Tag Archives: Lahainaluna

The State of History

On May 4th at the Hawaiʻi Book and Music Festival I was on a panel, with three other Hawaiian history scholars, which focused on the use of sources in historical research. It asked the very pertinent questions:

What Are the Indispensible Resources for Hawaiian History?What are the existing must-read publications for those working in Hawaiian history, or simply interested in it? What important new resources will we have access to soon? What do Hawaiian-language sources offer those who can read them? Just how much are we really missing by not having access?

And concluded:

The four panelists are all currently conducting research into diverse nineteenth and twentieth century Hawaiian cultural and historical topics, and will share their own experience of finding their way through the whole range of materials, good and bad, now publicly available, and also how they deal with the inevitable gaps they encounter.

My remarks began with a stark assessment of the state of Hawaiian history as a field. I pointed out that there have only ever been three (or possibly four) people ever employed specifically as Hawaiian historians at a “research 1” university – Pauline King, Noelani Arista and John Rosa (one might count Ralph Kuykendall, M.A., but one would do so at oneʻs own peril). I stated that this is only true if one takes such disciplinary boundaries seriously – which I do and donʻt (such boundaries have significance, but so too do interdisciplinary studies). Rosa’s position had to be specially created by the State Legislature – thatʻs my point; it’s not automatic that there are Hawaiian historians.

Prof. John Rosa

As I mentioned in my debate with Ian Lind, it was confided to me that King was hired to “do in” Hawaiian history – she produced no original publications in her long career. Ronald Williams was the first PhD to graduate from a program specifically focusing on Hawaiian history (this is partly because they had only recently hired Arista and Rosa to supervise such a program). Of course there are those with history degrees who teach in Hawaiian Studies. Jonathan Osorio, who was the moderator of the program approached me afterward and said “you know that Lilikalā [Kameʻeleihiwa], Kanalu Young and myself all have history degrees and consider ourselves historians?” And of course I did know that, but the fact that he included the late Kanalu Young on the list only underscores my point. Add them and we have six, one deceased. And there are others, such as political scientists Keanu Sai or Noenoe Silva, who said in a class once “Iʻm not a historian but I may as well be.” But we are talking about a dozen scholars at best, compared to tens of thousands of scholars in US history, for example.

What this means is Hawaiian history as a field is, as I perhaps controversially stated, that is both in its infancy and is an amateur undertaking. It is only recently becoming professionalized as a field. The vast majority of books on Hawaiian history are written by amateurs and/or outsiders with little grasp of the nuances stemming from the dominance and suppression of the Territorial period. While the professional historians can only do what they are capable of given the slow pace of publication and constraints of academia, the effect in the community is that there is little “trickle down” of good research into the lower levels. With so few top-level researchers, there truly is nothing but a trickle of new historical perspectives. And in this case it truly is a top-down situation. Amateurs cannot be expected to devote the time and resources to study that are available to a professional historian.

The result is graduates who go on to high positions in government and the corporate sector who exhibit very shaky understandings of how we got where we are as a society. Many become interested in, even passionate about history as adults (by which time it’s too late), but in school it is, as portrayed in the film History Boys, “just one bloody thing after another.”

There is an infrastructure of knowledge, a “house of intellect” as Jacques Barzun called it, and reasons why we know what we know. We canʻt take this house for granted – the Lahainaluna scholars knew this, as did Kauikeaouli, who said “he aupuni palapala koʻu” [mine is a kingdom of learning]. This vision was invested in, as we still reap its rewards a century and a half later. There seems to be – across the board, not just in Hawaiʻi – a nonchalant squandering of the gains made over history in labor rights, environmental protections, civil liberties, and social justice by a generation of profit-seekers who ignore or are ignorant of history. These people, in whom most power is invested, imperil us all with their proclivity to proverbially “repeat history.” We must demand that history not be completely over shadowed by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields in the name of “twenty-first century” skills, if we want that century to be better than the last.

