by James Michener
"Hawaii", by James A. Michener, is a novel which covers, on both
a fictional and a non-fictional level, the total history of Hawaii from its
beginning until approximately 1954. The work traces Hawaiian history from the
geological creation of the islands ("From the Boundless Deeps) to the arrival
of its first inhabitants, ("From the Sun-Swept Lagoon"), then to the settlement
of the islands by the American missionaries, ("From the Farm of Bitterness").
In the novel, as the island's agricultural treasures in pineapple and sugar
cane were discovered, the Chinese were brought as plantation workers to Hawaii
("From The Starving Village"). Years later, when it was realized by the island
plantation owners that the Japanese were more dedicated workers, and did not
feel the need to own their own lands as the Chinese did, they too were shipped
in vast amounts to Hawaii, ("From The Inland Sea"). The final chapter deals
with what Michener refers to as "The Golden Men": Those who lived in Hawaii
(not necessarily Hawaiians) who contributed a great deal to the islands and
Since Hawaii covers such a huge time span, there are a great many plots and sub-plots, all of which show the different situations
with which each of the many "types" of Hawaiians are confronted. Michener uses mostly specific, fictional details to support the general ideas of the islands and their various people, that he conveys through Hawaii.
Michener's Hawaii is a superb example of a great work of literature. He paints vivid literal pictures of various scenes throughout the novel. For example, in the first chapter, the Pacific Ocean is described:
"Scores of millions of years before man had risen from the shores of the ocean to perceive its grandeur and to venture forth upon its turbulent waves, this eternal sea existed, larger than any other of the earth's features, vaster than the sister oceans combined, wild, terrifying in its immensity and imperative in its universal role."
Many other stylistic devices are employed; most of them fall into the category of figurative language, (i.e. metaphors, similes, etc.). As Abner Hale, a missionary, was teaching Malama
Kanakoa, a Hawaiian ruler, to rebuild a fish pond for the survival of the village, Malama "ordered her handmaidens to help, and the three huge women plunged into the fish pond, pulling the back hems of their new dresses forward and up between their legs like giant diapers." Although it is not the most pleasant example of a simile in Hawaii, it is used.
James Michener tells the story of Hawaii in the language of Hawaii; he mixes, at times, English with Hawaiian, Japanese, and Chinese. As readers may encounter these foreign words, the meanings of the words usually become evident to them as they read. Not only does Michener explain Hawaii to a reader in highly descriptive detail, he also makes the reader part of Hawaii, aware that the story lines are just small examples of how life in Hawaii really was for so many people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Documentation
The major events that take place in Michener's Hawaii follow history closely, however, the characters, except for one, are fictional. Likewise, most of the historical events which Michener writes about did take place under the circumstances that he included; however, the people involved and some of the events that take place may only resemble what actually happened. For example, a comparison of Hawaii to actual history can be made through selected events in each chapter of the novel. In order to compare the events in Michener's Hawaii, it is necessary to recap the events of the novel. The following selected events from each chapter will serve this purpose.
The first chapter of Hawaii, "From the Boundless Deep", describes the formation of the islands, very descriptively. It states that the creation of Hawaii took place "millions upon millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed, and the principal features of the Earth had been decided." Although the creation is a purely fictional account, it is known that the Hawaiian Islands are volcanic islands, and it is possible that they were created in the way that Michener describes.
Next, in the second chapter entitled "From the Sun-Swept Lagoon", Michener describes, once again in great detail, who the first settlers of Hawaii were, and how and why they went there. According to
Michener, they were from the island of Bora, which is near the island of Hawaii, and northwest of Tahiti. It is known for a fact that the first people to arrive in Hawaii were from the South Pacific. The
Bora-Borans, according to the novel, on their trip to Hawaii, sailed in a long double canoe, with a platform between and a small hut in the center. According to historians,
"...on voyages of exploration, the courageous sea men used double canoes - from 60 to 80 feet long and three to five feet wide, joined with several pieces of bamboo. They built a platform, 16 to 18 feet wide, straddling the large canoes and, on top of it, constructed a crude shelter."
Although the second chapter is mainly about a pre-historical time period, historians have made some inferences and come to some conclusions about how life may have been before and after the settlement of Hawaii by the various people that planted their roots there. In the novel, there was only one race that arrived; however, historians feel that, because of linguistic reasons, the first people to arrive were Negroids. Next were Polynesians, and finally, Caucasians.
