Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Kruse's Keys: Read "Hawaii" to Unlock the Islands Before Your Visit

In 2009, I married my beautiful bride on Poipu Beach in Kauai.  Since that visit, the Hawaiian islands have held a special place in my heart.  During idle moments, I confess to plugging the location of Kauai into job search sites and crossing my fingers for a non-engineering job to pop up.  Since 2009 we’ve returned to Kauai several times and prior to our most recent trip this past summer I decided to finally dive into Michener’s 1000 page tale Hawaii.  

First published in 1959 (the year of Hawaiian statehood), Hawaii definitely comes across a little dated in its style but Michener nonetheless proves that he can craft an engrossing tale as he spans the physical birth of the Hawaiian islands eons ago up to it fight for statehood.  Hawaii begins its narrative with the first impossible ocean-spanning voyages of men and women from Tahiti.

From there we witness the tribal fight to consolidate power throughout the islands and then see the natives first interaction with New England missionaries.  From there Michener deftly juxtaposes the lives of consecutives generations of earnest but severe missionaries with those of lusty and wayward whalers and traders.  The narrative carries on as we see the immigration of Chinese and Japanese settlers and their eventual integration into the social, economic and political life of Hawaii over the span of two World Wars and an eventual quest for statehood.  

One assumes (with even cursory research) that Michener took a multitude of historical liberties in the writing of this tome but upon finishing it I was okay with that.  Hawaii is an engrossing novel that encourages the reader to learn more about it actual history (I’ve included some links to do just that in a section below.

  • “In later years, it would become fashionable to say of the missionaries, "They came to the islands to do good, and they did right well." Others made jest of the missionary slogan, "They came to a nation in darkness; they left it in light," by pointing out: "Of course they left Hawaii lighter. They stole every goddamned thing that wasn't nailed down.”
  • “It is difficult to be king when the gods are changing.”
  • “no man leaves where he is and seeks a distant place unless he is in some respect a failure; but having failed in one location and having been ejected, it is possible that in the next he will be a little wiser.”
  • “Why is it, Reverend Hale, that we must always laugh at our book, but always revere yours?”
  • “Patriotism is not a matter of the skin’s color. It is a matter of the heart.”
  • “You love the Hawaiians as potential Christians, but you despise them as people. I am proud to say that I have come to exactly the opposite conclusion, and it is therefore appropriate that I should be expelled from a mission where love is not.”

  • Differences between Chinese and Japanese assimilation. At least initially the Chinese were more willing to intermarry with the local populace.  Whereas the Japanese workers held out hope to return to Japan one day and marry someone from their village.  
  • Very broad generalizations but the Chinese were the first to develop and integrate into the economy through business and trade whereas the Japanese were the first to integrate into the political scene.
  • Notably, the book doesn’t address the other large immigrant/worker populations such as the Filipinos, Koreans, and Puerto Ricans.  
  • Considerable remittances were paid back to homelands by the worker populations
  • There was a very wide variance in missionary experience in Hawaii’s history.  An interesting part of that covered in the book was that of their ministry to lepers on the island of Molokai.  

  • The genetic makeup in Hawaii is pretty interesting--what one might think of as a typical Hawaiian is likely nothing like a pure “Hawaiian” that first inhabited the islands.
  • Statehood was never a foregone conclusion for Hawaii.  There were a lot of “sugar” senators from the continental US that didn’t want the competition--the importance of sugar can’t be understated in the arc of Hawaii’s history..  Additionally, there was a fair amount of racism prevalent that sought to keep the “uncivilized” nation-state out of the Union.  
  • The Dole pineapple that we eat today only came after generations of experimentation and trial and error.  The history of the Hawaiian pineapple alone could fill a book.
  • Palm trees from Madagascar were brought in and planted in Kauai at some point.  This is noted in the book but I haven’t been able to find any other info to verify this on the interwebs.  

Those seeking more robust scholarship on Hawaii’s history and it’s immigrant experience could explore the following articles and books:

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