Friday, March 3, 2017

Mischievous Sprites

I'd like to talk about Santa's elves, those magical, industrious sprites who merrily go about their work, which seems to be their only purpose in life. They are discrete and efficient. They never ask or expect to be credited, compensated, celebrated, or even recognized as individuals.

Santa's elves are never alone. They are always together, in the workshop, a collective without bargaining rights or representation.

They are not introspective. They do not drink tea. If anything, they drink hot chocolate and eat candy all day to keep themselves going.

If you come across an introspective, tea-drinking elf, that is  probably a leprechaun, and you should be wary. Or at least chary. That elf may have time on her hands, and you know what they say: Idle  hands are the devil's workshop.  (That doesn't really make sense, does it? But that is what they say.)

Hawaii has elves, of a sort. Whether it is legend or something else, I can't say for certain, but either one seems plausible.

Today, in Honolulu and Waikiki, the Menehune are portrayed for the entertainment of tourists as cartoonish, simple, cheerful, small, industrious characters.

Elves, basically.

In the popular mythology, the Menehune range in size from a few inches to two feet tall, but are surprisingly strong master craftsmen. They also suffer the character defect of being mischievous and secretive, and therefore can not be trusted.

In the historical (not mythological) framework in which I first heard about the Menehune, they were the earliest Hawaiian people, and they were smaller than the later populations who arrived from Tahiti.

If the earliest people to arrive in Hawaii came from South America--possibly, Ecuador--then they would have been relatively small, compared to Tahitians, who were typically over six feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds.  In that scenario, the Menehune would have been the first population of Hawaii to be subjugated by outsiders.

The Menehune story that I heard was of a Hawaiian chief would demanded a single Menehune to dig out a fish pond in 24 hours. If he couldn't do it, he would be killed. Overnight, dozens of other Menehune emerged from the hills and forests, and together they dug out the fish pond and filled it with water and fish.  The Menehune dispersed before light, and that morning the chief was pleased to discover that a single Menehune had appeared to produce an entire fish pond overnight.

Personally, I'm inclined to believe that there actually was an original population of smaller people--real Menehune. They did not have to be small by European standards to have seemed exceptionally small by Tahitian standards. Among the Pacific Islands, land and resources were always scarce (except for fish). A population of large, physically powerful people could have, with a bit of planning, overtaken smaller people, and would have, as a matter of their own interests and survival.

When you think about it, repackaging a subjugated (or even decimated) population as adorable, mischievous, work-loving elves is one way to solve the problem of a guilty social conscience.

I mean, that's exactly what the mainland has done to Hawaiians.

According to American mythology, we did not forcefully overthrow a peaceful monarchy; we annexed Hawaii. That sounds much nicer.

But the fact remains that (in 1893) we overthrew Hawaii's peaceful monarchy and dethroned Queen Liliuokalani. Hawaii did not become a state until 1959.

In the 1800s, financiers from Boston and missionaries from wherever forced Hawaiians to abandon their culture, economy, values, and religion in favor of wool suits, mumus, Christianity, and hard, subsistance labor in pineapple fields and sugar plantations.

The mainland's hostile takeover of Hawaii marked the beginning of a long relationship of exploitation and subjugation. Perhaps the best example is the misappropriation of the Kamehameha Trust--considerable wealth and land that had been set aside by King Kamehameha for the benefit of his people--the Hawaiians. To this day, the management of those resources has not gone at all the way King Kamehameha had intended.

But what do we envision when we think about Hawaii?  Do we picture Iolani Palace, the centerpiece of Honolulu?  We don't picture cartoons of Menehune--they were never heavy on the mainland conscience.  (It's not their blood we have on our hands.)

We tend to think of plastic hula girls with coconut breasts and grass skirt hips waggling on a dashboard. We think of luaus, surfing, and Waikiki. Maybe you think of humpback whales. Maybe you think of the crater at Haleakala, or the slow insistent progress of Kilauea's lava.

Some of these things are true and real, and some have been skillfully repackaged to appease our conscience. Perhaps the Menehune were repackaged, too.

But anyway...Back to Santa's elves. They're not real, you know. They're mothers.




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