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Transforming Hawai‘i


This book has been just over 30 years in the making. While indigenous Hawai‘i holds a central place in much Pacific archaeological and anthropological discourse, this extraordinarily lengthy gestation was not due to the magnitude of the literature and sources to master. Indeed, my conclusions in this volume are essentially the same as my first full MA draft in the early 1990s, subsequently enriched by decades of exposure to wider circles of context. Rather, this length of production is more of a tribute to the incredible support I have received from a tight circle of friends, colleagues and family that carried me through some very rough times. This study began in the mid-1980s at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UH Mānoa) as a comparative study of indigenous state formation in Hawai‘i, Tonga and Tahiti. The sudden death of my younger brother, Nick; severe spinal damage from an association football injury; and becoming diabetic all in the space of two years ended my time at Hawai‘i and saw me return to Aotearoa New Zealand. Many of my note cards, prepared in that pre-laptop era, were lost in transit from Hawai‘i and so I had to revisit many of my sources and submit my study as an MA, focused solely on Hawai‘i, at the University of Otago in 1992.

Work for Television New Zealand (TVNZ) followed, including being approached to join the Dunedin-based Natural History Unit in a joint project The Seven Seas with NHK of Japan. Funding fell through, but the project inspired me to explore my own maritime heritage out of Liverpool and the extraordinary affinity Pacific Islanders have with the sea, which I witnessed daily in Hawai‘i. A PhD scholarship to The Australian National University in 1995 allowed me to escape years of casual work on the economic margins of Dunedin as a night watchman and gardener and produce a PhD on Pacific Islanders as maritime peoples. Securing a lectureship at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) in 1997 provided welcome employment as the tertiary sector went through another of its increasingly frequent funding contractions. Full-time lecturing at VUW and then James Cook University delayed my PhD submission and publication until 2006, just after I returned to ANU as a staff member. I published military aspects of my MA conclusions in article form in 2003, but only revisited my Hawai‘i study seriously in 2007 with an intention of revising and publishing. The study has taken another 10 years to complete due to a combination of a flurry of new works on Kānaka Maoli (indigenous Hawaiians) during this time, significant teaching commitments, and increasingly community-orientated contemporary projects in the Pacific being given priority over my more historical work.

Ironically, over the last two years, I finished this project as I began it in the late 1980s, with my academic future uncertain, awaiting spinal surgery, but as always, supported, inspired and, ultimately, rescued by extraordinary friends and scholars to whom I am forever grateful and who inspire my optimism about our profession and humanity in general. Scholarship is always a collective endeavour and, in this case, especially so. A long list of helpers is therefore particularly in order for this project.

My undergraduate training at Otago University inclined me towards placing Pacific political and social evolution in global perspective, enriched by anthropological, sociological and archaeological theory. In taking an honours degree in Pacific and African history, I was fortunate to study under four exceptionally gifted scholars at Otago. The first was the brilliant South African historian, the late Professor John Omer-Cooper. John’s 1966 The Zulu Aftermath remains a classic work on how to use oral history and read Western sources in new ways to reveal indigenous history running parallel to the Boer triumphalism that dominated South African history. John also introduced me to the revolution in the history of indigenous statecraft occurring in West and Central Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. The works of Djibril Niane on Mandingo history and traditional African history in general, Ivor Wilks on the Ashante, Saburi Oladeni Biobaku and P.C. Lloyd respectively on the Yoruba, and Jan Vansina and Thomas Reefe on Central African Savanna kingdoms have especially shaped my approaches to examining Hawaiian statecraft. More recent interactions with fellow Pacific specialists grounded in African studies, Dave Chappell and Pierre-Yves Le Meur, have reminded me of the intellectual dynamism and Pacific relevance of key studies on African societies.

The eccentric and intellectually gifted Professor Gordon Parsonson taught Pacific history from the inside looking out by combing the archives for glimpses of the indigenous Pacific past. His honours course used chapters of his draft indigenous history of the Pacific entitled The Children of Maui as weekly lectures. The draft book and the entire course were based largely on primary sources and depicted Pacific history as a series of internally driven revolutions well into the colonial era. Gordon’s perfectionist streak means The Children of Maui remains unpublished, although he is now into his 90s. This is a tragedy as it remains the best work I have read on indigenous Pacific history. Social anthropologist the late Professor Peter Wilson and archaeologist Professor Atholl Anderson rounded out my education and left a passion for multidisciplinary approaches, and a deep and profound respect for ‘big picture’ anthropological theory based on astute fieldwork in the case of Peter, and meticulous excavations combined with theoretically lateral thinking in terms of where to look and what to look for in the deep Pacific past in the case of Atholl. Atholl’s classic works on his Ngāi Tahu ancestors and John’s on Bantu South Africa reinforced my belief in the need to walk over the sites that I write about with historical sources in my backpack. This was particularly revealing in assisting me to find the discrepancies in accounts of indigenous battles in Hawai‘i that are discussed later in this book. While majoring in history honours, I also undertook two years of honours in geography, anthropology, and archaeology respectively. After graduation, I worked for two years on an Otago-based archaeological project.

