In an interview in Honolulu Weekly, Sydney ‘Iaukea noted that there was a double “I” referenced in the title of her dissertation-turned-book on the land deeds of her great-great-grandfather Curtis P. ‘Iaukea and his relationship with Queen Lili’uokalani and other notables of the early twentieth century. And one might say there are two relationships – one between Curtis ʻIaukea and the Queen, and one between herself and her ancestor. Jon Osorio called the book “intensely personal,” and that’s true – I wondered why University of California Press would be interested in the fairly arcane (from a mainstream point of view at least) documents referenced in this text, but I was very glad they were. This book is another goldmine of information from my selfish point of view. [This post will be archived both in Bibliophile and Dizblog] The book is crafted out of thousands of pages of archival documents, including letters and land deeds of ‘Iaukea. In exposing this archive, the younger ‘Iaukea reveals the machinations of land deals in that murky period of the turn of the last century. As I write in my dissertation, most families have stories of the loss of land, but huikau (confusion) exists about exactly how these alienations occured.
It was incredible to read how Sydney [we were next door neighbors in the UH Poli Sci grad-student offices, and thus on a first-name basis] somehow grew up not knowing the real story of her illustrious ancestor’s illustriousness, and I found this unbelievable. That is, until I considered how many students of famous last names have gone through my classes without seeming to know who their ancestors were, or even whether, or how, they were related. Sydney found out – in spades.
Curtis Piehu ‘Iaukea was one of the most respected dignitaries throughout the period of the late Kingdom through the early Territory. He held, according to Sydney, over 40 official posts in these governments, including Colonel in the Hawaiian Kingdom military and Commissioner of Hawaiian Home Lands. Royalists like Niklaus Schweitzer of the UH German Department have lauded and written biographies of the original ‘Iaukea. The name remained famous mid-century, but for quite a different reason: Curtis “the Bull” ‘Iaukea was a noted professional wrestler. In order to make this transition, however, he obviously was a turncoat – but not in the way you’d expect. Sydney shows that his collaboration with the oligarchy post-overthrow was actually sanctioned by then-deposed Queen Lili’uokalani.
Her kupuna spoke to her, but his revelations were scholarly rather than treasure. Sydney openly writes of looking for her inheritance and not finding it. She also, without quite naming names, describes how relatives have financially gained from Curtis ‘Iaukea’s lands to the exclusion of other branches of the family, including hers. In doing so, she documents an “insanity” which she claims “runs through [her] family” – and indeed, is not exclusive to it (ʻIaukea, 2012, 1). Land disputes between and among Hawaiian families are common enough that the findings of this book are generalizable.
Curtis ‘Iaukea’s records also reveal new methods of hiding and taking lands that add to the slowly growing scholarship on this central question. Although well known to those of us immersed in the field of Hawaiian legal history, ʻIaukea shows, more effectively than any author to date, that the Crown lands – the monarch’s private lands – were just that: private. In doing so, she undermines a century of discourse that elides the distinction between the Hawaiian Kingdom government lands (public) and the Crown lands (private). And she does so using previously unpublished papers relating to the case Liliʻuokalani v. United States, in which the Queen sued for compensation for the seizure of said lands.
Sydney ʻIaukea also documents the debate over the formation of the Hawaiian Home Lands program, a perfect example of strange bedfellows in which both Curtis “iaukea and annexationist Lorrin Thurston opposed the plan, but for completely opposite reasons. She also connects land and identity, rather boldly stating that one should not confuse her blond hair for a lack of Hawaiian ancestry, she is Hawaiian “enough.” ‘Iaukea’s book shows that Jackson Browne was right: the personal is the political – and it thus applies to us all.