Terrains of Occupation and De-Occupation: Stewardship, Recognition, and Cultural Politics in the Saddle Region of Hawai`i Island

Christine Rosenfeld

Advisor: Paul Smith, PhD, Cultural Studies Program

Committee Members: Craig Willse, Johanna Bockman

Enterprise Hall, #400
April 19, 2018, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


This dissertation investigates the forces that have shaped the Saddle region of Hawai`i Island, located in the center of the island between the mountains of Mauna a Wākea and Mauna Loa. Various land uses occur in the Saddle including military activity in the Pohākuloa Training Area and astronomical and tourist activity in the Mauna Kea Science Reserve. There is conflict over the presence, expansion, and practices associated with these sites and I position this conflict within a history and a presence of the occupation of the Hawaiian Islands by the US. I trace the relationship between the US and Hawai`i in terms of how cultural difference has been treated since US contact, focusing on the time period beginning in 1893 and continuing until today. I argue that after exclusionary assimilation, inclusionary assimilation and eventually a politics of recognition governed the treatment of Hawai`i and Hawaiians; this shift towards recognition occurred in large part due to the demands made by social and environmental justice movements of the 1970s including the Hawaiian Renaissance. As the US-Hawai`i relationship evolved, the circulation of an extractivist ethic guiding land use, meaning, and management was responsible for carving the Saddle into a terrain that maintained occupation, a condition that is supposed to be temporary, not chronic. This extractivist ethic is in contrast with a stewardship or a mālama `āina ethic, which understands the human-environment relationship to be lateral, even familial, and not hierarchical. This compels humans to treat land by taking care of it and achieve a balance, or pono, between humans and the earth’s resources. The terrain of occupation was/is propped up by objects that animate a politics of recognition, including environmental impact statements, the `Imiloa Astronomy Center, and the Saddle Road Interpretive Corridor. These objects dialectically include and discard Hawaiian meanings of land and an acknowledgment of US occupation. I conclude by examining the losses people feel due to landscape changes in the Saddle and examine the quiet and loud ways that the limits of recognition are pushed against every day, which offers a glimpse into what de-occupation looks like. Overall, I assert that the Saddle landscape and the objects that have shaped it have forged terrains of occupation and terrains of de-occupation in a double sense: 1) The occupation and de-occupation of a stewardship ethic by/from an extractivist ethic, and 2) The occupation and de-occupation of Hawai`i by/from the US.