Seminar in Literatures of Hawai‘i: Literary Mappings of Land Struggles and Decolonial Futures

As settler colonial cartographies map thresholds between what it deems Life and Non-Life in ways that have devastating effects for the planet, such maps raise important questions for us: how are exhausted settler colonial geographies being transformed by the cartographies of Indigenous and settler ally artists, writers, and activists to restore more sustaining arrangements of life?  How can abundance be mapped to show functioning economies not premised on the crises and ruins of late liberal capitalism?  How do we map lands as having an ontology—a life, a will, a desire, and an agency—of their own? How can such cartographies help us to grow a decolonial love for lands, seas and skies that will work against climate change?

If mapping is often a colonial enterprise by which administrators, scholars and artists have made territorial claims, then we will use a cultural studies approach to recover ʻŌiwi ways of mapping land as a way of mapping ea—life, breath and political sovereignty.  Although the structural operations of invasion are conducted through mapmaking and the settler state’s production of terra nullius, mo‘olelo (stories/histories) map more expansively the interconnectedness of Kānaka ‘Ōiwi to places on the kulāiwi, the seas and the sky, all inextricably bound by the akua, iwi kūpuna, mana, and genealogy.  We will bring together theory and praxis to tease out the problematic assumptions of mapmaking, the contested modalities of “ground truths,” and the ontological status of land that will help to illuminate the rhetorical patterns and logic of the settler state that we see in the maps and rhetoric generated in various final environmental impact statements.  As we examine geographical, literary and thematic maps, we will consider the ways that these maps reflect and reproduce modes of production, whether they are capitalist or ʻŌiwi or other economies, and we will work toward foregrounding the materiality of land and the people it sustains, both often obscured in maps.

In this course, we will study literary, cultural and political mappings of Hawai‘i through a range of genres, from critical texts on radical cartography, Marxist geography, Kanaka ʻŌiwi oral and performative maps, mo‘olelo of different places in Hawai‘i, a novel, environmental impact statements, legal analyses of land and water rights, community sustainability plans, visual texts (maps, murals, landscape paintings, photographs), a developer’s petition for rezoning, and community activists’ use of mo‘olelo in their oral testimonies.

In the first half of the class, we will be reading accounts of cartography that lay out both its historical function in the service of empire and invasion and also its use by indigenous peoples and settler allies to protect indigenous national and tribal lands. We will then turn to famous huaka‘i aloha ‘āina, including The Epic Tale of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele and The Legend of Keaomelemele, to witness the akua as they shift between their land and human kinolau, learning about the ways that Kanaka ‘Ōiwi have walked the land as a map and the different modes of production, economies and social relations that are mapped out in these moʻolelo.  The readings will then focus on different cultural, political and literary texts about four places under threat of erasure by urbanization: Lualualei, Mauna a Wākea, Kalihi, and Kualoa.  As we examine the conditions of these land struggles and the maps produced by them, we will also consider two synchronic movements: the struggle against the settler colonial apparatuses of the state under globalization, and an enactment of a future beyond the settler state through restoration projects and affinity mapping that rearticulates the social relations between Native peoples and non-Natives.

By the second half of the course, students will select their own project places and will be building and sharing their own archives, mapping the mo‘olelo and other literary representations of the place, its historical narratives and the political controversies that have emerged from them.  Various assignments will help student to build their research projects in a modular method. The students will present their work-in-progress on each place, leading toward a final research project.


Student learning outcomes include an awareness of the contributions of Hawaiʻi literatures to the formation of the contemporary field of English Studies (including such subfields as ethnic literature, rhetoric, indigenous land-based literacy, visual literacy, and cartography), an understanding of advanced research methods, written and oral ability to place one’s own scholarly work within broader critical conversations, independent research using primary and secondary sources.



Course Requirements:

5-page project proposal with an annotated bibliography that outlines the objectives of

the seminar paper (10%)

15-20-page seminar paper (50%)

Assignments that will help to build toward your research project (25%)

Two short presentations, one on a text and one on a mapping problem (15%)

Attendance and participation


Required Texts:

1) Elspeth P. Sterling and Catherine C. Summers, Sites of Oahu

2) Katrina-Ann Kapāʻanaokalāokeola Oliveira, Ancestral Places: Understanding Kanaka


3) Ho‘oulumāhiehie, trans. Puakea Nogelmeier, The Epic Tale of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele

4) Moses Manu, He Moʻolelo Kaʻao no Keaomelemele / The Legend of Keaomelemele

5) Zamora Linmark, Rolling the R’s

6) Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, Ikaika Hussey, Erin Kahunawai Wright, eds., A Nation

Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land, and Sovereignty

7) Brandy Nālani McDougall, Finding Meaning: Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature

8) Fujikane, Mapping Abundance Against the Wastelands of Capital: Indigenous and

Critical Settler Cartographies in Hawaiʻi (forthcoming)

9) Elizabeth Povinelli, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism

10) Kēpa and Onaona Maly, Mauna Kea: Ka Piko Kaulana o ka ʻĀina (Mauna Kea: The

Famous Summit of the Land)

Some of these texts are currently out of print but I will make copies available: Sites of Oahu, The Epic Tale of Hiʻiakaikapoliopele, Keaomelemele.  Fujikane and Maly texts will also be made available.

A course reader will be available at Professional Image and may include essays by Kamana Beamer and Kaeo Duarte, Henri Lefebvre, Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Pualani Kanahele, Karen Kosasa, Tevita Kaʻili, Eric Estuar Reyes, Laura Lyons, Cristina Bacchilega, J. B. Harley, Kīhei de Silva, ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui, Haunani-Kay Trask, Jeff Chang, Jose Rabasa, Noenoe Silva, D. R. K. Herman, Trevor Paglen, Vivien Lee, Charlie Reppun, Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, Kealoha Pisciotta, Kahoʻokahi Kanuha, Kuʻuipo Freitas, Kū Ching, Leinaʻala Sleightholm, Leon Noʻeau Peralto, Haley Kailiehu,  and others.