Editor’s Page: Why We Decided to Use an Upside-Down Hawai‘i State Flag on the Cover

It’s become a common sight across the Islands. But the decision to put this flag on our cover was not a simple one.
Christi Young

The photo of an upside-down flag flashed on a screen at a recent meeting of the entire HONOLULU team. The reaction, as you would expect, was immediate, emphatic and divided. Is this the image we wanted on our February cover? There is no question it was powerful. The discussion that followed, with people from sales, design, circulation, editorial and marketing weighing in, was passionate and thoughtful and one, I believe, that has been mirrored in many houses, at many tables, in many meetings about the protests on Maunakea, in Waimānalo and in Kahuku over the use of Hawai‘i land. A resurgence of Aloha ‘Āina.


Regardless of where you stand on debates, there is no question that these headline-grabbing conflicts over development have catapulted the issues of these communities into daily conversations. The upside-down flag, an internationally recognized sign of distress, has appeared across the state as a sign of support for those trying to stop construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea. Our cover photo, however, predates this current movement. It was taken by photographer Olivier Koning in 2013 on Kaho‘olawe.


SEE ALSO: Editor’s Page: It Isn’t Often That a Handwritten Letter Arrives at my Desk

February cover
Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino


That year, Koning traveled to the bomb-scarred island with a team from our then sister publication, MANA Magazine. Editor Ke‘ōpūlaulani Reelitz, managing editor Jade Snow and art director Janelle Kalawe spent four days with the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission and the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana to experience the work volunteers were putting in to bring the former military bombing site back to life. Koning photographed the Hawai‘i flag flying over the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana’s campsite. It is a fitting image for today’s protests, which many view as a natural evolution  of that pivotal time in Hawai‘i history—when nine Hawaiians made it past U.S. military crews to occupy Kaho‘olawe.


Christine Hitt wrote our feature, “Lāhui Reawakening.” When I joined HONOLULU, she was in charge of the magazine’s burgeoning website. But the Kamehameha Schools and UH graduate’s passion for writing about the Native Hawaiian community soon led her to a position as editor of MANA. Today, she writes about Hawaiian issues for publications including the Los Angeles Times, so it felt like a natural fit to ask her to dive into the history that is driving today’s Native Hawaiian leaders.


This month marks a milestone for a festival that has left its graphic mark throughout Kaka‘ako. Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i marks 10 years of murals throughout Honolulu in 2020 and one of our photographers, Aaron K. Yoshino, has been there from its early moments. We asked him to show us the history of this eye-catching street art event through his lens. 


We’d also like to welcome a new contributor, Jenny Sathngam. The Honolulu-based photographer and producer’s work has been in publications that include Food & Wine and New York Magazine. We had her shoot exquisite cakes in Waikīkī, a smash burger in Downtown Honolulu and a kim chee Reuben in Kaka‘ako for ‘Ono.


We’re always open for more discussion. Let me know what you would like to see next in the pages of HONOLULU at christiy@honolulumagazine.com.

  Christi Young


Got a good story? Reach me at christiy@honolulumagazine.com


Read all of these stories in the February issue of HONOLULU Magazine. Available on newsstands in February, or purchase the issue at shop.honolulumagazine.com. Subscribe to the print and digital editions now.