Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

How Blue Is His Beard? an Examination of the 1862 Hawaiian-Language Translation of "Bluebeard"

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

How Blue Is His Beard? an Examination of the 1862 Hawaiian-Language Translation of "Bluebeard"

Article excerpt

Charles Perrault's "Bluebeard" has exercised great cultural influence since its initial publication in the late seventeenth century. Numerous iterations of this tale of blood and violence were told and revised through many media and time periods, but it was not until the last handful of decades that these tales have stopped blaming the wife's "female curiosity" for Bluebeard's murderous rage. Despite some of these contemporary revisions, Perrault's tale itself fits in with other culturally powerful tales, reinforcing and lending support to particular values in a way that Maria Tatar describes as follows: "Like many of our foundational cultural stories, 'Bluebeard' turns on a woman's desire for forbidden knowledge and, in its canonical French form, describes that desire as a curse. The intellectual curiosity of men may have given us fire, divided us from animals, and produced civilization, but the curiosity of women - as we know from the stories of Pandora, Eve, Psyche, and Lot's wife, among others - has given rise to misery, evil, and grief" (Secrets 3). Thus we can see that the patriarchal messages and mores embedded within Perrault's tale restate and strengthen similar messages that come from texts that are foundational to Western culture. Given my interests in Hawaiian literature and indigenous ways of knowing, my first question is: What happens when stories such as "Bluebeard" are taken out of this Western cultural context and placed into one in which Pandora, Eve, Psyche, and Lot's wife are not "foundational"?

Many avenues for examining this question present themselves in the Hawaiian-language newspapers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning in 1834 and running until the late 1940s, at least a hundred Hawaiian-language newspapers were published, covering an array of topics including missionary censures of native practice, political debate, cultural description, the latest news from abroad, and serial stories, both native and foreign. It is the publication of foreign stories that is of the most interest here, because on June 14, 1862, in KaNupepa Kuokoa, the longest-running Hawaiianlanguage newspaper, a version of Perrault's "Bluebeard" was translated into Hawaiian and became "Umiumi Uliuli," entering a cultural tradition in which women were not "casualties of their own curiosity," like Eve and Pandora, but powerful goddesses of fertility and rebirth, like Haumea and Hina.1

By the time this translation was published, Hawaiians had an extremely high level of literacy and were voracious readers, consuming books and articles from a myriad of countries.2 Because of the strong influence Christianity held in Hawai'i after Calvinist missionaries arrived in 1820, the people were well aware of Eve and of Lot's wife, and they were also likely familiar with Pandora through the Western education they were receiving in the public and private schools of the time. But since the mission had been established for only a few decades, these stories did not form the basis of how Hawaiians and their culture viewed women. Their views were much more informed by their traditional stories and chants, which first circulated orally and then through printed outlets like the newspapers. These stories were filled with figures such as Pele, the volcano goddess who lives in Kïlauea and is one of the most powerful deities in the Hawaiian host of four hundred thousand gods; Haumea, a goddess often tied to fertility, who is reborn in every Hawaiian woman; and Hina, a goddess whose many incarnations were associated with everything from the moon to fishing.

The subjects of these stories were not only deities, though. Hawaiian stories and songs also celebrated contemporary women, such as the powerful chiefess Ka'ahumanu, favorite wife of Kamehameha, who ruled Hawai'i in all but name after his death. At a time when women were at best helpmates in most Western contexts, many Hawaiian texts were emphasizing the important public role that alïi, or chiefly (meaning noble rank), women played. …

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