By Derek H. Kauanoe
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Feb 06, 2014
House Bill 1889 is worthy of support from Hawaii residents and state lawmakers because it is a step in the right direction for dealing with our growing homelessness issue in a manner consistent with our rich history.
Although the Law of the Splintered Paddle can be found in Hawaii's Constitution and is largely considered "symbolic," Gov. Neil Abercrombie "re-invoked" it less than three years ago in a subtle but important way.
Through Executive Order 11-21, he announced his intent to "provide leadership for the prevention and elimination of homelessness, and to keep Hawaii at the forefront of providing care to its residents in the spirit of the Law of the Splintered Paddle."
There is more to the law's translation — "Let the old men, the old women and the children go and sleep by the roadway; let them not be harmed" — than many people think. Some may view the ancient edict as having no meaningful use today. Actually, it challenges us to examine power relations and the ways we govern.
A deeper examination of the different ways Kamehameha I used the Law of the Splintered Paddle reveals the importance of limiting the authority of a governing power over otherwise powerless people.
Kamehameha limited his own power and refused to apply a death penalty on an innocent
fisherman who defended himself against Kamehameha. In the process, he recognized his
own wrongdoing and the consequences of his actions.
Subsequently, Kamehameha imposed the law to protect the lives and property of foreign
crewmembers aboard The Eleanor from lower-ranking chiefs. In effect, this expanded the
law's applicability to the waterways and to foreigners.
Kamehameha also proclaimed the law in Maui after the Battle of Puukoae to stop the brutal
murders of captured enemy warriors from his own troops.
According to historian Stephen Desha, soon after this battle, Kamehameha also ordered
Maui chiefs to "not oppress the commoners. Live in peace and do not attempt to plunder …
In another instance, after using the law to end the Battle of Kepaniwai o ‘Iao, Kamehameha demanded policies of balance, equality and fairness between chiefs and commoners.
These later events show how the Law of the Splintered Paddle was expanded again; it applied to captured warriors on the battlefield but also required a balance between the governing class and the people.
After reviewing accounts by historians like Desha, Abraham Fornander, James Jarvis and Ralph Kuykendall, a common theme emerges: the protection of the vulnerable from those in more powerful or advantageous positions.
We also observe Kamehameha limiting the power of lower-ranked chiefs in his own expanding
In a modern-day context, the "spirit" of the Law of the Splintered Paddle requires state government to review the conduct of the counties and act as necessary to protect the vulnerable.
While the proposed Housing First initiative may be consistent with the spirit of the Law of the Splintered Paddle, Honolulu's several anti-homeless ordinances helped rank our city among the "meanest to the homeless" by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. This is precisely the type of government conduct the Law of the Splintered Paddle was intended to protect people against.
Shelving HB 1899 prematurely prevents lawmakers from working out concerns in the bill; even the Star-Advertiser recognized the core intent as important ("‘Bill of Rights' for homeless a distraction," Our View, Jan. 26).
Hopefully this bill and other legislation will guide the counties in developing ordinances and supporting initiatives that meaningfully address the needs of our most vulnerable people in the spirit of the Law of the Splintered Paddle.