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Jul 15, 2012

Race in Historical Narratives of Hawai'i


For those who believe that historians are "non-partisan" or "neutral", this article may come as a surprise to you. All historians have political, social, religious, and class views which informs them on the way they write historical narratives.


In Hawai'i's case, there are currently five major prevailing historical narratives on how Hawaiian history is basically constructed. Three of these five emphasize the role of non-indigenous Hawaiian actors in Hawaiian nation-building while one emphasizes the role of the ali'i (nobility) and the last the collective Hawaiian people.

The first view is what I call the Ornamental view is one the traditional pro-establishment narrative Hawaiian history emphasizes the role of non-Kanaka Maoli. Its also largely uncritical in writings written by non-Kanaka Maoli. For example, the three volume work of Ralph Kuykendall simply titled The Hawaiian Kingdom relies almost entirely on English language sources and excludes even the writings of Queen Lili'uokalani for the sake of "brevity". William Armstrong's work Around the World With a King had also been accepted by many traditional Western-trained historians as being basically factual despite several glaring errors such as the awards King Kalakaua were given by various heads of states, error in dates, errors in itinerary, creating new titles for himself, falsifying awards the author was given, and possibly making up entire conversations he had with the King.

Due to this emphasis on English language sources and the way Hawaiian history continues to be written and taught, this historical narrative of Hawaiians basically being ornaments in their own history shows up in modern political issues particularly with sovereignty because it imposes a definition of what was and is the Hawaiian nation.

The pro-establishment historical narrative would go something like this:

  1. That the Hawaiian nation was basically established by Kamehameha I with the help of European advisers and European guns; 
  2. Kamehameha III framed a constitution based on American law again with the help of mostly haole (non-indigenous) advisers; 
  3. Hawaiian independence was recognized by major world powers because of the missionaries; 
  4. The standard of living during the Kingdom era was such because of American capital; 
  5. Indigenous Hawaiians were on the verge of being extinct so it was inevitable that other races replace them;
  6. The Hawaiian Kingdom was a multi-ethnic society and Kanaka Maoli had no "special rights"; 
  7. The "overthrow" was inevitable and came about due to "native" misrule including corruption by the Crown specifically King Kalakaua; 
  8. The "Republic of Hawai'i" though largely non-Kanaka Maoli was a legitimate government because non-Kanaka Maoli controlled 80% of the economy of Hawai'i and they were being milked by the failing monarchical institutions; 
  9. The Kanaka Maoli are not indigenous to Hawai'i as their ancestors came from the South Pacific (just as haoles would later come) and they should be referred to as simply "ethnic Hawaiians";
  10. American institutions and American government were the best to happen to indigenous Hawaiians as it gave them political stability;
  11. Certain events in the past were unfortunate but that is simply how it is and the proper venue for any redress is in the democratic process that has been in place since "Statehood"; 
There are several other points but most of these points goes back to the time of Kamehameha III but most were articulated by Lorrin Thurston and Sereno Bishop in the late 1880s and 1890s and have been regurgitated ever since. When the transfer--I prefer to use the term transfer rather than annexation--was made from the Republic of Hawai'i to the United States, the government did not change much. The Home Rule Party dominated Territorial Legislature won a major victory in establishing elected mayors and in having an archives in the first decade of the 20th century, but the US president through the military, the governors and judges maintained ultimate control over the Hawaiian Islands. Public education came under the purview of the US appointed governors who normally came from men who actually instigated the 1893 coup. They like politicians of any era appointed friendly faces to positions of power including the head archivist. The head archivist during most of the 20th century were members of Judd family, were friendly with the appointed governor (who could technically remove him/her at any time), and normally members of the Republican Party so they shared many of the conservative US East Coast viewpoints of their peers. For more than 70 years this viewpoint was basically the only viewpoint anyone had if they took a Hawaiian history class. 

In the 1980s and 90s, dissenting voices began to articulate a different historical perspective and began to examine English language primary sources more critically as a result of the post colonial struggles in the developing world, Dr. Marshall Sahlins, Dr. Edward Said, Dr. Niklaus Scweitzer and with the direction of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement at that time. Around the same time, a pro-royalist trend began to emerge with works of Helen Chapman and the re-publication of Hawai'i's Story by Hawai'i's Queen in what I call the Nostalgia historical narrative.  While indigenous Hawaiians are actors in Hawaiian history, the actors are mainly only the ali'i. As such, primary sources from royalists including the writings by the ali'i are viewed uncritically and the Hawaiian Kingdom era is seen as a Golden Age. Most of Nostalgia histories are written by or for ali'i and civil societies as well as Kamehameha Schools.



