The Lost Kingdom of Hawaii

Monday, January 23, 2012

Julia Flynn Siler tells of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s rise and fall, and about the clashes between the Polynesian people and relentlessly expanding capitalist powers. In Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, The Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure, she describes royalty and rogues, sugar barons, and missionaries.


Julia Flynn Siler

Comments [23]

Michael from Hilo, Hawai'i

To Ms Siler:

I do not find the fault that some others have found in your interview, however there were errors, both on your part, and on the part of the interviewer. To wit:

1) Pronunciation. Correct pronunciation of Hawaiian names and words requires some practice. Splitting names into constituent words is helpful, For example, "Lili'uokalani" can be split into "Lili'u - O - Kalani" and would be pronounced, "Lee LEE oo oh kah LAH nee".

2) Missionary arrival predated whaling by at least a decade, so it is not correct to say that the missionaries learned of the islands from whalers, and came to the islands with the whalers. Generally, whalers did not accommodate passengers. Most missionaries arrived on private vessels. Many of these were cargo vessels, some were more oriented to passengers than others. The bulk of whaling activity in Hawaiian waters happened in a 20 year period from 1840-1860.

3) The original Hawaiians had kings for each island, Polities sometimes spanned neighboring islands. Kamehameha I established the Kingdom of Hawai'i (a multi-island polity, the first to unify control of the major islands of the archipelago under a single ruler), not based upon Western models, but on the Hawaiian concept of a high king (Mo'i Nui). It was later that his descendents formed a constitutional monarchy based on the European model. Early constitutional monarchs tended to have a Eurocentric sensibility. Later as American missionaries gained political power, there was a shift to a more Americo-centric sensibility to the point of the implementation of the "Bayonette Constitution" promulgated upon Lili'uokalani's brother and predecessor King Kalakaua, which cemented American business interests. To state that the original monarchy was set up according to a British model is simply not a statement supportable by the evidence.

Lastly, the interviewer ought to have researched a little more fully. Thank you for correcting him most of the time. I am stunned that he would characterize settlement in the 200's CE as being "fairly recent". Rome was still in power in 200 AD. That was not "fairly recently", and it predates even Colonial America by 1300 years.

Thank you for your interest in my people. I will try to read your book.

Jun. 09 2014 10:36 PM
Michael from Hilo, Hawai'i

To Eric from Point Pleasant;

No, it is not true that the Hawaiian people had a "leisure based lifestyle", a notion promulgated by missionaries who strove to instill their work ethic onto the Hawaiians. The Hawaiians worked extremely hard, building walls and terraces and irrigation ditches, fisheries, forestry, fishing, canoe building, stone quarrying, making kapa (cloth). There were strict edicts (kapu or taboo) which regulated when work could be performed based on a lunar calendar. There were fallow days built into the calendar to allow resources to replenish. The Hawaiians were master stewards, who understood that resources could become finite without proper care. The tax paying period of Makahiki was also a time when much work was deferred to allow for the ritual collection of wares from the islands to pay tribute to the ruling class (Ali'i) and to the gods, and was also a period during which warfare was prohibited. The missionaries thought of these fallow periods as being indicative of laziness and set out to demonize and destroy them. Once the traditional class divisions and the old religion were replaced with Western traditions, many of the people rejected authority and refused to do things as they had in the past, including respecting the kapu. As a result, the trade based economy collapsed, and was supplanted by Western commercialism, which exploits the resources rather than stewarding them. Work one day in a kalo lo'i and then tell me that Hawaiians were lazy! The fact that so many died in such a short time from exposure to Western diseases only complicated the issue.

Jun. 09 2014 09:44 PM
DC from New York

two million people? I find that hard to believe... evidence please

Mar. 31 2012 03:46 PM
DC from New York

Is the Hawaiian Embassy a store? I see that you're in New York. Is that a store? I'm looking for a place that sells Hawaiian tikis, surf stuff and cool music.

Mar. 30 2012 02:47 PM
M. A. Ka'upenamana from Nanakuli

I just want to say that was an awfully big rant by Kai Landow, a man born and raised on the mainland with absolutely no ancestral ties to Hawaii. "we suffer" and "our oppression" used by him feels like a kick to the gut. I haven't read your book Ms. Silver, but I had to respond to the comments made. Kai is correct. Our people have suffered oppression. But the problem is, we continue to suffer by the likes of men like him, who continue to coopt our heritage and culture, as well as our politics, to the detriment of our people to fulfill their orientalist/colonial fantasies and political agendas. Kai Landow knows nothing about the real needs of our people.

