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Sep 9, 2012

Pre-Cook Foreigners in Hawai'i


In King Kalakaua's Legends and Myths of Hawai'i, he devotes a several passages and an entire chapter ("The Iron Knife") about possible foreigners who had visited or lived in Hawai'i before the arrival of Captain Cook.  The late king lists, for example, oral traditions recounting foreigners--Japanese and Spanish--who were shipwrecked in Hawai'i. Although this does not constitute "discovery" in the traditional sense--after all Hawai'i had been populated for more than a thousand years prior to those events and it was only under Captain Cook that the Hawaiian Islands became known to the world--the king had good reasons for believing in the possibility that those traditions might be true.  Japanese junks periodically did get shipwrecked in Hawai'i on their way to the Philippines and the island of Java. The king's childhood friend, Denzo (伝蔵), was among five brothers and survivors of a Japanese fishing junk that was hit by a typhoon somewhere near Okinawa and ended up shipwrecked on Kaua'i in 1841. Denzo eventually moved to Honolulu  where he eventually became friends with a young David La'amea Kalakaua. Denzo's friendship with the young Kalakaua would later influence the king's very favorable views about the Japanese and to which Emperor Meiji would help to cultivate. Denzo would eventually adopt a Hawaiian name, marry a Hawaiian woman, and though never returning to Japan while his oldest brother . 

The Tokugawa shogunate in the early 17th century had for many years issued "red seal" permits allowing Japanese to trade directly with Java, the Philippines, Thailand and Mexico. Japanese traders and diplomats were known to have also traveled on Spanish Galleon ships that crisscrossed the Pacific including the famous Christopher and Cosmas, Tanaka Shosuke, and Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga in that same time period. So the Japanese had experienced trans-Pacific voyages and there were Japanese traders all over the Pacific during that early time period. That began to change slowly as the Tokugawa began to experience problems with Christian converts and Portuguese and Spanish priests until the Tokugawa finally began to issue the Sakoku (鎖国) laws forbading Japanese subjects to have direct contact or trade with the outside world because of those issues. The Tokugawa eventually permitted the Dutch to trade directly with Japan through a special leased port. The Tokugawa also allowed Japanese to trade with the Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa) which Japan considered their king a vassal of the feudal lords of Satsuma who in turn were vassals of the Tokugawa though China, Thailand, and other Asian kingdoms consider the Ryukyu Kingdom as independent. Thus, with Japan closing itself to the outside world it created a illicit but profitable black market for foreign goods and spices to which Japanese adventurers and traders were happy to tap into. These traders would use ambiguous political status of Okinawa as a base of such operations. So despite the Tokugawa ban and the possibility of death, there was a lot of trade activity occurring in southern Japan and Okinawa. Okinawa, like Taiwan and the Philippines, lies in the Western Pacific Typhoon Zone making situations where traders might get lost due to a typhoon and be swept by strong trade winds to Micronesia or to Hawai'i--as what happened to Denzo--not so remote.  It is therefore possible that Japanese or other Asian traders could have reached Hawai'i by accident, been shipwrecked, and survived as Denzo and his five siblings had. 

Spanish/Portuguese Morion Helmet of the 16th Century
Hawaiian mahi'ole or feather helmet from the late 18th century

Sep 1, 2012

Queen Lili'uokalani


In honor of Queen Lili'uokalani's birthday this year, I decided to write some thoughts about what Queen Lili'uokalani means to most Hawaiians, including myself.

As a boy, I can remember a portrait of the Queen hanging in the living room of my grandmother's living room. Her portrait always hung above the pictures and photographs of family members because she was the Queen.  Such was the power of Queen Lili'uokalani that even though she had passed away seventy years previously, she was still referred to as "the Queen" by my grandmother as though she were still very much alive. I believe that my household was not unique in that sense. I know many Hawaiians who have at least one picture or portrait of the Queen somewhere in the house and who still speaks of the Queen in the present tense ("the Queen") rather than the more technically correct past tense form (e.g. "the late Queen").  But then  in a sense she never really did pass away in the hearts of most Hawaiians because the tragedy and the struggle of not just her reign but her entire lifetime remains very much in the present tense for us as a people, as her people.  She has come to represent for us as a people the contradictions of our political situation and within our very own souls.

She was a devout Christian yet knew the ancient Hawaiian traditions backwards and forwards in fact she translated the Kumulipo into English while she was imprisoned.

She was a member of an aristocratic family that helped to rule the island of Hawai'i hundreds of years before Captain Cook stumbled upon that island yet the Queen deeply believed in democracy, social justice and popular government.

The Queen was deposed by an American-back coup and fought hard against annexation yet when five Hawaiian sailors lost their lives abroad the USS Aztec (which it was hit by German  u-boats during World War I), she raised the American flag over her own private home Washington Place as a gesture to honor their sacrifice.