The Fisherman and The Farmerman: Reggae as Indigenous Insistence in Hawai'i


Reggae is exceedingly popular in Hawai‘i, particularly among Kānaka Maoli. Kanaka Maoli foodways and food sovereignty emerged as an important theme in the lives of a surprising number of reggae musicians in fans: around eight out of my fifty-four interviewees, and I observed it in others I talked to during fieldwork. Although reggae is associated with resistance in a global context because it is Black music and mobilizes anti-colonial and anti-capitalist messages, it is not “Hawaiian enough” for many politically-active Kanaka who are also interested in food sovereignty. However, reggae has been fundamental to forming the musicians’ and fans’ political consciousness that, sometimes, led them to food sovereignty. Reggae in Hawai‘i complicates the ways that academics typically relate resistance to Indigenous identity—indeed, how academics relate resistance to marginalized identity in general. Besides resistance, I argue that reggae in Hawai‘i and food sovereignty go “naturally” together because they are culture that is “normal” and even quotidian for Kanaka Maoli to engage in. One of the primary reasons for this is that they both involve relation with the land. As such, insistence, rather than resistance, is a more accurate and potentially liberatory framework through which to understand reggae in Hawai‘i and food sovereignty.



Dr. Sunaina Keonaona Kale (Kanaka Maoli) is a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Native American Studies at UC Davis. She holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from UC Santa Barbara. Her current book project on reggae in Hawai'i focuses on Indigenous and Black relationality and formations of Kanaka Maoli, local, and global identities in the music. Her other research interests include the intersections of food sovereignty and music in Hawai’i. She is a former Charles Eastman Fellow at Dartmouth College (2020–2022) and received the Robert Walser and Susan McClary Fellowship from the Society for American Music (2019).