Sunday, December 02, 2007

Kamehameha and Emma: Reflection for Advent 1

Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and
individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the
exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or
Article 2, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

(Note: I edited this on 12/3, adding some last-minute updates.)
Do you know what it's like for Indigenous people to have one of their own numbered among the saints?

Tonight, we observe the feast of Kamehameha IV and Emma. Kamehameha was the fourth king in the Kamehameha dynasty, founded about 1810. Kamehameha and Emma were Anglican by birth, but Christianity had come to Hawaii not long before either was born. Christianity started out nearly 2,000 years ago as a small religious cult, and now has over 2 billion followers. Through millennia, Christians have held on to their beliefs in the face of torture and death. They have also evangelized to every corner of the earth. We would not be here today if not for evangelism.

But, even evangelism has a dark side.

In 1778, Captain James Cook of England made the first European contact with the Hawaiian Islands. Soon afterwards, Western merchants came to buy sandalwood, which was abundant on Hawaii and greatly in demand in China. They brought the Hawaiian natives Bibles, guns, and rum.

Kamehameha the Great, the founder of the Kamehameha dynasty and the grandfather of Kamehameha IV, organized the commoners into a labor force to go up the mountain, cut sandalwood, and bring it to the harbor, in addition to their usual subsistence farming. Sandalwood nearly became extinct, and many commoners died from disease, and malnutrition. Meanwhile, the king used the force of the arms he bought from the traders to unite the Hawaiian Islands. He also bought Western luxury goods on credit, driving the island into debt.

Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the
right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local
affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.
Article 4, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Kamehameha I died in 1819, by which time the island’s population had been halved, to 150,000, from smallpox and other diseases. Christian missionaries started to arrive on the island in 1820. They established a written Hawaiian language, and taught the Hawaiians to read and write. To be fair, many missionaries were concerned with the welfare of the Hawaiian people, who were often being exploited by the merchants, and who suffered from high rates of alcoholism. The missionaries tried to help the Hawaiians start their own industries. And they tried to defend the Hawaiians against exploitation by the traders.

But Christian missionaries were also one of the forces of 19th century colonialism. They tried to impose their standards of modesty, banning the Hawaiians from dancing the hula. They prohibited working on the Sabbath, which interfered with native agricultural production. Many missionaries eventually became advisors to the monarchy. They and many chiefs advised King Kamehameha III to proclaim the Great Mahele, or division, in 1848. The missionaries thought the old system of land distribution was backwards and kept the people in poverty, and they did want to empower the people. The Mahele theoretically allowed commoners to claim land they worked on. However, few commoners were literate enough to understand the declaration, and the immediate result was further centralization of ownership with Hawaiian chiefs.

And in 1850, the law was amended to allow foreign ownership. Perhaps unsurprisingly, by 1890, 75% of all privately owned land was owned by foreign businesses, and much of it was devoted to sugar cultivation. Eventually, five former missionary families came to own the sugar industry. They dominated many other aspects of Hawaiian industry, and came to hold much political power as well. The Big Five sugar producers got the most fertile land, and diverted much of Hawaii’s limited fresh water for refining sugar.

Additionally, Kamehameha III saw the native Hawaiian population halved again, to about 75,000, from a smallpox epidemic. He survived two coup attempts by Westerners, and died in 1855.

1. Indigenous individuals have the rights to life, physical and mental
integrity, liberty and security of person.
2. Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace
and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or
any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to
another group.
Article 7, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

And so, Kamehameha IV became king when things were bad and getting worse. He was the nephew and adopted son of Kamehameha III. Born in 1834, and educated by Anglican missionaries, he ascended to the throne in 1855, at age 20.

Queen Emma was born in 1836, and was the granddaughter of John Young, a friend and military advisor to Kamehameha the Great. She married Kamehameha IV in 1856, and they had one son, Albert.

Beginning at least with King Kamehameha I, the people were accustomed to royalty who ruled with pomp and power and lived in luxury. In contrast, Emma encouraged her husband to create public hospitals and long-term care facilities, to care for a population being decimated by foreign diseases. The legislature denied them funding, but they went around the island with a notebook, soliciting funds from rich and poor alike. The Queen’s Medical Center in Honululu was the fruit of this campaign, and it still stands today.

In 1860, Kamehameha and Emma petitioned the Church of England to help them establish an Anglican church in Hawaii. The Church sent two priests and a bishop, and the king and queen were confirmed in 1862.

But in 1863, Albert died, at age 4. Kamehameha felt he was responsible, and he was already in ailing health. At the funeral, he preached a sermon that expressed a deep, profound faith, but it seemed that he had lost the will to live. He died without an heir at age 29, on November 30, 1863. Emma declined to rule, retreating to focus on good works. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that both of them were in despair at having failed their people.

