Hawai’i: 1778-1959, From Western Discovery to Statehood: By J. Gerlach, 34 pgs. By Steve Hart

Apr 27, 2012

Hawai’i is a difficult book for me to review because my minor in college was Hawaiian Studies and the history of Hawai’i is very difficult to document for a variety of reasons. The subtitle of the book, “Western discovery to Statehood” is often seen as a false premise because many Hawaiians (Kanaka Maoli) don’t believe that Hawai’i is a state but is, instead, an occupied kingdom. This book doesn’t do much to dispel the Western version of history, unfortunately. Nevertheless, the history of Hawai’i is a list of tragedies unfolding, of what-ifs and should-haves, of Social Darwinism and racism. The history of Hawai’i is also a portent of America’s future if America allows businesses to govern. (See the Citizen’s United case).

While I’m excited to read a book about Hawai’i, I cannot help but notice small mistakes like the missing ‘okina in the Hawaiian word for chief, Ali’i. (The ‘okina is the small glottal stop in Hawaiian words.) Details like this should not be missed. (Even the definition of ali’i as “chief” is somewhat loose and mistranslated).

Like I said earlier, the history of Hawai’i is very difficult to document. I think the author did an admirable job, but there are huge omissions (like the petition against annexation in 1887 and the petition against statehood in 1954) that leave holes in the heart of the story that I wish were included. (Microcosm Publishing 636 SE 11th Ave. Portland, OR 97214)