Seminar in Hawaiian Literature: Ka Piko Palapala Hawai‘i: Foundations of Hawaiian Literature

What is “Hawaiian literature”? How can (or should?) it be studied? What are Indigenous and other theories, methodologies, and approaches that are relevant and important in understanding, studying, and critiquing Hawaiian literature? These are a few questions that underpin this course, which explores the foundations of Hawaiian literature, “mai ka pō mai” (from antiquity to the present), “mai nā kūpuna mai” (from the ancestors to contemporary writers), and “mai ka waha mai” (from oral traditions [to written literature]). Texts will be primarily written in or translated into English. In part, we will examine how “Palapala” (literature) was established, looking first at its oral roots, and then how it transitioned from solely oral and performative to becoming interwoven, transmitted, and “translated” on paper. We will read and discuss traditional genres of Palapala Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian literature), including mele (poetry, chant, song), moʻokūʻauhau (genealogy), and moʻolelo (narratives, stories, both oral and written) prior to foreign interference, and how that changed with the introduction of ‘ike palapala (i.e. reading and writing) in the 1820s-1830s. We will look at the transition from oral tradition to written literature, as well as the shift from Hawaiian language to English, paying attention to both the interplay between these factors, and how western influence has changed Hawaiian literary expression. While the focus of study and discussion will revolve around the literary production of Kanaka Maoli writers, selected critical work from other Indigenous cultures are relevant in order to compare and understand similar processes underway in the cultural translation of emerging literatures in other parts of Oceania and North America.


Student Leaning Outcomes:

–familiarization with a range of Kanaka Maoli literary texts, with an understanding of the development of the field, including major periods, authors, and genres;

–ability to identify and apply indigenous literary theories and methodologies and engage them in critical discussion in reading and interpreting these texts;

–develop a more complex understanding of the dynamics of cultural translation between the practices and aesthetic concerns of traditional forms of oral and written expression and those of contemporary western-based or western-influenced literature;

–understand the role of Hawaiian language as integral to the development of cultural practice, including the themes and perspectives expressed in Hawaiian literature as a product and expression of cultural practice

–demonstrate advanced critical analysis of literature in general, and Hawaiian literature in particular, in both written and oral formats.

–increase student practice and understanding of graduate-level research and writing, and adeptness with the MLA style guide



  • Written responses to assigned readings
  • An archive-based research assignment
  • Annotated bibliography on Hawaiian writing
  • A final research project
  • An oral presentation of your final research project (20 min.)
  • Participation in a library research workshop


Possible Texts (tentative list subject to change):

  • Altiery, Mason. The Last Village in Kona.
  • ho‘omanawanui, ku‘ualoha, ed. ‘Ōiwi: A Native Hawaiian Journal
  • Kaopio, Matthew. Written in the Sky.
  • Liliʻuokalani.
  • Manu, Moses. “The Epic Battle between Pele-of-the-eternal-raging-fires and Waka-of-the-shadowy-waters.”

Scholarship, theory and methodologies:

  • ho‘omanawanui, ku‘ualoha. Voices of Fire: Reweaving the Literary Lei of Pele and Hi‘iaka (UMP, 2014).
  • Ingersoll, Karen. Waves of Knowing, a Seascape Epistemology (Duke UP, 2016).
  • King, Thomas. The Truth about Stories, a Native Narrative (UMP, 2008).
  • McDougall, Brandy Nālani. Finding Meaning, Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature (UAP, 2016).
  • Silva, Noenoe. The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen, Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History (Duke UP, 2017).