- Hawaiian By Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific by Joy Schulz
In the historiography of Hawai‘i, the “missionaries” often exist only as a stereotype: prudish, arrogant, and paternalistic New Englanders whose intrusive presence led to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. There is, of course, a nugget of truth at the heart of any stereotype, but this much maligned group is too important to be relegated to caricatures. Their legacy is complex and their lives and work are deeply imbricated into the history of Hawai‘i. Recent re-examinations have focused on gender and the role of female members of the mission, raising important questions about how family life affected the missionary enterprise. In Hawaiian by Birth: Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and U.S. Colonialism in the Pacific, Joy Schulz expands on this theme, broadening the subject to consider the lives of the missionary children. Her concern is with the 282 children born in Hawai‘i between 1820 and 1853. Schulz argues that there is value in studying the role children played in colonial enterprises and suggests that in Hawai‘i, the missionary children developed a bicultural identity as both Hawaiian and American. They were, in her words, “Hawaiian by birth, white by race and American by parental and educational design” (p. 14).
When the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) sent the first company of missionaries to Hawai‘i in 1819, they were supremely confident in their ability to Christianize Hawai‘i but woefully unprepared for the difficulties they faced. Some challenges were to be expected: learning to speak Hawaiian, gaining the confidence of the ali‘i, and coping with the difficulty of surviving in a foreign country with few resources and little monetary support. Other problems should have been anticipated [End Page 159] but apparently were not. In their haste to establish the mission station, the ABCFM failed to fully consider the obvious consequence of recruiting young, newly married couples to staff the mission: the birth of children.
Children were a practical problem. They were a drain on limited resources and required supervision that took time away from the work of the mission. But they were also a potential asset; they were a new generation who would secure the work of the mission into the future. This, however, required that the children receive an education that reinforced Christian values and introduced them to American social and political norms and standards of behavior. Before the founding of Punahou School in 1841, children as young as five were sent to the United States to attend school, living with family, supporters of the mission, or complete strangers. By mid-century, this practice ceased and all the missionary children were educated in Hawai‘i.
Their childhoods were unique. Before attending school, missionary parents attempted to protect their children from cultural contamination by segregating them from Kānaka Maoli in “kapu yards.” The children were forbidden to speak Hawaiian, a prohibition that was impossible to maintain since the missionaries themselves spoke Hawaiian and Kānaka Maoli were employed as domestic servants. The children grew up fully immersed in this foreign environment. They spent their childhoods submerged in the physical environment, enjoying an extraordinary amount of freedom; roaming the countryside, exploring the terrain, learning to swim, surf, dive, and ride horses. These experiences, Schulz suggests, shaped their identity so much so that by the time they were adolescents, they had come to see themselves as kama‘āina, literally and metaphorically, children of the land.
By the time they were adults, the missionary children had cultivated what Schulz calls a “bicultural identity” that perfectly situated them to be “agents of imperialism.” They were equally familiar with the culture of Hawai‘i and the priorities and values of the United States. As “Hawaiians”, they felt an obligation to save Hawai‘i from the ali‘i whom they believed to be corrupt. As Americans, they believed that Whites had a right...