A DeTour of Hawaii
Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Kekoʻolani give tours to friends and colleagues showcasing Hawai’i’s complex history with the military. They call the tour DeTour as a nod to decolonization.
By: Ashley Adriano &
14 May 2019
Standing in front of a metal carved map of Oʻahu, Kyle Kajihiro shared the history of Puʻuloa, known as Pearl Harbor, with a group of friends.
We got close to see as he pointed out areas on the map.
He didn’t mention the infamous date of Dec. 7, 1941, but instead, he weaved a story about a goddess of fertility and how she was able to turn the moon into food and the stars into fish.
While Kajihiro was sharing his tale, he was tapped on the shoulder. A pair of park rangers beckoned him away from the group.
Kajihiro insisted on staying with the group, but his request was rejected by the park rangers, who told him that he needed to stop what he was doing.
Kajihiro’s group then joined in on the encounter and asked the rangers why he wasn’t allowed to share this information, to which the rangers responded that they needed to verify that what he was saying is correct.
The reply from the rangers was a heavy blow to the group, which was made up of activists and students interested in a history of Native Hawaiʻians that goes beyond the confines and stories of the United States.
Some of Kajihiro's friends from the group said they weren’t surprised by the interaction but instead were surprised by the amount of “aggression” in the rangers’ response. Kajihiro just smiled and said that it wasn’t the first time he’d been stopped like this.
When he’s not occupied with his graduate assistant responsibilities and trying to get his Ph.D. in geography at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa, Kajihiro, who is not Native Hawaiʻian, spends his days unconventionally “resisting” the military presence in Hawai’i – a presence which, according to Kajihiro and his organization Hawaiʻi Peace and Justice, is an “enormous” one.
As the military is in control of many acres of land in Hawaiʻi, the mo’olelo, or history, of Hawai’i has become “overwritten,” according to Kajihiro.
In response to the fade of Hawaiʻian history, Kajihiro and his colleague, Terri Kekoʻolani, created their own method of reclaiming the Hawaiʻian history narrative of places by leading tours, or as they call it a DeTour, to not only points of Native Hawaiʻian history, but also to military bases, explaining how Native Hawaiʻians are resisting the slow deterioration of their culture.
“We said, let’s call it a detour because it’s off the regular course, the normal path,” said Kajihiro. “And it’s demilitarizing, it’s decolonial, so it’s a detour.”
The official tour offered at Pearl Harbor focuses on the events that led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and how America – not Hawaiʻi – responded. The ʻIolani Palace tour showcases technological innovations of the past, but doesn’t go into much depth about Hawaiʻian resistance to American annexation, and not much focus is placed on the issues that face Hawaiʻi today.
DeTour is unlike these and most other tours offered to Hawaiʻi tourists.
“[DeTour] undoes the harm of the tourism discourse," Kajihiro said. "Tourism presents Hawaiʻi as a commodity, a paradise commodity, a recreational commodity, a place of multicultural harmony.”
The tour is free to the public.
“Militarization is everywhere in Hawaiʻi, and yet it is hidden in plain sight,” said Kajihiro. “It’s stuff that you wouldn’t normally recognize unless someone pointed it out. That mountain there is all occupied by the military. You wouldn’t see it just looking at the green mountain.”
The duo takes groups of students, friends and colleagues around the island to places under military occupation or places that have been significantly impacted by the military – places such as ʻIolani Palace, Camp Smith, Pearl Harbor and Makua Valley. Their goal is to educate people about Hawaiʻi’s past and its present issues, like the conflict over Hawaiʻian sovereignty and the fight to take back land and control from the military.
“We’re going to show you where these historical events went on,” Kajihiro said. “The overthrow, the annexation, where Hawaiʻians are rallying and reclaiming lands, where various struggles are going on, and we’re also showing how the military has this enormous presence.”
According to Native Hawaiʻian Student Services Faculty Engagement Specialist Ilima Long – who helped organize the most recent tour – DeTour raises the question of whether U.S. military presence in Hawaiʻi actually makes its citizens feel secure. Long believes the military in Hawaiʻi is actually an “unwelcome” presence for her and other activists.
However, not all Native Hawaiʻians are against the military presence in Hawaiʻi. The Director of Joint Staff for the Hawai’i National Guard, General Moses Kaoiwi Jr., said that he grew up in a Native Hawaiʻian household run by his grandmother but always felt he would join the military in “some form or fashion.”
“I can understand how the Hawaiʻians feel,” Kaoiwi said. “But at the same time, at the Hawaiʻi National Guard, we carry that spirit that we’re protecting the land as well. We’re protecting the land as well, maybe not in the same way as the Native Hawaiʻian groups think we should be protecting it. But we believe we’re protecting Hawai’i for Hawai’i.”
