O, Ku`uipo

O, Ku`uipo, you ask me if I understand

the root of Hawaiian fury

`Ae, I understand

O yes

My chant may be less melodious, harsher to your ears

but the kaona remains the same

I stand, shoulders squared, hands on hips

defying every connotation tied to haole

Only to drop my eyes in shame, fearing

it’s not my kuleana, this battle

How can I comprehend a cultural bomb?

in Wahiawa its explosion came

Right before the downpours, leaving my

face battle scarred

My shrapnel eyes crowned

in defiant brows

In the aftermath I healed alone in the red ginger valley

pretending the blossoms spoke my language

Can I fathom the self-loathing hatched

from constant belittlement?

Stones of it form the paia that rises between us,

rendering my home kapu

Confining me to wander the barren field

of outcast for all time

Do I know what it’s like to be thrust into the role

of second class citizen

In the very land you love? I will tell you,

No Hawai’i mai au,

And when you dig for more authentic roots

I will admit that

I make my home in `upeloa because my parents were born

across a sea, in a land I never knew

For this sin, I will forever be untouchable

`Ae, I think I understand

Worse, etched on each Hawaiian hand withheld

guarded behind proud back

Is the accusation that my sorrow isn’t valid

so I pose a question to you, Ku`uipo

When shall we begin restoration?


©2005 Kate Buccigross

Background: I wrote this poem many years ago as a reaction to the Hawai’ian studies class I took in college. As my kumu (teacher) attempted to give the class a taste of the cultural damage that had been perpetrated on the Hawaiian people by outsiders, basically people who looked like me, I found myself torn between guilt, empathy, and my own bitterness at so frequently being treated as a second-class citizen throughout my life in the land I love.

A guide to the Hawaiian phrases:

  • `Ae: yes
  • haole: originally any foreigner, over time it has come to mean a white person
  • kaona: hidden or double meaning; traditionally, the lyrics of Hawai’ian music have many layers of meaning because of the kaona of many words
  • kapu: forbidden
  • kuleana: privilege, right and responsibility
  • Ku`uipo: sweetheart
  • No Hawai’i mai au: I am from Hawai’i
  • paia: walls
  • `upeloa: sorrow

Photo Credit: Ginger by Sarowen: used under Creative Commons License


  1. I can relate, being a haole born and raised in Hawaii. In a way I’m grateful for the treatment during my youth and part of my adult life. It gives me empathy for people being mistreated and it has made me tough. We live in Oregon now and I long for Hawaii and the culture, Aloha spirit and the food! We went back this summer for a funeral and I can still feel the divide between myself and others. But I also feel so much love from those that I grew up with and the ones that truly know me and my heart. Great Poem! Aloha B

    Liked by 1 person

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