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For Want of Goddess..

For Want of Goddess..

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Published by carolyn6302
Essay about Queen Liliuokalani by Carolyn Gage
Essay about Queen Liliuokalani by Carolyn Gage

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Published by: carolyn6302 on Jan 26, 2012
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10/08/2012

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Copyright 2008 Carolyn GageOriginally published in
Trivia: Voices of Feminism
, Vol. 9, March 2009.
For Want of a Goddess…
There is an old nursery rhyme that goes:
“For want of a nail the shoe was lost/ For want of a shoe, the horse was lost…” 
and so on, through losses of rider,battle, and eventually the kingdom itself. Something like that happened in Hawaii,for want of a goddess…and here is the story:It is February,1893. The US Marines have already landed their forces and areoccupying Iolani Palace, Queen Liliuokalani’s cabinet ministers have betrayedher attempt to promulgate a new constitution, and she is being scapegoated bythe colonial plantation owners as a traitor to her country. They have forced her todraft a document abdicating from the throne, but instead she has written this:
“…to avoid any collision of armed forces and perhaps the loss of life, I dounder protest and impelled by said force, yield my authority until such timeas the Government of the United States, upon the facts having been presented to it, undo the actions of its representatives and reinstate me inthe authority which I claim as the constituted sovereign of the HawaiianIslands.” 
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In spite of the care, Liliuokalani has taken to define the situation as one that istemporary and coerced by threat of violence, the Queen’s action is interpreted asabdication, and it will continue to be interpreted that way for another hundredyears… but that comes later. This is still February 1883, one month after thedrafting of this document…There has just been a great gathering of 
kahunas
, or Native shamans, inHonolulu. They have met to consider ways to restore the Queen to the throneand to recover the sovereignty of their nation. It has become clear to the spiritualleaders that the christian god of the missionaries is not on their side in this crisis.In fact, the christian god seems very much in the pocket of the sons of themissionaries, who have grown up to become greedy plantation owners.On February 13, 1883, three women from this gathering pay a visit to the Queen.These are three of the most powerful
kahuna
women of Hawaii. They are comingto tell her the good news: The goddess Hiiaka, sister of the great volcano
 
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goddess Pele, has given them instructions, and if the Queen will only followthem, she will be restored to the throne.The word for goddess or god in Hawaiian is
akua
, which is somewhatindeterminate.
 Akua
can refer to forces, persons, or things—as long as they havea lot of 
mana
, which is a somewhat indeterminate word for spiritual power.According to the
Wikipedia
,
mana
is “an impersonal force or quality that residesin people, animals, and inanimate objects.” Actually, this lack of specificity is thepart of the secret power of the Hawaiian languagePrior to colonization, the Hawaiians did not have a written language. They didn’thave currency, either, and there is a connection. Anyway, words were meant tobe spoken aloud and understood in the immediate context of what was beingsaid. The multiplicity of meanings was intended to enhance spiritual and artisticassociations, not constrict them legalistically, as in written-word cultures.According to Serge Kahili King, a present-day shaman who lives on an activevolcano, “What this means is that, when we hear or read stories of an entity suchas Pele, the volcano goddess, we can never be certain whether the story is aboutthe spirit of a natural phenomenon, the human ancestor of a particular family line,or both, or neither.”
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It is important to keep this in mind when considering the
kahuna
women’s visit tothe Queen.Hiiaka is the goddess of Hawaiian culture. She had a human friend, a womannamed Hopoe, who taught her the hula dance. Hopoe’s name means “oneencircled as with a lei or loving arms,” and she became Hiiaka’s companion-lover. Now, the hula dance is a very sacred practice, a ritual so powerful thateven a tiny misstep can result in serious consequences for both the dancer andthe community. Because of this, apprentice dancers were ritually secluded andplaced under the protection of Laka, one of Hiiaka’s sister goddesses.
 
But for Hiiaka and Hopoe, the hula was a joyous celebration of their love, to bedanced in the sacred groves of their beautiful island … at least, until Hiiaka’solder sister Pele fell in love with a human chief named Lohiau and sent her younger sister on an errand to fetch him. Pele made Hiiaka promise not toseduce the chief during the journey, and, in turn, Hiiaka made Pele promise toprotect the sacred groves and Hopoe in her absence. Although Hiiaka performedher errand faithfully, she was delayed on the return trip, and Pele’s jealous
 
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temper erupted, pouring lava over her sister’s sacred groves and entombingHopoe in the molten rock. Hiiaka, with a temper of her own, tricked Pele intokilling her warrior chief. Later, much later, the sisters would reconcile.So this is the goddess who has proposed a plan for putting the Queen back onher throne and who has sent
kahuna
women to deliver the proposal. What wasit? Here is an account, taken from Helena Allen’s excellent biography,
TheBetrayal of Liliuokalani 
:
They proposed that the three with the queen form a procession and enter Iolani Palace from the King Street gate…The three would chant their way in through the gate, up past the walk, past the guards and soldiers into thethrone room… ‘we in front… the queen behind’ and ‘we will stop themouth of the gun.’ Once inside the throne room the three would lead thequeen to the throne, seat her on it and then die. ‘Perhaps!’ they said,‘death will not come at once but it will come within a few days’ and thequeen will know that the gods have accepted their sacrifice.
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And what is the Queen’s response to this bold plan? She turns them down. Infact, she writes in her diary, “I wish they hadn’t come.”Why? Because Queen Liliuokalani is an Episcopalian. She understands that anyassociation with the
kahuna
women will be construed by the foreign press as areversion to heathenism on her part. Her enemies are eager for any “proof” tosupport their contention that she is a superstitious savage whose irrationalleadership had necessitated their intervention on behalf of her countrymen.Also, Queen Liliuokalani has placed all her political eggs in the diplomatic basket.Naively, she believes that the invasion of her country by the US Marines hasbeen the result of some error in communication, or some unauthorized activity onthe part of a rogue commander. She believes that President McKinley, hearingthe facts of the case, will set the situation to rights. She is desperate to present ademeanor as Victorian as… well, as Victoria herself.Queen Liliuokalani also understands that this plan is likely to result in martyrdom,and that martyrdom of 
kahunas
, and especially of 
kahuna
women, will result inan armed uprising throughout the islands. As a christian and as a woman and asa ruler with a profound sense of responsibility toward her people during a time of 

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