Kaoiwi said when he joined the National Guard back in the 1980s, there were actually a lot of “local Hawaiʻi guys” in the system, many of whom were Native Hawaiʻian.
Kaoiwi also pointed out the many environmental programs and cultural preservation that the military has, like one program at Pohakuloa training ground on Hawaiʻi Island. At the training ground, one general actually works with Hawaiʻian families to understand the history and cultural importance of the land they use.
“It is a training area, so you cannot run away,” Kaoiwi said. “But we also understand that, eh, you gotta clean up after yourself, you gotta take care of the land.”
Kaoiwi said that the members of the Hawaiʻi National Guard who are out training are aware of their surroundings and responsibilities to the land. The training ground they use has a name, and Pohakuloa should be respected.
He added that the sharing of the land between the Native Hawaiʻians and the military could be what’s best for everyone. If the military allowed access to certain parts of the land they own for cultural practices at certain times, it could work. Kaoiwi said he believes finding a middle ground is truly the best answer.
“If it’s all or nothing, I don’t think anybody wins,” Kaoiwi said.
After the interruption at Pearl Harbor by the park rangers, Kajihiro lead his group away from the metal map and into a grassy field, where they gathered in a circle and clasped each other’s hands firmly. Amidst the confused stares of tourists and security, their voices echoed a powerful Hawaiʻian chant to the gods and the ancestors. Although not everyone knew the chant, everyone in the circle was respectful and in the moment.
When the group got back on the bus, a heavy silence filled the space. After everything they had seen and heard, the group was quiet.
Kajihiro and Long asked the group to reflect on the day and share their experiences. The responses range from “invasive,” “exploitation,” to “violence” and “suffocating.”
One student had the idea to have everyone write anonymously on cards the different ways in which they are resisting the military. For some, it’s using their platform as activists to challenge the military's occupation, while for others, it’s sharing the stories of the land and using Hawaiʻian place names. And for a few, it is as simple as going on a tour.
“Controlling the narrative is everything,” said Long. “It’s absolutely everything because if you control the narrative, you are winning, basically.”
Although it was not called DeTour until 2010, Kajihiro has been giving tours since 1996. He said it started as a way to educate visiting activists about the ongoing issues in Hawaiʻi.
“Even folks who are really politically conscious and active in the United States continent, they might be involved in peace movements in other parts of the world,” Kajihiro said. “But when it came to Hawaiʻi, their brain would sort of just go to that vacation place. So when we had visiting colleagues, other activists or scholars, we often would first give them an orientation, so that they can’t claim ignorance at that point.”
The tour grew informally by word-of-mouth and as time went on more groups began showing interest in the tour – universities, high schools, charter schools, different activist groups and even just interested individuals. As tours became more frequent, DeTour began taking shape, becoming less informal and having a more structured system.
The number of people on the tour varies each time, from as small as one to two people in Kajihiro’s car or multiple bus loads.
Kajihiro started keeping a record of the people he’s taken on the tour in 2004. He said they’ve taken about 1,400 people on the tour, which he sees as 1,400 people who now know this history and can pass it on to others.
Hawaiʻi was a highly coveted prize to U.S. leaders due to its strategic location and role as a vital refueling and provisioning stop for nearly all transpacific commerce, according to Kajihiro. The outbreak of the Spanish-American War triggered the full-scale military occupation of Hawai‘i and, as Kajihiro said, led to Hawaiʻi becoming the hub of the United States’ vast military enterprise in the Pacific.
Construction of a naval base at Pearl Harbor was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1909, according to John Fischer, author of A Brief History of Pearl Harbor Prior to World War II. Construction of a naval base at Pearl Harbor began in the 1900s, destroying traditional Hawaiʻian fishponds and transforming what was once a rich food source for O‘ahu into a vast naval station, according to Kajihiro. This was followed by the construction of Fort Shafter, Fort Ruger, Fort Armstrong, Fort DeRussy, Fort Kamehameha, Fort Weaver and Schofield Barracks.
According to Brian Ireland, author of The U.S. Military in Hawaiʻi: Colonialism, Memory and Resistance, at the point of the book’s 2010 publication, there were 161 military institutions – hospitals and bases – in the state, and the military controlled 263,303 acres of land on the Big Island alone. On Oʻahu, military personnel comprised almost 7% of the island’s population of 953,207 and took up 22% of Oʻahu’s 382,148 total acres of land.
In the 2015 annual state Department of Defense report, the DOD reported that in 2015 alone the state spent over $300 million on the military.