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The Contemporary Pacific 14.1 (2002) 279-281

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Book Review

Displacing Natives: The Rhetorical Production of Hawai'i

Displacing Natives: The Rhetorical Production of Hawai'i, by Houston Wood. Pacific Formations: Global Relations in Asian and Pacific Perspectives. Lanham, MD, Boulder, CO, New York, and Oxford, UK: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. ISBN paper, 0-8476-9141-1; xi + 223 pages, illustrations, tables, coda, notes, bibliography, filmography, index. Cloth, US$63.00; paper, US$24.95.

This book opens nicely with a pedagogical tale--a story of when author Houston Wood was listening to a lecture by Esther Mookini, who introduced a Hawaiian text that has yet to receive the attention it well deserves: The Wind Gourd of La'maomao by Moses K Nakuina. Wood offers memories from his first introduction to perspectives of life in Hawai'i as he was informed of Hawaiian (re)sources that outline different methods and epistemologies relating to the natural world. As just one example, Wood was stunned to find that Nakuina's book lists the names of forty-five winds on the island of O'ahu alone. The diversity of identification and naming practices--and their attendant forms of knowledge sources--provoked Wood, moving him to reconsider his own experiences of the winds he felt as he stepped out of that lecture; he reflected on the winds of change among Hawai'i's people, particularly those moving through Hawaiian communities. Wood was profoundly challenged: "I began to wonder if I could find a way to resist my own colonization and to embrace some methods for subverting the colonizing work I was being educated to do" (3).

Wood's text is a well-intentioned move away from what he terms an exclusively "foreign representation" to a more balanced inclusion of Native claims and representations that goes beyond his interrogation of Cook's journals, Twain's letters, Hollywood movies, and many other foreign representations. Identifying himself as a haole (white or foreign) scholar, Wood was first worried about accusations of appropriation. But he eventually decided that he did not want his text to neglect Native Hawaiian voices because of the risks involved in producing a "settler text" that would maintain what he terms "monorhetoric." Avoiding that end, Wood invokes "Native representations as alternatives to those constructed by outsiders and settlers" as reminders of more diverse sets of interactive practices (5). He makes a strong effort to include perspectives from Hawaiian cultural practitioners, scholars, and activists. Moreover, he acknowledges the fraught political contexts that problematize his very presence in the Hawaiian Islands, explaining that his book "is written with the recognition [that] it is necessary in Hawai'i today either to declare oneself for some version of Native sovereignty or against it" (3). His work aims to contribute to a growing body of decolonization literature on Hawai'i, as it examines various cultural productions in the hope that they will illuminate what he calls the "struggle over geography" there (3).

Wood delineates, in his terms, three "rhetorical situations" operative in Hawai'i today. The first, he argues, is evident in the employment of what he calls Euroamerican assumptions, tropes, and narratives to analyze how Euroamericans have represented [End Page 279] Hawai'i to themselves, to Hawaiians, and to the rest of the world (15). His second rhetorical situation occurs when Hawaiians use "Euroamerican languages" (though it is not entirely clear to the reader, given the rich history of Hawaiian modernity, where Euroamerican languages start or end) to challenge the validity of the representational practices used over the last two centuries, beginning with Captain Cook (15). In situations such as this, Wood argues, Hawaiians are able to level critical interventions, using existing tropes and narratives on behalf of Hawaiians at large. These modalities also enable a form of "critical localism" (17). The third rhetorical situation is associated with Hawaiians who continue cultural traditions identified as part of precolonial Hawai'i. These, Wood suggests, are "not comprehensible to those who understand only Euroamerican monorhetoric" (17), which he defines as "a body of symbolic acts that identify the islands with a...


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