I want to thank Jackie from Death by Tsundoku blog for researching and writing such a wonderful post for the Native Hawaiian #OwnVoices blog event. Check out her blog at the link above!
When Brendon announced he was going to feature the Indigenous Peoples of Hawai’i for his November posts, I will admit I SQUEE’d hard. Lately, I’ve been reading more and more books featuring Hawai’ian natives or set in Hawai’I (The Girl From Everywhere being the most recent), and I knew I hadn’t read a single #OwnVoices Hawai’ian author. This was upsetting. I knew immediately I wanted to be involved in Brendon’s adventure. So, I began my research. After spending hours in my library, talking to research librarians, and scouring the internet I realized a number of things:
- I was not entirely certain what Brendon’s definition was of “Indigenous Hawai’ian”
- Based on my own definition, my library only had one book by a #OwnVoices Hawai’ian author: Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen by Liliuokalani
- I was shocked by this, and I didn’t really understand why
It was time to get to the bottom of this. I need to find out what an “indigenous Hawai’ian” really is and why we can’t find much literature, particularly fiction, written by these people.
According to Brendon, his definition is “…any authors who identify as indigenous…”, but he is “…trying to avoid authors who are from (Hawai’i) … but have no ancestral ties to Native Hawaiians.” This distinction is important due to the history of Hawai’i and their people.
Hawai’i is an archipelago of eight major islands which are volcanic in origin. In fact, each island is made up of a primary volcano and most islands are actually composites of more than one. The oldest part of the archipelago is Kure Atoll at approximately 28 million years old. Yet, the early history of Hawai’i settlers identifies Polynesians landing sometime in the 10th century and Tahitian explorers began to settle around 1200. These first people to inhabit Hawaii are the ones we now identify as indigenous, and they lived there for around 500 years separated entirely from the rest of the world.
In 1778 James Cook, a British explorer, arrived in the islands and traded military technology to these native islanders. Within 5 years Kamehameha I conquered most of the native peoples and unified the inhabited islands to establish the Kingdom of Hawai’i.
The Kingdom of Hawai’i was prosperous. Due to their strategic position in the Pacific, their climate, and their impressive agriculture they were also the envy of many countries. Immigrants followed on the coattails of the British and brought disease. By the 1850’s the native population had dropped from around 300,000 to 60,000. Americans living on the island craved more and more power. With the declining population, they also began to restrict the rights of the native peoples and their King. In fact, in 1893, the Kingdom was overthrown. Hawai’i became a Republic, then a Territory of the US, and in 1959, a full state of the United States of America.
Understanding the history of this tiny island chain, it’s easy to see how the definition of indigenous is challenging in this context. Miriam-Webster defines Indigenous as produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment. Anthropologists consider the Polynesians who colonized in the 10th century to be the true Native Hawai’ians. According to the Pew Research Foundation, Native Hawai’ians only make up 6% of the archipelago’s population. 6%!
This explains why it’s so hard to find books written by authors who meet Brendon’s definition. But all hope is not lost! In 2000, the US Census Bureau started allowing people to select more than one race to identify themselves. This change in this statistic collection is showing a rise in the Native Hawai’ian population, and growing!
So, why does this all matter? Why should we be looking for indigenous Hawai’ian authors and reading their books? The We Need Diverse Books campaign asks us to complete the sentence We need diverse books because… and in this context I feel this sentence is best completed with: without #OwnVoices we don’t understand the truth.
As a citizen of the United States I grew up only knowing that Hawai’i was a territory before it became a state. That was the extent of my education on Hawai’ians in school. I had no idea the depth of the intrigue, subterfuge and all out betrayal which led to Hawai’i becoming a part of the Union. I never really thought about it either; it didn’t occur to me. There was no reason to because no one spoke for that voice and I didn’t understand it needed to be heard.
After the election results last week, I have seen and heard things from intelligent people I never expected to hear. The amount of ignorance is baffling. I can think of very few times in history where more understanding was needed. Reading #OwnVoices authors is more important than ever, particularly when that voice is barely represented at all in the dialogue. The goal of this movement is for authors to write books about their own experiences. The diverse peoples of America are starting to get their voices heard… but not so much the indigenous ones.
In Brendon’s most recent post, he identified the horrifically small collection of #OwnVoices Hawai’ian authors available but started to dig into the issues affecting them. If we don’t hear more from these authors, their plights will be ignored and their worries will fall onto deaf ears. These are the people who understand the experience and know what they are talking about. This isn’t to say that there is no validity to other Hawai’ian authors who grew up on the islands. No. It’s just that the native Hawai’ians have hundreds of years of history supporting their experiences. No matter how much research they’ve done, it’s challenging for an author to clearly express the emotion and thought of an experience they have not lived.
It’s obvious from the minimal research I’ve done, and based on Brendon’s and other’s posted experiences with this topic on Gaming for Justice, that something needs to be done. The real question is now that we notice the gap, how do we solve it? Below are a few things that I am pledging to do; feel free to take up the mantle as well: Make an effort to seek out Native Hawai’ian #OwnVoices books. Reading them through my library system and buying them from my bookstores will slowly communicate to the community at large this is important, and we need more.
- Make an effort to seek out Native Hawai’ian #OwnVoices books: Reading them through my library system and buying them from my bookstores will slowly communicate to the community at large this is important, and we need more.
- Talk to my librarians: I will continue to talk to the local librarians and other librarians in my community’s system about the importance of these authors. I will bring them book titles and authors, encourage them to look for more books by these authors, and also ask them to take an active part in this quest.
- Share and Donate the books: I have already purchased three copies of House of Many Gods for my library system. I know as I continue to learn more I will find other books worth sharing.
- Discuss this gap: As a participant in multiple book clubs, I will be certain to bring the gap in indigenous voices to their attention. It is already noted amongst my friends that Native Americans are underrepresented, but what about the Hawai’ians? Talking about this with as many people as possible will only draw more attention to it.
- Seek out Indie Indigenous Hawai’ian authors: I won’t pretend to be an expert on this, but there are a ton of resources on the internet to help you find Indie and Self-Publishing authors. Many self-publishing authors, once they develop a following, become mainstream (I’m looking at you, Andy Weir). By finding, following, and supporting these authors we will finally find their voices in our libraries and bookstores.
I still won’t pretend I understand why we don’t see more native Hawai’ian authors published. The population statistics give me one view, but I’m certain there is more to it. In the end, what matters is I have stumbled upon a voice which is not being heard. I love learning about new cultures, and my recent exposure with Hawai’ian cultures is no exception. As we continue to follow Brendon’s journey this month, I hope we all learn more about these authors and the experiences they are facing. And I hope you will all follow me in promoting these #OwnVoices authors long past the end of November.
What do you think?
- Have you read any books by indigenous Hawai’ian authors? If so, what authors and books?
- What do you think of the definition of indigenous Hawai’ian authors?
- Why do you think we have so few books posted by such authors?