Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Law of the Splintered Paddle

This is supposed to be a blog about mysteries, but, because this is the first day of the Obama presidency, I'm going to beg your indulgence and stray a bit from the topic.

Yesterday the world saw the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. Much has been made of the momentous fact that Mr. Obama is the nation's first African-American president. I don't believe too much can be made of that historical fact. Nevertheless, I don't believe enough has been made of the fact that Mr. Obama is the nation's first kama'aina president.

Kama'aina means native-born Hawaiian. (pronunciation at the end)

I'm not a kama'aina, though my youngest son is. While I no longer live in Hawaii, my main characters do.

In the United States, we don't take the measure of a man by an accident of birth. However, we recognize that the milieu in which a person spends their formative years does a lot to determine character and values. Mr. Obama writes fondly of Hawaii and Punahou School. Punahou's emphasis on instilling values taught him to create a foundation for his life. Those values almost certainly include the ideals of caring and compassion that is characteristic of Hawaii's unique culture, often called the Aloha spirit. An iconic element of that spirit is a precept of Hawaiian law known as Ke Kanawai Mamalahoe, the Law of the Splintered Paddle. The ideas embodied in the law lie at the core of the fiftieth state.

To understand the law, we have to go back to the story of the first commander-in-chief of Hawaii, Kamehameha I. The legend goes that Kamehameha, then a young warrior, was leading a raiding party and spotted a target of opportunity, a group of unarmed fishermen. The fishermen fled from the attack, but two of them stayed behind to make sure the others, including women and children, got away safely. Kamehameha went in pursuit, but his foot broke through a lava crust which trapped him. The two fishermen beat him with a canoe paddle until it broke. They let him live and made their escape.

Kamehameha recovered and went on to unite all the islands into a nation. In 1797, shortly after becoming Hawaii's first monarch, the two fishermen who beat him, were found and brought before him. They feared for their lives, but Kamehameha realized he had been in the wrong and surprised them by providing them with land and promulgating the first law of Hawaii, known as the Law of tthe Splintered Paddle: "Let every elderly person, woman and child lie by the roadside without fear of harm."

The law has been interpreted to mean that the defenseless will be protected from harm, particularly from government officials. It is enshrined in the bill of rights of the Hawaii State constitution which was rewritten and ratified in 1978, when Mr. Obama was in high school. At the time that Kamehameha promulgated it, the law represented a breakthrough in human rights. It has become a model for laws regarding the treatment of civilians and non-combatants in battle. It certainly would have been a part of the curriculum at Punahou School. In the final analysis, we may never know the extent to which the Law of the Splintered Paddle influences Mr. Obama's core beliefs.

So what does this have to do with mysteries?

The commitment to human rights and the Law of the Splintered Paddle is represented on the Honolulu police badge as two crossed canoe paddles in the center. Read the story of the badge here.

The Law of the Splintered Paddle doesn't distinguish between the innocent and the guilty. It provides protection from harm to everyone. This is sometimes cited as one of the reasons Hawaii has no death penalty.

The Law of the Splintered Paddle is what motivates my newest detective, Honolulu private eye, Ava Rome. She calls her agency the Mamalahoe (Splintered Paddle) Agency and will protect anyone who is defenseless wothout regard for guilt or innocence. The first book in the series is finished and making the rounds of publishers. With any luck you'll be able to read it while Mr. Obama is still in office.

In the meantime, all I can offer is a new for 2009 story, "Horns," featuring another of my main characters, Val Lyon. If you do get a chance to read it, I hope you will let me know what you think of it. On my Hawaiian Eye blog, you can find out about other Hawaiian detectives or you can go here for a list of kama 'aina mysteries.

kama'aina --ka mah EYE nah
ke -- kay
kanawai--kah nah WHY
mamalahoe--mah MAH lah hoy

Mark Troy


A. Kichu said...

That was very informative. THanks for sharing!

Morgan Mandel said...

Mark, thanks for sharing about Hawaiian culture. It's good to know there's something deeper going on there besides only the fun stuff of luas and hula skirts and the like.

Morgan Mandel

F. M. Meredith, author said...

I too thank you for sharing this--we all too often forget all of Obama's heritage.

Looking forward to seeing how much Congress will let Obama do to fulfilling his promises. Hoping and praying for the best.

aka F. M. Meredith

Dana Fredsti said...

Mark, probably my favorite of your posts to date!

Mark Troy said...

Thanks to all of you for the kind words.

Leon Basin said...

I really like your banner. Thank you!!