The Contemporary Pacific 16.1 (2004) 186-189
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Dismembering Lahui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887, by Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwo'ole Osorio. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002.ISBN 0-8248-2549-7; x + 310 pages, tables, figures, notes, photographs, glossary, bibliography, index. Paper, US$21.95.
Jon Osorio's Dismembering Lahui marks the coming of age of theCenter forHawaiian Studies at theUniversity of Hawai'i at Manoa. It signifies continuity and progress in Hawaiian scholarship and bodes well for the future of Pacific scholarship: continuity in that Osorio builds on the passionate, consciousness-raising studies published in the early 1990s by his mentors, Haunani-Kay Trask and Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, who sought to galvanize and rally Hawaiian sentiment, and to articulate their contemporary feelings of disempowerment, loss, and anger; progress in that, while addressing his own people, Osorio's passion is also channeled into quite profound scholarship that examines neglected sources and adds a new dimension to our understanding of the Hawaiian past that has wider methodological and theoretical implications. In this respect, Osorio's work resembles that of his colleague Kanalu Terry [End Page 186] Young, whose Rethinking the Native Hawaiian Past (New York: Garland, 1998) offered a new and multilayered examination of the world of kaukauali'i (lesser chiefs in the service of higher chiefs) in traditional society, just as Osorio's work reveals an indigenous society during a crucial transition period in which sovereignty was not so much seized by Europeans as whittled away. Osorio and Young have built admirably on the solid foundation laid by Trask and Kame'eleihiwa to make Hawai'i one of the leading centers for indigenous scholarship in the Pacific.
Osorio examines the effects of introducing western-style law codes on Native Hawaiians between the first constitution in 1840 and the so-called Bayonet Constitution in 1887, which marked the constitutional transfer of political power to resident westerners. While focusing on legislative measures, Osorio never loses sight of the human dimension to the story. I have read and admired the works of Davida Malo (David Malo) and Samuel Kamakau for over a decade, but it was only after reading of them here—as legislators caught between trying to balance the good and the bad within both their Hawaiian past and a future modeled on western institutions—that I began to understand them as both historians and historical figures. Another highlight of this work is its focus on lesser-known Hawaiian legislators who sought to come to terms with these dynamic and turbulent times. Native Hawaiians become people rather than just a uniform culture, and this allows Osorio to explain the divisions of opinion within their communities. Osorio openly admits that this mo'olelo (history) was shaped by his own life as a Native Hawaiian. He says little about his genealogy, although one gets the impression thathis sympathies lie with the kaukauali'i (lesser chiefs) and maka'ainana (commoners).
The first chapter begins by noting that although the death of Captain Cook and the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy in the 1890s are more dramatic than the period he is covering, the period 1840 to 1887 marked a profound change in Hawaiian circumstances. It was a time characterized by a "slow, insinuating invasion of people, ideas and institutions" which featured "racial and legal discourse that crippled the will, confidence and trust as surely as leprosy and small pox claimed their limbs and lives" (3). The remainder of the chapter deals with the early years of the Kamehameha dynasty, when introduced diseases decimated the Hawaiian population, including much of its chiefly elite. Religious beliefs were disrupted by the rejection of the kapu in 1820 and the introduction of Christianity.
The next chapter deals with the first bout of legislative changes in the 1840s that transformed government at a time when most of the Native Hawaiian population still looked to their ali'i (chiefs) for leadership and did not expect a direct say in government. Osorio makes good use of legislative records and native petitions to government to...