In the third chapter, "From the Farm of Bitterness", the reader is introduced to the New England Missionaries before they depart for Hawaii. A Hawaiian named Keoki Kanakoa gave a sermon at Yale University, which had great impact upon many people who attended. He stated that in his "father's islands immortal souls go every night to everlasting hell because... there has not been any missionaries to Hawaii to bring the word of Jesus Christ." Abner Hale, who attended the sermon, was deeply moved; so moved that he went to apply to the mission, along with his friend and classmate, John Whipple.
Similarly, in 1809, in truth, history records that a certain Henry Obookiah
stirred the emotions of religious New Englanders. He was sent to school, for
he was a promising candidate to return to Hawaii and preach Christianity. Unfortunately,
in 1818, he died of typhus or pneumonia. His death caused much grief, and among
those who felt the impact were Reverend Hiram Bingham, and Reverend Asa Thurston.
It is possible that Abner Hale and John Whipple represent Bingham and Thurston in Hawaii. In the novel, eleven missionary couples and Keoki Kanakoa went to Hawaii on the brig the Thetis. They left on September 1, 1821, after prayers . In fact, there were seven missionary couples, and three Hawaiians, who were trained as teachers, that went to Hawaii on the Thaddeus, also after prayers. All of the missionaries, in fact and in the novel, were selected by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
After the missionaries arrived in both cases, they targeted their efforts on introducing Christianity to the King, Queen , and the High Priests. After a while, both Kaahumanu, the real Queen, and Malama, the Queen in the novel, became interested in learning to read. Next, the missionaries built churches built churches; but membership was difficult to attain. In both cases, one had to have been truly converted in order to become s member through a long and grueling process. After establishing themselves in Hawaii, the missionaries tried to keep control of the islanders and help them break from old customs, such as the system of tabus and the worshipping of idols and the ancient system of gods.
In chapter IV, "From the Starving Village", Michener gives a quick history
of a Chinese village. The farmers, in the early 800's AD, due to a famine, had
to travel and find food. Eventually, they decided to sell a daughter for food
and double-cross the buyer. They killed the rich man, took all of his food,
and fled to the mountains. A village was established there and then the time
shifts back to the late 1800s.
Next the Kee family is introduced. They were from a Chinese clan, in the Punti village. Three hundred Chinese were selected to go to Hawaii to work on plantations. They were put in the hold of a ship, and were treated like livestock, not human beings. The captain of the ship feared a mutiny by the "Chinese pirates" he was transporting. "Compared to the brightness of the day on the deck, all was gloom and shadowy darkness in the hold." After they arrived, most of the Chinese were sent to work on plantations; however, Kee Mun Ki and his wife, Char Nyuk Tsin, were offered jobs as cooks by Dr. Whipple, a former missionary. Dr. Whipple was the man who arranged the experiment of bringing the Chinese to work on the plantations. The pay was lower, but Kee Mun Ki would learn English and become skilled.
History notes that in 1852, the labor problems in the fields in Hawaii had become serious. "In desperation, the owners turned to oriental labor and, as an experiment, in 1852, brought a total of 280 coolies from China, to work under contract for five years."
With the Chinese came the mai Pake - the Chinese sickness - otherwise known as leprosy. Kee Mun Ki began to get sores, and eventually, was shipped off to the leper island. Char Nyuk Tsin accompanied him as a
kokua, or helper, and after he died she later returned to Hawaii.
The description of the island was a fairly accurate one, comparing it to the historical leper colony of Molokai. Conditions were terrible. When a leper died, his or her body would either remain where it was or be thrown into a lake by other lepers. Those who had a kokua were sometimes buried.
When leprosy actually came to Hawaii is not known; some say about 1840. However, 1863 was the first public concern over the disease. The Board of Health set up the colony at Molokai. Those sent, were confirmed lepers. Since conditions were so bad, "attempts were made to improve the situation, but most of them proved ineffectual." This was partly because not many people realized the mental as well as physical anguish that the lepers suffered from.
