Saturday, June 28, 2014

Polynesian Confederacy

The last decades of the 19th-century were a period of imperial expansion, especially in the Pacific. European (primarily Britain, France and Germany,) Asian (Japan) and American (US) were making claims and establishing colonies across the Pacific.

After the British took control of Fiji in 1874, only three major island groups remained independent in the Pacific: Tonga, Hawai‘i and Sāmoa. The Euro/American powers had marked off all three of these groups as falling under their own spheres of interest.

However, the Americans took a specific interest in Hawai‘i, the British in Tonga, and the Germans, British and Americans all claiming a right to determine the future of Sāmoa. (Cook)

Kalākaua (one of the most theoretical of men) was filled with visionary schemes for the protection and development of the Polynesian race; (Walter Murray Gibson) fell in step with him … The king and minister at least conceived between them a scheme of island confederation.  (Stevenson)

“(Gibson) discerned but little difficulty in the way of organizing such a political union, over which Kalākaua would be the logical emperor, and the Premier of an almost boundless empire of Polynesian archipelagoes.”  (Daggett; Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 6, 1900)

“The first step once taken between the Hawaiian and Samoan groups, other Polynesian groups and, inclusively, Micronesian and Melanesian groups, might gradually be induced to enter into the new Polynesian confederation just as Lord Carnarvon gets colony after colony to adopt His Lordship's British Federal Dominion policy.”  (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, November 17, 1877)

As early as 1880, the American consul in Hawaiʻi had complained that Kalākaua was “inflamed by the idea of gathering all the cognate races of the Islands of the Pacific into the great Polynesian Confederacy, over which he will reign.”

On June 28, 1880, Kalākaua’s Premier Walter Murray Gibson, introduced a resolution in the legislature noting, “the Hawaiian Kingdom by its geographic position and political status is entitled to claim a Primacy in the family of Polynesian States …”

“The resolution concluded with an action “that a Royal Commissioner be appointed by His Majesty, to be styled a Royal Hawaiian Commissioner to the state and peoples of Polynesia …” (Kuykendall)

It passed unanimously and within six months Gibson became the head of a new ministry, as Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Although Kalākaua had been elected and serving as King since 1874, upon returning from a trip around the world, it was determined that Hawaiʻi’s King should also be properly crowned.

“It was through (Gibson’s) influence that the Hawaiian Legislature ceremonies of the occasion were impressively enacted in the presence of the representatives of the most of the great civilized powers and with the warships of many nations giving salutation to the event in the harbor of Honolulu.”  (Daggett; Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 6, 1900)

“ʻIolani Palace, the new building of that name, had been completed the previous year, and a large pavilion had been erected immediately in front of it for the celebration of the coronation. This was exclusively for the accommodation of the royal family; but there was adjacent thereto a sort of amphitheatre, capable of holding ten thousand persons, intended for the occupation of the people.”  (Liliʻuokalani)

“On Monday, 12th February, the imposing ceremony of the Coronation of their Majesties the King and Queen of the Hawaiian Islands took place at ʻIolani Palace. … Like a mechanical transformation scene to take place at an appointed minute, so did the sun burst forth as the clock struck twelve, and immediately after their Majesties had been crowned.”  (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, February 17, 1883)

Then, to set the stage for the assemblage of the Polynesian Confederacy, Gibson wrote a diplomatic protest that the legislature officially approved, condemning the predatory behavior of the Great Powers in the Pacific.

"Whereas His Hawaiian Majesty's Government being informed that certain Sovereign and Colonial States propose to annex various islands and archipelagoes of Polynesia, does hereby solemnly protest against such projects of Annexation, as unjust to a simple and ignorant people, and subversive in their ease of those conditions for favourable national development which have been so happily accorded to the Hawaiian nation.” (Gibson Protest, August 23, 1883)

The protest evoked the goals of the Confederacy and justified Hawai‘i’s right to lodge such a protest based on its dual status as both a Polynesian state and part of the Euro/American community of Nations. (Cook)

Kalākaua's vision of a Polynesian Confederacy reflected a complex and multi-dimensional understanding of both the identity of the Hawaiian people and how that identity connected and allied them with a broad array of other peoples and states across the globe.

 It was a project that envisioned Hawai‘i as intimately connected to the Euro/American powers through the bonds of an international community built on the shared ideals of constitutional governments, formal diplomatic recognition, and the rule of law.

At the same time, it envisioned the nation as closely allied with other non-European peoples against the shared threat of the Euro/American empires. More specifically, however, it envisioned Hawai‘i as part of a Polynesian community whose members needed to rely upon one another in order to maintain both their independence and shared identity. (Cook)

John Bush, Hawaiʻi’s ambassador to Sāmoa, succeeded in negotiating Articles of Confederation, which the Hawaiian cabinet ratified in March 1887.  Kalākaua sent the Kaimiloa to salute High Chief Malietoa Laupepa in Sāmoa.  (However, a German warship there warned Kalākaua to stop meddling in Samoan affairs.)  (Chappell)

Later, the Berlin Act (signed June 14, 1889,) between the US, Germany and Britain, established three-power joint rule over Sāmoa.  This ultimately led to the creation of American Sāmoa.

Eventually, the confederacy attempts failed.  It part, it is believed too many changes to existing systems were proposed, many of which were modeled after the Western way.

However, Kalākaua’s dream was partially fulfilled with later coalitions (although Hawaiʻi is not the lead.)  In 1971, The Pacific Islands Forum, a political grouping of 16 independent and self-governing states, was founded (it was initially known as the South Pacific Forum, the name changed in 2000.)

Members include Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Sāmoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Later (2011,) eight independent or self-governing countries or territories in Polynesia formed an international governmental cooperation group, The Polynesian Leaders Group.

The eight founding members are: Sāmoa, Tonga and Tuvalu (three sovereign states;) the Cook Islands and Niue (two self-governing territories in free association with New Zealand;) American Sāmoa (an unincorporated territory of the United States;) Maʻohi Nui (French Polynesia) and Tokelau (a territory of New Zealand.)

Its members commit to working together to “seek a future for our Polynesian people and countries where cultures, traditions and values are honored and protected”, as well as many other common goals.  (PLG Memorandum of Understanding, 2011)

The image shows the coronation of King Kalākaua in 1883.  In addition, I have added some other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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