- Return to Kahiki: Native Hawaiians in Oceania by Kealani Cook
Over the past decade, Hawaiian historiography has seen a re-appreciation of developments in the Islands during the nineteenth century, and a move away from the fatal-impact discourse of the previous decades that cast them merely as a prelude to the American occupation of the archipelago.
One important aspect of those nineteenth century developments that many previous scholars have missed is the intense re-establishment of connections with the rest of Oceania that happened during that period, with hundreds of Hawaiians visiting and sometimes settling on other islands, most of them as sailors on Western ships. While these only very rarely left any written records of their lives and interactions with other islanders, three other sets of Hawaiian travelers and sojourners in Oceania during the nineteenth and early twentieth century did.
The first of them were native missionaries of the Hawaiian Missionary Society who worked primarily on the Gilbert Islands and the Marquesas from the 1850s to the early 1900s. The second were Hawaiian diplomats sent by King Kalākaua to Sāmoa in 1886–1887 in order to lay the groundwork for a pan-Oceanian confederation. The third was a retired Hawaiian statesman and entrepreneur who went on a round-trip of Oceania in 1907. In Return to Kahiki: Native Hawaiians in Oceania, Kealani Cook recounts and analyzes their stories, based on archival materials and newspaper articles in both Hawaiian and English.
As implied in the title, Hawaiian voyages to other Pacific Islands in the nineteenth and early twentieth century were much more than just overseas adventures, but in fact re-connections to the islands in the south that figure [End Page 164] in oral traditions as Kahiki, the place of both origins and destinations of the great epic voyages in Hawai‘i’s earlier history. This reconnection with ancestral ties is one of the central aspects in Cook’s narrative. Because reconnecting with Oceania also meant reconnecting with Hawaiians’ roots in deep time, each of the three examined phases of Hawaiian interaction with other Oceanian peoples can tell us a lot about Hawaiians’ relation to their own past. Specifically, their perception of and relation to other islanders was based on their own attitude towards Hawaiian identity during ka wā ‘ōiwi wale (the period of native people only, i.e. before Western contact) and the subsequent changes due to Western influences.
In the first two chapters, Cook looks at the attitudes held by the various Hawaiian missionaries in the Gilbert and Marquesas Islands towards their host communities and the local Christian neophytes under their pastoral care. Based on an analysis of the missionaries’ letters and reports back to Honolulu, most of them essentially internalized the worldview of Western missionaries, seeing themselves as intermediaries between the na‘auao (enlightenment, civilization) of the West and the na‘aupō (ignorance, savagery) of the islanders. While themselves deeply uneasy about the danger of “backsliding” to a Hawaiian identity of ka wā ‘ōiwi wale and feeling inferior to Christian Westerners because of it, they asserted themselves as much more advanced in na‘auao than the islander neophytes, whom they regarded with the same suspicion and contempt that Westerners had towards Pacific Islanders in general.
The next two chapters focus on the 1887 Hawaiian legation to Sāmoa. This diplomatic mission happened in a very different context, of a Hawaiian government becoming increasingly assertive in its foreign policy under King Kalākaua, who aimed at building a pan-Oceanian confederation to protect the islands’ independence against Western imperialist expansion. Emphasizing ancestral ties between the two nations, the Hawaiian diplomats and their staff were indeed popular among the Samoans. They were able to persuade Samoan leaders to sign a confederation treaty with Hawai‘i and also to strengthen the burgeoning Samoan state by mediating between disputing local factions. The mission had to be prematurely aborted, however, due to the “Bayonet” coup by American missionary descendants in Honolulu in June of 1887 and an almost simultaneously...