In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
David Keanu Sai’s recent Ua Mau Ke Ea: Sovereignty Endures argues that the United States has been illegally occupying Hawai’i since 1898. Sai contends that, though the United States has treated Hawai’i as the fiftieth state, the Hawaiian Islands, having been recognized as an independent state in 1843 by Britain and France and by a host of other countries thereafter, never had a ratified treaty merging this island nation with the United States. The first text for high school and college students to address Hawai’i’s legal status under US occupation, Ua Mau Ke Ea, with its accompanying CD of documents and a documentary directed by Kau’i Sai-Dudoit, offers a trove of information regarding the US occupation of Hawai’i and asks students to reexamine the colonization rubric as it has been applied to Hawai’i, affirming that despite the United States’ illegal occupation, Hawai’i’s sovereignty endures.
With an implicit awareness that young minds are key to ending the US occupation, Sai’s work demonstrates how Hawaiian history has shifted in recent years toward more precise discourse on the US occupation. In the past decade, the discourse has evolved from Noenoe Silva’s Aloha Betrayed (2004), which described Hawai’i as a “(neo) colonial state” under “continued occupation . . . by the United States” (2004, 9), to Tom Coffman’s revised edition of Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawai’i (2009), which acknowledged “a growing body of historical work by a new generation of Native Hawaiian scholars” writing about the US occupation of Hawai’i (2009, xvi). Sai is the latest in this academic and popular trend, one of the emerging Native Hawaiian voices contributing to this shift from “colonization” and “annexation” to “occupation” as the legal and political term to describe Hawai’i.
Sai distinguishes colonization from occupation under international law, noting, “Colonization/decolonization is a matter that concerns the internal laws of the colonizing State and presumes the colony is not sovereign, while occupation/de-occupation is a matter of international law relating to already existing sovereign States” (115). Although Hawai’i has been occupied for over a century, Sai contends that the United States has treated these islands as colonized territory and that this “colonial treatment is evidence of the violation” of international law (117).
While Sai’s discussion of colonization and occupation is significant, Ua Mau Ke Ea centers on the United States’ actions toward the Hawaiian Islands in the 1890s. Unfortunately, Sai’s argument, with its focus on the Lili’uokalani Assignment and the Agreement of Restitution, ventures into legal theory that contradicts some aspects of the book’s overarching claims about the United States’ illegal occupation.
Written under duress, the Lili’uokalani Assignment was signed on 17 January 1893, hours after a band of conspirators had declared themselves the Provisional Government, and one day after 162 US sailors disembarked from the uss Boston and occupied Honolulu, Hawai’i’s capital. In this assignment, Queen Lili’uokalani wrote, “to avoid collision of armed forces, and perhaps loss of life, I do this under protest, and impelled by said force, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian islands” (73-74). Because this document yielded authority to the US government, Sai describes this as an assignment of executive power.
The second part of Sai’s argument about Hawai’i’s enduring sovereignty rests in his contention that the 18 December 1893 Agreement of Restitution, which held the weight of a treaty, was never fully enacted. Sai notes, “The Queen’s declaration represented the final act of negotiation and settlement of the 16 January 1893 dispute that arose between the United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom. All that remained for the President, as the assignee of executive power, was to administer Hawaiian Kingdom law, restore the Hawaiian Kingdom government and return the power to the Queen, whereupon the Queen was to grant amnesty, after the criminal convictions of the insurgents, and assume…