A Power in the World

#81 in the Moʻolelo series, this is more of a preview than a review of a book that came out in 2019, but was recently released in paperback.

Iʻve written of a project Hawaiian scholars have embarked upon of showing Hawaiian agency generally (Chang, Cook, Arista and others). But a connected project is one of showing that agency within the institution of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The “team” working on this project includes some projects at the dissertation stage, such as Willy Kauai’s work on Hawaiian citizenship, and books by Kamana Beamer (No Mākou ka Mana) and the topic of this post: Lorenz Gonschor’s book A Power in the World: the Hawaiian Kingdom in Oceania.

Gonschor begins by describing a map. August Petermann’s map of Oceania is color-coded based on which world powers controlled various island groups in 1859. In the center of the map (more on this later) is a circle around the Hawaiian Islands that is labelled “Reich Kamehameha’s” (Kamehameha’s Empire). The Kamehameha referred to here is Kamehameha IV. Some major Asian countries on the left (West) side of the map are not labelled at all. This map shows that the Hawaiian Kingdom was, as Gonschor’s title asserts, a force in the world – certainly a power regionally.

Gonschor, who was trained in the same PhD program I was (the UH Mānoa Political Science department), is multi-lingual, giving him access to documents many have never studied. He also has a master’s degree in Pacific Island studies, so is versed in the geography, history and politics of the Pacific. The combination makes for a piece of work that one reviewer called “the definitive account of Hawaiʻi’s nineteenth-century diplomacy in Oceania.”

That the phrase “Reich Kamehameha’s” was applied to Kamehameha IV is striking because it was Kalākaua who drove this power diplomacy to its “climax” (Gonschor, 2019). This shows, further, that this diplomacy was not a “flash in the pan” restricted to one brief golden period under one monarch (Kalākaua), but rather a more enduring feature of Hawaiian and global (or at least regional) politics. We can surmise that it lasted at least from the time of Kamehameha IV (and probably Kamehameha III) through the reigns of Kamehameha V and Lunalilo to Kalākaua (and almost certainly to Liliʻuokalani, since her administration recognized Japan in 1893). This last point probably shouldnʻt be in parentheses – the scholars Keanu Sai and Gonschor have shown that Hawaiʻi, not Great Britain, recognized Japan – in a sense, causing Japan to be fully sovereign.

Back to the map: in my own classroom is a typical map with the Atlantic Ocean in the center, or more accurately, Europe is in the center. This puts Hawaiʻi at the margin, and as far away from the “center of the world” as it is possible to be. Petermann’s map, and Gonschor’s work, puts Hawaiʻi in the center, a “power in the world.”

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