- Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ‘Ī‘ī by Marie Alohalani Brown
Marie Alohalani Brown’s Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ‘Ī‘ī is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in Hawaiian history, especially the events and personalities of the nineteenth century. Having served the Hawaiian government for nearly six decades, ‘Ī‘ī was an eye witness to key events impacting the Hawaiian Kingdom. However, until now, he had not been given the attention that such a great statesman should have received. Brown is among a new generation of scholars with a fluency in the Hawaiian language. She uses this skill to access the large body of primary sources that reveal details about Hawai‘i’s past and its rulers that have been little understood by previous generations of historians who relied only on English language sources.
Before launching into a chronological retelling of ‘Ī‘ī’s life, the author first discusses her use of the Hawaiian language and explains why she prefers to use ‘Ōiwi to refer to Native Hawaiians. Throughout her book, Brown uses many Hawaiian words, but she only defines each on first usage, so every subsequent reuse of the term may leave those unfamiliar with the language searching for a definition. A glossary of Hawaiian words would have been convenient.
The book does include many helpful tools, namely: a detailed timeline of John Papa ‘Ī‘ī’s life, a list of his newspaper contributions in a table format, extensive endnotes, a comprehensive list of works consulted, and a helpful index with detailed page references for key historical figures. Although Brown [End Page 161] warns readers of the “extended discussion (about nine pages) on his lineage and kinship” (p. xix) and advises that they read it carefully to better appreciate the drama of ‘Ī‘ī’s life, her detailed treatment of his genealogy may leave the most well-intentioned novice to Hawaiian history feeling overwhelmed.
Unlike the narrative style that is the bulk of her book, Brown’s introduction provides an academic discourse that contextualizes ‘Ī‘ī’s writings in the scholarly realm. Here she discusses how ‘Ī‘ī is among a small selection of Hawaiian authors of the nineteenth century (along with Samuel Kamakau and David Malo) who scholars have relied upon, the challenges of trying to fit Hawaiian epistemology into Western intellectual paradigms, and the limitations inherit in translating. She then expresses her desire to reconnect modern ‘Ōiwi with the values and aesthetics of their ancestors; key to this is understanding that a single Hawaiian word, mo‘olelo (stories), could mean history, legend, and fable.
After laying the groundwork with her academic and theoretical introduction, Brown’s writing shifts to a chronological retelling of stories from John Papa ‘Ī‘ī’s life in five chapters. Chapter 1 (1800–1824) covers his early training. We learn about the harsh realities of service as a young kahu (attendant) and are given examples: How his older brother Maoloha, while still a child, was strangled to death for taking Kamehameha’s lei pūkiawe, how ‘Ī‘ī himself came close to death twice, and how Liholiho beat him until he passed out.
Chapters 2 and 3 focuses on his dedicated service to the Kingdom during the reign of Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli) and provides intriguing details about major events in Hawaiian history, and ‘Ī‘ī s actual role in each. We learn how ‘Ī‘ī protected missionary Hiram Bingham in 1826 when sailors from the USS Dolphin were rioting in response to the ban on prostitution; how he was held hostage aboard the Artemise in 1839 during the Laplace affair and released only after the Hawaiian government paid $20,000; how he advised Kamehameha III during Lord George Paulet’s take over in 1843 and how he gave a 20-minute speech demonstrating his oratory skills when Admiral Thomas restored the kingdom. We also learn how he was involved in the diplomatic negotiations that resulted in separate treaties with France and Great Britain in 1846, and how he...