Hawaiians in Cyberspace

by Houston Wood

© 1997 by Houston Wood

Paper submitted for the Online Conference on Postcolonial Theory

A technological sea change is underway within the few dozen or so richest countries in the world, a transformation that seems likely to end or at least significantly reshape the 500 year era of print. Since writing in general and books in particular have played a significant role in the metropolitan conquest and management of the world majority, it seems possible that the transformation from atoms to bits will also impact those indigenous and other minority peoples worldwide who are still suffering from the aftermath of various metropolitan colonizations.

There has been an extraordinary explosion of speculation within metropolitan countries about the emerging cyberculture but, as might be expected, these discussions seldom concern themselves with the impact that the new technologies may have on the majority of the world's people. Most metropolitan writers instead make the familiar eurocentric assumption that the technological revolution will effect those outside the richest nations in much the same way that it will impact those within. Technopessimist Sven Birkerts, for example, author of the widely read The Gutenberg Elegies , writes in a recent essay that he fears the new technologies will make for a world less "hospitable to old-style individualism." He laments the deterioration of solitary subjects and of the private self. To emphasize the loss he dreads, Birkerts declares: "Think about life in the 1950s in terms of these fundamentals and then project forward to the millennium, now less than five years away." Life on earth is becoming worse, he concludes, as the new technologies, "the rush to interconnectivity," steals the material "here and now" of the 1950's rugged individualistic self.

Birkerts' nostalgia for those earlier eras when naked Euroamerican misogyny, racism and colonialism operated unrestrainedly against Native peoples both abroad and within metropolitan borders is commonly found among those writers who lament the end of the era of the book. These analysts seem unaware or unconcerned that print is generally associated with elite classes and their employees. People who spend significant time reading for pleasure have always constituted but a small minority, even in the metropole. If Birkerts is correct that the new technologies will destroy the old style individualism that encouraged print readers to unapologetically colonize nations worldwide, then, I believe, the majority of the world's people may find this reason enough to rejoice in the new age of electronic texts that Birkerts wishes to stall.

Birkerts fears about the end of euroamerican civilization seem, however, highly exaggerated. Within metropolitan societies the so-called technological "revolution" has so far little changed the lives of most people except, perhaps, as Nicholas Baran argues, to increase "economic and educational disparities" (40). Much continues to change in daily work of hourly and salaried workers but little has changed in how much power these workers have in controlling the conditions of their employment or in how much they share in the profits their efforts help create. The new technologies have also so far little altered how most metropolitan people spend their leisure or in how they relate to others outside of the workplace. The personal computer and internet "revolutions" have received much hype, and, indeed, once had the feel of an oppositional movement, but now, as Baran notes, these technologies are primarily "the balliwick of multimillion-dollar corporations and the mainstream business world" (46). The continuing frenzied excitement over the new technological age appears most often now among wired academics and in ads for expensive new products. This frenzy so far has mostly changed only the buying habits of a minority class whose personal incomes are larger than the combined incomes of entire villages in the third and fourth worlds.

This present, however, is not necessarily the future for new technologies do create new possibilities. The possibilities created by print technologies, for example, were used to assist in the rise of capitalism and in European colonization, as Benedict Anderson and Tzvetan Todorov, among others, have explained. There was nothing inherent in printing presses that required them to act as such tools and we now see in many parts of the world these same technologies being used to foster anti-colonialism and to act as transculturated elements among peoples whose daily lives have not been much altered by imperialism. Cybertechnologies, similarly, though until now mostly used as tools of a continuing colonial globalization, offer other possibilities as well.

Technology then, in sum, as Margaret Riel argues, does not determine the future. As a result, there can be no present answer to the general question of whether cybertechnologies will be good or bad for indigenous people. They may become tools through which metropolitan cultures further expand their reach and influence; they may become tools through which some or, perhaps, many indigenous people organize an increasingly effective resistance and within which these people find ways to perpetuate their alternative cultures; or, as seems most likely, cybertechnologies may be used in all of these and in many other ways as well.

Cybertechnology offers possibilities for resistance and cultural alternatives in part because, as Mark Poster argues, this technology has the potential to put "cultural acts, symbolization in all forms, in the hands of all participants; it radically decentralizes the positions of speech, publishing, filmmaking, radio and television broadcasting, in short, the apparatuses of cultural production ("Cyberdemocracy"). Poster's cybereuphoria stands in neat opposition to Birkerts cyberanxiety, but, I suspect, people in both the metropole and the rest of the world will end up using the new technology in such a range of ways that will prove that neither Poster nor Birkerts were particularly prescient. Nonetheless, in the following pages I will emphasize the possibilities that Poster analyses, will focus on the oppositional and alternative cultural uses that Native Hawaiians have begun to make of cyberspace. It is obvious how thoroughly these technologies can be used to increase the profits and influence of multinationals in Hawai'i and elsewhere. What requires more demonstration is that these same technologies also create possibilities for use by indigenous people for indigenous purposes.


