*** Paradise of the Pacific by Susanna Moore


If you think of Hawaii as beaches and aloha, Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii will be a surprise. It tells the story of the Hawaiian people rather than the story of Hawaii itself, and it is surprising to read how harsh and violent traditional culture was, including human sacrifices, ritual brother-sister marriages for the chiefs (like the Egyptians!) and ruthless although infrequent wars.

The story roughly covers the period from the time Captain Cook landed on Kauai in 1778 through the dissolution of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, and it is a rather sad story, as the original inhabitants are decimated by new diseases, dispossessed  of their land, and forbidden to speak their language or follow their traditional customs (perhaps a good thing for human sacrifices, but not so for the hula). It’s a typical story of conquest.

The book is not presented at all like a history book and the author is not a historian. Rather, it meanders through people’s lives — Hawaiian royalty, explorers, missionaries– in an intimate, story-oriented narrative which can be very confusing, especially since the monarchs have similar names and filiation is interesting, to say the least. We meet (again!) a man who went to school on the East Coast and many missionaries, completely overdressed for the weather. The book also includes many illustrations from contemporary observers. It’s messy and complicated, and worth reading, I think.

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