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Reviewed by:
  • Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism
  • Sally Engle Merry
Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism Sally Engle Merry Wellesley College, New York University

The last two decades of scholarship on the history of Hawai'i have seen a dramatic transformation in the way it is understood, based in large part on the extraordinary efforts of scholar-activists engaged in rethinking Hawaiian history from a Kanaka Maoli (native) perspective. As this new scholarship has explored critical moments—such as the 1848 Mahele (the division of land among the chiefs and the common people, which led to private landownership); the 1887 Bayonet Constitution (which Americans forced King Kalākaua to sign, at gunpoint); and the 1893 overthrow of the monarchy—the limitations of earlier histories that emphasized the gradual takeover of a willing and compliant native population have become more and more obvious. These more recent histories present astory of political and legal change that shifted power from Kanaka Maoli chiefs to white planters and merchants along with a cultural transformation that denigrated the Hawaiian [End Page 159] language and forms of artistic expression. This new perspective is based on a careful reexamination of archival materials and documents, particularly Hawaiian-language documents. Many of these sources were ignored in the past. With its substantial and thoughtful reading of the Hawaiian-language archive, Aloha Betrayed makes a major contribution to this reexamination of history. It reveals a substantial and sustained resistance to colonization and takeover and shows that the process of Americanization was not gradual and welcomed but violent, coercive, and contested.

Noenoe K Silva, a professor of political science and Hawaiian language at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa, has contributed significantly to this reanalysis by her extensive reliance on Hawaiian-language sources and by her use of relatively unconventional texts such as petitions, hula chants, state celebrations, and poetry. Hawaiian-language texts, particularly the independent Hawaiian-language newspapers of the second half of the nineteenth century, provide a rich account of Kanaka Maoli resistance to the loss of cultural and political sovereignty during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since Silva is a scholar of Hawaiian language as well as political science, she has relied on her own translations of many documents available only in Hawaiian and reexamined the translations of those widely read in English. Her discovery of petitions of protest to the overthrow in the US National Archives galvanized the contemporary sovereignty movement at the same time as it challenged earlier certainties that the Kānaka Maoli did not object to the loss of their sovereignty. Clues about the scope and extent of resistance had long been available and some scholars had noted the existence of these petitions, but Silva drew attention to them and their significance. In her book, she ties their production with other forms of resistance to present a powerful story of Kanaka Maoli opposition to the loss of sovereignty, particularly during the late nineteenth century as whites seized economic and political control of the islands. Silva's account reveals many heroic acts of resistance, some of which were inspired by the hope that the United States would overturn the actions of its agents as Britain had fifty years earlier, as well as the deep sadness of Kānaka Maoli at the time of overthrow and annexation.

One of the most significant features of Aloha Betrayed is its extensive reliance on Hawaiian-language materials. While other recent histories of Hawai'i claim to use Hawaiian-language texts, Silva's book does so toa far greater extent. Not only does she translate and interpret these texts, but she also discusses problems of translation and shows how inaccurate translations and elisions in the past have skewed our understanding of the meaning of these texts. The analysis she produces demonstrates vividly how relying on Hawaiian-language texts fundamentally reshapes our understanding of colonization and Kanaka Maoli reactions to the overthrow.

This book benefits from its reliance on Hawaiian-language texts in two ways. First, Silva goes back to the [End Page 160] classic texts on Hawaiian history widely used in English translation, such as the work of the eminent nineteenth-century Hawaiian...