Review of Storied Landscapes: Hawaiian Literature and Place. Rob Wilson, University of California at Santa Cruz. The Contemporary Pacific. Fall 2001, 600.
Relying on a bevy of western anthropological, historical, folklore and archaeological sources as well as Hawaiian language resources and texts, Dennis Kawaharada tracks a very different way of doing such work even as a non-native scholar of the Pacific. If the west imposes a telos of history on the spatial complexity of cultures in Pacific, the culture of Hawaiian indigenous settlement survives via a complex process of embedded naming and oral transmission achieved through poetic traditions archiving history, legend, pragmatic knowledge, and spirituality into the names of places.
As a resident scholar and local-born writer in Hawai'i, Kawaharada feels an ethical and political imperative to research, respect, and keep alive the aboriginal heritage of pragmatic ecological knowledge and respect for the community, land, and ocean. As he remarks in a splendid chapter on the "Voyaging Chiefs of Kane'ohe Bay," linking the Hokule'a voyages of 1975 onward to the diasporic quests for mana of the Hawaiian-Tahitian trans-Pacific flow, chants can have pragmatic and spiritual functions that link the past to the present and transmit useful knowledge of place and community. "The chant," Kawaharada writes, "seemingly a mere listing of stops in a journey of the spirit horne, is a verbal map that may have also served as a device for remembering narratives explaining the significance of each of these places in the life of Laka" (34). By knowing the story of Laka-- if only in transcultural translation-- we can still have access to a complex Hawaiian knowledge of ocean, wind, cloud, reef, and place-based decorums of behavior.
While at times we might want Kawaharada to question his sources (he draws on modern anthropology and folklore studies as a virtually uncontaminated transmission of native knowledge) or to self-situate and critique his own non-native status (is it Jack London alone who runs the danger of "epitomiz[ing] the strategy of colonization through the usurping of the native voice in storytelling" ?),* Storied Landscapes opens up a cross-cultural space of ancestral listening in modern contexts of ecology, sovereignty struggle, and political-spiritual coalition. Rather than look back to a white Pacific with all its elegiac flaws, traumatized sublimity, and self-undermining tropes, Kawaharada enacts a way forward that is respectful of the Native Pacific and open to the claims of ancestral possession in a pragmatic and literary way that proves original, succint, and useful.
*For my "self-situation and critique" of a non-native writer writing about native tradition, published before this review, see Local Mythologies, 1979-2000, Part 3, which appeared in the Hawai'i Review, 56 Winter 2000/Spring 2001.
For my response to a native writer's critique of a non-native writer writing about native tradition, see My Response to Comments on Storied Landscapes, with guidance on how to read the metaphor in the title and interpret the text (2009). The comments were in response to “Quest for Kuleana” by Ku‘ualoha Ho‘omanawanui, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa English Department, in “This Land Is Your Land, This Land was My Land” (pp. 139-146), in Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai’i, University of Hawaii Press, 2008, edited by Candace Fujikane, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa English Department, and Jonathan Y. Okamura, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Ethnic Studies Department.