Karin Louise Hermes: On the Significance of the Kalo or Taro Plant for Settler Solidarities in Decolonial Resistance in Hawai‘i

In Kanaka Maoli conceptualization land is relational, a living and breathing family member that one is descended from. The shared ancestor of the first Hawaiians is Hāloa, born of the kalo or taro plant. While the demographics of Hawai‘i are indeed diverse, the harmony of interethnic relations there is often overstated. At other times, it is even depicted as entirely disharmonious, and especially more recent white settlers complain about Hawai‘i as a place of discrimination towards outsiders. These claims both do not consider the historical contexts of U.S. American imperialism and occupation and of Indigenous marginalization and assimilation, and is merely the idealized image of the settler colonial “melting-pot” that erases Indigeneity. Ethnic labels in Hawai‘i can be broadly summarized to be the Kānaka Maoli, the “local” population of mostly Asian, Portuguese, and Puerto Rican descendants of the 18th-19th century plantation workers, and the haole or white/foreign population. However, these categories are in no way comprehensive or static, as haole and “local” overlap. A more dynamic interpretation is the concept of haole as an attitude foreign to the land, rather than purely as an ethnic marker of whiteness. In solidarity with the oppression of Kānaka Maoli by U.S. settler colonial structures, the sentiment of kuleana (“accountability”, “responsibility”) as fellow settlers on Indigenous lands is a shared decolonial mindset necessary for enacting aloha ‘āina (“love of the land”). I focus on the alliances between Asian settlers and Kānaka Maoli throughout the time period of the so-called Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s to the present regarding social movements for aloha ‘āina, both in the context of environmental activism as well as in solidarity against the U.S. colonization. This paper intends to clarify and explain Hawaiian epistemologies around land, in particular the significance of kalo, through the conditions of settler colonialism on indigenous lands.

Karin Louise Hermes is a PhD Candidate in American Studies at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. She has an MA in Pacific Islands Studies from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa with a focus on cultural identities and national consciousness in urban Papua New Guinea, and a BA in Ethnology & Sociology from the University of Heidelberg. Her PhD project titled “Conflicting Epistemologies on the Relation to the Land in Hawai‘i” on human-environment relations focusses on the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) concept of “aloha ‘āina” (“love of the land”). She has lived in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Hawai‘i, and is currently based on the island of Moabit in Berlin, Germany.


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