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Local Story

The Massie-Kahahawai Case and the Culture of History

John P. Rosa

Publication Year: 2014

The Massie-Kahahawai case of 1931–1932 shook the Territory of Hawai‘i to its very core. Thalia Massie, a young Navy wife, alleged that she had been kidnapped and raped by “some Hawaiian boys” in Waikīkī. A few days later, five young men stood accused of her rape. Mishandling of evidence and contradictory testimony led to a mistrial, but before a second trial could be convened, one of the accused, Horace Ida, was kidnapped and beaten by a group of Navy men and a second, Joseph Kahahawai, lay dead from a gunshot wound. Thalia’s husband, Thomas Massie; her mother, Grace Fortescue; and two Navy men were convicted of manslaughter despite witnesses who saw them kidnap Kahahawai and the discovery of Kahahawai’s body in the Massie’s car. Under pressure from Congress and the Navy, territorial governor Lawrence McCully Judd commuted their sentences. After spending only an hour in the governor’s office at ‘Iolani Palace, the four were set free.

Local Story is a close examination of how Native Hawaiians, Asian immigrants, and others responded to challenges posed by the military and federal government during the case’s investigation and aftermath. In addition to providing a concise account of events as they unfolded, the book shows how this historical narrative has been told and retold in later decades to affirm a local identity among descendants of working-class Native Hawaiians, Asians, and others—in fact, this understanding of the term “local” in the islands dates from the Massie-Kahahawai case. It looks at the racial and sexual tensions in pre–World War II Hawai‘i that kept local men and white women apart and at the uneasy relationship between federal and military officials and territorial administrators. Lastly, it examines the revival of interest in the case in the last few decades: true crime accounts, a fictionalized TV mini-series, and, most recently, a play and a documentary—all spurring the formation of new collective memories about the Massie-Kahahawai case.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: The Massie-Kahahawai Case as a Local Story

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pp. 1-8

In the fall of 1931 and the early months of 1932, the events of the Massie case shook the Territory of Hawai‘i to its very core. In September 1931 five local working-class youths in Hawai‘i found themselves in the midst of a shocking predicament. Joseph “Kalani” Kahahawai, Benedict “Benny” Ahakuelo, Horace Ida, David Takai, and Henry Chang stood accused of raping a white...

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Chapter 1: Local Boys: Ahakuelo, Chang, Ida, Kahahawai, and Takai as the Accused

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pp. 9-25

Despite intimidation by Detective Watson and appeals from others “in the name of the Hawaiian people,” Ben Ahakuelo held to his story that he and the other Kauluwela Boys had not assaulted Thalia Massie on the night of September 12, 1931.2 Ahakuelo was adamant that he, Joseph Kahahawai, David Takai, Horace Ida, and Henry Chang were innocent. All five young men had enjoyed...

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Chapter 2: Haole Woman: Thalia Massie and the Defense of White Womanhood

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pp. 26-43

Thalia Massie had marks on her body to indicate that she had been the victim of a very violent crime. The fact that she was a white woman and that her alleged assailants were a group of nonwhite men gave her story incredible strength. Several people have asserted that Thalia Massie was never raped. While I use the term “alleged rape” in this chapter, it is by no means...

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Chapter 3: The Killing of Joseph Kahahawai: Native Hawaiians and Stories of Resistance

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pp. 44-64

The funeral of Joseph Kahahawai was a mass gathering for Native Hawaiians and non‒Native Hawaiians alike. Friends, relatives, and those sympathetic to Kahahawai’s family as victims of injustice attended the funeral. By one estimation over two thousand people attended. David Kama publicly mourned the loss of Joe. Kama’s brother had been killed years before in an altercation...

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Chapter 4: A Closing and an Opening: The Massie-Fortescue Murder Trial

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pp. 65-76

The Territory of Hawaii v. Massie, Fortescue, Lord, and Jones was the first case of 1932 to be considered by the grand jury. The prosecutor’s office also considered it a small victory that the grand jury ultimately returned a bill of indictment in late January despite the fact that many jurors were employees of Big Five firms. A national audience followed the Massie case from the fall of...

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Chapter 5: Story, Memory, History

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pp. 77-101

Miriam Woolsey Reed’s words in 1996 about the Massie case underscore common criticisms made about oral history and public history: that people’s memories sometimes fail, or that storytellers like Glen Grant do not always get the facts straight. Inaccuracies, half-truths, and glitches in the historical record, however, are also common to written histories based on documentary...

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Epilogue: Ha'ina 'ia mai

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pp. 102-108

At the closing of many Hawaiian songs, one will often hear the familiar phrase above, signaling to the audience that the song—the story—is coming to an end. Even though they might not be fluent in ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, or the Hawaiian language, most locals today have heard the phrase near the closing of songs often enough to understand that the story is coming to a conclusion...

Chronology of the Massie-Kahahawai Case and Its Legacy

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pp. 109-116


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pp. 117-136


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pp. 137-152


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pp. 153-163

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780824840211
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824828257

Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 876088681
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Local Story

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Subject Headings

  • Fortescue, Grace, 1883-1979 -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Massie, Thomas H. -- Trials, litigation, etc.
  • Massie, Thalia, 1911-1963.
  • Trials (Murder) -- Hawaii -- History -- 20th century.
  • Trials (Rape) -- Hawaii -- History -- 20th century.
  • Kahahawai, Joseph, 1909-1932.
  • Lynching -- Hawaii -- History -- 20th century.
  • Hawaii -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Hawaii -- History -- 1900-1959.
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