Hawai'i provides an especially rich arena for exploring possible indigenous uses of the new technologies. There is first the fact that most Hawaiians speak English and, as Anthea Fraser Gupta explains in her contribution to this conference, the internet is dominated by English, "thus advantaging those from places where English is the principal native language." Hawaiians also offer a valuable example of how indigenous people elsewhere may one day be able to appropriate the new technologies for Hawaiians today probably have as much access to the new technologies as do any other large indigenous populations in the world. An influential minority use networked computers at home. Many more have access at work, at school, at public libraries throughout Hawai'i or at the increasing number of commercial internet cafes. What Hawaiians are doing with the technology today may be feasible for many other indigenous people in the future.

I find the Hawaiian example especially useful also since so many people around the world believe that they already know something about the islands through the many euroamerican representations which have been circulating for two centuries. Hawai'i is one of the globe's best known places, due to books, newspapers, magazines, radio, films and television, the several older representational technologies which in the islands as elsewhere have been generally controlled by non-natives intent on constructing images of indigenous people to serve non-indigenous interests. These traditional representational technologies have been so successful that even at the end of the twentieth century it remains generally unknown outside of the islands that the independent kingdom of Hawai'i was illegally overthrown by Americans in 1893.

The United States Congress issued a formal statement of apology for this act one hundred years after the deed. Many in Hawai'i today hope that this apology is a step toward the full restoration of a sovereign Hawaiian nation. The quest for such a nation concerned but a few thousand people twenty years ago but so much has changed that polls of both indigenous and non-indigenous residents in the islands today show that both groups agree some sovereign entity should be formed. At present Native Hawaiians have no sovereign rights--they are not counted even as Natives, and thus lack the rights routinely granted to the First Peoples of North America. Some in Hawai'i wish for Hawaiians to be granted Native status and lands much like the independent Indian nations common in the United States. Others are working for complete autonomy, for an end to American colonization, if not for all the islands, then at least for some lands, at least those thousands of acres which have remained in trust for exclusive indigenous use since the overthrow of 1893.

Haunani-Kay Trask's Notes of a Native Daughter provides an excellent introduction to Native Hawaiian issues. Many of the Web sites I will shortly discuss provide additional, more recent information. It seemed necessary to start with this very brief history, however, to illustrate how effectively the euroamerican representational apparatus has obliterated Hawai'i's harsh colonial history from the stories of a "land of aloha" that its has disseminated worldwide. In the following section I will argue that the new electronic technologies are creating new possibilities to alter not only who produces representations of Hawai'i but also how these representations can be distributed and received. In a further section I will explore how these same new technologies may also enable Native Hawaiians to practice their traditional culture with an ease that older metropolitan technologies do not.


In Hawai'i today, as in most metropolitan locales, information is channeled through a few media outlets owned and supervised by a homogenous minority. In The Politics of the Mass Media , Calvin Exoo illustrates how, generally, in the United States the broadcast media supports an ethos of capitalist individualism and a belief in a hypostatized "American Way" that rationalizes the existing cultural hegemony. Exoo illustrates ways in which the mass media trivializes what it labels "the news" by emphasizing personalities and sensationalizing events, thereby deflecting attention from history, social trends and systemic injustices.

Such trivializing and sensationalizing was illustrated in Hawai'i in 1995 when the commercial Hawaiian media focused on the murder trial of a minor California celebrity while mostly ignoring the incarceration and trial of the Head of State of the Nation of Hawai'i, Dennis Bumpy Kanahele.1 The O.J. Simpson trial was front page news for many months, though none of the principals in the case had any ties to the islands. Meanwhile, on most days, Kanahele's trial was not reported at all, or was relegated to a small space on the inner pages. The little that was written or was broadcast by local commercial television stations trivialized and sensationalized Kanahele's trial by focusing on the Head of State's alleged propensity for violence. Kanahele and his lawyers repeatedly insisted that the trial should be understood within the context of the history of American colonialism and of a similar trial of Hawai'i's last queen, Lili'uokalani, organized by colonialist usurpers in 1893. The media, however, in concert with the federal judge trying the case, refused to consider issues of Native sovereignty to concentrate instead on Kanahele's personality.

