Day four: University of Hawaii at Manoa with Jamaica Osorio

Today we visited the University of Hawaii at Mānoa to hear Professor Osorio and his daughter, Jamaica, speak about their perception of Hawaiian identity and the continuous struggle of the Kanaka Maoli to recover their culture since colonization took place in the 19th century. I think we all can agree that the Osorios were exceptional speakers who passionately demonstrated their devotion to rejuvenating Hawaiian culture through mele and oral presentations, which certainly made an impact on the way I view the Hawaiian identity in the 21st century.


The presentation began with a prayer sung by Jamaica and her father. I for one felt the silence in the room as Professor Osorio and his daughter sang in Hawaiian.  Being able to witness practices of a culture so foreign to the rest of the United States was not only intriguing to me, but I believe the entire room gained a profound respect for them as they were proudly willing to share their culture with us. From the beginning of the presentation their commitment to the resurgence of Hawaiian identity was evident from their facial expressions in their songs to the way they expressed the need to protect their beloved Hawaiian roots.


Jamaica Osorio grew up speaking Hawaiian but eventually learned English in grade school. She went on to attend some of the most prestigious universities in the country such as Stanford and NYU. There she studied how race and ethnicity play a role in national identity during the 21st century. At the beginning of her presentation she drew a timeline on the board of important events in the history of Hawaii that have sadly contributed to the extinguishing of Hawaiian culture such as the arrival of missionaries and the establishment of a western provisional government. She continued by discussing the renown presentation of Hawaii as a “paradise” when in reality Hawaiians today are still battling to recover their ancestors’ traditions and way of life.


The reading for today expressed that while western imperialism diminished the Hawaiian culture, the Hawaiian people wrote about their trials through mele (song). From the end of the kingdom to present day, mele has been utilized as resistance to foreign occupation and an expression for cultural recovery, becoming a powerful way to convey their identity struggle. Today we saw Jamaica perform several mele that she composed based on a Hawaiian mo‘olelo (story) and actual events her life. One such mo‘olelo was Hi’iakaikapoliopele, a story of family, love and revenge among Hawaiian goddesses. Jamaica points out that this mo‘olelo expresses Hawaiians as “productive and kind”, contrary to the colonizers’ negative opinions that Hawaiians are impotent and lazy. Another poem was based on when she discovered a tsunami was possibly headed for Hawaii. She related physically being underwater to the hardships of “brown bodies”, or the Hawaiian people, because they are not educated, recognizing that Hawaii is becoming more occupied by wealthy haole (foreigners) while opportunities to advance in society are slim for the native people.

Before our class came to Hawaii, we saw a video of Jamaica performing for President Obama. Seeing her in person was truly an honor as she expressed how the Hawaiian identity is suppressed in the 21st century. Many Hawaiians today are forgetting their genealogy and culture. The reading explains that mele is a way for people to reconnect with their past and keep their memories alive. Jamaica stated that the purpose of her mele are to encourage Hawaiians to reconstruct their “lāhui to be strong” and to rise above oppression. Her presentation was not filled with hatred for westerners, but with peaceful activism towards the recuperation of the Hawaiian spirit.

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  1. Posted January 9, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    You captured Jamaica’s spirit and the powerful presentation very nicely, Megan. Great work!

  2. Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Really fine entry Megan.

  3. Posted April 7, 2015 at 6:26 am | Permalink


  4. Posted August 5, 2016 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    Great article – thanks.

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