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Guest Speakers:  Ken Kimura of Hale Pa’i
      Theo Morrison of Lahaina Restoration Foundation          

Member - Janet’s e-mail -- If reading history can be a "kick", then reading "Unfamiliar Fishes" definitely qualifies.


Did this novel help you understand Hawaii’s complex history?  Did it help you understand the Maui society we live in today? 

Throughout, Vowell effectively builds the case that missionaries obliterated a culture that was more than 100’s of years old.  Isn’t that exactly what happened? How does it compare everywhere in the pursuit of land, countries, or Christianity for all of history?   Think of Europe or just about everywhere, including America!!


In the first paragraph, the author makes a gigantic leap of a connection between her mixed-plate lunches of today with the missionaries in Hawaii back in 1819.  Since we live here on Maui, have you ever done that yourself while eating shoyu chicken and macaroni?  Have you ever seen a kaukau tin? 

She mentions Maui’s banyan tree on page 1, p 3! 

How did you find Vowell’s writing style?  And, like me, did your impression change for the better as you got deeper into the story?  Vowell’s writing from the get go seemed very glib and ADHD!   She jumps from one subject to another in leaps and bounds, starts and stops.

Pg. 6 & 7 - She mentions “soft power” as the process by which one people gets another group of people “to want what you want”.  Isn’t that the ultimate nonviolent power of persuasion?  And, do you think that is what really happened with the Hawaiian people?  She also compares the change in Hawaii as the same as America…but in Hawaii, every race is now a minority.  How do you see Hawaii’s population?  And, does any one race have a louder voice than another?

Pg 17  -- credit is given to Henry OBookiah (Opukahah’ia) for the power shift from a “king beholded to the war god Ku to the haole nerds representing the Prince of Peace, ie missionaries.  And there in is where the Hawaiians first started to loose their power of presence.  The book “Memoirs of Henry OBookiah” by Edwin Welles Dwight (first principle of the Foreign Mission School where OBookiah studied) was printed to raise money to bring over more missionaries and is digitalized on the web.  Suggest you take a look: books.google.com

Pg. 43 – “all missions are inherently patronizing to the host culture.  That’s what a mission is – a bunch of strangers showing up somewhere uninvited to inform the locals they are wrong.”   All in the name of Christianity, of course! Now that’s a very funny statement and good poke at the same time!!  Have you ever been on a mission?  How does this statement make you feel? 

Pgs 47-48 – Kekuni Blaisdell – so the taro plant is the result of burying a still-born baby girl bred of the sky Father and his daughter and its first shoot is the first kanaka or number one sibling.  Does this help explain the reverence to taro in the Hawaiian Islands?

Pg. 54 – the story reflects heavily on the significance of children born of father/daughter, brother/sister incestual relationships.  They become chief of the highest ranks.  Do you find this logic understandable?  Queen Keopualani was of the highest order, her body was kapu and everyone, including her husband, had to prostrate before her.

Pg. 61 -- In1819 King Liholiho orders all idols be knocked down and/or burned.  The historical loss!!

Pg 64 – “It’s tempting to reduce the initial encounters between Hawaiians and missionaries to some sort of clunky prequel to Footloose.”  Huh???  Don’t get it, did you?

Pg. 79 – Lucy Thurston must have been one incredible missionary!  The paragraph of her courage during her mastectomy brings chills!

Pg 80/81 – Act 16:9, Bible verse.   “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us.”  Don’t you think there are thousands of verses that could be used?  The entire Bible is for conversion purposes!  On Pg 81 she calls it the “meddler’s motto”.  (Loved that.)

Pg 81 – the Hawaiian name for Diamond Head is Leahi, meaning “brow of the tuna”.  Will you think of that the next time you fly into Honolulu? 

Pg 84 – Vowell writes poetic with “Perusing the letters and diaries the New England missionaries left behind is detective work of a sort, albeit an investigation whose only theme song is the faint rhythm of a gloved hand paging through the brittle correspondence of the dead.”

Pg 90 – Vowell compares raping the coral reefs for the building of Kawaiaha’o Church in 1842 to the “raping of Nanking”.  Do you agree?

Pg 99 – Yet another example of missionary resilience – it took 17 years to translate the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament into Hawaiian, thus the Ke Kauoha Hou is at 2,331 pages.  This with only a 13-letter alphabet!  Have you ever seen the Hawaiian Bible?

Pg 101 – It speaks highly of the Hawaiians that it took only 41 years for their nation to become the most literate on the planet as a percentage of its total population.  Palapala = book, learning….Hui = club, should we call our book club the West Maui Palapala Hui?

Pgs 115 – 117 – Wow!  The whaler’s really did a number on Hawaii, its hosts and the whale population, etc.  Have you ever attended the Whale Museum at Whaler’s Village?

Pg 119 – On Being Hawaiian by John Dominis Holt, 1964 – is credited as being an early landmark for the movement in the ‘60’ and ‘70’s known as the Hawaiian Renaissance.  Did you know that the original Hawaii 5-0 (5-0 honoring Hawaii as the 50th state) ran for 12 seasons from 1968 – 1980?  The revived on-hour pilot show first aired 09/20/2010 with the series beginning that Oct.

