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Preserving Hawaiian Culture: A Guide for Filipinos in Hawaii to Perpetuate Heritage



Jose Libornio, a Filipino bandmaster, may have faded from the collective memory of the Hawaiian and Filipino communities, but during his time, he commanded immense respect in the Hawaiian Islands.


Born in Santa Ana, Manila, during the era of Spanish colonization, Maestro Jose Sabas Libornio Ibarra initially aspired to join the Manila Symphony Orchestra. However, due to the racist treatment by the white Spaniards of that period, he departed for Hawaiʻi.


Fate led him to Hawaiʻi, where he became a member of the Royal Hawaiian Band, working directly under Maestro Henry Berger. His musical talents earned him recognition from both King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani.


In February of 1893, when the Provisional Government demanded loyalty oaths, Libornio and other members of the Royal Hawaiian Band staunchly refused. As a result, they formed a new ensemble, the Hawaiian National Band or Bana Lahui Hawaii, with Libornio as their bandmaster. Throughout the years, they persisted in their refusal to swear allegiance to the Provisional Government and later the Republic of Hawaiʻi, despite discouragement from Henry Berger, who warned them they would face hardship.


The resolute stance of Libornio and his fellow band members inspired the lyrics of the mele (song) "Mele 'Ai Pohaku," composed by Eleanor Kekoaohiwaikalani Wright Prendergast. Prendergast, a friend of Libornio and Liborio, discussed their financial difficulties with her, affirming their determination to "never take the oath to the haoles" (foreigners). She crafted the lyrics, possibly as a chant or by utilizing a preexisting melody, while Libornio created an entirely new musical arrangement.


This song later became known as "He Inoa No Ka Keiki O Ka Bana Lahui: He Lei No Ka Lahui Hawaii," signaling its association with the band. When the band traveled to the United States, the song gained popularity, especially among Hawaiians in the diaspora. During the 1895 Uprising against the Republic of Hawaiʻi, its title changed to "Kaulana Nā Pua" (Famous Are the Flowers).


However, in Hawaiʻi, which functioned as a separate country with its own copyright laws, Libornio acknowledged Prendergast as the rightful owner of the lyrics. She was the haku mele (composer) after all. Libornio also composed other nationalist songs, including a march dedicated to Queen Liliʻuokalani.


Following the Uprising, the Republic of Hawaiʻi commenced stripping citizenship from naturalized individuals and deporting non-citizens suspected of having "royalist sympathies." Due to his band activities and non-citizen status, Libornio became a target for deportation by the Republic. He relocated to Peru but proudly wore his Hawaiian Kingdom medals, as visible in his official photograph. Prior to departing for Peru, concerned that Americans might attempt to copyright the song due to its popularity, Libornio submitted it to the US Library of Congress in 1895 under the name "Aloha Aina" song.


Libornio's musical career thrived in Peru, where he composed "The Marcha de Banderas" (March of Flags), which is still performed during Peruvian flag-raising ceremonies and considered the country's unofficial second national anthem. In many ways, "Kaulana Nā Pua" has also become a secondary national anthem for Hawaiʻi.


The story of Jose Libornio, a Filipino bandmaster in the Hawaiian National Band, serves as a reminder of the deep connection between the Filipino and Hawaiian communities in perpetuating Hawaiian culture. Libornio's journey reflects the shared struggles and determination to preserve and promote the rich heritage of Hawaiʻi.


As Filipinos living in Hawaiʻi, there are compelling reasons to continue fostering and preserving Hawaiian culture. Firstly, embracing and perpetuating Hawaiian traditions and customs can contribute to a sense of belonging and identity for the Filipino community. By engaging with the culture, language, music, and dance of the indigenous people of Hawaiʻi, Filipinos can forge stronger bonds with the land and its inhabitants, creating a harmonious multicultural society.


Furthermore, honoring and celebrating Hawaiian culture demonstrates respect for the history and sovereignty of the islands. Recognizing the struggles faced by the Hawaiian people throughout colonization and the loss of their sovereignty, Filipinos can stand in solidarity as allies, supporting efforts for cultural revitalization and acknowledging the resilience of the Hawaiian community.


Preserving Hawaiian culture also presents opportunities for cultural exchange and mutual learning. Both the Filipino and Hawaiian cultures possess unique traditions, values, and perspectives that can enrich one another. By actively participating in cultural events, festivals, and gatherings, Filipinos can contribute their own heritage while gaining a deeper understanding of the traditions and customs of the Hawaiian people.


Promoting Hawaiian culture can also have economic benefits, particularly in the tourism industry. Hawaiʻi's vibrant culture and natural beauty attract visitors from around the world. By actively engaging in cultural preservation, Filipinos can contribute to the preservation of Hawaiʻi's distinctiveness, ensuring that future generations can continue to appreciate and benefit from its unique cultural heritage.


Ultimately, perpetuating Hawaiian culture as Filipinos in Hawaiʻi is a testament to the interconnectedness of diverse communities and the importance of cultural diversity. By valuing and actively participating in the preservation and promotion of Hawaiian traditions, Filipinos can contribute to a vibrant and inclusive society that honors and celebrates the tapestry of cultures that make up the Hawaiian Islands.

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