For a Native Daughter: A Tribute to Haunani-Kay Trask

I’ve never met Haunani-Kay Trask, but I’m lucky to be surrounded by many of her friends, students, and colleagues. I’m lucky to teach at the institution where she fought so hard to carve space not only for native Hawaiians, but for all indigenous Pacific Islanders. Being in the presence of her spirit demands that we too sustain a spirit of passion, creativity, resistance, power, and fierceness. We, too, must continue to carve space for those that will come after us.

I’m thinking about Trask because last Thursday, I attended “For a Native Daughter: Honoring-Kay Trask,” in Honolulu, sponsored by MANA Student Hui, MANA Wahine, and Na Wahine Oiwi. According to their Facebook page, the organizers aimed to honor and publicly acknowledge how Trask “inspired and shaped so many of us and in some cases gave birth to our Hawaiian political consciousness.”

I first came to know Trask through her poetry collections: Light in the Crevice Never Seen and Night is a Sharkskin Drum. I loved her memorable images, unapologetic rhetoric, multilingual threading, and unbreakable rootedness in her native culture, genealogy, history, and struggle. Her words are, indeed, “spears, storms of light, chattering winds of hope.” She taught me that poetry can be political, dangerous, powerful, and beautiful all at once. She taught me that being a native poet wasnʻt enough, that being a native poet also meant striving to be a scholar, activist, and educator.

As I work on my third collection of poems, Iʻve returned to Traskʻs work. One epigraphs of my book quotes Traskʻs poem “Hawaiʻi”:

Near the estuary mouth

heiau stones lie crushed

beneath purple resort

 

toilets: Civilizationʻs

fecal vision

 

in the native

heart of darkness.

 

This passage opens a section of my third book about Tumon, the tourist center of Guam–a place that some describe as a “mini-Waikiki.” Not only does the passage above create an unforgettable image of heiau stones crushed beneath purple resort toilets (and what a nice touch highlighting the color of the toilets and all that color might signify in terms of royalty and toilet-as-throne), but the poem also gave me a way to see Tumon and other colonially exploited places: as “Civilizationʻs fecal vision.” Images and phrases like these echo far beyond the pages of a book.

Another Trask poem that surfaces in my next book is “Racist White Woman.” That poem helped me write a poem about anger, hatred, and violence–something Iʻve never really done before. It wasnʻt the images in that poem though; it was her “sworn Black promise.”

Anyhoo, I was happy I could join the 100 or so people who attended the tribute, including many of Traskʻs ohana. The organizers opened with a slideshow of many powerful–and some now iconic–images of Trask. They also showed a few videos from folks who couldnʻt make it to the event, including professors and community leaders.

Many of those who testified on stage spoke about how Trask inspired and changed their lives in real and symbolic ways. A few of them even said that they moved to Hawaiʻi from the continental U.S. because of Trask. So powerful that her words had the power to bring her people home; to politicize, educate, and empower them; to speak the truths that others were too afraid too speak. “We are not American. We are not American. We are not American.”

While I did not know all the poets who read during the tribute, I did take pictures of those I did know. Above are pics of Kealiʻi Mackenzie, Noʻu Revilla, Brandy Nālani McDougall, and Candace Fujikane. Their poems were so moving–filled with so much aloha for their kumu and friend. The last picture is of Traskʻs sister, Mililani–whoʻs an important Hawaiian leader (and a stand up comedian!).

Thanks to all the organizers and to all those who shared their voices. And saina maʻase to Haunani-Kay Trask, for the light and drum of your words.

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6 thoughts on “For a Native Daughter: A Tribute to Haunani-Kay Trask

  1. a wonderful tribute Craig, and yes, love the poem excerpt, strong words to say it how it is! You probably know Jamaica Kincaid’s book ‘A Small Place’ – a short book using strong prose to critique colonialism/emperialism, tourism and ‘the tourist’ from her Antiguan West Indies perspective – a wonderful strong piece of prose that packs poetic-punch with such conviction, I thought of her when I read your blog re: your next book!!! peace & love, Nat

  2. dear nat, thanks so much for your comment–i am actually not familiar with Kincaid’s book–but i will def check it out now. i appreciate the recommendation! hope you are doing well! xo, c

    1. Kincaid writes in a kind of stream-of-consciousness style that i love, and it’s more like an extended poetic essay than a novel, I think – beautifully written.. let me know what you think if you get chance to read it… i just got 2 pieces of prose selected for the next edition of Southerly a literary journal here in oz- a special Indigenous edition edited by 2 of our prominent, respected Indigenous poets, Lional Foggarty and Ali Cobby-Eckerman – I’m happy!!! great new on your cd launch too! x

      1. congrats on the acceptances! awesome. please let me know when the issue comes out and i can help spread the word! c

  3. As I said on fb, so lovely to see you again, and know that another of our precious Pacific visionaries is being supported through paid work (yay!).

    Thanks for the nudge, I’ve been trying to remember which of Haunani’s poems I wanted to teach in my Violence class – Hawai’i it is!.

    Arohanui

    Michelle

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