UPDATE: Arnie Saiki had this response on the Statehood Hawaiʻi Facebook page, which raises very valid counterarguments and gives me a chance to clarify my position:

I think there are a lot of people who do contribute to the growing canon of Hawaiian history, and follow well disciplined methodologies, as well as pave the way for methodologies that speak to cultural, linguistic, customary practice.

What … strikes me about Hawaiian history is just how much work has been done for a place that boasts a little more than a million people. Although I have not done a full accounting of library catalogs, it seems that there is more historical work produced on Hawaiian history than most states. Granted there is likely a political reason as to why that is, an element that sought to make Hawaii “knowable” to colonial settlers, but it seems that in regard to Hawaii, everything that was recordable was recorded, and it is relatively easy to access. 

Its very true that there is a fascination with Hawaiian history that does not exist in other states – a fact evidenced by a Facebook group I started called Mooolelo: Hawaiian History, which grew to 500 members within a couple of months. But it’s important to remember that this is a national history, and should thus be compared to other national histories (I think of New Zealand, for example), than to other states. In the case of New Zealand, a close look at the historical work there shows a depth that Hawaiʻi could only envy. This is in a country that, while larger than Hawaiʻi, has the same population as the average US state.



Filed under Mooolelo, Uncategorized


I was a boarder at Lahainaluna from 1986 to 1989. I went there because, living in Tonga and wanting to return to Hawaiʻi, we needed a boarding school. As my grandparents had both gone to the school in the 1920s and 1930s (my mother went to Kamehameha III Elementary in Lahaina, but moved to Honolulu before high school), and we still had relatives there, Lahainluna seemed a good match. As I moved into the field of Hawaiian history, and in particular teaching it at Kamehameha (which, as an institution, certainly revels in its history), I’ve come to feel that Lahainaluna’s history has been sorely neglected. This post is a beginning of an attempt to rectify this neglect.


My grandparents proudly sang the alma mater (the only one in Hawaiian) and my grandfather, who was as far from an intellectual snob as it is possible to be, spoke enthusiastically about the “ipu kukui `a`amau pio `ole i ka makani Kaua`ula” [the light of knowledge undaunted by the Kauaʻula wind]. Even my father (a Yankee from Massachusetts) got Lahainaluna fever, authoring an article in the 1980 Hawaiian Journal of History, “The Image of ʻKou Haoleʻ in the Lahainaluna Mooolelo.” Still, I didnʻt quite know what I was getting into. Iʻve often described it as a four-year military boot camp. We worked 20 hours per week in campus jobs including the school farm as payment for our room and board, and the program had intricacies that have to be saved from another post, but despite its drawbacks, I came to view this kind of labor as part of a complete life.


Lahainaluna Seminary was founded 183 years ago in 1831. Calling it the oldest school West of the Rockies, while accurate, seems to neglect that at the time, this was the Hawaiian Kingdom. The seminary was founded by Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) to train ministers and assistant teachers of religion – a kind of second layer of clergy in the quickly Christianizing Kingdom. An early principal Sheldon Dibble had the foresight to see that in an environment of cultural loss, the Hawaiian scholars of the school should study and preserve their own culture, rather than that of others. I often wonder if someone like Hiram Bingham had been head of the school (which he could have – he was on the board), whether we would even have David Malo to look to today.


Lahainaluna ca. 1831

Lahainaluna went through several phases in its long history:

•Mission Seminary

•Royal Hawaiian Academy

•English Boarding School

•Vocational Trade School

•Technical High School

•Public High School

Today, while Lahainaluna’s athletic reputation has gone up (football, girls basketball, wrestling), its academic reputation is far from where it started. The “college” was more like a research university than the high school it is today. David Malo, for example, was 38 years old when he entered, but he was only a student for a couple of years before becoming a teacher – his intellectual reputation was well-established and the school merely formalized his already considerable knowledge base. The Lahainaluna scholars produced the first Hawaiian history text Ka Mooolelo Hawaii, which stated [excuse my rough translation]:

No ka naaupo loa a me ke wahahee wale o ko onei poe kahiko, olelo lakou, ua hanau maoli mai no keia pae aina, na Wakea laua o Papa, e like me ka hanau keiki ana. E aho kakou I ka naaupo o ka poe kahiko, no ka mea, he wa pouli ko lakou.