The 1980s were times of bold theory in Pacific Studies, with major advances in studies of Hawai‘i coming from archaeologists Patrick Kirch and Robert Hommon, and anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. While all three have continued to publish on Hawai‘i, they have also largely continued to adhere to their fundamental theoretical stances formulated in the 1980s. Kirch has focused a great deal of attention in the last decade on incorporating Kānaka Maoli traditions recorded in the 19th century into his previous essentially archaeologically informed works on Hawai‘i to support his interpretations of Kānaka Maoli political evolution. Their work continues to inspire and intellectually challenge my thinking.

While referring to traditions recorded by 19th-century Kānaka Maoli historians such as David Malo and Samuel Kamakau, few anthropologists and archaeologists have cited or even acknowledged the scholarship of the current generation of stunningly innovative Hawaiian/Kānaka Maoli scholars I met while at graduate school at UH Mānoa in the late 1980s: Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa, Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, and the late Kanalu G. Terry Young, to whom this book is dedicated. This is especially surprising given the development of the UH Mānoa’s Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies to be arguably the best centre for indigenous scholarship in the Pacific today. The highlights of my coursework at UH Mānoa were the late Jerry Bentley’s multidisciplinary course on world history, which emphasised the need to embrace the histories of non-Western peoples on their own terms, and David Hanlon’s theoretically wide-ranging course on Micronesian history. Other students who inspired me and shaped my thinking included Lewis Mayo, who focused on Chinese and environmental history and who is still a close friend and also the most brilliant mind I have ever encountered; Bruce Campbell from Guam who introduced me to Micronesia and impressed upon me the need to give back to Pacific communities through items and knowledge they valued rather than academic learning alone; the late Teresia Teaiwa, who had already embraced multiple forms of indigenous self-expression as a means of developing indigenous voices informed, but not dictated, by more conventional academic scholarship; Dave Chappell, who had travelled the world, lived in Africa, and thinks deeply and writes profoundly about many key issues in Pacific and world history; Mike Pavkovic, whose thoughtful combination of classical studies and military history left a deep impression on me; and Dave French, whose profound knowledge of Amerindian cultures and fascination with Central Asian languages and history intoxicated me in our daily conversations. Dave shopped for me and visited me every day while I was bedridden for six months with a spinal injury, and did so while working full-time to put himself through graduate school. I could not have made it through those dark days without his help and support.

The completion of my MA on Hawai‘i in the early 1990s at Otago was made possible by the friendship and support of the entire department, and my supervisor Judy Bennett in particular. Modest and forthright in equal measure, Judy was supportive and constructively critical of my drafts. She also heightened my awareness of the importance of environmental history in processes of political and social evolution. Exchanges with John McNeill during this time as he was writing an article-length overview of the first environmental history of the Pacific, and the TVNZ project combined to establish environmental perspectives as fundamental to my historical analysis.

Environmental perspectives were combined with non-Western historiography for my PhD at ANU with a dream panel and an exceptional cohort of PhD students. Donald Denoon as my panel chair reunited me with my African studies, which he combined with his deep understanding of Papua New Guinea and big-picture, broad-brush approach to Pacific history and settler colonialism. Niel Gunson, Deryck Scarr, Mark Elvin and Tony Reid were always willing to discuss problems and methodologies as panel supervisors. Niel opened my eyes as never before to the richness and untapped potential of traditional Pacific histories contained in archives and remembered within the community that are still unfortunately rarely seen in modern academic studies of the Pacific. His students Kambati Uriam and Kieran Schmidt reinforced this potential with their detailed studies of the pre-European traditional history of Kiribati and Samoa respectively. Deryck’s deep knowledge of Fijian traditional ways served to further move me towards the traditional history – environmental history trajectory that influenced this book. Tony’s big-picture histories of South-East Asia served as models of what we could also do in the Pacific and started me on a long investigation of linkages between the two regions that colonial rule and colonial languages had combined to divide the two regions within academic expertise. Mark’s brilliant environmental perspectives on Chinese history and profound knowledge of cultures of the sea throughout history inspired me. I was also reunited with my friend Lewis Mayo, who Mark was supervising on a Chinese environmental history topic centred on western Gansu. Lewis’s work and encouragement, along with that of our fellow PhD cohort member, Vicki Luker, have influenced my work profoundly. Lewis and Vicki remain among my closest friends today.

