Native Hawaiian Lit in English

Since western (Euroamerican) concepts of literacy (reading and writing) were first introduced to Hawaiʻi in the early nineteenth century, Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) have continually engaged in and celebrated the development and production of Hawaiian literary arts. Hawaiian literature is born from oral cultural practices such as the composition and performance of moʻokūʻauhau (genealogies), mele (chant, song, and other poetry), and moʻolelo (stories, histories). Kanaka Maoli literature is more than personal expression, it documents history, cultural practices, world views, imagination, the vibrancy and diversity of Kanaka Maoli culture, encounters with colonialism, grappling with settler colonialism, as well as cultural, political, and social activism. Moreover, Kanaka Maoli literature was one of the few forms of artistic representation in which Kanaka Maoli could communicate with each other during a time when oppressive missionary-imposed laws forbade hula, and public discourse in the newspapers were censored. From the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, Hawaiian literature—especially literature published in the Hawaiian language newspapers—were the political messengers of the time, subtly conveying messages of resistance to a savvy native publication through the revered practice of kaona, or hidden/underlying metaphorical messages.


This course explores major works of multi-genre Kanaka Maoli literature within cultural and literary contexts. Texts are primarily written in or translated into English. We will examine the diversity of literary themes across traditional genres of moʻokūʻauhau, mele, and moʻolelo. We will look at the transition from oral tradition to written literature, as well as the shift from Hawaiian language to HCE (Hawaiʻi Creole English) and English. We will also study major and traditional genres such as wahi pana (celebrated places), themes, such as mālama and aloha ‘āina (importance of land), and forms, such as mo‘okū‘auhau and ko‘ihonua (genealogies). In addition, we will discuss how Kanaka Maoli  literature formed, and how it has changed over time. We will begin with a historical overview from the period just prior to contact (1778) through the development of Hawai‘i as one of the most literate nations on the planet at the end of the nineteenth century. We will then turn to contemporary literature and examine how this social and political history has shaped and influence these modern works, and how it is reflected in them as well. These texts will be multimedia and include poetry, drama, short stories, non-fiction, songs, chants, audio CD, video/DVD and websites.


The goals of the course are to familiarize students with a range of literary work by Kanaka Maoli writers across the generations, and learn to read these texts as cultural, political, and historical productions as well as literary texts; to identify and apply indigenous and other critical theories to the reading of these texts; and to develop a more complex understandings of the dynamics of cultural translation between the practices and aesthetic concerns of Hawaiian literature in conversation with Pacific and other literatures.


Course Requirements: A formal paper, a final research project, a midterm, final exam, reading quizzes, oral group presentation, library workshop, class participation, regular attendance.


Possible texts:


Baker, Hailiʻōpua. “My Boy He Play Ball.” (play, 2015)

hoʻomanawanui, kuʻualoha, ed. ʻōiwi, a Native Hawaiian Journal, vol. 4. (mixed genre, 2010)

Kaʻawaloa, F. W. “A Story of Manamanaʻiakaluea.” (short story, 1862)

Kahakuwila, Kristiana. This is Paradise: Short Stories. (short stories, 2013)

Kaopio, Matthew. Written in the Sky. (novel, 2005)

Liliʻuokalani. Kumulipo, a Chant of Creation. (genealogy, 1898)

Perez Wendt, Mahealani. Uluhaimalama. (poetry, 2008)

Washburn, Kawika. Sharks in the Time of Saviors. (novel, 2020)


Other readings and handouts will be posted on Laulima.

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.