Before, during, and after the trial, it was possible to find alternative representations of Kanahele's trial at the Nation of Hawai'i site on the World Wide Web Here the events leading to Kanahele's incarceration were examined employing a rhetoric that did not assume an ethos of capitalist individualism or a faith in the fundamental fairness of the American Way. Here, daily, the Nation of Hawai'i operated independently of the sound bites or short quotes that the mass media used in re-presenting the American federal government's narrative. Ed Rampell, for example, begins his news story at the Nation of Hawai'i's site with: "Dennis 'Bumpy' Kanahele was kidnapped by federal authorities at Honolulu International Airport on August 2." Rampell further places events in a historical context by claiming that "keeping a dark-skinned person who has not been found guilty of a crime behind bars is in keeping with another old American tradition called slavery. And the plight of brown political prisoners, like Robert Wilcox and Queen Lili'uokalani, is a century-old repressive tradition in Hawai'i."

The Nation of Hawai'i site added a similar perspective a year later when it added a Washingon Law Review article by William H. Rogers that began:

"In 1993, Congress apologized to the Native Hawaiians for the political funny business of a century ago when the pineapple and sugar interests overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii with tactical help from U.S. officials. Another apology will be in order for an unconscionable political trial now underway in the islands to punish one of the sovereignty leaders, Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele, for a variety of imagined offenses that amount to the infliction of embarrassment on the U.S."

The Nation of Hawai'i received about 600 "hits" a week during the weeks of Kanahele's trial. These numbers suggest the site is already exerting some influence but what is of interest to me here is the vast potential this beginning suggests for the future of such alternative representations of Native Hawaiians. The International Data Corporation estimates 1995 usage of the internet totaled 56 million people, and that there will be 200 million people on-line by 1999. Costs for consumers will likely tumble as computers will soon be made without disk and hard drives. The sole function of these new machines will be to connect people to the internet where users will be able to access various software programs that are now found with inefficient redundancy on individual computers. User interfaces seem likely to become increasingly less dependent on keystrokes and specialized knowledge as new machines come to be operated with remote control devices like those currently used for choosing video channels. Nicholas Negroponte predicts: "Television will become more and more digital . . . . So it makes no sense to think of the TV and the PC as anything but one and the same" ("Message 26"). Negroponte, founder of the MIT hypermedia lab, further speculates ". . . television sets will grow to resemble keyboardless computers, installed more like sheetrock than furniture." In such a future environment, it may be as easy to click on a Native Hawaiian's version of events as it is now to turn on a TV and watch "news" sponsored by the advertisements of multi-national corporations.

The Nation of Hawai'i's presence on the internet is being constructed by Kekula Crawford, Acting Deputy Head of State for the Nation of Hawai'i, and by Scott Crawford. In "Self-Determination in the Information Age," the Crawfords write: "It is our premise that the swiftly evolving information and communication technologies and networking infrastructures are playing an expanding role in supporting the self-determination of peoples and emergent nations. . . ." According to the Crawfords, increased connectivity counters the debilitating consequences of the geographical diaspora that is such a frequent accompaniment of colonialism. They contend: "Self-determination struggles may benefit from the ability to form 'virtual communities.' The situation of peoples who are involved with these struggles is often one of dispersion, having been forced from their homelands for military, political or economic reasons." The Crawfords point to the effective use of virtual communities by members of the exiled citizens of Tibet and by the Intuit in colonized Alaska. They intend their own work with the Nation of Hawai'i to be looked to as yet a third example.

Representations in cyberspace may change how outsiders view Native Hawaiians but perhaps more importantly these representations may also change how some Native Hawaiians conceive of themselves. People displaced from their communities in a book and film culture become in large measure dependent upon information about themselves that is shaped by the colonizer. Dispersed into isolated pockets in the islands and, perhaps in even greater numbers, across thousands of miles on the continent of North America, Hawaiians, for example, are dependent on mass market books, films and newspapers for reminding themselves what it means to be Hawaiian. The representations of Hawaiians and of other Native peoples within these broadband, mass-media apparatuses actively encourage complicity with euroamerican social formations.

Soon, however, it may be possible for anyone with a camcorder and/or microphone to send both live and recorded images and/or sounds onto the World Wide Web to be available for any one who clicks on the proper hyperlink. Mass-produced representations may then be superseded by a multi-cultural society producing multiple representations of places, peoples and events. Soon sites such as that maintained by the Nation of Hawai'i will offer video as well as text, photographs and audio. Hawaiians dispersed over many islands and thousands of miles will be able to access these productions as easily as they today tune into broadbanded commercial news casting, again, possibly altering how Native Hawaiians conceive of themselves.

