The Kingdom and the Republic: Sovereign Hawai'i and the Early United States

The Kingdom and the Republic: Sovereign Hawai'i and the Early United States

The Kingdom and the Republic: Sovereign Hawai'i and the Early United States

The Kingdom and the Republic: Sovereign Hawai'i and the Early United States


In 1823, as the first American missionaries arrived in Hawaiʻi, the archipelago was experiencing a profound transformation in its rule, as oral law that had been maintained for hundreds of years was in the process of becoming codified anew through the medium of writing. The arrival of sailors in pursuit of the lucrative sandalwood trade obliged the aliʻi (chiefs) of the islands to pronounce legal restrictions on foreigners' access to Hawaiian women. Assuming the new missionaries were the source of these rules, sailors attacked two mission stations, fracturing relations between merchants, missionaries, and sailors, while native rulers remained firmly in charge.

In The Kingdom and the Republic, Noelani Arista (Kanaka Maoli) uncovers a trove of previously unused Hawaiian language documents to chronicle the story of Hawaiians' experience of encounter and colonialism in the nineteenth century. Through this research, she explores the political deliberations between aliʻi over the sale of a Hawaiian woman to a British ship captain in 1825 and the consequences of the attacks on the mission stations. The result is a heretofore untold story of native political formation, the creation of indigenous law, and the extension of chiefly rule over natives and foreigners alike.

Relying on what is perhaps the largest archive of written indigenous language materials in North America, Arista argues that Hawaiian deliberations and actions in this period cannot be understood unless one takes into account Hawaiian understandings of the past--and the ways this knowledge of history was mobilized as a means to influence the present and secure a better future. In pursuing this history, The Kingdom and the Republic reconfigures familiar colonial histories of trade, proselytization, and negotiations over law and governance in Hawaiʻi.


I ka ‘ōlelo nō ke ola, I ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make

In speech there is life, in speech death.
—On the mana that inheres in chiefly oral pronouncement

This is a study of a world of words, world-making words, and how historians have written—or not—about them. We begin right in the middle of a dramatic expansion of this world. It is December 1827. An ‘aha ‘ōlelo, a Hawaiian chiefly council, has met for several days on the matter of an American missionary, Rev. William Richards, accused of libel by a British whaleship captain, William Buckle, and the British consul, Richard Charlton. Rev. William Richards, according to the British men, had libeled Captain Buckle when he wrote back to the home office of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in Boston, Massachusetts, describing the captain’s “purchase” in 1825 of a Hawaiian woman named Leoiki. Excerpts of this letter and others like it were then published in various missionary and American newspapers as a public airing of the violations of Christian morality occurring between American and European sailors and Hawaiian women.

It wasn’t Christian morality that had British consul Charlton and Captain Buckle concerned. It was, instead, the accusation that Captain Buckle had bought the Hawaiian woman, Leoiki. Such a claim opened Captain Buckle to charges of trading in slaves, a violation of Britain’s 1807 Slave Trade Act. Thus, words about a Hawaiian woman, written in a letter from Hawai‘i, edited and rewritten in New England, printed in American . . .

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