- No Mākou ka Mana: Liberating the Nation by Kamanamaikalani Beamer
Three decades ago, historian David Routledge reflected on the shortcomings of previous works of Island history and postulated for future works of Pacific history to be valuable, “not only that the Islands must constitute the environment but that Islanders must be the main actors. The history must not only be Island-centred but Islander-oriented” (“Pacific History as Seen from the Pacific Islands,” Pacific Studies 8 : 90). While this “Islander-oriented” school of Pacific history has for the last couple of decades been dominant in Australian, New Zealand, and South Pacific universities, until recently it had been all but absent from the historiography of Hawai‘i. Thanks to the work of an emerging school of Hawaiian scholars, a comparable approach to history writing has finally made its way to the islands in the north. Although a few earlier pioneers whose research moved in similar directions should be acknowledged, Kamanamaikalani Beamer’s No Mākou ka Mana: Liberating the Nation provides a well-written outline of this new line of thought and may serve as a milestone in Hawaiian historiography.
In the introduction, Beamer states that in pronounced contrast to previously dominant narratives of the “fatal impact” type in which Hawaiians were portrayed as passive objects or victims of Western interests and actions, his work is “not concerned with what missionaries or foreigners did for, or to, ‘Ōiwi [aboriginal Hawaiians], but rather what ‘Ōiwi did for themselves, in the midst of depopulation and the constant threats of colonialism” (12). When looking at the Hawaiian Kingdom from this angle, or in the author’s words, through “‘Ōiwi optics,” the perspective on the postcontact development of Hawaiian society and politics shifts radically. Applying ‘Ōiwi optics shows a continuity of traditional concepts of statecraft in the Hawaiian Kingdom, selectively appropriating Western ideas and technologies in a hybridized form in order to transform classical Hawaiian governance into a modern nation-state while maintaining Hawaiian identity.
Before analyzing this hybridization process, the book provides a detailed introduction to traditional Hawaiian statecraft. Beamer identifies three main principles of governance that shaped precontact Hawaiian polities, namely (1) mō‘ī, a supreme ruler at the head of each traditional polity; (2) palena, fixed and very precise land boundaries dividing the land into units such as moku (district) and ahupua‘a (land division usually extending from the uplands to the sea); and (3) kalai‘āina, the administration of the territory through the distribution of those bounded land units by a mō‘ī among his supporters. To show the complexity of the land system, the book provides beautiful reproductions of various maps produced by Hawaiian Kingdom surveyors during the nineteenth century. The same quality marks the various Hawaiian and [End Page 591] British archival documents the author deploys, many of which are reproduced in high resolution, giving the book a very exciting outlook.
Based on these sources, some hitherto unknown or not well interpolated in the writing of Hawaiian history, Beamer continues in the subsequent chapters to analyze how the modern Hawaiian state was built on these classical foundations and augmented through the selective appropriation of Western elements. Starting with speculations about Hawaiian engagements with the outside world before Captain Cook, based on evidence in Hawaiian-language sources, the book further contextualizes the unification of the archipelago by Kamehameha I given the precedence of the attempted archipelago-wide conquest by his distant ancestor Kalaunuiohua generations earlier. A focus on Kamehameha’s early diplomatic relations with Great Britain and his use of British sailors as advisors and negotiators with foreign powers further exemplifies the author’s use of ‘Ōiwi optics as a corrective lens on a critical period in the political history of Hawai‘i. The story closely tracks and engages with Kamehameha II’s 1823–1824 voyage to London to continue the relationship with Great Britain that his father had started; Kamehameha...