The Nostalgia points of view would be basically as follows:

  1. The Hawaiian nation existed for hundreds of years prior to Kamehameha I; 
  2. The indigenous Hawaiian people have a special spiritual, historical, and social relationship with the 'aina (land); 
  3. Hawai'i was in a Golden Age prior to Captain Cook; 
  4. That the Hawaiian nation was basically established by Kamehameha I with the help of European advisers and European guns;
  5. Haole advisers to Kamehameha I spoke Hawaiian, married Hawaiian, and for all intensive purposes adopted Hawaiian culture. They did not impose their culture on Hawaiians and respected Hawaiian culture. 
  6. Queen Ka'ahumanu decision to destroy the Hawaiian religion was one of the great achievements of the Hawaiian monarchy;
  7. The devout Christian Kamehameha III framed a constitution based on American law again with the help of mostly haole (non-indigenous) advisers; 
  8. Hawaiian independence was recognized by major world powers because of the missionaries; 
  9. Hawai'i was a melting pot with the aloha spirit
  10. This aloha spirit was abused by haoles
  11. The naive but loving indigenous Hawaiian commoners were dispossessed of their lands because foreigners;
  12.  The Hawaiian royals did everything they could to protect indigenous Hawaiians and were not capable of corruption;
  13. Indigenous Hawaiians were a "civilized" Christian people who trusted their missionary pastors and obeyed their chiefs in all things; 
  14. The ali'i were and continue to be guardians of Hawaiian culture;
  15. The era of King Kalakaua was a Golden Age of Hawaiian institutions;
  16. Indigenous Hawaiians have been treated as second class citizen by both Asian and haole settlers to Hawai'i;
  17. That the way to any redress is through a legal process;

Later, Hawaiian nationalist Political Scientists like Dr. Noenoe Silva began articulating a more historical narrative using Hawaiian language newspapers and indigenous Hawaiian writers. In reading something written by Dr. Silva and reading something written by Kuykendall is like reading two books with the same names but different stories. In Dr. Silva's accounts Hawaiians are the nation-builders. They are actors in their own history with the non-Kanaka Maoli assisting and/or at times usurping their appointed role. Though similar in some ways, the Nostalgia historical narrative, this view is critical of both the ali'i and their haole advisers as well the English Common law legal system put into place by Kamehameha III.

Some of the major points for the nationalist point of view would be like this:

  1. The Hawaiian nation existed for hundreds of years prior to Kamehameha I; 
  2. The indigenous Hawaiian people have a special spiritual, historical, and social relationship with the 'aina (land); 
  3. At the time of Captain Cook, unification was almost completed and would have been completed with or without foreign advisers; 
  4. Haole advisers to Kamehameha I spoke Hawaiian, married Hawaiian, and for all intensive purposes adopted Hawaiian culture. They did not impose their culture on Hawaiians and respected Hawaiian culture. 
  5. Unification of the Hawaiian Islands was largely due to the sacrifice of the warriors of Kamehameha who fought to unify the islands under one flag and the ingenuity of Kamehameha in both war and diplomacy; 
  6. The independence missions to the US, France, and the UK was headed not by a haole but by an indigenous Hawaiian and it was actually the missionaries who created problems for Hawaiian independence; 
  7. Kamehameha III made decisions that he felt were in the best interests of his own people but perhaps the implementation by his haole advisers and their supporters mostly from the ali'i class resulted in serious social inequalities; 
  8. The collapse of the Hawaiian population--80-90% of the Hawaiian population died in the one hundred years after Captain Cook--as a result of introduced diseases opened up political and social weaknesses and threatened the very existence of the Hawaiian nation;
  9. That the population collapse was exploited by foreigners either as a tool to propagate Christianity or as an excuse to import foreign labor as well as to push for the foreign ownership of Hawaiian lands;
  10. Some would argue that Kamehameha III's reign was marked by penetrating "self-colonizing" policies including the state promotion of a Protestant Christian lifestyle through the public school system, the enforcement of Western laws over Hawaiian customary laws, private land ownership (which allowed non-citizens to buy Hawaiian land), and the Westernization of institutions. These policies were mostly done in order to safeguard Hawaiian independence and to make Hawai'i seem "civilized" but it also resulted in tremendous confusion over Hawaiian identity and culture. (The Japanese and Thais for example maintained their traditional religions and identity while maintaining their national independence); 
  11. The debt of the chiefs and the King himself owed to foreigners played a part in political policy making;
  12. Indigenous Hawaiians were always politically active and far from passive; 
  13. One of the major problems indigenous Hawaiians faced was the population collapse of their society and this is a motivation for some of the immigration and naturalization policies enacted during the Kingdom era; 
  14. National rights and indigenous rights of Hawaiians to exercise self-government over their own nation had always been intertwined; 
  15. Indigenous Hawaiian were systemically excluded from the Hawaiian government for years beginning at the end of the reign of Kamehameha III until the reign of King Kalakaua when he began to assert more indigenous control over the government and the economy and this resulted in the 1887 Bayonet Constitution; 
  16. That the coup of 1893 was not "inevitable" but was pushed towards that direction by mainly wealthy American residents--Hawai'i's 1%--with the support of the Harrison administration; 
  17. Non-indigenous Hawaiians introduced racialism into politics as early as the reign of Kamehameha II. Members of the Honolulu Rifles for example made an oath to protect the "white residents of these islands". 
  18. This racialism is actually what separated the earlier relationship Kamehameha I had with his advisers compared to the relationship of Kamehameha III with his advisers. The foreign advisers of Kamehameha I treated him as their king and Hawaiians as their equals whereas the foreign advisers of Kamehameha III treated him as a relic and Hawaiians as a soon to be extinct race to be replaced by Anglo-Saxon progress. This power relationship and mentality continues to this day in the way history books still are written and the way settler privilege still manifests itself in anything dealing with indigenous Hawaiians. 
  19. Indigenous Hawaiian have been for the last century treated as second class citizens as Victorian-era institutional racism and historical amnesia still permeates and this is one of the many reasons why indigenous Hawaiians have difficulty in any "reconciliation" process particularly any process created by the State of Hawai'i. 
  20. The Territorial and State Governments has always played the race card not just towards indigenous Hawaiians but towards all other races in Hawai'i. For example, territorial immigration policies were directed to ensure that all races remained minorities in Hawai'i; 
  21. Political mobilization and continuing re-education on the part of indigenous Hawaiians are always necessary as history as shown that indigenous Hawaiians have always been politically active and indigenous rights have always been given and then taken away. 

