Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua reminds us, "[l]ike breathing, ea cannot be achieved or possessed; it requires constant action day after day, generation after generation” (Goodyear-Ka’ōpua 2014, 4). Ea is a beautiful word; it can mean sovereignty, rule, and independence. Because an ʻōiwi articulation of sovereignty requires honoring the health and wellbeing of our people and lands, ea can also mean life, air, breath. Ea also means to rise, and to resurge. Ea is diverse, ea is constantly expanding, ea requires commitment, Ea is in praxis. And most of all, Ea is in the land. After all, Hawaiian language scholars such as Leilani Basham and Kaleikoa Kaʻeo have drawn our attention “to the fact that the king did not reaffirm the sovereignty of the government (ke ea o ke aupuni) but rather the sovereignty and life of the land itself (ke ea o ka ʻāina), to which Kanaka are inextricably connected” (Goodyear-Ka’ōpua 2014, 4)."
It is certainly not possible, in less than 2,000 words, to give the world a firm grasp on the meaning of ea. So I will not try to establish a concrete definition. Rather I will suggest to you all that it is Ea and our commitment and dreams for it that drove thousands of our people to put their bodies between our sacred Mauna and any further acts of desecration. It was our commitment to our collective life, our vision for a decolonial future, and our promise to our kūpuna that we would fiercely protect that which has given us life and sovereignty in the past; our land. On July 31st, 1843 the Hawaiian Kingdom was restored after a brief and illegal occupation by the British (http://lahoihoiea.org/history/). As our Hae Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian flag), was raised again in the capital square of Honolulu our Mōʻī, Kauikeaouli, made a proclamation that would later become both a rallying call for generations of Kanaka Maoli and the wrongfully appropriated motto of the State of Hawaiʻi. Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono. In this moment the Mōʻī proclaimed and celebrated that the sovereignty of the land was restored and its restoration was just, appropriate, balanced, and rooted in our ʻāina.
This phrase can be found painted across truck tailgates, on the backs of t-shirts, and of course etched into the “state of Hawaiʻi” seal. Most Hawaiʻi residents can tell you the authorized state of Hawaiʻi definition: “The Life of the land is perpetuated in Righteousness.” This quiet and effective magic trick of translation quickly and almost invisibly robs Ea of its political call and imperative, resulting in a diluted and comfortable proclamation that even the most conservative of our settlers can stomach. Those of us with a deeper and politically contextualized language education know that ea does not simply mean life, but in the case of Kauikeouli’s utterance, specifically reflects on Hawaiian self-governance and self-determination; what some might call sovereignty. This particular choice in translation reflects a state’s desires to sanitize its own history of violence, erasure and, occupation. The state has quietly usurped ea time and time again in order to serve its own purpose and the life of its occupation, as a way to conceal a multi-generational fight for Hawaiian sovereignty; and the ongoing reality and maintenance of ʻōiwi Ea.
In the last decade, thousands of our people have marched for ea, have ascended our Mauna for ea, have blocked development projects for ea and advocated for appropriate funding for Hawaiian education and Hawaiian health, for ea. In my youth, during the very early stages of what would become an incredibly beautiful and affective language revitalization movement: The Modern Hawaiian Movement, organized itself under a different banner, under the call for sovereignty. In the last generation native scholars throughout have challenged whether or not “Sovereignty” and other forms of European recognition was truly compatible with indigenous liberation.
Scholars such as Haunani-Kay Trask, Lani Teves, Jeff Corntassel, Glen Coulthard, Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, Kamaoli Kuwada, and Leanne Simpson specifically have all, in their own ways problematized the notion of sovereignty and recognition as suitable to meet the desires and needs of our people and nations. In many cases this analysis and critique has pushed us to reconnect with the way recognition and sovereignty and their politics “is undergirded by settler colonialism, which is premised on settler populations attempting to dominate Indigenous landscapes and seascapes in order to maintain a permanent presence on the land at the expense of Indigenous nations and peoples" (Corntassel, 80). In an internationalist sense the same can be said for the way European sovereignty and recognition also works to further entrench Eurocentric and Westfalen systems and assumptions of power and dominance around the world. These critiques remind us to be vigilant of the ways that "settler colonialism [and imperialism] will always define the issues with a solution that retrenches its own power" (Simpson, 178).
Furthermore, there are a great number of ʻōiwi wahine, queer, and trans folk who have articulated the gendered and sexed dynamics of colonialism and insisting we account for the way that violence on the land has always been coupled with and often facilitated via a violence against native women, queer, and gender non-conforming peoples. This work, led by scholars such as, Paula Gunn Allen, Annette Jaimes, Teresia Teaiwa, Haunani-Kay Trask, Maile Arvin, Eve Tuck, Angie Morrill, Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, Lani Teves, Kahala Johnson, Kalani Young, Chris Finley, and others has significantly challenged all of our movements to realign our struggle for liberation in a way that counters the heteropatriarchal matrix of violence that has led us here.
