Friday, September 13, 2013

(Kanak)tions and Juxtapostions in Big Island Conspiracy’s “Samuela Texas”

In his recent book, Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Literary Studies (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), Allen asks us to move away from a comparative frame in which one simply looks at what is the same or different about multiple Indigenous texts and contexts. What happens when we bring together two or more texts in “focused juxtapositions,” placing them close together and honoring their difference? He urges us to pay attention to the process of crossing from one context to another and to see what such crossings tell us. We too are interested in Indigenous exchange and collaborative production. In this week’s posts, we think about Chadwick Allen’s recent book and pose a few of our own juxtapositions.

(Kanak)tions and Juxtapostions in Big Island Conspiracy’s “Samuela Texas”

by No'eau Peralto

For as long as our people have lived in this Paeʻāina, we ʻŌiwi have been conscious of the fact that the rest of the world around us was occupied by other peoples. For a people whose genealogies are derived from the most expansive “sea of islands” on the planet, transportation through and across a transnational, trans-Indigenous, and trans-generational universe is not only an important part of our history, it’s an integral part of our collective identity. In this way, it would seem fitting that, as contemporary ʻŌiwi scholars, we should engage more critically with methodologies that were trans-Indigenous, and perhaps more transformative in nature.

Chadwick Allen’s Trans-Indigenous Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies proposes a pathway (or ways) for employing such “trans-Indigenous methodologies” particularly in the field of Native literary studies. Accordingly, Allen utilizes a number of examples through the book to demonstrate the value and power of such methodologies that focus on “Indigenous juxtapositions,” which “place diverse texts close together across genre and media, aesthetic systems and worldviews, technologies and practices, tribes and nations, the Indigenous-settler binary, and historical periods and geographical regions” (xviii). In so doing, Allen also argues for a “sustained attention to language, literature, and the arts” (30) in scholarship, as a means of highlighting the vitality of our people and our distinct modes of expression today (136).

As I read through Trans-Indigenous Methodologies, the concept of “Indigenous juxtapositions” drew my attention as a powerful reoccurring theme throughout the book. With each example that Allen employed, I became more convinced that this concept of “Indigenous juxtaposition” could prove quite useful in my own research, so I decided to explore the concept further within the context of some of our own ‘Ōiwi literary traditions. Coincidentally (or not), this idea came to me as Big Island Conspiracyʻs “Samuela Texas” began playing on my nightly “need-to-stay-awake-to-read” music playlist. “Samuela Texas call Mr. Pharaoh. Let the original people free...”

“Samuela Texas” was written by Uncle Skippy Ioane, a long-time ʻŌiwi activist and musician, and was recorded by his group, Big Island Conspiracy in 1999, one year after the centennial of Americaʻs illegitimate “annexation” of Hawaiʻi. (See lyrics below) In the first lines (and title) of this song, Uncle Skippy employs the metaphor “Samuela Texas” to represent “Uncle Sam,” (the USA) and juxtaposes this contemporary imperial power with “Mr. Pharaoh,” an example of a historical imperial power, alluding to the pharoah in the biblical story of Moses setting “the original people free.” Here the juxtaposition draws (what I call) a direct (kanak)tion between the oppression suffered by the Israelites at the hand of “Mr. Pharaoh” in the story of Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea (as some of us have come to know it in Christian versions of the bible), and the oppression suffered by ʻŌiwi, “the original people” of Hawaiʻi, at the hand of “Uncle Sam.” It is worth mentioning here that the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories by Isreal (learn more here) renders this juxtaposition quite ironic, but for now, I will leave further investigation in to this issue for another (more developed) post. The rest of the song (which deserves a much more complete analysis than the length of this post can provide) could be characterized as, what Allen calls “truth telling”–“an unsettling and ultimately decolonizing strategy” (53).

What function, thus, does the juxtaposition of “Samuela Texas” and “Mr. Pharoah” serve in this song? I can only speculate, but as an avid and relatively informed listener, I interpret this juxtaposition as a strategy for cultivating political consciousness. Like many others of my generation who grew up in Hawaiʻi under US occupation, I am a product of much of the “fairy tales that you learn in school” alluded to in this song. Characteristic of a school founded upon American principals of education, and twisted further by Christian doctrines, the school I attended growing up left us knowing of oppression only as a distant thing of the past—enter Mr. Pharaoh and the Israelites (though Iʻm sure the stories were skewed, at best).  To associate this historical oppression with the US and its treatment of Indigenous peoples, much less ʻŌiwi, was unheard of. “Good ʻol kanaka going do what heʻs told.” 