In between the pro-establishment narrative and the Hawaiian nationalist narrative there are two other narratives that slowly evolved taking points from each distinctive historical narrative. One is what I like to call the Victimization narrative and the Libertarian Conservatism point of view:

The Victimization narrative is something like this:

  1. The Hawaiian nation existed for hundreds of years prior to Kamehameha I 
  2. The indigenous Hawaiian people have a special spiritual, historical, and social relationship with the 'aina (land); 
  3. Hawai'i was in a Golden Age prior to Captain Cook; 
  4. That the Hawaiian nation was basically established by Kamehameha I with the help of European advisers and European guns; 
  5. Kamehameha III framed a constitution based on American law again with the help of mostly haole (non-indigenous) advisers; 
  6. Hawaiian independence was recognized by major world powers because of the missionaries; 
  7. Hawai'i was a melting pot with the aloha spirit; 
  8. This aloha spirit was abused by haoles
  9. The child-like naive but loving indigenous Hawaiians were dispossessed of their lands because they could not cope with the traumatic changes brought by the missionaries; 
  10. Indigenous Hawaiians were a "civilized" Christian people who trusted their missionary pastors and obeyed their chiefs in all things; 
  11. The missionaries ultimately betrayed their indigenous Hawaiian flock; 
  12. The "overthrow" was inevitable as the US, France, and the UK had their eyes on Hawai'i; 
  13. The "Republic of Hawai'i" was a largely non-Kanaka Maoli government that oppressed indigenous Hawaiians; 
  14. Indigenous Hawaiians continue to be victims of their own history; 
  15. Indigenous Hawaiians still have not been able to cope with the changes brought about by the Great Mahele and the "overthrow". 
This narrative is normally put forward by state agencies.

The Libertarian Conservatism narrative goes something like this:

  1. Indigenous Hawaiians and Hawaiian nationals have a special relationship to Ke Akua (God), the 'aina, and all things in nature;
  2. The God-fearing Kamehameha III established laws to govern people of all races; 
  3. Indigenous Hawaiian rights are lesser than as national rights; 
  4. Rights are God given; 
  5. Hawai'i was a melting pot with the aloha spirit
  6. This aloha spirit was abused by haoles
  7. Indigenous Hawaiians were dispossessed of their lands because they could not cope with the traumatic changes brought by the missionaries; 
  8. Indigenous Hawaiians were a "civilized" Christian people who trusted their missionary pastors and obeyed their chiefs in all things; 
  9. Anyone can be Hawaiian; 
  10. Indigenous Hawaiians do not have more rights than Hawaiian nationals; 
  11. Race does not matter and when it comes to history of the Hawaiian Kingdom era everything is colorblind and everyone was affected by the 1893 coup equally; 
  12. That responsibility for the coup of 1893 was due to the US government; 
  13. Hawai'i was not colonized but simply continues to be "occupied"; 
  14. Any sort of redress must be through 19th century law;
  15. Political mobilization on the part of the Hawaiians is not necessary because the laws are already in place;

An example of this can be seen in a conversation on Facebook recently. The writer with a blue icon is a Californian who believes that s/he is a Hawaiian national.