Pg 123 – Let’s talk about the death toll – the Hawaiian population decreased from estimated 300,00 to 34,436 from 1778-1890 due to smallpox, cholera, influenza, typhoid, and venereal disease.   Is it any wonder the Hawaiians were suspicious of the haoles and those persistent missionaries?  Between 1822 and June 1824, 10 of 30 high chiefs had died! 

Pg 126 – “Americans get blamed for the Americanization of Hawaii, and deservedly so.  But the gentlemen from the Blonde (H.M.S. Blonde), eyeball witnesses of the transition, testify to the Hawaiian chiefs’ willful collaboration in that process.”  A good example of how “soft power” works! pgs 6-7.

Pg 132 – Lahaina High School founded in 1831 to train Hawaiian men to be ministers, David Malo among them.  In 1834 they started printing.  Maui’s Ken Kimura quoted throughout entire chapter….

Pgs 133/137 – Kimura talks about LHS and the Hale Pa’I -- the oldest printing press that opened in 1834.  They printed fake money for the students to use, but it ended up illegally in circulation.  Ka Lama Hawaii = 1st newspaper.  Temperance Map = chart to avoid pitfalls of hooch!  Mo’olelo Hawaii = 1st history of Hawaii by Hawaiians in Hawaiian. Have you ever been to the Hale Pa’I and seen these artifacts?

Pg 134 --  Malo has the strongest mind of any man in the nation, says Dwight Baldwin. Every April, LHS celebrates David Malo Day (pg 132).


Pg 138 – 1st reference to book’s title:  David Malo -- If a big wave comes in, large and unfamiliar fishes will come from the dark ocean, and when they see the small fishes of the shallows they will eat them up.  The white man’s ships have arrived with clever men from the big countries.  They know our people are few in number and our country is small, they will devour us.

Pg. 140 – Punahou, was originally an academy for missionary’s children, the other was the Chiefs’ Children’s School was for Hawaiian royalty.

Pg 148 – William Richards, 1838, was hired by Kind Kauikeaouli to tutor him and other chiefs. He ceased to be a missionary and became a subject of the kingdom  (and lackey) to the king.  He worked with Boaz Mahune to prepare the Declaration of Rights (1839) aka the Hawaiian Magna Carta.  Hawaii’s Constitution was established in 1840 by and for the Hawaiian people.  In 1839, the Edict of Toleration outlawed Catholicism at the request of the Protestant missionaries.

Pg 151- in 1842 Daniel Webster’s letter (read in the House of Representatives on 12/31) is the 1st formal recognition of independence for the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Pg. 154 – America’s divine right as conceptualized in its Manifest Destiny was to occupy the North American continent from “sea to sea” but by1849 when French marines attacked the fort at Honolulu to protest unfair treatment of Catholics and excessive duties on French liquors, the US had bigger plans…. Hawaii then signs US and other country’s treaties for support.

Pg. 155 – In 1848, King Kaukikeaouli created the Great Mahale, the land division – land previously controlled entirely by the king, would now be divided among the king, the government, the chiefs, and the commoners. With the Kuleana Act of 1850, the government could then sell unclaimed land for fee simple to anyone, including foreigners. (Fee simple is still in practice today.)  And in 1874, privatizing mortgage foreclosures for commoners created big land losses.  (Yet more critical steps toward the ruination of its nation and is done by its own king in order to westernize his kingdom.  And by 1890, haoles controlled about 90% of the land.)

Pg 168 – another factor was the taro acreage being overplanted with sugar and Hawaii being the largest producer to the US.  What are we seeing today?  Pineapple fields ending with tourism as our only big draw….the next wave?

Pg 170/171 – between 1848-9, 10% of the population died from a variety of illnesses.  In 1853, another 5,000 people died on Oahu from small pox.  And then leprosy came and by 1865 there were nearly 3,000 reported cases.  Over the years, more than 8,000 exiles were sent to Molokai – RLS called it “a prison fortified by nature.”  At the time of the overthrow in 1893, Kalaupapa had more than 1,000 residents.  Exiles were legally segregated until 1969 – that’s 23 years after a cure was found.  WHY? 

Pg 173 – King Kalakaua’s motto in 1874 was to increase the race, or Ho’oulu A Ho’ola Lahui.  But 15,000 more perished.  Kalakaua was pro US and saw economic prosperity with it.  He & Queen Emma were in a race for the thrown, but Kalakaua won and that created a mob that American troops quelled, as did British troops that arrived later, much to the dislike of Queen Emma’s followers.

Pg. 174 – Pro-British Queen Emma saw America as “our open enemy” and sought UK to keep US annexation from happening.  But the British would not, so as not to go to war with the US. 

Pg 175 – By 1893, Kalakaua’s sister, now Queen Liliuokalani, was ripped from her thrown by American troops and witnessed by Sanford Dole and party.

Pgs 176/178 – King got US backing and in return, US minister to Hawaii told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, “If reciprocity of commerce is established between the two countries, there cannot be a doubt that the effect will be to hold those islands with hooks of steel in the interest of the United States, and to result finally in their annexation the US.”   Kalakauua signed the reciprocity treaty (in 1886?) that included an amendment agreeing to a prohibition of the king leasing “any port, harbor, and any other territory in his dominions…to an other power, sate, or government.” (The BIG ax falls!)

