Normally on Wednesdays, I write about “writing matters,” mostly having to do with the craft of writing. Today I wanted to share an event that was written by a dear friend and one of the most amazing writers I know, Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl. I recently took a play writing class from her and she is a dazzling storyteller. Most of her work is focused on major historical issues having to do with the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. “Mai Poina” was designed to recount key events in the four days leading up to the overthrow. (I won’t go into the details on the content of the presentation, as I was so caught up in the performances, that I forgot to take notes. But please feel free to download a copy of the Mai Poina Visitor’s Guide to read more about these events).
- The Visitors Guide for Mai Poina
But instead of a dry “facts and figures” recounting, Victoria did extensive research about the key political figures of the time, but also the onlookers, people who observed the political machinations from the sidelines, a Greek Merchant, a Japanese plantation worker, they were stakeholders in the outcome of the overthrow.
The walking tour consisted of walking to various spots surrounding the palace, and listening to an “interpreter” an actor or actress, in full costume, who sets the stage, giving you the date and time, and the political situation. Then the first “character” is introduced and they tell their personal story, describing the events as they lived through them. What struck me about this technique is that if you were to look at today’s events, what is happening in the world around us, you would get one story from the news media, but if you met someone, a non-journalist who was there to witness the events, you get an entirely different experience of what happened.
- Moanililia Oakes playing the part of one of the Interpreters
Now I have a confession to make, another reason that I loved this event is that many of my friends are the actors who played several of the parts. For instance, an old friend from my high school theatre days, William Ha’o played Mr. Ah Sing, a chinese merchant who saw all to well how the move for annexation was engineered by wealthy, white landowners who were trying to protect their interests.
- William Ha’o portraying Mr. Ah Sing
Another actor, and key player in producing the event is Craig Howes, an english professor at the University of Hawaii. In fact he was MY english professor, back in the day. He portrayed “Alexis” an greek merchant who spoke about the “missionary boys” referring to the missionaries who came to Hawaii as part of the first American Protestant missionaries who came to “educate” the Hawaiian people. There is a saying about the missionaries, “they came to do good, and did very well… for themselves.”
- Professor Craig Howes portraying “Alexis”
And the last stop on the tour is to the steps of Iolani Palace where we meet the woman who did all the hard work of writing the lines for the actors to speak, Victoria Kneubuhl, she played the part of an interpreter, who introduced Mr. Suzuki, one of thousands of Japanese plantation workers, who didn’t want to see the monarchy overthrown, who’d suffered miserable working conditions on the white-owned plantations.
- Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl and Shiro Kawai on the steps of Iolani Palace
It really was a wonderful experience, and one of the highlights was seeing so many families, dad, mom, and the kids enjoying this adventure back in time. There were also several groups of students there with their teachers. I can’ think of a better way to teach children how important it is to study history. At the end of the presentation, there was a performance by Youth Speaks Hawaii, a slam poetry group. The poets, all in their early twenties, showed us how the events of 1893 still have repercussions today with so many local people, with regard to culture, identity, the future of Hawaii.
What do you think? Have you ever been on a walking tour in your area? or on vacation? Did it give you further insight into the times and people who lived through them? I love hearing from you and thanks so much for stopping by.