In addition to the internet's potential for altering how Native Hawaiians are represented, the Crawfords point to the potential for the internet to increase what they call the "external" political power of indigenous groups worldwide. Cybercasting, they write, provides Native peoples with a powerful means for "sharing experiences, resources, and insights so that those who have learned in one way or another can share their knowledge, and by coordinating actions for solidarity and enhanced effectiveness." If, as metropolitan scholars believe, information will become increasingly more valuable in the coming century, by working together, displaced colonized indigenous people can forge alliances to create and control their own informational base, thereby increasing the political power of each Native group.

Already, as the Crawfords point out, indigenous peoples have begun forming alliances that allow them to share resources in cyberspace. One web site, for example, Native Web , provides a single place where indigenous people from around the world can share information and forge coalitions for joint action. At the Nation of Hawai'i, the Crawfords are building a similar site to serve as a hub for indigenous people in the Pacific region. They believe Hawai'i has the potential:

". . . to play a distinctly important role in the transition to the information age, including serving as an initial example of a launch point or hub of networks, links, and resources to model and facilitate this development process and to serve as the host to a new virtual gathering of self-determined nations and peoples allied for a secure and sustainable future."

Such a possibility is demonstrated by the Nation of Hawai'i site, which collects links to various Pacific groups, including Native Hawaiian groups with other models for Hawaiian sovereignty. How much of this potential for "a new virtual gathering" will be realized is not clear. It does seem incontrovertible, however, that the transformation from a print to an electronic technology presents opportunities for Native Hawaiians that were not conceivable in the age of books, radio and the Hollywood film. For the first time since Euroamericans began producing and distributing representations of the islands over two hundred years ago, Native Hawaiians have the opportunity to produce and widely distribute their own alternative representations of themselves.

Few dramatic changes are likely soon, as cyberspace will probably in the short term be dominated by heavily advertised representations. NBC, Time-Warner, Gannett, and, of course, Microsoft itself, are already pushing to establish loud presences in the entertainment and news sectors of the internet. It is possible, then, that the majority of non-Native and even Native people will expose themselves primarily to Euroamerican representations even when indigenous and other minority alternatives are available. Though possible, given the hegemony of capital, there are a number of forces suggesting conglomerates may not dominate future consumption of representations of Native peoples in cyberspace to nearly the degree they have dominated such consumption in the past. First, as the Crawfords point out, the new technologies are making it possible for millions of dispersed people to begin to recognize their common experience of colonization and thus to begin to form a common political interest. The Crawfords adopt Richard Griggs label of "Fourth World" for these people. Griggs writes:

"A convenient shorthand for the Fourth World would be internationally unrecognized nations. These are the 5000 to 6000 nations representing a third of the world's population whose descendants maintain a distinct political culture within the states which claim their territories. In all cases the Fourth World nation is engaged in a struggle to maintain or gain some degree of sovereignty over their national homeland." (qtd. in Crawford and Crawford)

In the print, film and broadcast television culture that Euroamerican companies brought to Fourth World people, there was little chance for these diverse peoples to learn about their shared experiences, histories and interests. In the new cyberculture, these people have the opportunity to discover and define themselves as the world majority. The many who have been colonized will be able for the first time to communicate with each other and to build a shared sense that they, and not their minority colonizers, numerically dominate the planet.2

Indigenous people may flock to sites made by people like themselves because they find in these counter-representations experiences affirming their self-worth and rewarding them with an increased access to power. There may be sufficient attraction in these sites, then, to encourage indigenous people to ignore the sites that Time-Warner and Disney offer. The Native Americans from several tribes currently collaborating to build Native-Net, a site to link the First Peoples of the Americas and, eventually, First Peoples from around the world, argue: "If we don't define who we are on the Net, other people will do it for us. . . . And when that happens, part of who we are disappears" (in Martin 117). It will not be enough merely to offer indigenous representations of indigenous people. The representations will have to be as attractive to those people as the competing commercial sites. This was an impossible goal in the age of books, TV and movies, when Native Hawaiians, for example, could not begin to create representations of themselves to compete with the level of production of films such as Waikiki Wedding or Blue Hawaii. In the digital age, however, the web pages of the Nation of Hawai'i can have a look almost as attractive and innovative as Microsoft's home page.

Current usage patterns provide yet another reason for suspecting that cyberspace may not be as dominated by transnational conglomerates as the print media, movies, radio, film and music have become. Decentralization has been and remains a fundamental building block of the internet, which was created, in part, by the cold war United States Defense Department to be a network so amorphously defined that it would survive a thermonuclear war. The exponential growth of the internet over the past few years has increased this structural fragmentation many times over. The further daily explosion of growth on the internet has not seen increased corporate domination and organization but, instead, a proliferation of more and more local area networks (LANs), most of which are owned by small companies and non-profit organizations. The older components of the net, such as MUDS, MOOS, listserves and newsgroups, continue to proliferate while resisting attempts by for-profit internet servers such as American On-line and Prodigy to organize them into coherent, corporate sites. Web page construction, the newest component of the net, is mirroring this earlier pattern of fragmentation and specialization.

