Contested Paradise: Dispossession and Repossession in Hawai‘i

Jolly, Margaret
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University of Hawai‘i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
Perhaps of all the archipelagos of the Pacific imagined by Euro-Americans as “paradisiacal,” Hawai‘i has been the most “possessed” by an unusually harmonious combination of Christian, capitalist, and imperial agents of the United States. The notion of paradise, rooted in Zoroastrian and Judeo-Christian imaginaries, projected ideas of the harmony and beauty of a primordial state. But just as Christians saw darkness harbored in the Garden of Eden, so did the imperial occupa- tion of Hawai‘i usher in an era of ecological and cultural devastation. Reflecting on the embodied experiences of the anu Pacific Islands Field School in 2015, this essay considers how the occupation and possession of Hawai‘i, depicted by Teresia Teaiwa as “militourism,” has deployed imaginaries of paradise. But it also suggests how Kānaka Maoli engaged in the sovereignty movement are mobilizing alternative notions of paradise in projects of repossession. This is explored through stories of three sites focal to our visit: Mauna a Wākea on the Big Island, Aulani Disney Resort and the University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu campus, and Hālawa Valley. Kanaka Maoli notions of “paradise” emphasize balance (pono), genealogical connections between the human and the nonhuman, and the intimate imbrication of corporeal and spiritual well-being. These ideas draw from the past to imagine a future: the “fall from grace” from ancient Hawai‘i to contemporary occupation and precarity is to be redressed by projects to restore social and ecological harmony.
Hawai‘i, paradise, dispossession, repossession, Kānaka Maoli, sovereignty
Jolly, M. 2018. Contested Paradise: Dispossession and Repossession in Hawai‘i. The Contemporary Pacific 30 (2): 355–378.
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