Hawaii State Library

Hawaii & Pacific Section Name Change Honors Kamakau

The Hawaii & Pacific room was christened the Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau Room on Saturday, October 29, 1994.

Article: Hawaii & Pacific Section Name Change Honors Kamakau
From: Hawaii State Library News
v.3, n.4 January-February 1994
--H&P staff


The New Year will bring a change to a favorite section of the Hawaii State Library when the Hawaii & Pacific Room is re-christened the "Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau Room." The new name honors a great Hawaiian historian who also served his community as an outstanding writer, scholar, jurist, and legislator. Plans are to have a plaque or portrait installed during a public ceremony; the date of the event will be announced.

Spearheading the efforts to recognize Kamakau, as well as four other Native Hawaiian men of letters -- David Malo, John Papa Ii, Kepelino, and S.N. Haleole -- were the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, the Board of Education and the State Legislature. Present-day Hawaiians and citizens of Hawaii are indebted to these five individuals who recognized the importance of committing Hawaiian historical and cultural knowledge into a permanent record for future generations.

The five scholars were born between the years 1795 and 1830 and during their lifetimes, they provided an invaluable legacy to the Hawaiian race. Their lives spanned a critical era in Hawaiian history: the transition from chiefdom to control by foreigners, including the arrival of missionaries, the decline of the monarchy and the decimation of the Hawaiian population. Ironically, it was the Christian missionaries, both Protestant and Catholic, who taught the Hawaiian scholars the written word. Three of the five were influenced by Protestant missionaries, with Malo, Haleole and Kamakau being alumni of the Lahainaluna Seminary, where the Reverend Sheldon Dibble, among others, had a strong concern for recording native history. Kepelino was the lone Catholic, having served on Catholic missions in his youth, and Kamakau converted to Catholicism later in life after becoming disillusioned with what he felt was the self-interest of the Congregational missionaries. The missionary element would be a major point of criticism about the works of these authors; nevertheless, the skill of writing served the purpose of preserving the ancient ways.

The collective backgrounds and experiences of Kamakau, Ii, Kepelino, Haleole, and Malo form the core of modern knowledge of our Hawaiian ancestors and their way of life. Ii’s Fragments of Hawaiian History gives firsthand accounts of Hawaiian court life, including religious, political and social concerns. Since childhood, he was trained in the skills of service to the court, serving as companion and personal attendant to Liholiho, and also as the childhood guardian of Victoria Kamamalu. Throughout his life he remained a conduit to the workings and intricacies of royalty, and a respected member of the community.

Kepelino’s Traditions of Hawaii was written by a man whose father, a descendant of a priestly race, acquainted his son with priestly lore, Hawaiian worship, religious concepts and traditions preserved by the Kamehameha monarchy. Born on the Big Island in 1830, Kepelino Keauokalani was an early convert to Catholicism. During his youth, he was trained in the Catholic discipline for a teacher’s certificate and he remained a strong supporter of Catholic interests during his lifetime. As a young man, he recorded his genealogy and also returned to school under a Catholic bishop to learn the classical languages. He served as secretary to Queen Emma, becoming embroiled in controversy when letters he wrote asking for military support for Emma’s quest for the throne were intercepted by her opponent and then postmaster, David Kalakaua. Kepelino died around 1879.

Haleole skillfully adapted oral traditions in his authoring of the Hawaiian Romance of Laieikawai, the first published book of a traditional Hawaiian legend. This classic work represents a native perspective of native imagination and Haleole’s tremendous ability in transferring image-ladden oral folklore and ancient customs to the written word of another culture. S.N. Haleole was born around the time of Kamehameha I’s death, just prior to the arrival of the missionaries. As a student at Lahainaluna, he became an intense scholar who painstakingly researched and recorded his materials. His works on Laieikawai and Kamehameha each took almost 20 years to prepare and some of the materials were gathered while he was a traveling editor for and contributor to Hawaiian language newspapers. In his mid-40’s, as he was preparing to publish materials he had collected on Kamehameha I, he died suddenly at Ewa, Oahu. His friend and colleague S.M. Kamakau later finished Haleole’s work.

David Malo tells of Hawaiian society’s traditions, rules and genealogies in his Hawaiian Antiquities. Born during Kamehameha I’s military campaign to conquer the islands, Malo spent his youth in the courts of the chief Kuakini, where he became familiar with the history, traditions, legends, hula, genealogy and unwritten literature of old Hawaii. He became an advisor to the chiefs, highly valued for his quick mind, observational skills and cohesive memory. He would live to be a teacher, government official, lawmaker and minister. After converting to Christianity, the same tenacious spirit once so admired by chiefs may have led him to develop an intolerance toward his own people’s ways. Malo turned from someone who was sought after as an authority on old-time traditions to a man who renounced his root system completely. Interestingly, in spite of his extreme position, scholars have noted that Malo’s "pagan" and Christian faces are both present in his works. When he died in 1853, it was said that he chose his burial site so that his bones would not be disturbed and that it would be "where no white man will ever build a house."

In his classic Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii, S.M. Kamakau chronicled Hawaiian political history from the time of Umi through the Kamehamehas and ultimately to the beginnings of foreign ownership of land. His numerous articles from Hawaiian language newspapers gave rise to the cultural trilogy which included: Ka Poe Kahiko (The People of Old); Na Hana a ka Poe Kahiko (The Works of the People of Old); and Na Moolelo a ka Poe Kahiko (Tales and Traditions of the People of Old). These works document ancient Hawaiian material culture, spiritual beliefs and practices, and the genealogies of mythical and legendary chiefs. Although like Malo, he too is noted for being a somewhat fanatic Christian convert, his writings are believed to have added depth and detail to works by other Hawaiian scholars and many consider him Hawaii’s premier historian. A native of Waialua, Oahu, Kamakau was born in 1815 and began his western-style learning in his teens. By his mid-20’s he was writing articles on Hawaiian culture and history and conducting interviews with kupuna who were willing to share their knowledge with him. He was a strong advocate for committing history to record and helped form the first Hawaiian Historical Association in 1841. He served in various capacities during his life including school principal, tax assessor, Land Commission member and delegate to the Legislature. His writing of history was done in his spare time and he managed to be a well-read individual who kept apprised of the newest developments in modern technology. He was colorful and controversial, a popular vote-getter who was seen as being on the people’s side, and a well-respected writer.

Upon Kamakau’s death in 1876, legislative colleagues who disagreed with him as a lawmaker praised him as a peerless historian and legendary writer saying, "The pages written by the deceased ... would grace the shelves of the proudest libraries, for their record would be that of a most interesting people." Today, over a century later, the volumes written by that prolific Native Hawaiian writer do indeed grace the shelves of our proud library, most fittingly, in the future Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau Room.

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