WikiReVu of James Haley’s Captive Paradise

James Haley’s Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaiʻi is yet another “outsider history” similar to that of Julia Flynn Siler’s Lost Kingdom. In the Introduction, Haley recounts a meeting with an academic mentor while he ponders returning to a long-abandoned PhD. He says he finds unconscionable both Hawaiʻi’s overthrow and Hawaiians’ treatment of their own people pre-Westernization. His mentor tells him that any history that does not paint Hawaiians as victims will itself be a victim of entrenched anti-colonial methodologies. “This must be what they mean by academic freedom” he muses. Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 1.25.30 PMWhile it is important to question entrenched paradigms, there are very good reasons why this particular one (anti- and postcolonial methodology) is in use today.

Haley only cites 41 secondary source books in a work that purports to cover Hawaiian history from the time of Cook through statehood. He does include about a dozen more biographies but  could’ve done so much more – I’ve always thought that the sheer number of biographies is one of the few strengths in the field of Hawaiian history and that someone could write a synthetic history by stringing these biographies together into a narrative. Haley seems to make it almost a point of honor not to have consulted any Hawaiian historians or any Hawaiian language sources. He considers this mere “political correctness.” As a Texas historian Hayley is probably the least likely to deal with  issues of Hawaiʻi’s annexation, as Texas was ostensibly annexed by Joint Resolution (I question this, as does Keanu Sai). He has an entire chapter on the great Māhele, but fails to cite a single authority on the topic, choosing to use only general narratives like Kuykendall. He also begins with Cook, repeating one of Daws’s fatal flaws.

As Makana Chai noted in her review of Siler’s book, a preferred outsider history, if you must read one, is Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes.

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