It was during my PhD that I saw Kanalu for the last time when we were panellists together at the Pacific History Association conference in Hilo in July 1996. His talk preceded mine and was spellbinding in its emotion and brilliant in voicing the frustration of having your history articulated by outsiders while your own perspectives and understandings are sidelined. I remember frantically taking notes on almost every sentence he spoke and then being unable to focus on my own talk with my mind full of the brilliant insights and alternative ways of conceiving Hawaiian society that he had just outlined. His book came out soon afterwards and was a profound influence on this book and my thinking about Pacific history in general. To my knowledge, it was never reviewed by any Pacific journal nor cited since by any non-Hawaiian academics, despite a raft of studies being published in the last decade. Hawaiian scholarship has flourished since then, however, and Hawai‘i remains one of the strongest centres for indigenous studies in the Pacific with Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa still an intellectual force 30 years after her groundbreaking PhD was completed at UH Mānoa, and published as a book in 1992, and Kanalu’s and my contemporary, Jon Osorio, publishing his equally superb historical study of early 19th-century Hawai‘i in 2002. Cutting short my PhD scholarship to take up a teaching position at VUW reunited me with Teresia Teaiwa as she developed a Pacific Studies Program there, but delayed the submission of my PhD and stifled my publications while I developed numerous courses in Pacific, European and world history. Similar teaching to research imbalances followed in a new position at James Cook University in Townsville.

It was not until I returned to ANU as a staff member in 2006 that I could focus on research more than teaching. Here I linked up with Niel Gunson again and continued to learn much about traditional history from him. Vicki Luker has been a warm, inspiring and supportive colleague in the Department of Pacific and Asian History and as executive editor of the Journal of Pacific History. Stewart Firth and Greg Fry have been especially encouraging and supportive in pushing me to publish this study, while my departmental supervisor and mentor, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, has been a tower of strength and integrity, and an intellectual inspiration over the last decade. In recent years I have also been fortunate to work and often co-author with inspiring scholars in the Pacific: Tamatoa Bambridge from Tahiti; Zag Puas and Mymy Kim from Chuuk; Roannie Ng Shui from Samoa; Morgan Tuimaleali‘ifano from the University of the South Pacific at Laucala and also Samoa; Colin Philp of Leleuvia, Fiji; Chels Marshall from Australia; Tanira Kingi, Jacinta Ruru, Jenny Bryant-Tokalau and Lyn Carter from Aotearoa New Zealand; and Daya Dakasi Da-Wei Kuan and Vavauni Ljaljegean from Taiwan. Daya’s and my edited book on indigenous responses to climate change and globalisation will feature a stunning piece from Jon Osorio expressing the vital importance of place and belonging to Kānaka Maoli. I am also lucky to be working with a very supportive and intellectually inspiring editorial team on the next Cambridge History of the Pacific: Jane Samson, Matt Matsuda, Anne Perez-Hattori and Ryan Jones.

This work has been improved immeasurably by detailed anonymous referees’ reports, and especially through a very careful and perceptive copyedit by my wonderful editor Justine Molony. It has been a pleasure from start to finish working with ANU Press’ acting manager Emily Hazlewood and graphic designer Teresa Prowse. Teresa designed the cover and checked the manuscript, while Emily has done an enormous amount of work to improve this book, and displayed immense patience with my endless delays. All of the figures in this book were created to my specifications by Kay Dancey, Jenny Sheehan and Karina Pelling of CartoGIS, the Cartography Unit of ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. Both ANU Press and CartoGIS produce world-class outputs on a slender budget that defies belief. It is fitting that this study will be affiliated with my new workplace within ANU, the Department of Pacific Affairs (DPA) in the Coral Bell School of the College of Asia and the Pacific. DPA is a happy and productive workplace directed by a generous and visionary Pacific scholar and leader, Nicole Haley. Nicole and the Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific, Michael Wesley, have been fundamental in facilitating my transfer and providing me with the welcoming and stable workplace I have long sought to join. DPA works for the Pacific and not merely on the Pacific – a vital distinction. Lastly and most importantly, I owe so much of my academic success to the support and love of my family: my mum and dad, Anne and Brian, who have always supported my scholarship and taught me what really mattered in life. Mum and Dad were founding members of the New Zealand Values Party that later evolved into the New Zealand Green Party. Above all, my wonderful wife Xiaoqin and son Christopher inspire and support, fill every day with joy and make my life complete.

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