Commercial entities are now and will continue to build and advertise web pages with links that have been carefully and expensively reviewed and pre-marketed. The focus of these pages, however, is not in the pages themselves but in products these pages encourage consumers to buy. Even the most effective mass advertising of such a commercial web site will not decrease the availability of the many alternative web sites as easily accessed by users as any heavily marketed commercial site.

Negroponte summarizes this disempowerment of commercial ventures on the web as a shift from an economy of atoms to an economy of digital bits. Bits now "commingle" in multimedia, Negroponte points out, so that textual, audio, pictorial and video information flows simultaneously in the same electronic stream. Bits are weightless and in infinite supply. They encourage new economic and social arrangements for they cost nothing to reproduce and can be disseminated worldwide instantaneously. As the anonymous author of one web site proudly announces, "No electrons were harmed in the production of this page" (http://cool.infi.net).

Bits produce words, pictures, audio and video with equal ease. Writes Negroponte:

"When information is embodied in atoms, there is need for all sorts of industrial-age means and huge corporations of delivery. But, suddenly, when the focus shifts to bits, the traditional big guys are no longer needed. Do-it-yourself publishing on the Internet makes sense. It does not for paper copy." ("Message 19")

When representations are made of bits, some of the competitive advantages of transnational corporations disappear. So, too, then may some of the advantages that have kept foreigners in control of the representations of Native Hawaiians for so long.


The transformation from print to pixels alters more than who can produce and distribute world-wide representations; the new hypermedia also creates new possibilities in the forms of cultural practices it encourages. It is possible, I want to suggest here, that Hawaiians will discover that these electronic forms resonate better with Native Hawaiian cultural practices than does the old print and broadcast forms which have dominated representations of Hawai'i for two centuries.

There has been much speculation about the cultural characteristics that the new technologies enable. George P. Landow, one of the pioneer critics of hypertexts, provides what has become a fairly predictable list when he writes these new media have the characteristics of "multivocality, open-endedness, multilinear organization, greater inclusion of nontextual information, and fundamental reconfiguration of authorship" (36). Each of these characteristics can also be found in many Native Hawaiian oral and written texts as well as in many of the discussions about what it means to be a Hawaiian that are now widely available on audio and video recordings. I reviewed some of these materials in more depth in my earlier study, Displacing Native Places: The Rhetorical Production of Hawai'i but will here focus on but three characteristics of the new media that seem especially likely to be compatible with some Native Hawaiian practices.


Traditional print texts are fixed, imprisoned in immobility by the atoms out of which they are manufactured. As Eric A. Havelock shows, such texts require an alphabet that is stable and simple enough to be easily learned in childhood. The shape of words in these texts must be unobtrusive so that people will read them without being distracted by an aesthetic interest in their colors or shapes. As a result of this need for an unobtrusive orthography, before the printing press, scribes had to be exhorted to resist their desire to alter texts to increase their visual attractiveness. Handwriting in those eras was judged by how nearly it imitated the appearance of a master's hand or some manuscript standard. After Gutenberg and moveable type, as Richard Lanham argues, this problem with innovative scribes disappeared and it became easier than it had ever been before for readers to take writing for granted, to look "through" texts rather than "at" them. Lanham maintains that the standardization of print made possible by the printing press led Euroamerican scholars to de-emphasize the effect of textual surfaces, their "rhetorical force," in Lanham's terms. Discussion focused instead on the supposedly-fixed "meanings" imagined to exist in some ethereal realm that could be "seen" by looking through texts to "what texts were about." Texts were assumed to offer access to fixed meanings and scholars were, and still are, trained to look through the taken-for-granted printed lines toward a hypostatized site of meaning beyond. Cultures viewing texts this way seek definitive editions and definite readings. Cultural productions are assumed to possess a determinate meaning that can be correctly understood in only one way.

Electronic texts may undermine the dream of a fixed realm of meaning on the other side of the material text for, even on this side, in the visible realm, some readers find that texts are dynamic and that, on screens, they resist stability at every turn. There can be neither definitive editions nor authoritative interpretations in pixellated print. Electronic texts encourage such frequent changes that, for example, the Modern Language Association in its new guidelines recommends that citations to sources on the internet include not only the Universal Resource Locator (URL) address but also the date on which the site was accessed by the researcher (Gibaldi 165). Most such electronic sites now include a record of the last date and time that they were altered.