Therefore, with the desire to understand Ea comes the necessity of taking seriously that the colonizing and occupying of our people is gendered, and therefore our liberation must endeavor to counter directly that heteropatriarchal matrix of violence. Ea asks us to align with a more ʻōiwi process towards liberation that is both intentionally linked to the struggles of our comrades around the world who are under siege with the ongoing power and weight of colonialism and centered in a commitment to our wahine and queer peoples. To many of us this means that our resurgence and our ea will require “having the courage and imagination to envision life beyond the state” (Corntassel, 73). Not just our state, or the united states, but all modern states that are built upon and maintained by these systems and structures that will never inspired our life and ea.
What perhaps might that look like in Hawaiʻi? Our 21st century liberatory movement in Hawaiʻi has been deeply inspired and informed by the incredibly powerful movement to revitalize our ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Because of this incredible work many of our people have begun an intentional turn away from sovereignty towards a philosophy, politic, and principle that is ʻōiwi in its conception and its application, Ea. We are currently in what I believe to be an early stage of this particular revolutionary turn which will require us, as a lāhui, to prioritize ʻōiwi vision and practices of life and liberation above those of our captors. And to be sure, these ongoing critiques and conversations are critical to the very negotiation, articulation, and application of ea in our lives as Kānaka. They represent not just the conversations we are having in our classrooms, but more importantly the conversations we are having with each other across our pae ʻāina when we imagine an ʻŌiwi future beyond ongoing violences of capitalism and imperialism on our lands and bodies.
This movement for ea will also require our people to venture into conversations and territories that are deeply uncomfortable and troubling to many of us. We will have to address not only the violence of rapid development of our land, and then silencing and disempowerment of ʻŌiwi leadership. We will have to address the violence against our wahine and queer peoples and families, the state sectioned violence against our people who have been criminalized and become victims of the modern police state, and the prison industrial complex. We will have to come to realize these violences as not only connected, but deeply entwined. An Ea revolution, when pushed to its piko, will require our people to recon with abolition of capitalism, militarism, prisons, and police. There is simply no other way to address the complex matrix of harm that is occupation and colonialism.
Therefore, throughout the course of this syllabus you will not only learn specifically about the violence of the Thirty Meter Telescope and the brilliance of ʻŌiwi resistance and resurgence. You will encounter the creative and courageous Kanaka scholarship and moʻolelo that describe some of the many ways the fight to protect Mauna a Wākea was at is center also a fight to reclaim our ea through decolonial pilina, genders, and sexualities, Environmental Justice, Kanaka Science, and Hawaiian Religion.
Within and beyond each of these approaches to the battle to protect our Mauna, and to a larger extent all of our ʻāina and each other, is our ongoing struggle for Ea. And as we continue to commit to this struggle and continue to criticize and abolish the systems that restrict our Ea, we should also commit seriously to building the institutions that will feed into the fire of our ea.
We insist on unpacking the traumatizing patriarchal lessons passed down through generations of colonization and its effect on our environment, our intellect, our religion and our intimacy with each other and land precisely because to fight and defeat these obstacles is precisely what will bring us ea. We endure this important work from these diverse approaches because it is through that commitment that we will restore our pilina to each other and our ʻāina, allowing us to rise beside each other. To live our Ea into the future.
My hope is that this section will be a jumping off point for readers to re-imagine the most basic notions and assumptions we’ve taken for granted about sovereignty, jurisdiction, rights and justice. I am hopeful that these powerful stories will show us all that a different life is not only possible, but preferred by the ʻāina that feeds us. And therefore, I hope these resources and this introduction will support us all in rigorous personal reflection, and inspire courageous and difficult conversations in our most political, public and intimate spaces of our lives. We have seen a spark of these new worlds from Puʻuhuluhulu to Hūnānāniho, Kahuku, and Kauaula, to our families beyond nā kai ʻewalu at Ihūmatao, Standing Rock, and across the world where communities have risen for black and Indigenous liberation. Ea is all around us. Ea is within us. So long as we insist to keep it alive.
Ea was a guiding principle and practice for our kūpuna and the challenges of their time including population collapse, foreign encroachment, British and US occupation, whatever of the myriad of political and personal violences of kūpuna faced, they continued to remain steadfast in the struggle for Ea. Surely if this principle was suitable, for our ancestors—it should also be for us and addressing the specific challenges of our generations. Therefore in 2021 (and beyond) our Ea must not only be anti-capitalist, anti-military industrial complex, anti-prison and police industrial complex; ea must be both anti- and BEYOND these institutions of power and violence. Ea is the work we do in our homes, on our ʻāina and in our community to build an otherwise world. A world worthy of the aloha of our kūpuna and the aloha of our ʻāina. Is it the desire and follow through to imagine and create a world that will not only inspire life, but fiercely honor and protect it. For all of us.
E mau nō ke ea.