Peak Occupation: The Rising Ea of a Hawaiian National Consciousness

by Cameron Grimm

(Photo by Axton Durand)

A contribution to Abolition’s conversation on “States of Emergency/Emergence: Learning from Mauna Kea” (read the call here)

July 17, 2019

7:56 am – Billy Freitas is the first of 33 kūpuna to be arrested.

1:42 pm – Wāhine and māhū link arms in front of the kupuna frontline, forming a barricade of protection, a human barrier between police officers in riot regalia and Hawaiʻi’s elders.

2:51 pm – Riot police retreat.

3:56 pm – Hawaiʻi Governor David Ige declares a State of Emergency in response to “protestors” on Mauna Kea Access Road, claiming the welfare and safety of the public are at stake.[1]

July 18, 2019

Kumu Hula and kiaʻi Victoria Holt Takamine declares a state of emergency, proclaiming:

“This is our ʻāina we are not the illegal occupants, this is ours, you cannot remove the makaʻāinana, you cannot remove the Indigenous peoples from their own lands…I am declaring an emergency to the Lāhui, to the nation of Hawaiʻi. We are now in a state of emergency, in kapu aloha.”[2]

When kiaʻi Holt Takamine declared a state of emergency for the Lāhui—the nation of Hawaiʻi—she enacted a refusal to accept the US occupation of Hawaiʻi and the US settler state’s calculated attacks on Hawaiian forms of life. To call a state of emergency for the Hawaiian nation is to reverse the postcolonial metaphors of resistance and protest in favor of Hawaiian modes of governance that pre-date and work against the grain of a prolonged belligerent military occupation and settler state violence.

Hawaiians are asserting our commitment to protecting our forms of life. In turn, we are asserting that the legitimacy for refuge from the seemingly never-ending mutations of settler state violence comes from its own positive ontology—Ea—rather than from a position against or in opposition to the state. Ea is the breath and breadth of Hawaiian sovereignty. It did not emerge as a reaction to US occupation but rather thrives, flourishes, and creates in spite of coordinated attacks against Hawaiian forms of life. Resistance and protest, as state-centric terms, articulate a relationship of dependency which assumes the occupation of Hawaiʻi as a foreclosed process; a permanent event that imposes an imaginary blockade on Hawaiian futurities. For kiaʻi, these statist terms come up extremely short when addressing what is at stake: access to cosmologies, ʻāina, and, most importantly, the piko Mauna Kea. The nation of Hawaiʻi is in its 127th year of occupation, and yet, what is flourishing, thriving, and emerging today is an awakening of a Hawaiian national consciousness—rooted in an understanding of the fact that Hawaiʻi is occupied.

The struggle at Mauna Kea exposes the fractures and fissures in the US’s failure to completely snuff out Ea from Hawaiʻi. The US and its settler state aim to obscure the fact of occupation by attempting to obliterate historical facticity about the Hawaiian Kingdom. Nevertheless, a Hawaiian national consciousness is reemerging at a rate that far exceeds the settler state’s capacity to render Hawaiian bodies as criminal. As a result, the state has pivoted its excessive force towards the most beloved symbol of the Hawaiian nation, the hae Hawaiʻi. Since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the hae Hawaiʻi has been appropriated by the Republic of Hawaiʻi, the Territory of Hawaiʻi, and the State of Hawaiʻi claimed in 1959 it as their Hawaiian “state” flag.

The Hawaiian flag signifies the Ea of a Hawaiian national consciousness full stop. Settler state action to cut, criminalize, and frame it as a potential weapon exposes the anxiety and precarity of occupiers, floundering in the the hū of the largest wave of Hawaiian national consciousness that the occupation ever encountered.

On September 6, 2019, less than two months after Ige and Holt Takamine declared parallel states of emergencies, state police officers ascended to Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu—a site of refuge and command center for kiaʻi positioned directly across Mauna Kea Access Road—to remove what they deemed an illegal structure: a children’s educational center built by kiaʻi. During this operation, state police officers wearing bulletproof vests confronted a Hawaiian flag affixed to the door of the children’s center. State police forces then decided to wield a high-powered circular saw to cut vertically through the center of the hae Hawaiʻi. Despite the obvious difference in available force (police officers’ tear gas, tasers, and guns versus kiaʻi’s kapu aloha, and nonviolent direct action), Governor Ige persisted in defending police intervention: “Our law enforcement officers serve proudly under the state flag, and they would never intentionally damage it.”[3] He alleged further that protectors had strategically placed the flag “to interfere unfairly with law enforcement activities and produced an unnecessary reaction.”[4]


The machinic cutting of a national symbol served to protect armed officers from kiaʻi who’s weapons of force consist of oli, hula, and tears of pain and suffering. We have arrived at peak occupation. 