The stable alphabet that Havelock found so important to the development of the Western tradition is now being played around with to encourage readers to become aware that individual letters and words can be looked at as well as through. As Lanham remarks, any person with a word processor can create fabulously elaborate texts "in ways that would make a medieval scribe weep" (5). The explosive growth in both atom- and bit-based personal magazines, called "zines," demonstrates the growing fascination of readers with the graphical pleasures of letters, words and fonts. Fast growing mass-market magazines such as Wired and its imitators emphasize their extravagant orthographies, expecting readers to look at them as well as through.

Hypertexts, an increasingly popular type of electronic writing, further destabilize traditional texts by disrupting their linearity. Just as pixellated print encourages alterations in the look of letters and words, hypertextual constructions encourage variations in the order of what is read. For decades many Euroamerican artists and philosophers have been straining without much success to lead their audiences to escape the assumption of linearity. Hypertexts complete this project successfully, for readers of hyperlinked texts must strain as hard in the opposite way if they wish to maintain a linear sense. Hypertexts have no clear beginning and no clear end. They do not build single coherent arguments toward a single denouement. Once one spends some time exploring such texts, what Lanham writes becomes apparent: "Western poetics and philosophy are transformed, for a start. The Aristotelian categories of beginning, middle, and end, it turns out, are based on fixed texts" (125). Instead of seeking single conclusions and best versions, electronic texts, along with the pictures, audio and video that will soon accompany them, encourage a multivocal sensibility.

Multivocality and open-endedness may be found to resonate rather well with a traditional Native Hawaiian preference for multiple versions. Such contrasting versions have been difficult to present in Euroamerican print forms with its tradition of authoritative texts. Thus, for example, the Kumulipo , a traditional oral chant, is said by George Kanahele to have once existed in many forms and to have been continually reshaped according to the circumstances of its performance (54ff). King Kalakaua had one version of the chant transcribed and it is this version that has since usually been accepted as the Kumulipo. Martha Beckwith, however, recalls Kupihea as saying that Kalakaua "changed and adapted the original source material in order to jeer at rival factions among the chiefs of his day and laud his own family rank" (qtd. in Kanahele 55). Hypermedia will make it easier to record and distribute multiple versions of chants such as the Kumulipo and other Native cultural productions. If such apparatuses of cultural production had been available in Kalakaua's day, it seems likely that the King's rivals would have countered his self-aggrandizing version with their own. Euroamericans, instead, encouraged Native Hawaiians to accept the Kumulipo as if it were a sacred text like the bible, for which single, authoritative editions were to be expected.


. A second, related characteristic of traditional Hawaiian culture may be an evolving, interrelated complexity. As Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa writes: ". . . the genealogy of the Land, the Gods, Chiefs, and people intertwine with one another, and with all the myriad aspects of the universe" (2; italics added). This feature, too, seems to indicate that some Hawaiian cultural practices may fit well in the new hypermedia. Much of metropolitan culture, by contrast, may fit less well when it aims not only for authorized texts and the production of authors but also for static concepts and theories. The best ideas in Euroamerican thought are not intertwined with "myriad aspects of the universe" but are more often claimed to be separated out from the whole and articulated exactly (in words, numbers or formulae), once and forever. Esteemed models for such static statements include formulations like the ten commandments; the United States constitution; E=MC2; pi= 22/7; and theories like the one that claims "the material base grounds a cultural superstructure." Native Hawaiians may more often celebrate interconnections without definite boundaries or solitary authors. Their concepts may more often be expected to alter their meaning as they are added to by successive, interconnected parts.

For several decades now numerous metropolitan writers have been issuing manifestos proclaiming the need for Euroamericans to reject their more rigid perspective. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, for example, have argued for an end to analysis that relies on an assumption of stable territories and roots, calling instead for a rhizomatic model that would oppose Western models derived from plants such as trees3. Such an approach, they maintain, should replace Euroamerican repressions, hierarchies and linearity. Unfortunately, like most of the poststructuralist theorizing with which it is associated, Deleuze and Guattari's ideas seem in practice to have had little impact on Euroamerican theorizing. Metropolitan scholarship continues to be generally agonisitc and hierarchical, creating structures of argument more closely resembling trees than rhizomes. Native Hawaiian social forms may in many respects embody many of the characteristics of this alternative, rhizomatic approach.

