae, or the so-called pushing of the defending O'ahu chiefs and warriors off Nu'uanu Pali? Probably, because they all have a lot of action.

Will they forget the more important events that propelled Kamehameha to his destiny such as sending his aunt, Ha'alo'u, to seek the priest Kapoukahi at Kamoku on O'ahu to gain the knowledge of how he might conquer the island of Hawai'i, which led to the building of the heiau of Pu'ukohola? So great was his counsel that Ha'alo'u gave the priest her family genealogy as payment for the information. Probably not, because it is too cultural.

We have seen, with apprehension and fear, big-budgeted films attempting to portray the lives and traditions of Pacific islands that have come and gone like a three-ringed circus, with a lot of hype and little substance. If the writers and producers take a lesser road, they may also provide the opportunity for Hawaiians to protest, the likes of which we have not seen since the 100th commemoration of the overthrow of the kingdom.

At a time when Hawaiian survival is stuck in judiciary legalism and legislative politics, it might be fortuitous to have a culturally inappropriate film to galvanize the multitudes of Hawaiian organizations and opinions into worldwide attention. What the movie moguls might discover is a different kind of curse, not of the Scorpion King, but of the Warrior King.