Pg 178 – before the treaty, 26 M lbs of sugar and 10 years later it was more than 10 times that!  (pg. 180 – it takes 4,000 lbs of water, 500 gallons, to produce 1 lb of sugar.  One million gallons of water a day to irrigate 100 acres of sugarcane.  Ditches, a revolutionary invention, diverted mountain water.) This meant also, increased labor from other countries: Philippines, China, Japan, etc.  (The island’s race make up was again getting a great big shake up!)  Planters even went so far as to keep the laborers of mixed races so that no one race could outnumber another or form unions.  None had voting rights.

Pg 182 – Claus Spreckels (of our quaint Sprecklesville) became the “sugar king of Hawaii” and used his influence on the King.  He “bought” water rights and basically bought the king’s soul. 

Pg 184 – Kalakaua had the Kumulipo, ancient creation chant, translated and published.  He re-established the hula.  The hula ma’i (traditional songs praising a chief’s genitals) were considered obscene by missionaries but were performed at the Kings coronation.  He reawakened Hawaiian nationalism.

Pg 190 – what did you think of Kalakaua’s “election gin” method for getting votes? 

Pgs 190/196 – Walter Murray Gibson acted as crony-in-chief to Kalakaua, sent originally to Hawaii by Brigham Young, a Mormon.  He settled on Lanai by 1861, bought land, converted people, etc. but only a plaque – not memories – document this.  The Mormon Church abandoned Lanai around 1864 after improprieties by Gibson who was eventually left with only a flock of sheep.

Pg 203 – in 1887, reciprocity treaty renewed giving US Pearl Harbor as a naval coaling station.  In 1889 Kalakaua died in California.

Pg 204 – Queen Liliuokalani (sister) sworn in.  She faced the McKinley Act that, in effect, raised the tariff duty on foreign imports to the US to 50% and subsidized American sugar farmers at 2 cents/lb.  Also, a secret Annexation Club formed by Lorrin A. Thurston, a planter in Hawaii.  So – in the spirit of Vowell’s writing style -- can we maybe say as they said in the movie King Kong  -- “Wasn’t man but beauty that killed the beast!”   In this case, “Wasn’t haole but greed that killed Hawaiian culture!”


Pg 205/7 – Queen had a secret constitution written up that would restore the crown’s lost powers and expand her subjects’ voting rights and presented it to her cabinet on 01/14/1893.  While waiting days to discuss it, the Annexation Club went into action too, declaring her in revolt and swearing to defend the current constitution and cabinet (which legally they could not do since the Annexation Club had no powers.)  A constitutional revolution occurs and the Queen surrenders to the US (not Annexation Club).  That night Dole and followers dispatch to Washington to lobby for annexation ASAP.  Cleveland withdraws treaty pending an investigation sending James H. Blount who on arrival lowers the American flag Dole had risen.  Blount concluded that the American Minister John L. Stevens had colluded with the architects of the coup (Annexation Club) and sent American troops to back the revolution.  Cleveland says he shall not again submit the treaty of annexation to the Senate for its consideration!
            The provisional (Annexation Club) Hawaiian government works to become permanent.  Native Hawaiians organized a counterrevolution (pg 212) but succeeded only in getting Queen Liliuokalani accused of treason.   Dole & company locked her up on the second floor of Iolani Palace and forced her to sign an agreement to abdicate the throne or loyalists would die. 

Pg 217 – in 1897, annexation treaty was signed by McKinley and sent it to the Senate as petitions with 20,000 signatures where collected to stop it.  Hawaiian delegates and the Queen presented it to the US Congress.  It was stopped.

What do you think Queen Liliuokalani would have thought of her song “Aloha ‘Oe” being sung at Pres. Obama’s inauguration?

Pgs 220/223 – series of events in 1898 saw annexation sneak in.  1) Spanish-American War where US invaded Spanish port of Manila in the Philippines that exaggerated Hawaii’s importance to America as a coaling station and potential naval base.  2) three days later, a joint resolution to annex Hawaii was introduced to the House of Reps.  ON June 15th, the House passed the annexation resolutions.  On Aug. 12 peace with Spain declared and a ceremony was held at Iolani Palace.  An American flag was raised and Dole was sworn in as governor of the new Territory of Hawaii.  (Cleveland wrote to his old secretary, “Hawaii is ours…I am ashamed of the whole affair.”) 

Pg 228 – list of military bases in Hawaii.

Pg 229 – Given this recent Memorial Day, do you find any irony in the fact that America built a military cemetery at Punchbowl, a place ancient Hawaiians called Puowaina, meaning Hill of Sacrifice and where all the men and women who had been executed in violation of the old kapu system were cremated.  Here is where American and Hawaiian blood rests. 

Vowell ends the story with connecting Iz’s song Hawaii 78, a song about “that dreamy little swindle” of annexation.  “Cry for the land,” Iz moans.  Vowell tells her nephew it is about how people like us wrecked this place…