Despite what may seem like a sort of similar view between the narratives of the Nationalist, Nostalgia, and Conservative Liberatarian, there are huge fundamental differences. Among Conservative Libertarians involved in the Hawaiian sovereignty/independence movement, particularly Kingdom groups, there is an emphasis on Kamehameha III. On the other hand, the Hawaiian nationalist historians, the reigns of Kamehameha V and Kalakaua are seen as being pivotal to Hawaiian nationalist history because that was the era that political parties, activism, and public protests began and when Hawai'i ceased to be simply an appendage of Europe and America. For Nostalgia historians, like nationalist historians, the reign of Kalakaua is seen as a Renaissance of Hawaiian culture and that era along with the premiership of Queen Ka'ahumanu are both emphasized. 

With Conservative Libertarian involved in the movement, many claim to be paralegals or know about the "law" but in my conversations, I have yet to meet any who have read the Hawaiian Civil Code. If they did, they would realize that the Hawaiian constitutions do not speak about citizenship but speak about the qualifications of electors. It is already assumed that anyone who is entitled to vote under the constitution would have either undergone naturalization (which is defined in the Civil Code very clearly) or is a native-born Hawaiian subject. Also the last constitution in force prior to the Bayonet Constitution was one proclaimed by Kamehameha V. Kamehameha III--I dislike the name "Kam III"--had actually proclaimed not one but two constitution and was not happy with either of them. Just as a side culture note, in Hawaiian and other Polynesian cultures, to compare someone, even a friend, to any sort of dog was seen as unflattering and insulting. 

Like the Ornamentalist and Victimization historical perspective, the Conservative Libertarian narrative also basically calls for a paternalistic relationship with indigenous Hawaiians. With those who follow the Conservative Libertarian historical narrative, indigenous Hawaiians are to be protected by law--though anyone can have the same relationship to the 'aina as indigenous Hawaiians since anyone can be "Hawaiian" and everyone is covered by the same God given laws. Those who follow the Ornamentalist and Victimization perspectives, indigenous Hawaiians are to be "protected" by constant government intervention and monitoring. Nostalgia narratives ultimately call for the Hawaiian ali'i to re-assert their role as the primary actors in Hawaiian history while nationalist would call all indigenous Hawaiians to assert their collective role as primary actors in their own history.

In addition, for Conservative Libertarians in the movement, the responsibility for the events in the past (or currently) no longer lies with settlers but simply with the US government while at the same time, the role of non-indigenous Hawaiians are again emphasized but solely in a positive light while indigenous Hawaiians mainly as a peaceful spiritual people somewhere in the background. Nationalists would counter those arguments by stating that an overly simplistic view of Hawaiian history results in an overly simplistic Orientalist view of Hawaiian culture and Hawaiians themselves. In that sense the Conservative Libertarian view shares arguments much in common with Ornamentalist and Victimization narratives because again the emphasis lies with non-indigenous actors in history. Furthermore, a nationalist could argue that settlers do bare a responsibility as they have directly benefited from what happened in the past (i.e. for example, a Caucasian moving from California can move to Hawai'i without a visa, claim to be Hawaiian without undergoing legal naturalization, then claim benefits as a "Hawaiian national" and join a Kingdom group--all because of what happened in 1893) and that racialism--as well as sexism--has played and continues to play a huge role in the social development of Hawai'i--not just for indigenous Hawaiians but all those whose ancestors endured the plantation system. This is no way suggests that those who share a nationalist narrative blame the haoles for everything--though some may do--as Conservative Libertarians or someone with the Ornamentalist point of view might counter. Nationalists simply suggest that indigenous Hawaiians would have adopted Western or Eastern technology--many in fact embraced Western technology like print--if they saw it was of benefit to them on their own but that choice, that free agency, was deprived from them as a group because of racialist policies and that as a group, historically, Anglo-Saxons benefited the most from these policies.


And this is why history is never a boring subject.

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