The Hawaiian creation chant makes everyone’s list. Its epic sweep yet intimate focus on the origins of many familiar local species—including, eventually, humans—gives it a surprisingly modern feeling of unity and relevance. As poetry, it’s sublime; check out these opening lines (translated by Lili‘uokalani): “At the time that turned the heat of the earth, / At the time when the heavens turned and changed, / At the time when the light of the sun was subdued / To cause light to break forth …” Owing its survival to a combination of fortuitous events, starting with it being written down by an 18th-century ancestor of future King David Kalākaua, The Kumulipo is most of all a spiritual live wire connecting pre-Contact Hawai‘i to her people in our own time and place. (Also translations by Martha Beckwith and Rubellite Kawena Johnson.)
ANCIENT HISTORY OF THE HAWAIIAN PEOPLE
When Swedish whaler Fornander deserted his ship in 1844 and took an oath to Kamehameha III, he made his name as a sage counsel in fields as varied as agriculture and public education. His early Pacific voyages and gathering of legends and genealogies in Hawai‘i led to him writing and publishing serial volumes (beginning in 1877) of this influential history that traces the origins and migrations of Polynesians.
Starting in 1923, Pukui published book after distinguished book that translated, preserved and/or described aspects of Hawaiian culture, but the 1971 dictionary has probably seen the most use and done the most in furthering the resurrection of the Hawaiian language.
LAND AND POWER IN HAWAI‘I: THE DEMOCRATIC YEARS
It took the combination of a writer-professor (Daws) and a lawyer-turned-journalist (Cooper) to penetrate the tangled web of real estate dealings among the political and powerful in Hawai‘i. Originally published privately in 1985, the book can be slow going. But follow the money and you’ll see how it shook up the state, by calling out the practices and payouts from the days of the Bishop Estate and the old-school Big Five landowners, to the new era ushered in by the Democratic sweep of 1954.
FROM A NATIVE DAUGHTER: COLONIALISM AND SOVEREIGNTY IN HAWAI‘I
Coming together from essays written in the centennial years of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i’s overthrow, this ambitious targeted attack on the systematic abuse of Native Hawaiian rights, culture and political agency made an impact both visceral and immediate. And it’s still being felt, inspiring successive generations of activists and writers with its clear-eyed denunciation of the many ways racism, sexism and imperialism are perpetuated on the land and people of Hawai‘i.
ON BEING HAWAIIAN
The 1964 publication of this 64-page essay marks one of the breakaway moments in the Hawaiian Renaissance. “I am Hawaiian … somewhat by blood, mostly by sentiment,” wrote Holt. “It all comes back to our choice: to live as Hawaiians or not. I believe we still are warriors …”