Native Lands and Foreign Desires , Kame'eleihiwa's history of the mahele, the nineteenth-century division of Hawaiian lands, is one useful place to begin to learn about this aspect of traditional Hawaiian cultural practices. Kame'eleihiwa explains why Hawaiian history requires the understanding that the Hawaiian people were born as the second child of the union of Wakea and Ho'ohokukalani. The first child and older sibling of this union was the kalo plant, known among English speakers as taro. Drawing upon nineteenth-century documents and, of course, even older oral traditions, Kame'eleihiwa maintains ". . .the kalo plant, which was the main staple of the people of old, is also the elder brother of the Hawaiian race . . . ." (24). The Hawaiian people's relationship with kalo is, Kame'eleihiwa concludes, one of the ". . . traditional patterns from which all of Hawaiian society flows and the metaphor around which it is organized" (25).

Kalo, of course, is a rhizome, and, like other rhizomes, grows without producing seeds by sending out shoots and roots, often under or across the surface of the ground. Cultivation of kalo offers continual reminders of the connectedness of present plants to earlier plants, and of those earlier plants to the first kalo plant, elder brother to the Hawaiian people themselves. People, akua, spirits and daily life are intertwined rhizomatically and this plant-illustrated interconnectedness is, according to Kame'eleihiwa and many others, a foundational notion upon which Hawaiian thinking rests.4

As Deleuze and Guattari suggest, rhizome cultivation differs fundamentally from cultivation by seeds. The latter suggest stages of discontinuity and separateness, and also cycles of birth, death, planting and rebirth. When a seed-bearing plant reproduces, it creates pods and packets that have forms different from itself. These seeds may be and often are stored, so that the time of new planting can take place after the parent plant has been harvested and destroyed. Perhaps many Euroamerican thought-forms in some measure reflect the millennia of cultivation by seeds that sustained Euroamericans. Hawaiians, on the other hand, as Kame'eleihiwa remarks, recognize a continuous, intertwined rhizomatic structure sustaining their lives.

One further example, pointed to in almost every text about Hawaiians, may be helpful. Mary Kawena Pukui, among others, states that the 'ohana is a basic organizing principle of Hawaiian life, and that this concept resonates with the word 'oha, a synonym for kalo which refers as well to the plant's origins in the original stalk (Pukui, Haertig and Lee 166ff.). To be a member of an 'ohana is then to be a node on the open-ended rhizomatic growth that both gives birth to and feeds each person. The 'ohana's rhizomatic network, says Pukui, includes connections to spirits, akua, ancestors and future generations, as well as to those people that Euroamericans might recognize as living family members. To be Hawaiian, Pukui maintains, is to be a person configured within a particular 'ohana in an ever-evolving, living web. Writes Pukui, "Today the concept of 'ohana is often extended to include unrelated persons, community groups, or church membership" (in Pukui, Haertig and Lee 173). This is a corruption of the concept, Pukui maintains, as "The real 'ohana is a natural phenomenon" (173). It refers not to wishing for a relationship but to a unity of people due to their common ancestors living both in them and in the spirits who remain in palpable daily contact with the 'ohana.

If Deleuze and Guatarri are correct that, even before the invention of electronic texts, metropolitan thought needed to become more rhizomatic, the new electronic media seem to be exacerbating this need. Searches for roots and foundations work but clumsily in cyberpace when compared with rhizomatic thinking. Native Hawaiians practicing their traditional narratives could perhaps find themselves more at ease in these new media than will those Euroamericans who continue to be uncomfortable with notions of an extended interconnectedness that knows few bounds of either time or space.


. The new media will display many visual images, films and videos but, because these will be digitalized, they may nonetheless encourage an end to what Martin Heideggar calls "the conquest of the world as picture" (134). The conquest Heidegger refers to has encouraged contemporary Euroamericans to identify the real with what can be seen and recorded by cameras. Films and television have abetted this conquest, but now, as these media become available for easy editing by consumers at home, it will be increasingly apparent to many that what is seen is not necessarily what is or was "there" as the camera recorded. The current trust in visual images may be eroded once people experience for themselves how easy it is to alter not only the voices, faces and composition of their own video recordings, but to "morph" (that is transform) as well the private and commercial productions of others.

Ancestral presences and hundreds if not thousands of akua are said by many to be essential constituents of traditional Native Hawaiian culture. Invisible presences also seem to be much more easily represented in hypertextual media than in traditional print and film texts. Even many Euroamericans who have been educated within the common secular, skeptical tradition report that their extended time within cyberspace has produced an increased awareness of the vitality of invisible forces. Mark Pesce, for example, one of the creators of Virtual Reality Markup Language (VRML), an influential three-dimensional hyperspace for the World Wide Web, maintains that the internet works through the action of "emergent properties" which have powers that should be understood as a form of magic (qtd. in Davis 131). Erik Davis summarizes the view of those who share Pesce's view:

"As computers blanket the world the world like digital kudzu, we surround ourselves with an animated webwork of complex, powerful, and unseen forces that even the 'experts' can't totally comprehend. Our technological environment may soon appear to be as strangely sentient as the caves, lakes, and forests in which the first magicians glimpsed the gods.

