Abstract: From the “Live Aloha” bumper stickers seen throughout Hawai‘i to the state constitution advising lawmakers to “give consideration to the Aloha Spirit,” the panacea of aloha is trotted out to answer every source of conflict in the Islands, from political to spiritual. The trope has been synonymous with Hawai‘i for so long that few people are bothered by its resistance to definition, its tendency to evoke closure where one would expect to see debate and dissent. I propose that this is not only because aloha points toward the things closest to people’s hearts—family, church, and nation—but also and more importantly because it succeeds in obscuring a history of traumatic meanings, all carrying political investments that remain couched beneath the seemingly transparent universality of such private sentiments as love and kindness. As a metonym for the Aloha State, “aloha spirit” serves as both social lubricant and glue, binding a cultural and political entity whose membership is contested. Unresolved historical contests run beneath the surface, however, driving an economy of lack that serves to keep aloha in motion. It is in the interest of divesting the figure of its traumatic power that this genealogy attempts to unpack some of the signifier’s hidden histories.
The Contemporary Pacific – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Aug 1, 2008