In the “very dark ages” and the time of only [snake-mouthed] people of old, they said that the [true creation/birth] of these islands [archipelago] was from Wākea and Papa, like giving birth to children. We [escaped?] the dark ages of the people of old because theirs was a [dark night/period].

Here we see the indoctrination that accompanied the preservation of the culture. As Emerson has noted of Malo in particular, this generation had the “zealousness of the new converted.”

The Lahainaluna scholars were laying the intellectual infrastructure for the new Hawaiian state. Although Hawaiian traditions were being recorded, Hawai‘i is becoming increasingly Westernized. This is especially true of the areas that Western ships frequented.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 12.26.45 PM

Malo is criticzed by some Hawaiians today for what is seen as an overly-westernized view of Hawaiian culture. As Emerson (in Malo, 1951, viii). puts it, Malo’s “affections were so entirely turned against the whole system, not only of idol worship, but of all the entertainments of song, dance and sport as well, that his judgement seems to be warped, causing him to confound the evil and the good, the innocent and the guilty, the harmless and the depraved in one sweeping condemnation, thus constraining him to put under ban of his reprobation things which a more enlightened judgement would have tolerated.”

In other words, one must put Malo in perspective using a historical empathy that considers his unique position amidst the most profound changes in Hawaiian history.

Hale Paʻi, the printing House - site of the first Hawaiian language newspaper, Ka Lama

Hale Paʻi, the printing House – site of the first Hawaiian language newspaper, Ka Lama

Lahainaluna was also the site of the second printing press (after the MIssion Houses in Honolulu) and first newspaper, Ka Lama, in 1834. While Samuel Kamakau’s Ruling Chiefs of Hawaiʻi may be as much read today, of all the Lahainaluna scholars, David (or Davida) Malo, more than all the others, keeps his hold on the imagination.


More can be said about Malo than there is space for here, just between the introductions to Emerson’s and Chun’s versions of his writings. Arista (1998, 46), describes Malo’s first meeting with Richards:

Malo and Richards met when Keōpūolani took Richards as her teacher. It seemed that both men received the best education that their societies could offer: that was a religious education. Malo would find himself working with Richards when the two turned their knowledge, wisdom and experience to serving the aliʻi and the emerging nation.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.17.31 AM

Malo was one of the chiefs (kaukaualiʻi) who studied under Richards. However, while it is often claimed that William Richards was Malo’s teacher, Arista (1998, 47) notes that “Richards refers variously to Malo in his letters of this time, as ʻmy teacher, my interpreter,’ and later ʻmy assistant.’” In an article in The Polynesian, Malo is described as “a talented and excellent Hawaiian, for a long time the able and devoted teacher of the late Mr. Richards.” Thus, there was clearly a reciprocal relationship, a theoretical encounter of sorts between the two men.

This may be seen in Malo’s description of the political structure of traditional Hawaiian society, translated by Emerson as “the civil polity” (Malo, 1958, 187), was originally entitled “No Kalaimoku” (Malo, 2006, 103). Mykännen (2003, 139-144) provides an extended discussion of the interchangeability of the words kalaiʻāina –

Richards’s choice of words for political economy – and kālaimoku. I suspect that the two words are linked – some evidence suggests that the students of Richards were encouraged to prosthelytize, and spread the “gospel” of the new political economy. The timing works, if one is to believe Chun (2006, xviii), that Malo may have “commenced with his monumental work, entitled ʻMoʻolelo Hawaiʻi’ (Hawaiian Traditions or Hawaiian History)” around 1847. Chun disputes notions that Malo wrote what Emerson called Hawaiian Antiquities between 1839 and 1840, noting that his newspaper publications suggest the later date. Forbes (2000, 80) notes that “communications from David Malo appear with some frequency” in Ka Elele.

I’ve been heartened to hear that Lahainaluna has finally established an archive – better late than never – and its foundation (quite well endowed) has been doing great work. I would like to see Lahainaluna reclaim its place as, arguably, Hawaiʻi’s most historic school.


April 10, 2014 · 8:07 pm