By Kekailoa Perry
Student of Hawaiian history and an activist
Here in Hawai'i there's a myth known as the alamihi crab syndrome. It is used to explain everything from the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs' circus-like atmosphere.
We are taught in schools, neighborhoods and workplaces that the Native Hawaiian people carry on like alamihi crabs trying to climb out of a bucket. Each time one is able to get to the top, another crab reaches up and pulls it down. Over the years people have accepted this fiction as truth.
Though Native Hawaiians struggle daily to overcome the effects of the alamihi crab syndrome, the subtle attack on their identity undermines their souls' aloha. When the alamihi story becomes part of the unspoken fabric of the school systems, economics and government, attempts to overcome the negative stereotype become a momentous task requiring a lifetime of educating and soul-searching. In fact, Native Hawaiian people have gone so far as to live out the life prescribed for them via this fictitious story.
Today, there is no lack of alamihi examples when we look at OHA, Punana Leo, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Kamehameha Schools and other Hawaiian institutions: Hawaiians pulling other Hawaiians down just as we've been taught to do. Life in the proverbial bucket becomes a mainstay for many who can no longer see the rocks and seashore on the other side. In fact, many Hawaiians have become rather comfortable in the bucket system and tend to do extremely well there.
The OHA bucket is a breeding ground for personal gain and political influence. Since accepting the table scraps from the overrated ceded lands settlement of the Waihe'e era, OHA has become a sweltering hole of power plays and favoritism. Some trustees use OHA's economic power to leverage political influence and elevate themselves to higher office.
Other trustees and Hawaiian leaders use their positions to gain greater political exaltedness. The result is that the Hawaiian people and the programs that are meant to serve them fall straight to the bottom of the bucket.
OHA is just a microcosm of the Native Hawaiians' sad state of affairs. No one entity ÷ not Ka Lahui, DHHL or even Alu Like Inc. ÷ has escaped the tentacles of the alamihi myth. Table scraps from so-called ceded lands and Hawaiian Home Lands settlements do nothing to turn the tide. They simply perpetuate the same misinformation and colonizing history.
The alamihi story dictates that our survival is dependent on life in the bucket. Anyone who believes that there is life outside the bucket should be pulled down and put in his place.
Is this truly a Hawaiian point of view? Is this the aloha we so proudly wave as the military and tourists come into our country without regard for the ethnocide that is committed by their very presence? Of course not. Yet, for any one of us to try to see the world outside the bucket is almost like yelling "fire!" in front of a firing squad. Very few have the courage to do so and accept the eventual freedom that comes with such an act. We doom ourselves, against our gut feelings, to live out the life of crabs in a bucket.
In traditional times, Native Hawaiians never kept crabs in buckets. In fact, there were no buckets until Capt. James Cook and his diseased crew fell upon our shores. Whenever Hawaiians needed crabs, they collected them from the environment, where they thrived in coexistence with other creatures. You see, the natural habitat for the crabs is atop the rocks, a solid foundation. In their natural environment, the alamihi crabs do not tear each other down. There's no need, because there is a place for all of them on the stable foundation of the '?ina.
When we realize this simple truth, we understand that the Native Hawaiian life in the bucket is alien, unbalanced and insecure. In the bucket, humanity gives way to violence, and integrity is replaced with unethical behavior. This should not be surprising, considering the intent and purpose of the story: to keep everyone in Hawai'i believing that the native people should fare no better than the lowest in society, thus keeping Native Hawaiians trapped in a soul-strangling lifestyle.
The Hawaiian, like the crab, was never meant to live in a bucket. Hawaiians must flourish on the solid foundation rooted in their spirituality and culture. That foundation is not OHA. Neither is it a nation within a nation. In either case, the people will continue to exist in the proverbial U.S. bucket. The foundation must be an independent one, and the people become consciously aware of their colonial situation.
Will such a thing occur? Not overnight, but it will happen. Of course, we need to be willing to live outside of the bucket. In fact, this is one bucket we should all be willing to kick.