Good works alone could not save Hawaii. Kamehameha’s brother succeeded him, but also died without a successor, ending their dynasty. Hawaii then had three elected monarchs. Kalakaua, the second elected monarch, was forced by a militia allied with descendants of the missionaries to sign a document now called the Bayonet Constitution. The Constitution denied the vote to many native Hawaiians and stripped Kalakaua of his executive power. The Constitution’s author was Lorrin Thurston, the Interior Minister, a child of missionaries, and a powerful businessman. Lili’uokalani, Kalakaua’s sister and successor, tried to abrogate the Bayonet Constitution and draft a new one. She was deposed when John Stevens, the U.S. Department of State Minister, called in the marines, allegedly to protect American civilians. Later, as you know, Hawaii was annexed to the US.

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practice, develop and
teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies; the right to
maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites; the
right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects; and the right to the
repatriation of their human remains.
Article 12 part 1, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Wikipedia defines colonialism as the “extension of a nation’s sovereignty over territory beyond its borders by the establishment of either settler colonies or administrative dependencies in which Indigenous populations are directly ruled or displaced.” Colonialism necessarily entails oppression: establishing political, physical and psychic dominion over Indigenous people. And often, they internalize that oppression, and perpetuate it on others.

Jesus said in tonight’s Gospel, what you did to the least of these, you did to me. He said elsewhere, sell all you have, give to the poor, and you will enter the Kingdom. Instead, the church established in Jesus’ name to serve those on the margins has been an historical agent of colonization, racial prejudice, and environmental destruction, in Hawaii, and in Indigenous communities all over the world. Empire has colonized the church. Empire has turned the church into an instrument of colonization.

Now, lest we think it’s only churches that support empire, or that religion is the sole force for oppression and conflict, we should remember that staunchly atheist Russia colonized many other countries during the Soviet era. Ask Ukrainians about the Holodomor, a genocide perpetrated during the Stalin era, or ask Tibetan exiles about China. If you could somehow remove everyone’s religion bone, the justifications for colonization would change, but they would still be there. It is sadly a part of the human condition to exert dominance over others, to bend them to what we think is best for them. Empire doesn't need religion to colonize.

But it is also clear that, while churches in imperialist countries should have vigorously denounced colonization, they supported it instead, with enthusiasm. The church identifies itself foremost with the oppressed and the marginalized, and yet it’s a terrible irony that the church has disenfranchised, or helped to disenfranchise, Indigenous peoples all around the world. Malcolm X criticized the church for being so intertwined with the dominant culture that it couldn’t confront racism. Is it the same way with Indigenous peoples’ rights? Are we doomed to always conquer and colonize? Is there hope for us?

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their
cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected
in education and public information.
Article 15 part 1, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Native Americans often speak of transformation in their myths. The Anglican Indigenous Network has spoken several times of its calling to transform the life of the church. They believe that “God is leading the Church to a turning point in its history and that the full partnership of Indigenous peoples is essential.” Indigenous peoples in the Network have pledged to contribute their “vision and gift to transform the life of the Anglican community.”

Thousands of years ago in Israel, there was a tribe that derived its identity from its land, and that maintained a unique identity, heritage and history. That tribe was subject to military conquest, colonization, economic exploitation, and cultural destruction by many conquerors over the centuries, and at last by the Roman Empire. Jesus is a member of this tribe. Jesus is Indigenous.

And I think Jesus is waiting to transform His church. At our baptisms, we are asked, “Will you seek and serve Christ in every person, loving your neighbor as yourself?” We are not asked to run around bringing Jesus to others, because we do not have Jesus. Rather, we are called to go to others, to serve the Christ that is in them.

If there is hope for the church, if we are to advance the Kingdom of God, rather than the kingdoms of this world, then we must help lead this nation and the world away from empire and towards freedom. Can you imagine a church, country, a world that has renounced empire and colonization? We can start by acknowledging the needs, rights and the voices of Indigenous peoples in our midst and around the world. We can start by letting Jesus transform, redeem, and decolonize us.

The rights recognized herein constitute the minimum standards for the
survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.
Article 43, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Modern reformulation of the Apostles' Creed from a Latin, modern perspective:
I believe and I live in God the Just One, the Liberator,
who created the world and my neighbor,
and in Christ of Nazareth, his only son,
and my only head,
who was born of a woman like my mother,
suffered under the oppressor's might,
was despised, marginalized, and crucified.

He descended upon the mechanisms of power,
staged a coup d'├ętat,
and is in command, together with God the Just One, the Liberator,
And soon, when everything is under control,
he will pass judgement on rich, poor, and indifferent.

I believe in the church, which lives in the world and for it,
in liberation from alienation,
in the equality of human being,
in the Prince of Peace,
and in the new life dawning on the horizon of history.

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