Isn’t it like God to use a white self-professing Buddhist to bring reconciliation to the Native Hawaiians’ divided identity–that they can be both Hawaiian and Christian!? Dr. Ron Williams, a professor of Hawaiian Studies at UH Manoa, became an avid student of Hawaiian history while living in Maui. For his doctoral dissertation, he looked more deeply into the Christian faith of Hawaiians of the past who resisted the white missionary domination on the same grounds of the gospel that had been preached to them. In this way, they successfully blocked Washington DC’s first attempt to annex the islands.
Instead of relying on the dozen or so English renditions of Hawaii’s history (only 6% of Hawaii in the late nineteenth century was white!), he looks back into the Hawaiian language archives of newspapers, letters, and documents. What he discovers is a people who were not brainwashed by an oppressive religion but intelligent and shrewd, embraced the Christian faith wholeheartedly and used it to push back on their oppressors. Among them is the celebrated Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani who shrewdly but peacefully abdicated her thrown when forced to by the arms of an unsanctioned military maneuver. In her prison room in her own palace, she wrote prayers of forgiveness and composed songs of remembrance which continue to lift the hearts of her beloved people to this day!
Watch Dr. Ron William’s fascinating message (below). It’s about an hour long, but so worthwhile. I especially appreciate the portion from 28min-33min where he shares how his researches has affected him personally. Host Lynette Cruz responds by saying that often activists begin a protest reluctantly with a prayer and then vigorously with an oli (chant). But often to them the prayer reminds them of the oppressor (Christian missionaries) while the oli is their cultural call to ku’e (protest) action. As Ron conveys experiences with Ni’ihau-ans in Kuai, it becomes clear how faith and culture can are fused in a single identity. “Maybe they had it right,” he says. The prayer and oli can hand in hand.
Last summer at Ho’olohe Pono, I had the honor of hearing Dr. Ron Williams speak to a hale (house) full of Hawaiians and others interested in faith and culture. As he spoke, the Spirit of God moved hearts, healing invisible wounds that go generations back and are buried in a misconstrued history. Men and women stood up, some in tears, speaking with a new hope as they became released to be ALL that God created them to be–Hawaiian and Christian. Good bless Ron! He is an evangelist to a people and a culture he has come to celebrate and love. He is the trumpeter announcing from the roof tops, “Come back to the faith of your ancestors! They were fully Hawaiian and fully Christian and in this had no conflict… and you can do the same today.”