Bibliophile

THE QUEEN AND THEY- WIKIREVU OF SYDNEY ʻIAUKEAʻS THE QUEEN AND I

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.

LOST KINGDOM – A REVIEW BY MAKANA RISSER CHAI

As the author of a book on the history of Hawaiian traditions published by the Bishop Museum, I appreciate a mainland journalist and publisher taking interest in our history. Perhaps their hearts were in the right place, but this book fails on many levels. It contains numerous errors, both major and “minor.” Human sacrifices were not made to the goddess Pele (p. xix), and ancient Hawaiians did not have a tradition of bodies lying in state for weeks (21). In recounting the riots after Kalakaua got elected, the author says that the people in the streets rioted against the Legislature which had elected him in “effectively a race riot,” implying that the legislators were all haole, but she never talks about the racial makeup of the Legislature. In fact, almost 3/4 of the legislators were Hawaiian. Yes, Kalakaua was preferred by Americans but also by Hawaiians in the Leg. If anything it was more of a class riot than a race one.

More important, this book fails the most critical duty of a history book, which is to place events in context. It fails to do this in two, opposite, ways. First, because the book jumps into the middle of history, it does not explain Hawaiian tradition before white contact. In perhaps an effort to bring that tradition into the narrative, the author makes it sound like the modern Hawaiian kings and queens descended from barbarians and continued to be “uncivilized.” One paragraph (31) begins by describing the wood-framed home of King Kamehameha IV and his wife, Emma, and ends noting that they wore the latest fashions from London. But squeezed between those thoughts the author notes, “In earlier decades, the royal family’s informal manner of dress and deportment–often barefoot, with the king wearing a traditional malo, or loincloth, and the queen wearing only a tapa, a bark cloth skirt–startled some Western visitors.” The way this sentence is placed seems to imply that Kamehameha IV and Emma were wearing malo and tapa. There is no evidence they ever had worn traditional garb, and in fact, it had been over 60 years since any king had worn a malo, at least in front of Western visitors.

There are other examples of referring back to Hawaiian’s distant past that constantly reinforce the fiction that these people were primitive. In commenting on an oft-quoted newspaper report that Lili`u danced the waltz as if she was in love with her every partner, the author speculates, “Perhaps she had simply harnessed the sensuality that hula dancers knew.” Did hula dancers know sensuality? That is not in the book, but seems rather to be a Western fantasy. Even if it is true, had Lili’u ever seen a sensual hula performed? Everything in the book up to this point is about her upright Christian upbringing.

On the opposite end, context is almost completely ignored when talking about the role of the United States in the overthrow. Alexander Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt, whose imperial visions drove American interest in Hawai`i, are mentioned on two pages, rather than being made the central figures they were. The Spanish-American War is similarly virtually ignored. Never mentioned is the fact that within a 6 month period, the U.S. had invaded Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam, and annexed Hawai`i.

The author gives two sentences to the petitions against annexation sent by tens of thousands of Hawaiians. She makes no mention that as a result of this and other opposition, the treaty of annexation was defeated on February 27, 1898, when only 46 senators voted in favor. She states (284), “a joint resolution on annexation passed Congress with a simple majority,” without noting that annexation, under the U. S. Constitution, cannot take place by resolution. It was a procedural move by Republicans who could not get the two-thirds majority they needed for a treaty.

The worst failing of this book is that it makes the fascinating history of Hawai`i a dry, boring read. If you want to read an accurate, entertaining introduction to this particular part of Hawaiian history, I highly recommend Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes. If you want to go deeper, Tom Coffman’s book Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawaii is excellent, as well as Noenoe Silva’s Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism (a John Hope Franklin Center Book). There is not, to date, a really good book on the overall history of Hawai`i. Another reviewer recommended Michener’s Hawaii as a better history. Newsflash: it’s a novel.

At Home: ABrief History of Private Life, Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson lives in an old parsonage house in England. The house’s many rooms provide the chapter titles for his meandering, yet fascinating exploration of the ways in which “houses are not refuges from history, they are where history ends up.” Bryson sat in his kitchen one day wondering why, of all the spices in the world, salt and pepper were on his dining table. It turned out blood-soaked histories had brought salt, pepper, and other spices to his and our tables. The chapters are often not what one would expect. “The Study” provides a study of mice and rats because checking the mousetraps is about the only activity Bryson conducts in that drafty parsonage room. “The Kitchen” provides a history of food adulteration and spoilage. “The Setting” is an account, among other things, of the immense numbers of dead on church grounds (20,000 in a small church by one estimate) accumulated over the nearly unimaginable expanse of time that has elapsed since the Roman period. “The Stairs” – the most dangerous part of his, and any two-story, house – is an account of household accident statistics. Being old, fit and divorced, for example, all increase your chances of not getting up from a fall.

At Home is also the story of personalities, often the rich, who could build to unprecedented specifications, and the talented, who could build the unprecedented, but were not always also in the former group.  Archaeologists – who in early days were often amateurs from that fascinating class of parsons in whose home Bryson lives – found early dwellings they considered betrayals of civilization, as well as other stunningly modern. Architects (a relatively new occupation) were allowed to build houses whose footprints could be measured in acres rather than square feet. Landscape architects such as Fredrick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park, redefined what was considered leisure, and in what settings it was taken. Furniture designers only slowly accomplished what we would consider comfort; how late this adjective came on the scene was a testament to the extent that pre-modern living was concerned with survival.

Bryson’s book is, finally, a history of England and, to a lesser extent, Anglo-America. That the English house became “The House” is the tale of colonialism, both political and cultural. Ideas like privacy, virtually unknown in the medieval world, spread around the globe in spaces like the “drawing room” – a name whose meaning was so distant from its original intent that no one would suspect it was for withdrawing. People would bring guests into their bedrooms and conduct “private” business in public as late as the eighteenth century. Even notions of space like “upstairs” only came into common parlance in the 19th century. The original second stories were essentially storage rooms in the rafters. They became the (private) place where all the action took place. So Bryson’s history of private life is as much a history of ideas as of lifestyle. And at tracing the etymologies of words, ideas and contexts, the author of Bryson’s Book of Troublesome Words excels.

Bill Bryson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s