Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Moʻolelo Kālai ʻĀina Hou: (Happy) New Political and Legal Histories

This semester I taught a new graduate level course in Hawaiian historical research in archives.  An unprecedented fourteen students signed up for the course; four of them had completed second year Hawaiian while the other ten had four years or more of Hawaiian language training. A surprising number of my students are  interested in topics dealing with Hawaiian governance and law. What makes their work striking is that their research projects do not conform to the historiographic trajectory that currently reigns supreme in histories of U.S.-Hawaiʻi relations. Rather than obsessively focusing on outcomes – how the Hawaiian Kingdom was “lost,” who was at fault, and how Hawai’i became a U.S. possession – my graduate students asked questions about the Hawaiian and non Hawaiian legislators who held office from 1840-1900.

They were interested in how these men and women became lawyers, judges, and politicians, and how the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi functioned as a nation. One student chanced across the case of Judge Kauaʻi who had served as a legislative representative and judge on the island of Kauaʻi. In 1888, after a long, distinguished career, he was accused of having leprosy by a grudge bearing deputy sheriff and arrested. In an eleven page letter, written in Hawaiian to Supreme Court Justice Albert Francis Judd, he argued his innocence, quoting from recently passed laws and policies that promised that the afflicted would be treated in local hospitals until their disease was acute, all the while protesting his “innocence,” and reminding Judd of their longstanding friendship. Another student focused on the lives and careers of five prominent legislative representatives including Hawaiian lawyer, newspaper publisher and legislator Joseph Kahoʻoluhi Nawahi, while yet another tracked a year of kanaka maoli protest through Hawaiian language newspapers over the proposed cession of Pearl Harbor to the U.S. in 1877. When I read and corrected the transcriptions and translations of primary sources that my students produced, and I finished grading fourteen 25 page research papers, three of which were written in Hawaiian, I took heart that the history of nineteenth century Hawaiʻi, the Pacific World and America’s place within it has a long way to grow.  
Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou! (Happy New Year from Hawaiʻi)