Mar. 30 2012 02:25 PM
hawaiian embassy [kai landow] from NYC

Aloha Ms. Siler, You refer to academics who aided you. I would probably know them personally and yet the reputation with Kanaka Ku'iwi is not so great. I would now point out the issues I have with your commentary. The first people in the Hawaiian Islands is thought to be the Nanaulu and they were born to the islands. Tahitians immigration and intermarriage are the people today. Best reports of the population when Cook arrived was 2 million kanaka and the 300,000 number is related to covering up the massive deaths of Hawaiians. It is now thought that James Cook was called Orono and not thought to be Lono. Hawaiians did malama him and yet the central evidence that he was the god Lono is a western conclusion. In Cooks journals we find out that he was aware that Syphilis was a problem and had ordered his men not to have sex with the Hawaiian women. So you can not say he was unaware of the cost of spreading decease. As far as Human sacrifice you are correct, but we find that Americans credit a greater number of Heiau [temples] to human sacrifice. The purpose being to discredit Hawaiians and to bolster their piracy. You mention of it appears to aid in this mythology. The Great Mahele was the Convention to quiet land title and it purpose was to clarify title to the European understanding. It was to protect Hawaiians from land grabbing and was not leaving Kanaka out in the cold, that is reminiscent of Lilikala's [professor at Manoa] view of the Kingdom [she is anti Kingdom]. If you simply read the Constitution you can clearly see the land is owned by the King, the Chiefs and the people in common. It is too long an explanation for this blog. The long held American argument that if they did not “snatch up” someone else would for its strategic value id straight out of Dole and Thurston, who as we all know were traitors. As for the 1.8 million acre Crown lands, first it is 2 million acres and it was a trust for the subjects of Hawaii, not Native Hawaiians alone. The you conclude that everyone in Hawaii became a naturalized citizen of the US. You simply would have to prove that as there is no evidence or legal precedence for such acts. Plenary Powers of Congress, no matter how they argue it can not make laws extra territorially. Sadly for Statehood, only the Republic and its following entity is the State today. To say Hawaii is a very racially divisive state is a quality that is an American possession and unworthy. Our Ali'i ohana, not pau, your conclusion that it is again is needed to aid an argument of imperialism. So why not learn the real story and tell the new one we are making now?

Kai Landow Vice Consul

Jan. 26 2012 01:55 PM
hawaiian embassy [kai landow] from NYC

Aloha Ms. Siler, I did admit I had not read your book and i will make an effort to research it. What I did say was that the conclusions you spoke to in your interview were incorrect. You would have to show me the legal annexation of my country and what happened to the tens of thousands of Hawaiian subject who signed the Ku'e petition. Can you enslave a free people to come under a foreign constitution? You miss the point that the "Republic" was annexed and that political body had only 3000 sworn citizens and some were forced to sign. You say Hawaii is part of the US and failed to mention that the plebiscite in 1959, which removed Hawaii from the decolonization list [not that we were ever colonized] was almost exclusively voted on by foreigners. The US flooded my country and many Hawaiian could not vote because they were not US citizens. The rules of an plebiscite under international law requires only those with an interest to cede can vote. Americans own nothing to cede! In Hawaii we have heard the same conclusions about American hegemony in Hawaii and so if you read the Queen's books you would know are status of protest is still standing. we have waited for 119 years for our issues to find a legitimate platform. I will read you book but I suspect you have not really understood the Kaona [deeper meanings] of Hawaii. If justice does not come to Hawaii, a country that left its tribal beginnings in 1839 and joined the family of nations, the foundations of all civil nations is under threat. a hui hou Kai Landow

Jan. 26 2012 01:19 PM
Julia Flynn Siler

Aloha, Kai.
I do hope you will look at the sources that I used -- many, many primary sources from such Hawaiian historians as John Papa I'i and from contemporary kanaka maoli scholars, as well. I incorporated as many possible sources as I could -- not just those from the occupiers. Before you suggest I have made errors, I would respectfully ask you to look at my 800+ endnotes, my lengthy bibliography, and also at the University of Hawai'i professors who very generously reviewed parts of the manuscript and assisted me with this book. Thank you for keeping an open mind.


Jan. 24 2012 02:23 PM
hawaiian embassy [kai landow] from NYC

Aloha Ms. Siler,

I can see you are reading this blog so I would address you. I have not read your book but from the interview I heard you made many errors in your conclusions. Would you be interested to know the gaps in your research? Hawaiian history has not be only written by the occupiers, "To steal a Kingdom" is a good source for information. The Queens own books, but somehow I suspect you read those. I just can not understand why you wrote this, a book that has the insights of imperialism of the original arguments of the traitors like Dole, Thurston and Stevens. You do a disservice to the Hawaiian people by telling the same misinformation. Are you not a curious person? How come you conclude that the Crown lands are claimed by "Native" Hawaiians in the race based usage? The Kingdom is a multi cultural nation as it has been since 1839. The use of race through out your interview is saddening. I wish someone like yourself would endeavor to write about the truth to your countrymen, it was all around you in Hawaii and the experts to tell you the story. We have written our own history, partially published or ignored what is you place in this life when you seem to speak for us? Please talk to the Hawaiian people and learn what we suffered, triumphed, forgiven and continue to govern ourselves. There is your sequel!

