Legendary Hawai'i and the Politics of Place: Tradition, Translation, and Tourism

Legendary Hawai'i and the Politics of Place: Tradition, Translation, and Tourism

Legendary Hawai'i and the Politics of Place: Tradition, Translation, and Tourism

Legendary Hawai'i and the Politics of Place: Tradition, Translation, and Tourism


Hawaiian legends figure greatly in the image of tropical paradise that has come to represent Hawai'i in popular imagination. But what are we buying into when we read these stories as texts in English-language translations? Cristina Bacchilega poses this question in her examination of the way these stories have been adapted to produce a legendary Hawai'i primarily for non-Hawaiian readers or other audiences.

With an understanding of tradition that foregrounds history and change, Bacchilega examines how, following the 1898 annexation of Hawai'i by the United States, the publication of Hawaiian legends in English delegitimized indigenous narratives and traditions and at the same time constructed them as representative of Hawaiian culture. Hawaiian mo'olelo were translated in popular and scholarly English-language publications to market a new cultural product: a space constructed primarily for Euro-Americans as something simultaneously exotic and primitive and beautiful and welcoming. To analyze this representation of Hawaiian traditions, place, and genre, Bacchilega focuses on translation across languages, cultures, and media; on photography, as the technology that contributed to the visual formation of a westernized image of Hawai'i; and on tourism as determining postannexation economic and ideological machinery.

In a book with interdisciplinary appeal, Bacchilega demonstrates both how the myth of legendary Hawai'i emerged and how this vision can be unmade and reimagined.


This could have been, in someone else’s mind and hands, a much largerscale book, along the lines of Paul Lyons’s American Pacificism: Oceania in the U.S. Imagination (2005) or Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson’s collection Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific (1999)—projects I very much admire for their capacity to bring knowledge of so many different fields to bear on our understanding of Pacific studies and Oceania, and with which I see an affinity of purpose. The scope and focus of my project are much narrower: I have studied how Hawaiian stories were presented as “legends” in English at the beginning of the twentieth century to promote what I call legendary Hawai‘i, a construct buttressing—at a crucial time in the history of Hawai‘i—those “sanctioned ignorances” that Paul Lyons identifies as having contributed to the “collective or structured ‘misrecognition’” of Hawai‘i and more generally of Oceanian cultural systems (American Pacificism, 8–9).

While this is not a book about Hawaiian legends and I am not of these islands, taking Hawaiian knowledge and epistemology seriously is my starting point, one that enables me to question the persistent popularity of legendary Hawai‘i today. Thus, learning from a “Hawaiian view,” as I trace my own transformation in Chapter 2, is also to counter a “deeply invested ignoring of Oceanian epistemologies, political institutions and forms of cultural and intellectual tradition and performance” that has long inflected Euro-American everyday and scholarly perspectives on the region (American Pacificism, 8–9). Learning from Hawaiian narrative tradition and scholarship involves a willingness to acknowledge and unmake a powerfully damaging mistranslation or misrecognition.

Jack Zipes’s oeuvre historicizing the genre of the fairy tale, unmasking its mythification, documenting its appropriation of lower-class values and later commodification in mass-culture industry, and highlighting its changing ideological functions within varying sociohistorical contexts and nations is perhaps the most profound inspiration for my methodology and project. But the spotlight in this book is on Hawaiian scholarship—on what we malihini (newcomers) can learn from it—because it has too often been dismissed or marginalized from the production of discourses about Hawai‘i. “Can one, should one, always take Native . . .

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