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  • Response
  • Noenoe K Silva

First of all I must say that I am grateful to the three reviewers for their kindness and am humbled by their praise of my work. I am humbled because I see the work as based on one very simple principle: reading and taking seriously what Kānaka 'Ōiwi [End Page 167] (Native Hawaiians) wrote in their own language. Acting on this simple principle of respecting our ancestors' own accounts of their histories and experiences provides that "timely remedy for a common problem dominating Pacific historiography," as Lyn Carter put it in her review. Here I would like to take the opportunity toreiterate that it is in colonial situations (and I use the term "colonial" very broadly) that it is possible that the history of a place and people can be written for a century or more without serious consideration of the writing of the people whose place it is. That is, doctoral students specializing in French history at the University of Hawai'i must learn French and go to France and consult primary sources, but similar requirements are still not made for those studying Hawaiian or other Native peoples' histories.

My hope is that this point might betaken seriously by others besides myself and the handful of other Hawaiian-language scholars. Judging by recent books and manuscripts, it isclear to me that this is not yet the case. Part of the problem is the persistent, preconceived, and essentialist notion that the "authentic" (and I use quotes to signal that this term is problematic) Hawaiian culture—Greg Dening's "zero point," ie, the day before Captain Cook arrived—was an oral culture (Dening, "Afterword: On the Befores and Afters of the Encounter," in Cultural Memory: Reconfiguring History and Identity inthe Postcolonial Pacific, edited by Jeannette Marie Mageo, 2001, 207). This idea leads most contemporary scholars to overlook the one hundred fifty years of writing by Hawaiians. In a manuscript I was recently asked to review for publication, the author was even claiming that because Hawaiian was an oral culture, Hawaiians of the late nineteenth century were suspicious of all written documents. I hope that my and other scholars' work can now put these essentialist ideas to rest so that they are not used to excuse failing to consult the native language archives. Languages are difficult to learn for most of us, but that too is not an acceptable alibi. As Sally Engle Merry affirmed in her review, from now on, "In writing the history of Hawai'i, Hawaiian-language sources should take a prominent place."

I would also like to emphasize that such simple acts of respect in the academic realm can be valuable and meaningful to indigenous communities. Although the mainstream press in Honolulu has ignored the book (with the exception of one short and vicious attack in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin), many Hawaiians have bought it and responded well to it, especially in the activist community. In the twentieth century, Hawaiians suffered through education in which their ancestors didnot appear in history books, except as having rightfully given way to progress and the superiority of the United States and its dominant culture. The time for the representation of Hawaiians in history and textbooks as "cute, all-abiding, friendly nincompoops . . . [who are] certainly inferior as humans," as Kanaka novelist John Dominis Holt put it, is surely over, and Hawaiian children should no longer suffer such indignities at school (On Being Hawaiian, 1995 [1964], 9).

Professor Carter and her colleagues [End Page 168] in Māori studies at the University of Auckland have been engaged in similar work based on the Māori-language newspapers (Rere Atu, Taku Manu! edited by Jenifer Curnow, Ngapare Hopa, and Jane McRae, 2002). As a result, those archives will become even more accessible to those studying New Zealand history and I hope that they will also be taken very seriously, as the content within them will surely change some accepted notions in Māori history. Professor Carter also noted my attempt to recover women's history and I would like to add a brief comment here. The idea of powerful women in Hawaiian culture is not particularly new; in fact...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 167-171
Launched on MUSE
2005-12-06
Open Access
No
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