Beyond the refuge of Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu, kiaʻi across the Pae ʻĀina find everyday ways to express their commitment to a Hawaiian national consciousness. Roadways have become a sea of hae Hawaiʻi, roving reminders of the existence of our Ea amidst a prolonged US occupation. These roving reminders have elevated the state’s anxieties to new heights. Meanwhile, the desire to calm those anxieties has mutated into a type of selective enforcement via traffic citations, targeting drivers that proudly fly their hae Hawaiʻi from their vehicles.[5] The settler state is so concerned about the representation of its own Hawaiian “state” flag that it is willing to make hyperbolic claims that the flag, in and it of itself, is putting the safety of Hawaiʻi’s people at risk on the road. 


When the state begins to cannibalize and criminalize its own appropriated Hawaiian “state” flag, we have arrived at peak occupation.

In the struggle to protect Kahuku from the expansion of a wind farm that would place monstrous turbines dangerously close to both Kahuku school and its community, kia‘i have engaged in nightly acts of protection in an attempt to prevent the transport of construction equipment to the proposed site, resulting in over 200 arrests.[6] Hae Hawaiʻi have been present at every site of protection and, now in Kahuku, these flags have again excited the anxieties of the state. These anxieties have now bled into its law enforcement officers, compelling police officers to announce at the site, where kiaʻi have again used their bodies to block vehicles of mass destruction, that anyone holding the hae Hawaiʻi would risk arrest for possession of a weapon.


When officers armed with guns, tasers, and riot gear imagine kiaʻi holding flags as kiaʻi wielding weapons, we have arrived at peak occupation.  

To declare a state of emergency for the Lāhui, the nation of Hawaiʻi, is to illuminate the intensity with which a Hawaiian national consciousness is exposing the occupation’s founding violence. When the body becomes unavailable for violence and discipline, the settler state’s anxieties skyrocket. US occupation first attempted to cover up its crimes by claiming ownership of the hae Hawaiʻi by making it a symbol of the settler state. Now, a failing denationalization project has turned inward; the state is cannibalizing the very symbol it tried to claim as its own. The irony here is only made visible by acts of protection: a kiaʻi’s state of emergency declaration and the kiaʻi and hae Hawaiʻi that formulate and hū into a mighty wave of a Hawaiian national consciousness quickly approaching the shores of an anxious and precarious settler state.[7] 

We as kiaʻi refuse the terms and conditions of occupation and instead affirm our Ea. Ea emphasizes that Hawaiian forms of life are not the illegal occupants and our existence will continue into the future, beyond the time of occupation and settler state violence. To arrive at peak occupation, is not to submit to the stranglehold of state violence but rather to arrive at a point of rupture, unsteadied and antagonzied by assertions of our Ea and history. It is this rising Ea of a Hawaiian national consciousness that imagine and create our own de-occupied futures for Hawaiʻi.

About the Author

Cameron Grimm is a Hawaiian thinker in the Political Science Department at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a focus on Alternative Futures and Indigenous Politics.  


Mahalo nui to Moku o Keawe, Kaʻohe, and Mauna a Wākea for creating and providing life to all kānaka that lives under its protection. Mahalo nui Dr. Uahikea Maile and Dr. Sarah Wiebe for expanding and facilitating dialogue in this critical time. 


[1] Wednesday, July 17. “UPDATE: Ige Declares Emergency over TMT Protests – Hawaii Tribune.” Herald. Hawaii Tribune Herald , July 18, 2019.

[2] Big Island Video News. “VIDEO: Kupuna Decry Governor’s Emergency Proclamation.” Big Island Video News. Hawaii Tribune Herald, November 30, 2019.

[3] Richardson, Mahealani. “Ige Hits Back at Mauna Kea Telescope Protesters over Flag ‘Tactics’.” Hawaii News Now, September 13, 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Hiraishi, Ku`uwehi. “Why Hawaiian Flags, Parking Tickets, Arrests Are Raising Free Speech Questions.” Hawaii Public Radio, November 18, 2019.

[6] Staff, HNN. “After Another Night of Protests, Number of Arrests Linked to Wind Farm Opposition Hit 200.” Hawaii News Now, November 20, 2019.

[7] Maile, Uahikea. “Precarious Performances: The Thirty Meter Telescope and Settler State Policing of Kānaka Maoli.” Abolition, September 9, 2018.

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