Malo! O lo’u igoa Lisi.
Hey! I’m Lizzie Bennett.
I’m majoring in Anthropology with a correlate in Art History. This semester, I’m studying abroad in the beautiful and fascinating island nation of Samoa. I will also be taking excursions to American Samoa, an unorganized territory of the United States, and to Fiji. Until this past Friday, I was in Honolulu, Hawai’i, for orientation with my classmates. We lived at a hostel and walked every day to the East-West Center, by the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, for classes. Giving us a week in Hawai’i would not only abate the effects of the drastic time change that lay ahead (though I do contest this on the grounds that NOTHING prepares anyone to lose a day.) but would also serve as a good introduction to various environmental, sociocultural, and political changes that the peoples and nations of Oceania face.
And what an introduction it was.
We learned a brief history of the Hawai’ian Islands, focusing on how the United States government, with the help of a group of American businessmen, forced Queen Lili’uokalani from her throne and overtook the government in what has since been decried as an illegal act. Some Native Hawaiians do not consider themselves Americans and argue that Hawai’i should not have become the 50th state of the United States. The scholar and artist who taught us this facet of Hawaiian history, Jon Osorio, also taught us about a major conflict between Hawaiian citizens (not just Native Hawaiians) and the University of Hawai’i.
The University wants to build a thirty-meter wide telescope on the top of Mauna Kea, a volcano whose summit is sacred to Native Hawaiians. Dr. Osorio told us how Native Hawaiians never went to the summit without praying first, being mindful about their presences and the impact of taking resources like rocks and plants from the top. Mauna Kea is host to an exceptionally fragile ecosystem, and the protesters argue that another massive building project would not only engender catastrophic consequences for the environment, but would also not be of any benefit to the Hawaiian people. Most of the money, Osorio said, would be going to grinding the lens. The most lucrative jobs are being done by crews that are flown in, not by locals. It was learning about these ongoing conflicts that set the stage for our study of the social changes that Pacific peoples are undergoing.
The histories and experiences I learned about in this lecture and the others that I had (I’m not including them here for the sake of brevity, but believe me, they were just as powerful and informative as Dr. Osorio’s.) swam in my head on Saturday morning as I climbed down the stairs that led from the airplane to the tarmac. I had just flown from Honolulu to Apia, the capital city of Samoa. The air was warm and blowing towards a calm sea. I looked behind me for my classmates and froze in place. I stood agog in the face of the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen. The syrupy, purple sky above was flecked with stars sinking into the darkness, as if they fled in terror from the rising tide of bright, piercing orange sunlight. I tried to take a picture of it, and describe it to those who did not look, but as always, my camera and my words failed to do it justice.