Kai Landow
Hawaiian Embassy

Jan. 24 2012 01:33 PM
Julia Flynn Siler

Aloha, Kai. Just to clarify, I did four years of research in all of the major archives in the islands and examined thousands of documents in the course of writing Lost Kingdom, including a number of newly transcribed letters written by members of the royal family that had never been published before (the David J. Forbes collection, newly donated to the Hawai'i State Archives, as well as the newly opened Judd Collection at the Bishop archives. Lost Kingdom has more than 800 end-notes citing my research and I hope that other storytellers and scholars might build on my work as we deepen our understanding as a nation of this important American story.

Jan. 24 2012 12:41 PM
kai landow

Aloha Kakou, This is not a new problem of people who come from outside Hawaii and get excited about our country, our story and miss our oppression. I wish she did some serious research and opened her eyes to my countries existence. She refers to our subjects being made Americans against their will. There is an amazing story, but she has writing a book that appears to have been written many times before. The first one was by the Republic of Hawaii when they lied about "overthrow". I hope one day Mr. Lopate will become curious to the real condition of Hawaii.

Kai Landow Vice Consul
Hawaiian Embassy in the New York

Jan. 23 2012 10:09 PM
Nancy from South Orange NJ

I am a bit surprised that Ms. Siler referred to Hawaii as racially divisive. As a haole who attended Hawaii public schools (k thru 12), I found that Hawaii's reputation as a melting pot was largely true, in both the classroom and the integrated community I grew up in. As others noted, Ms. Siler could not pronounce the Hawaiian names and words--a bit peculiar for someone who had just written a book on Hawaiian history. The interview left me concerned about her mastery of Hawaiian culture and not likely to read her book.

Jan. 23 2012 06:37 PM
Julia Flynn Siler from New York

Mahalo to Marianne for the correction on pronunciation. For a recent blog item I wrote on my difficult in pronouncing Hawaiian names and words, please visit

Jan. 23 2012 01:53 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To John

Israel was not a "land grab." The League of Nations gave Palestine back to the Jews in 1922. At least in the 19th century, there was more land grabbing but a lot less hypocrisy about it. Today, it's all about propaganda and lies. There was no Jewish "land grab" in Palestine. It was all legal under international law, but "international law" can change depending on who sits in the UN, and how power shifts therein.

Jan. 23 2012 01:10 PM
john from office

jgarbuz from Queens
You really are a one trick pony. The difference is the historical era when the land grab occurs.

Jan. 23 2012 01:02 PM
Eric from Pt. Pleasant, NJ

Is it true that the Hawaiians had a largely leisure-based society before their discovery by Captain Cook and the missionaries? How did they maintain this lifestyle?

Jan. 23 2012 12:55 PM
David from Long Island City

Don't forget to mention that Lilioukalani wrote the Hawaiian state song.

PS: My grandparents worked at the Spreckles sugar plantation on Maui. I went (as did Obama) to Punahou, a school founded by New England missionaries.

Jan. 23 2012 12:54 PM
Morgan Paar from Manhattan

Have you spoken about the Dole Corporation and its part in the overthrow of the monarchy?

Jan. 23 2012 12:53 PM
dboy from nyc

One insanity definitely justifies another.

Jan. 23 2012 12:52 PM
Marianne Loach

Please tell your author, Julia Flynn Siler, ASAP that the correct pronunciation for the the name for the royalty in Hawaiian is "Ah LEE' ee" with the accent on the second syllable. She's been saying "AH lee ee" which is incorrect. As the author of a book on Hawaiian history, she should learn this correct pronunciation for "Ali'i". Please tell her now while she's on the air. Thanks.

Jan. 23 2012 12:49 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

It's amazing how the United States could expand from a mere 13 colonies hugging the Atlantic coast, all the way West to the middle of the Pacific, grabbing half of Mexico along the way, and yet chastise Israel for a few square miles of "expansion" into Biblical Israelite territories. Such hypocrisy.

Jan. 23 2012 12:46 PM
Santiago from New York

Do you think there is a relationship between Hawaii and Puerto Rico? Did language play a role? They have so much in common, but I wonder if the teaching of English language made it easier to accept Hawaii a state on the union while Puerto Rico still remains a US territory.

Jan. 23 2012 12:45 PM
Lars from Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn

As a former (haole) resident of Hawaii, I'm surprised Ms. Siler didn't mention that Hawaii was invaded by the Tahitians several centuries after being settled by the Marquesans and the invaders became the dominant Hawaiian culture. Also, "haole" refers to any white person, not just mainlanders. It can be derogatory, or not, depending on its use and context.

Jan. 23 2012 12:43 PM

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