Stephanie Nohelani Teves. Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance. Critical Indigeneities Series. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Illustrations. 240 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4696-4055-6; $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4696-4054-9.
Reviewed by Sarah Biscarra Dilley (University of California, Davis)
Published on H-AmIndian (May, 2019)
Commissioned by F. Evan Nooe (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)
Performance, Process, Practice, Place
Like words in many of our languages, “aloha” cannot be translated into a neat or even noun-based understanding; it is alive, imbued with distinct epistemology and ways of being that, recognized in complexity, are inherently sovereign concepts. In my own peoples’ language, yakʔitʔɨnɨsmu tiłhinkʔtitʸu, a modifier consistently used to make action into a being, can be roughly translated to “to have the intention to.” This practiced dedication to being, held within language, resonated with the unfolding embodiments of aloha named throughout the text. The book, Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance by Stephanie Nohelani Teves, strains upon the (temporarily) fixed medium of a printed text, asserting the poetics of aloha in music, in memory, in movement but, above all, as a living practice of Kānaka Maoli identities that resist the attempted intellectual, physical, spiritual, and spatial confinement of settler-colonial occupation. Her reading circumvents settler conceptualizations of aloha, articulating understandings as mobile and multiple as the experiences of Kānaka Maoli themselves. Aloha is not for the consumption of those who do not respect its complexity as a political, social, spatial, and spiritual process.
Teves writes with the active intention of aloha, in its myriad interpretations and methods used to make action into being, reaffirming the intellectual contributions and continuities of Kānaka Maoli. Without minimizing contested practices in the performances focused on, like hyper-masculine or misogynist leanings and appropriation, Teves centers readings that allow for the evolving, or living, nature of Indigenous thought and performance practice. While hip-hop and drag have been consumed by and in dominant contexts, she articulates these through the work of Krystilez, a West Side O‘ahu-based hip-hop artist, and Cocoa Chandelier, “a performer, choreographer, and educator working in urban Honolulu,” focusing on site-specific and contextually grounded practices (p. 83). This focused methodology allows for readings that expand beyond O‘ahu to the legibility and life of these performances, which continue to be at the confluence and margins of various creative practices. Each of the artists in conversation in this text reflect projections of colonial fantasies, of conflation, back to the settler gaze, defying the attempted aesthetic and lived confinement of Indigenous identities as simply rural, single-faceted, fixed, heterosexual, binary, docile, or boundlessly welcoming to uninvited guests in their territories.
Careful attention is paid to deconstructing terms that have become generally accepted, like “diaspora,” unraveling the heteronormativity reproduced in the trade languages we have learned to articulate reality. Just as missionaries flatten the fullness of our Indigenous languages, the emergence of binaries, whether projected on gender or cultural identity, dis/placement, or respectability, infringe on the currents that keep pulling us apart and back together again as peoples connected by The Great Ocean, łpasini. In fact, it is through these confluences that throughways are found to yak titˠyu titˠyu and other California Indigenous communities, referencing the navigational practices spanning saltwater and generations to the vaqueros, mentioned in “Bound in Place: Queer Indigenous Mobilities and The Old Paniolo Way,” and their Kānaka Maoli children who moved through the quickened pace of cattle and missionaries’ candles but became our relatives just the same. These living networks of relation, fraught, entangled, or otherwise, have always been practiced by Indigenous peoples, regardless of the settler mythologies that proliferate a finite, codified, and often past-tense idea of who we are capable of being. As outlined in the varied memory, remembrance, and retellings of the life of Princess Ka‘iulani in chapter 4, this multiplicity of meaning, relation, histories, and experience exists as an iterative uprising. Our long memory and long-standing existence as distinct but connected peoples continues to haunt an unsettling, occupied present, whether we are guests in the homeland of others, coming home, or coming out.
Performance threads connection to a variety of creative practices from hip-hop to drag, memory to movement. These read as confluences, performing the relation and political assertions made through each chapter, inviting the reader to engage with intent. Teves reckons with issues that affect many of our communities, from the consumption of our lands and cultures to continued marginalization of varied expression, heteropatriarchal violence wearing the mantle of “tradition,” and the attempted fragmentation of relation through displacement and movement. Simultaneously, she speaks from a place of cultural and conceptual specificity, rooted in local dive bars and tourist epicenters as well as language, constellations, and collective memory. This is a dynamic process, one that gives insight into Kānaka Maoli lived intellectual, political, and performative contexts while offering a generative reflection through which other Indigenous peoples can examine their own nuanced experiences. Speaking to, across, and in conflict with the disciplines of performance studies, geography, queer, feminist and gender studies, history, Native American and Indigenous studies, sound studies, literature, Pacific studies, and language studies, Defiant Indigeneity is an interdisciplinary text, interdependent with the practice, process, and performances of aloha conceptualized throughout.
. “We speak together with this trade language of English. This trade language enables us to speak across many language boundaries” (Joy Harjo, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, Poems [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015], 81).
. “łpasini” means the sea or the one sea; the use of this term engages a different conceptualization of waters often described as “the Pacific,” a colonial distinction of shared but distinct saltwater surrounding all continents.
. Meaning “The People,” yak tityu tityu is a plural distinction of Indigenous peoples and an abbreviated reference to yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini, describing the community often falsely described as Northern Chumash or Obispeño Chumash. I count among my relatives (in)famous vaquero Joaquin Armas and his daughter, Maria Louisa, born to a Native Hawaiian woman whose name is not present in many records. Miema Louisa (my grandmother), upon inheriting contested wealth, purchased many parcels of land for women and other leaders in our family along intentional waterways and our matrifocal protocols.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-amindian.
Sarah Biscarra Dilley. Review of Teves, Stephanie Nohelani, Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance.
H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews.
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