By juxtaposing “Mr. Pharaoh” with “Samuela Texas” the song forces one to at least consider the (kanak)tion between the two—namely, that they are both representative of systems of oppression. In this way, “the activist power of the poem,” as Allen calls it (136), is in its ability to provoke critical thought through the use of metaphor and juxtaposition. Juxtapose a system that we have been conditioned (through assimilationist forms of schooling and religion) to view as oppressive (“Mr. Pharaoh”) with the system that has blinded us from our own oppression (“Samuela Texas”), and the reality of our situation becomes much clearer: we are the “original people” of our (currently) illegally occupied homelands.  

Interestingly enough, other ʻŌiwi have utilized such strategies of juxtaposition in past ʻŌiwi literature as well. Without delving in to the subject too much in this post, one such example is a mele (song), presumably, composed by Joseph M. Poepoe (one of the most prolific ʻŌiwi writers and political thinkers of the early 20th century), and published in his first installment of  “Kamehameha I: Ka Nai Aupuni” (Ka Nai Aupuni. Nov. 27, 1905). Published twelve years after the overthrow of the Kingdom and just seven years after US “annexation,” Poepoe reflects upon the state of the lāhui in the last lines of the mele: Ke mau ko lakou kupaa ana me ka lokahi (Their (ʻŌiwi) steadfastness and unity persists) / A kuai e i ko lakou mau pono e like me Esau (And their “rights” have been sold like Esau) / E ku! E na Hawaii! (Rise up, oh Hawaiians) / E Na-i no ko oukou aina me ke aupuni (Take back your ʻāina and government!). Once again we see the juxtaposition of the ʻŌiwi political situation in Hawaiʻi with that of a Christian biblical figure in Esau (who was known in the book of Genesis for selling his “birthright” to his brother Jacob), as a strategy for awakening the consciousness of the lāhui to kū, rise up, and reassert our kuleana to our ʻāina and aupuni.

Surely these are not the only examples of the use of methodologies that employ juxtaposition in ʻŌiwi literature, but they perhaps reveal an interesting (kanak)tion between some of the literary strategies of ʻŌiwi resistance through multiple generations. Of particular interest is the intentional juxtaposition of scenarios from hegemonic educational and religious systems ("Mr. Pharaoh" & Esau) with that of the ʻŌiwi, past and present. In this way, Trans-Indigenous Methodologies has informed my inquiry in to this matter, and I believe it could serve as a catalyst for the development of new methodologies (or the reconceptualization of old ones) that fit the needs of our research liberation efforts as ʻŌiwi looking to “set [ourselves] free” and "loaʻa tomorrow for the keikis eat." 

Samuela Texas

Written by: Skippy Ioane
Recorded by Big Island Conspiracy on "Street Tapestry Vol. 1: Reflective But Unrepentant"
(lyrics printed in ʻŌiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal, Vol 2. 2002)

Samuela Texas call Mr. Pharaoh
Let the original people free
Missionary come with him and his vision
Mission him accomplish, him own me
Auwē, Auwē, Auwē

All the time before the day come

The night begins kanaka history

Sky the father and the earth is the mother

Ke kinohi loa o nā Hawaiʻi

Annexation, constipation

Kanaka cities in a stolen nation

Tell the truth Sam, you stole the loot

Him say, No way! to the vato Jose

Him say, Do as we say, not as we do

We be da church if you be da fool

Fall down from the skies

Sail through the waters

Needed the gifts from the land and sea

Mālama kakou perpetual motion

Loaʻa tomorrow for the keikis eat

Auwē, Auwē, Auwē

Lawa ka meaʻai, time for the hiamoe

Go on down, lie down our bodies to sleep

Hale warm cause ʻāina still love us

Papa remains under our feet

Fairy tales that you learn in school

Misinformation from the public education

Good ʻol kanaka going do what he’s told

Colonized down to his soul

Question not why he’s fighting the war

The pledge allegiance said him better than him been before

Came back home, all the bullets miss

Da blalas ua hala on the waiting list

1900ʻs police evictions

Governor said, “It’s an American thang”

Missionary laughing even after he passed away

Him hear kānakas in the courtroom sing

(What they singing?)

Auwē, Auwē, Auwē

(Take the burden off the people, brother)

Turn about, somebody sold us out

They said the rich had a snitch

With a kanakaʻs mouth

Could’ve been a boozer who’s a macho loser

Could’ve been a winner who’s a closet sinner

Fornicator, mind manipulator

Could’ve been da preacher or da preschool teacher

How can you see, peoples, you’ve been blind

Ya’ll been set up way before your time

Can’t find freedom with a looking glass

ʻĀina always been underneath your

Ass me no questions, Tell you no lies

Good gracious, this righteous jive

Bill of Rights and the Big Five

We paying the bills, they got the jives

Them got democracy, we got survive

Auwē, Auwē, Auwē

Samuela Texas call Mr. Pharoah

Let the original people free

1 comment:

  1. Looking for song about overthrow of queen liliuokalani the night they drove old dixie down and all the people say nana nana..rewrite to say the night they took away her crown and all the people would say auwe. Auwe..something like that .aloha tony.