Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Curse of Lono

When it comes to politics, Hawaii doesn't get much attention.  You would think politicians would enjoy the break, but it is hard to justify a trip with all that staff out to Oahu, the most populated island.  The President has had a hard time defending his expensive trips to his native home these past seven years, especially since his official residence is in Illinois.  But, Obama likes to maintain ties to the Aloha State, which is why he is very popular there.

Hawaii is kind of a state that isn't really a state since it is so far detached from the mainland that it is like traveling to a whole other world.  With Alaska you can at least reach it by land through Canada or take a boat along the island-strewn Pacific northwest coast, at a fraction of the cost it would take you to set sail to Hawaii.  Plus, it's ruggedness inspires the American thirst for the West, which led to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896, forever captured in arguably Charlie Chaplin's greatest film,   Hawaii has also made its mark on the American imagination, largely through big waves and hula dancers, which Hawaii Five-O pulled together seamlessly in its famous intro.

Last month marked the 237th year since Captain James Cook's ill-fated return to Hawaii after failing to find the Northwest Passage via Alaska.  He died on St. Valentine's Day all those years ago, as a result of the confusion and chaos that resulted from him breaking the spell over the islanders in regard to the Lono myth.  It is said that Cook actively exploited the myth of the great god Lono to curry favor with the islanders when he first arrived in January the year before, but as they say don't press your luck.  Cook ended up getting eaten.

I imagine his fifty-year-old flesh would have been a little tough, but salty.  His crew managed to retrieve some of his body parts and give him a burial at sea.  I don't think the islanders felt they were eating Lono, but they had a practice of eating the flesh of their victims and assuming their strength, which would have made for a good X-Files episode, but to my knowledge has never been exploited in television or film.  Hunter S. Thompson set one of his books in Hawaii, The Curse of Lono, when he traveled out there ostensibly to cover a marathon, but let his thoughts fly like he so often does.  It's been redone into this beautifully illustrated Taschen edition.

For many Republicans, it seems the curse of Lono lives on in Obama, who they have failed to defeat, derail or contain despite their worst laid efforts, so once again conservatives blame Obama for their own shortcomings.  Their inability to render him irrelevant is fueling the Tea Party movement's resurgence, although they are loathe to admit it.  Their party leaders are now seen as irrelevant, with Trump and Cruz dominating the primaries, including Hawaii, which Trump took last weekend.  Cruz took Alaska.  Neither even bothered to campaign in the two distant wayward states.

The state made itself relevant again when Trump pressed for Obama's birth certificate four years ago.  The state provided the long form, happy to have some focus given it during the early stages of Obama's re-election bid.  But, this time around Obama has to sit out the election cycle as his long tenure draws to a close.  Maybe he will settle in Hawaii when it is over, but that is doubtful as he is still a young man, 54, not much older than Cook, and there is much he can do as a former President.

He's already earmarked Chicago's South Side as the location for his Presidential Library.  It was here that he made his mark as a "community organizer," for which he was lampooned in his 2008 Presidential election by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and others.  He even joked last year that he might go back to community organizing, as if getting the last laugh on his old opponents.  He no longer has to worry about having "executive experience."

The University of Hawaii did submit a proposal for Obama's Presidential Library, and I'm sure will have some sort of commemorative hall to honor him.  It's not often that universities bid for a presidential library.  Columbia University also submitted a proposal, and got the runner-up prize, if you will, when his Foundation said it will have a presence there.  No one is quite sure what this means, but the idea of a fellowship has been tossed around.  Not bad for a guy who once ran with the "Choom gang" at Punahou School in Honolulu.

The high school has a rich history, dating back to the first half of the 19th century when it was set up as a missionary school on grounds bequeathed to it by King Kamehameha I.  The same king who ruled much of Hawaii when Cook encountered the islands in 1778-79.  Not that Cook had direct contact with the paramount chief, but it was Kamehameha who established the Kingdom of Hawaii and formally invited the first missionaries, which would work so hard to dispel any notions of Lono in the years ahead.  It seems they didn't thoroughly cleanse the islands.

I don't know why the Republicans stress Obama's Muslim connections, when it is clear to me that Lono lives through Obama getting his ultimate revenge in 2008 by assuming the highest office in the land and continuing to cast a shadow over this year's election.  I think Obama channeled the great god while smoking pot with a couple Hawaiian kids on the beach, and hasn't let go of him ever since.

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