115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

U.S. Military Narratives and the Attempted Erasures of Native Hawaiian Storied Places: The Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail

Amy Vegas, Independent Scholar

This paper examines how a "militouristic" culture normalizes U.S. military bunkers and narratives of World War II on the Makapu‘u lighthouse trail. These colonial narratives attempt to erase Native Hawaiian (hi)stories attached to the ‘āina (land); however, reclaiming ‘āina in contemporary Hawai‘i can come in the form of visual rhetoric.


This paper examines how U.S. military bunkers located on the Makapu‘u, Ka‘iwa Ridge, and Pu‘u o Hulu hiking trail attempt to erase and silence Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) (hi)stories written throughout the ‘āina (land) by perpetuating colonial narratives of World War II (WWII). U.S. military narratives not only fill our eyes at tourist sites—Pearl Harbor, the Arizona Memorial, the Fort DeRussy Army Museum, and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (more commonly known as Punchbowl Cemetery)—but are also subconsciously ingrained into our memories through street names, military bases, and the Honolulu International Airport, which shares a part of its runway with Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPH). These are only a few examples that symbolically represent O‘ahu’s militouristic culture as defined by Indigenous scholar Teresia Teaiwa. This militouristic culture illustrates the complex relationship between the U.S. military and Hawai‘i’s tourist economy that concurrently functions to create and perpetuate paradisiacal myths of O‘ahu, and frame the image of Kanaka Maoli lands. Some of the more subtle invasions of the military’s presence, as this paper points out, come from the interweaving of U.S. military defense posts—bunkers and “pillboxes”—into living Kanaka Maoli landscapes: Makapu‘u, Ka‘iwa Ridge, and Pu‘u o Hulu all bear witness to colonial violence via U.S. military bunkers.

It is crucial to not only raise critical awareness of the ingrained colonial mindset about these trails and the Indigenous (hi)stories that are inextricably connected to the ‘āina, but also imperative to spark action as protest against these U.S. military narratives that continuously attempt to control Hawai‘i’s political and geographical spaces. The first half of this paper discusses how the impositions of U.S. defense posts have artfully led to the perpetuation of the military’s presence in public view by concealing its occupation within the backdrop of some of O‘ahu’s more scenic places behind the veil of tourism, which attempt to displace Indigenous forms of knowledge. These militarized narratives are based on settler histories, which problematically dispossess and displace Kanaka Maoli and their cultural knowledges. In an attempt to re-orient the way we see ‘āina and undo the colonial narratives that these bunkers tell and retell, the second half of this paper concentrates on how Kanaka Maoli and settler allies can utilize mo‘olelo (story, history, literature, tradition) and various forms of visual rhetoric as counter-narratives to decolonialize and reclaim the ‘āina from these militarized settler colonial spaces, which signifies a demand for the resurgence of Native Hawaiian culture and the re-establishment of Hawaiian independence.