"The alchemists, healers and astrological astronomers of old did their science in the context of sacred imagination, a context that was stripped away by the Enlightenment's emphasis on detached rationalism. Today, in the silicon crucible of computer culture, digital denizens are once again building bridges between logic and fantasy, math and myth, the inner and the outer worlds. "(177)

Such language may be familiar to a few of those who spend their daily lives on-line, but it remains unfamiliar within the discourses that metropolitan scholars accept. Despite two decades of theorizing about the need to escape the narrow discourse of reason spawned by the enlightenment project, metropolitan critics continue to be wedded to a narrow notion of what will be accepted as real. Most scholars continue to dismiss as epi-phenomenal the invisible forces that the majority of the world's people accept as presences impacting their daily lives. Within scholarly writing, it remains less than respectable to cite those like Pesce who find non-material entities in cyberpace to be "strangely sentient." Euroamerican scholars thus seem unlikely to be able to accept soon the reality of any invisible presences, even in cyberspace.

Those embracing a more traditional Native Hawaiian view, by contrast, may welcome the new possibilities that cyberspace offers for representing invisible forces on-line. They may, like Pesce, seek to discover and interact with the "emergent properties" cyberspace unveils, or they may simply find that the new hypermedia offer an effective means within which to refer to and honor the 4,000, the 40,000, the 400,000 Hawaiian akua. Print, film and videos have poorly represented these presences but the new hypermedia may offer better means for interacting with invisiblities.


Those who claim the new electronic networks will increase the power of some segments of the world majority fail to understand that technologies create possibilities, not inevitabilities. Whether these new technologies will be used to generally increase the influence of multinationals or instead to increase the vitality of indigenous people depends on the uses people will make of them more than on any traits that may inhere within the technologies themselves.

It is a mistake, then, I believe, to spend too much time in general discussions of the new technologies separate from discussions of some particular circumstances in which these technologies are being used. General discussions of technology, like general discussions of justice or postcoloniality, seem mostly to demonstrate the subtlety and cleverness of analysts while doing little to shape or understand the worlds beyond academe. Metropolitan writers are rewarded for offering such broad generalizations, for making statements about what the new technologies mean, or about how these inventions will change social formations worldwide. It is better, I believe, instead to try to focus on specific circumstances. By eschewing the metropolitan practice of creating generalizations that purport to apply to all peoples on the earth, writers may be helping to create more demand for those various peoples to speak for themselves.

The new technologies create possibilities for more of these people to be heard in the metropole and elsewhere around the globe. If these possibilities are realized, it will be because people made choices to redistribute power, it should be clear, and not because the new technologies themselves mandate any change.


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1 The Nation of Hawai'i is only one nearly a dozen Native Hawaiian groups working to achieve some degree of Hawaiian sovereignty. The Nation of Hawai'i was the first of these groups to seize the opportunities offered by the internet, and its presence in cyberspace is currently more fully developed than other sovereignty groups. Web sites for other sovereignty groups are, however, quickly being developed. Particularly interesting examples include Poka Laenui's site and Ka Lahui Hawai'i . A group working for the restoration of the ali'i (monarchy) now has a site too.

2 The group of Native Americans from several tribes interviewed by Glen Martin share the Crawfords' view of this promise of cyberspace. As Martin summarizes the position of these Native Americans:

". . . they see computers and wire as the best and brightest chance of reestablishing tribal bonds that were sundered with the massacre of Wounded Knee, an event remembered as ending all organized Indian resistance in North America." (116)

3 Rob Wilson and Arif Dirlik point to Deleuze and Guattari's invocation of Oceanic rhizomatics in their "Introduction" to Asia/Pacific as Space of Cultural Production .

4 Many Hawaiian proverbs use words for people and for kalo metonymically. Mary Kawena Pukui's 'Olelo No'eau: Hawaiian Proverbs and Poetical Sayings , for example, includes: "Puali kalo i ka wai 'ole," translated as "Taro, for lack of water, grows misshapen," and said to refer to people becoming ill from lack of care (296); also, "Ua 'ai i ke kai-koi o 'Ewa," translated as "He has eaten the kai-koi taro of 'Ewa," with the taro here understood to refer to a youth or maiden of 'Ewa (305). Similar examples can be found throughout Pukui's collection.

Author's e-mail: hwood@hawaii.edu

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