In the song originally titled “Nanakuli Blues,” Liko Martin and Thor Wald famously wrote, “The beaches they sell to build their hotels, my fathers and I once knew.” Hawaiian playwright Alani Apio took that scenario to the local stage with “Kamau,” which was premiered by Kumu Kahua in 1994. A sequel, “Kamau A‘e,” premiered at Kumu Kahua in 1997.
In the first two plays Apio skillfully addressed hot-button island issues including family conflicts, land use, changing perceptions of Hawaiian culture and political infighting among Hawaiians.
He also challenged the selective culturalism of people who attack “haole culture” while actively perpetuating it, put a spotlight on antagonism between “locals” and those who aren’t, and skewered political activists whose main agenda is self-promotion rather than the cause they claim.
Underpinning the plays is an exploration of the traditional relationship between Native Hawaiians and the ‘aina.
Kumu Kahua revisited “Kamau” in 2007 and “Kamau A‘e” in 2012. Now, with “Ua Pau (It is Finished, Over, Destroyed),” which opens today and runs through Sept. 22, Apio presents the final part of the story.
MANY CULTURES see land as an inert commodity — one piece of land worth $10 million has the same value as another piece of land worth $10 million. Apio allows audiences to discover at their own pace that Hawaiians traditionally did not look at land that way.
“Kamau” was the story of three young Hawaiian men who lived in an old house near the ocean.
Alika Kealoha, who inherited the house from his parents, worked as a tour guide to support his cousins, part-time fishermen Michael and George Mahekona.
Michael was the more emotional, and tended towards being confrontational. George preferred smoking dope to dealing with his pregnant girlfriend. Neither of them thought much of Alika’s efforts when he joined them on their fishing trips offshore.
Things changed for the worse when they learned that the company Alika worked for was planning to build a resort on their land. The deal would mean a better job and more money for Alika, but at what cost to the family?
In “Kamau A‘e,” which took place nine years later, Alika was an executive-level employee of the corporation that had built the resort on his family land.
George was dead, and Alika’s job had made it possible for him to support George’s daughter, Stevie- Girl, and pay for her education at a mainland college.
More than 200 Native Hawaiians worked at the resort, and the corporation funded cultural programs that gave guests an accurate understanding of Hawaiian culture, but that wasn’t enough for Michael, recently released from prison after doing nine years for attempted murder and a long list of related charges.
Michael wanted the land back, and a Hawaiian nationalist group, Ai Pohaku, joined him in what they intended to be a non-violent take-over of the resort grounds.
“In a Hawaiian world view — it’s definitely a pre-contact world view — the land is literally a sibling of ours,” Apio said.
“There can be no stronger bond between you and a loved one, and in the same way, Alika and his family are connected to their land as a part of their family.
“Hence the deep conflict and destruction that arises from another world view that doesn’t view it that way, and in fact is antithetical to that point of view.”
“One of the deepest issues that I hope this trilogy explores, not in an overt ‘teachy’ kind of way, but just kind of like, ‘This is the way all things play out,’ is that there’s a fundamental conflict that tears us apart regularly, daily — between our traditional gift-based and relationship-based (Hawaiian) society, and a capitalist-based society that draws everything down to a transaction that is based on value exchange of material goods and relationships,” Apio said in a phone call last week.
“Those two worlds just do not mix.”
IN “UA PAU,” George’s daughter, Stevie-Girl, returns from the mainland.
“If you look at the trilogy and the first two parts it makes obvious sense that the last story becomes Stevie-Girl’s story,” Apio explained.
“The first story is Alika’s, the second story is Michael’s, and just logically you’re wondering, ‘What happened to that girl?’”
But, he explained, there was a problem.
“I’ve always struggled with writing female characters, except older kupuna types, and when it came down to it I knew this hapa millennial girl the least. That’s been the hardest thing to wrap my storytelling around,” Apio said. “I actually just finished the last final rewrite.”
Other factors complicated the writing of this final play in the trilogy as well.
“The story lines have tracked my experience of living,” Apio said. “That’s why there was a big gap between my ability to write the first and second, and then my inability to finish the third until now.
“It seems obvious now, looking back, that when I finished writing ‘Kamau A‘e’ I had literally caught up with my own life, so I functionally didn’t know where to take the characters until I lived through life more.
“What I experienced through middle age now is reflected in what those main characters, Michael and Alika, experience living through middle age — and where they would end up or could potentially end up.”
Helping bring the story to life on the Kumu Kahua stage is Kumu Kahua Artistic Director Harry Wong III, who directed the premiere productions of “Kamau” and “Kamau A‘e” in 1994 and 1997 respectively, and veteran actor Charles Kupahu Timtim, who originated the character of Alika and continued to play him in the subsequent production.
Apio credits Wong for giving him valuable feedback in the final stages of rewriting the play, as the two began to discuss staging “Ua Pau.”
As for Apio’s working relationship with Timtim, “There’s a deep connection,” Apio said. “I think it has been an unspoken acknowledgement of our shared experiences as kanaka, as Hawaiian males in this time period.
“What I’ve relied on Charles for is the affirmation of truth — that what I’ve laid out for that character is a portrayal that rings true.”
“UA PAU (IT IS FINISHED, OVER, DESTROYED)”
Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre
>> Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
>> When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 22
>> Cost: $5-$25
>> Info: 536-4441, kumukahua.org