Football’s island charm | Brian Ching, Oahu and how Hawai‘i gained a World Cup spot

Wrapped up in the popularizing of soccer, naturally, is the continuing sensitivity toward the native Hawaiian culture. Overrun by missionaries in the 1820s and then subsumed by a tide of imperialism in Washington (Queen Lili’uokalani was deposed by U.S. interests in 1893), the Islands have long struggled to integrate the kanaka maoli (indigenous) and haole (Anglo) populations (note 1). In soccer’s case, the sport’s acceptance among native Hawaiians likely has been smoothed in that Ching, although his mother is from California, and Kai have ties to local ways.

Sports appear to run through the veins of Hawaiians. Dan Cisco, who compiled a 651-page history of Hawaiian sports, counted 59 that have been practiced on the Islands since the 1850s. And he does not include native sporting ways, reprised in the annual Makahiki Games. In reading descriptions of these contests, we did not find mention of anything resembling the ball games of Mayans or Native Americans, but many references to water sports and boxing (note 2).

Attempts are being made to bring back lava sledding (he’e holua), a 2,000-year-old practice of riding a sled head-first, at speeds of up to 50 mph, down hillside lava floes. Missionaries ended the sport, according to sled builder Tom Stone. “They wanted us to work, stop being happy,” he says.

The subtext for soccer, and for Ching’s anticipated appearance for the U.S. team in Germany, goes deeper than we have time to pursue fully. “I didn’t take the ordinary path the majority of guys on this team took to get where we are at,” says Ching, referring to his multiple surgeries and minor-league toils with the Seattle Sounders and Spokane (Wash.) Shadow. Ching’s path has been longer, and no doubt more scenic.

Update

The U.S. Senate on 8 Jun 06 blocked legislation, originally introduced in 2000 by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawai‘i), that would extend federal recognition to Native Hawaiians as indigenous people. The bill aims to create for Hawaiians, about 20 percent of the state’s population, a status comparable to Native American governments on the mainland. “The central issue of federal recognition for Hawaii’s indigenous people has yet to be given its fair examination,” Akaka said.

Notes

1. While missionaries provided loving service, such as Father Damien of Belgium in his ministry at the leprosy colony on Moloka’i, their influence typically is viewed as devastating to native practice and sensibilities. In addition, they, along with others, transmitted disease and brought lack of sophistication regarding the animist style of worship on the Islands. Writes Rev. Brian J. Grieves, an Episcopalian: “Hawai’i is often referred to as a paradise, but this didn’t prevent the missionaries from finding sin present among the ‘heathens.’ How sad they didn’t know God already was present in the islands when they arrived, not only as creator, but also in the spirituality of the kanaka maoli.

Author Stephen Kinzer in Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq (Holt, 2006) suggests that the monarchy’s ouster in 1893 represents one of the early cases of U.S.-backed regime change.

America’s long “regime change” century dawned in 1893 with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. This was a tentative, awkward piece of work, a cultural tragedy staged as comic opera. It was not a military operation, but without the landing of American troops, it probably would not have succeeded. The president of the United States [Benjamin Harrison] approved of it, but soon after it happened, a new president [Grover Cleveland] took office and denounced it. | back to text

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