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Brown Skin Girl

by Bella Leon about a month ago in social commentary

Kanaka Maoli poetry

Hawaii State Archives

Kids use to tell me to scrub my skin harder.

Make it whiter, white soap stains

they said.

I wore my hair in ties, teasing out the follicles my

ancestors proudly wore under crowns that weaved

flowers and leaves in between

strands. My hair was too big

like my native sisters’ and brothers’.

I prayed for hair like the haole girl in my

classes. Native plants decorate her hair,

but the ʻāina

that fed my ancestor’s mouths belongs to me,

yet she wears it on her head.

I stomp upon the land my ancestors bled on

cooked on,

danced hula on,

while on my way to class.

I hear their heaving cries when the wind presses

against the skin that kids say is too brown.

White soap over brown skin,

That should do the trick.

Kids use to tell me that my

name, birthed from my native language,

‘ōlelo Hawai'i,

should remained glued under my tongue.

They said, remove it like the way colonizers

desecrated your ancestors,

your land,

your culture,

your brown skin.

My mother always told me to hold my name like

a trophy, it’s beauty is in the way

that it defeats colonialism;

By the language that colonizers hung from a


Kuh-nuh-nee; Kanani

It means Beautiful, she says, peeling a smile across her face

to reveal the

the pearls of her mouth,

beaming at the thought that her mother

would be proud that she

crowed a child in her native tongue.

But I drowned out her preaching,

and replaced it with another: Bella.

Kids tell me,

and my mother tells me,

my ancestors watch me, and I wait

to grow strong like the Kalo that use to live

in fields where

hotels now climb higher than the Ko’olau

Mountains, my mountains but someone else's profit.

They tell me, I listen, and I wait

to find the brown skin girl

who should’ve lived with her name on her tongue

with her skin boiled by the sun

and her mouth spilling the language that

she should’ve spoken.

They use to tell me to scrub my skin hard,

erase the brown collecting on your


legs, head, and fingers.

But I don’t let them say it anymore.

Banished from the gape of their mouth with

one word: ʻaʻole.

Instead, I tell them,

I am a

brown skin girl.

I am Kanaka Maoli.


From Honolulu Magazine
From Honolulu Magazine
From Honolulu Magazine
From Honolulu Magazine

Note from the Author

Honestly, it would be beautiful for more people to read Kanaka Maoli poetry. My work is not enough to encompass the thoughts and beauty of my people; especially because I have been separated from my culture and too ignorant to clearly express my hopes, dreams, and griefs regarding my ancestors and culture. My hope is for everyone to search some of the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) in this poem and discover their meaning. The effort would be really appreciated, and it might lead you down a road towards investigating the collapse of my land, the dying Native Hawaiian population, the violence against this highly overlooked indigenous group, and the growing expenses that native people must produce to live on their own land. But I also understand that it might take too much time for everyone. The definition to some words can be found below. If you want to start educating yourself on the injustices being inflicted on Hawaiian land and people, start by searching: Mauna Kea Protests. And consider donating to their cause. I really appreciate everyone reading this piece. I hope you can discover more about how colonialism has destroyed everything that lives in this Brown Skin Girl and her people.

ʻōlelo: Language

kalo: Taro

haole: White or non-native Hawaiian; formerly known as foreigner

kanaka maoli: Native Hawaiian person

ʻāina: Land

ʻaʻole: No, never


As always, thank you for reading. Any and all tips are deeply appreciated :)

social commentary
Bella Leon
Bella Leon
Read next: finding love
Bella Leon

Editor by day, Vocal writer by night.

I like to write about nearly anything as long as it's sincere but preferably, I like to talk about film!

Follow my film curating instagram page :) @thinkingnimages

Storyteller / poet / cinephile


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