A Future Lesson from the Past
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if Satan is divided and rises against himself, he cannot stand; his end has come.” --Mark 3:24, 25, 26.
A House Divided currently playing in the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is a play written and directed by Kevin C. K. Berg.
You are invited to the 10th Anniversary Gala and Fundraiser of The Provisional Hawaiian Government. You and other dignitaries and corporate leaders attend this milestone event to celebrate this momentous occasion. As you walk into the main room you notice Hawaiian activists silently protesting outside. Seemingly peaceful. Non-threatening. Cautiously you continue on, avoiding confrontation.
It is 2025, ten years in the future. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is no more, and for the past decade been succeeded by the Provisional Hawaiian Government. The United States is still a main player but for the most part the PHG is running things now. But wait-- amidst the rousing speeches and good intentions there is an uprising, the protesters from outside have invaded the proceedings and declare themselves the rightful heirs to the Kingdom of Hawai'i. Guests are calmed and reassured that they are free to leave and are not hostage. However, before leaving they ask the audience to hear their plea. As the play moves forward we learn that not only do these entities know each other but they are also blood related. The tangled web of lies, betrayal, and deceit unravel and wounds become exposed-- fresh and festering.
If this was a glimpse into the future then nothing’s changed. A new Hawaiian governing body, another hui claiming sovereign reign, infighting, violence, another Hawaiian male will probably be sent to prison for a crime of passion. Is that the message then? That if we cannot move forward together as one people, one entity, then the promise of a sovereign nation is doomed? This message has been playing on repeat since the overthrow on January 17, 1893. Most fervently in the last forty years with the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) in 1978.
As a Hawaiian, I have grown up witnessing both sides of the struggle for sovereignty. I've asked myself many times on which side I stand. On one side is the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and it's kingdom for annexation to the United States. There is a need to make things right, to make things pono, to get back that which was wrongfully taken. On the other side Hawai'i is now a state of the union. Progressive. Important. Is sovereignty a reality? Can we get back what was taken? If we do, then what? How do we protect ourselves from another overthrow? Is it too late? Are we just better off where we are right now? In a play like this, these are the questions I would like to see get answered. Give me the "what ifs." Show me the "and then(s)."
Early on, staging felt awkward. Actors played in the round while the audience faced proscenium. One felt like they were missing key bits of information if they didn't turn in their seats to see what was going on behind them. Although ʻŌlelo Hawai'i was generously spoken as well as English, problems with diction and projection made it difficult to hear and understand. There are pieces of melodrama here and there. Throughout the performance I could hear people commenting to each other and I wondered how this play affected them and what message they received. I also wished I had spoken earlier to the activists outside.
However, politics not withstanding, this play has potential-- it has a message. Albeit one that many kanaka maoli have heard repeatedly. The real question is, how can the future be changed if the past is continually repeated? How then do we stand united?
A House Divided plays October 20, 21, and 22 at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, October 23 at 2:00 pm at the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre of the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa.