Interview with Rick Lebus

Interview with Rick Lebus

S: So do you mind saying “I’m” and your name and you were talking about Hawaiians and their pride.

R: I’m Richard Canejo Lebus, I am part Hawaiian. And what I find interesting about Janice Duncan is this is written in 1972 and she has the population estimated at 300,000 and one of the things that the houlees tried to do early on was try to diminish the Hawaiians, their population, their ability to navigate 6, 7 thousand miles across the ocean, to all these island groups. Particularly when Captain Cook showed up they just were absolutely stunned that this group of Polynesians had made it all the way this far north. And there are no stars when you cross the equator, there are no starts to read. You’re in the southern hemisphere. And they were just absolutely fascinated and they couldn’t believe that they could actually have gotten there. And of course there’s the Kontiki book about the Polynesians, this group of people might have come from South America, but the Hawaiians actually came from the Asian continent and navigated across something like 25,000 nautical miles. And probably, because there’s all kinds of records of their voyages to North America. There’s just similarities to the Macaw Indians. If you look at the Macaw Indians they use the same kind of nets that the Hawaiians use. They had dugout canoes that they fished out to sea with. Their petroglyphs are the same. and so it was just natural for the Hawaiians to travel on. If you sailed to Hawaii from the south Pacific you almost had to sail northeast and then tack back the other way with the trade winds and the Hawaiians also logs, throw a log out from Washington or Oregon, it’ll end up in Hawaii. Just washes up shore. And you see these trees coming. And when the Europeans showed up they actually had trees, had canoes, double hull canoes that were made from pine trees and things like that that had come from the Pacific Northwest, so you know the Hawaiians must have traveled there cuz they knew the trees came there. A lot of people said that wasn’t the case, but anyway. And the population was probably about half a million based on land divisions they had in Hawaii and the way they managed their lands. All I can say about Hawaiians in the Northwest is particularly this book, Kanakas, is the observation by people who are Americans and other Europeans who came to the Northwest and who observed these people in their diaries and usually with prejudice, they were prejudiced against any people that were brown. Or dark-skinned. And they really were impressed at the ability of these Hawaiian men and women. There are all kinds of unique stories. and if you look at the Hawaiian people and their land divisions and how they work. is everybody had an important role up and down the land division. From the person who worked up in the mountain to quarry the rocks to make the adze, the stone tools. And then the farmer who terraced the land and grow his tarot and everything else, and then down below you had the fishing village, and there everybody worked together as one group. And they competed amongst each other, each land division to see who could produce the most. And what they found, what Europeans found when they first encountered the Hawaiians was they are excellent navigators, which is why they took them on the ships. Within days they would learn how to sail even the largest ships, then when they were brought over to Fort Vancouver, it was their swimming abilities, particularly when the ships would come to shore, they had to come out in these rowboats and a lot of times they would get tossed in the surf and Hawaiians were there to basically save people out of the surf. There’s some amazing stories in that book Kanakas, the Untold Story. One of the stories is that there’s very little record of the old religion and how things were done. And there’s actually a diary, written in a diary of this one woman who was observing this Hawaiian who had died trying to save these people who had fallen in the ocean and had actually drug them out with his teeth, and he finally succumbed to exposure and she also noted in her diary how they had buried him, what they did. They salted him…and they turned a certain way. a priest came, somebody who was apparently a priest came, a Kahuna, and gave a Hawaiian ceremony, something you never see. That was all outlawed and was forgotten and that’s what I find interesting about that book. And that’s why I give it to Hawaiians who come here because they don’t know – a lot of them don’t know about Hawaiians who came to the Pacific Northwest. In the 1800s, 1805 or so, this land had to be, was forested all the way down to the rivers, to the Willamette, the Columbia, it was dense, it was wet. It was extremely hard to survive here. And these people were coming from an island where the temperatures were 70, 80 degrees and they managed and did very well. And that’s the thing about the Polynesians, Hawaiians is they were very adaptable people. When Cook showed up in 1778 they had no written language. By 1840 they had a constitutional monarchy. That’s quite a big jump from no written language to a constitutional monarchy with a right to vote. And they were adaptable. That’s what made them survive. And they took those skills of adapting and went to the Pacific Northwest and adapted to those conditions in Fort Vancouver. For me, as a Hawaiian, I take pride in that, because we’ve lost so much of our culture that there’s not a lot of examples to go by, for people to admire to see how they did it, so for me the Kanakas in the Northwest is an interesting story.

S: So what’s your story? I know you’re part Hawaiian and you’ve obviously studied quite a bit. Did you study Northwest history or Hawaiian history?



R: It’s like the American Indians. They try, their own oral history, our own oral history’s been used against us because they don’t believe in our oral history. And so Hawaiians are very careful about not letting too much be known about the ancient past. A lot of it has died. After my grandfather, my uncles and my mother and all these people, they were told to forget it. They actually observed older Hawaiians going up and using the mountain for prayer and medicinal purposes, collecting herbs and things like that, and it’s all been lost. I mean, the University of Hawaii is struggling today, trying to gather that information, what they did up on the mountain and where things were. There’s a picture of my grandfather, dated in 1923, and he’s standing on a platform haeow, which is an altar, up on the mountain of Mona Kea, and that site no longer exists and no one knows where it is. That’s the only known picture of any religious site on that mountain. And that mountain Mona Kea, which is the White Mountain because it gets snow on top of it, is a navigational mountain for the Polynesians, because it’s so tall, and that’s why whose observatories are on top of it. And that’s what that mountain was.