The next problem that confronted the characters in Hawaii dealt with the sugar and agricultural industries. Whipple Hoxworth, the grandson of Dr. John Whipple, decided to utilize a large area of the Hawaiian islands. But they were barren, with no water to support the produce he wished to grow. He thought of boring miles through the neighboring mountains, but instead took a more practical approach. He found a man named Mr. Overpeck, who had studied Artesian water - fresh water that was trapped under pressure in the earth. He proposed to build a well (which he designed), and as he predicted, he found millions of gallons of water.
Factually, before Artesian wells were bored, huge ditches were dug to carry the water to the plantations. "The first Artesian well was bored in July, 1879, at Ewa Plantation, and thereafter, with the aid of great pumps, the underground water supply of Oahu was made available for use."
After whip had succeeded in buying up more than six thousand acres of land, he turned the management of his sugar lands to Janders and Whipple, and set out, once again, to see more of the world. When he did so, he usually brought back various fruits. The first time he had mangoes. The next time, he returned with orange trees, coffee beans, and ginger flower. He did so in order to try to introduce new agricultural goods to Hawaii, thereby gaining entrance in to new markets.
It was very important to Char Nyuk Tsin that one of her five boys be educated at an American college or university. Since each one was well rounded (spoke four languages, were above high school level in some subjects, etc.), her decision was a difficult one. She consulted Uliassutai Karakoram Blake, the only character who "is founded upon a historical person who accomplished much in Hawaii." Blake was a teacher at the school that the Kee children attended. Char Nyuk Tsin finally decided, after a lot of debate, to send Africa, one of her sons, to Michigan to become a lawyer.
The importance of an education was not underemphasized in Hawaii. "Among the people of oriental or mixed background, most of whose parents or grandparents were plantation workers, education [was] a cherished privilege." The reason why the Orientals worked so hard was because they did not want to revert to the "ko-hana," hard physical work, of their parents and grandparents.
Meanwhile, in the novel, Wild Whip Hoxworth, as he was now called, was concentrating
on getting the United States to annex Hawaii. His motive was that he, and the
eight other prominent men who owned sugar plantations in Hawaii, were losing
money to the New Orleans, Colorado, and Nebraska sugar tycoons. Pretty soon
they would all be bankrupt. The McKinley Tariff protected the United States
sugar producers by penalizing those who imported Hawaiian sugar, and subsidized
those who sold American sugar. So Whip and the eight others devised a plan to
begin a revolution, seize control of the government, and turn the islands over
to the United States. Queen Liliuokalani was the new queen, succeeding her brother
after he died. She wished that the non-Hawaiian enterprises would leave; this
included Whip and his companions. The coalition planned to begin a revolution,
with the help of their friend and relative Micah Hale - a minister. There were
two problems, though. First, would the Rican warship at Honolulu send US troops
ashore to fight the revolutionaries, and second, if they seized control of the
government, would the United States recognize them as the legal government of
Hawaii? Both questions were answered at the same time: The ships men would have
the simple orders to "protect American lives" (the revolutionaries were Americans
also), and if they seized control of the government, they would be the de facto
government, and the American Minister would immediately recognize them.
Whip fooled Micah into wanting to get the United States to annex Hawaii, because he scared him with stories that Japan, England, or Germany might want to take over the islands. When the revolution began, the troops marched ashore. The sugar plantation owners immobilized the queens troops, and Liliuokalani abdicated the throne. But before the Treaty of Annexation could get through the Senate in February, 1893, Cleveland was President: A Democrat protecting the sugar companies of the United States. He dropped the discussion of the Annexation of Hawaii, and sent investigators to see how Liliukalani would like her government restored. She said she would have to behead the sixty or more Americans that aided in the revolution if her government was restored. This outraged everyone. Despite Whips own many outrages to Hawaii and America, on July 6, 1898, the American Senate finally accepted Hawaii by a vote of 42 to 21.
Supposedly, in history, an underground organization which included many well
known business men, under the title of "Committee for Safety," acquired ammunition,
rifles, and other arms. On January 16, 1893, with help from the marines on the
USS Boston, who were "protecting American property"), the revolution was started.
Since most of the Queen's cabinet was made up of Americans, she was helpless,
and decided to abdicate the throne until the Americans reinstated her position.
The revolutionaries went under the title of the Provisional Government, and
had Judge Sanford Dole as their President. President Grover Cleveland denied
the request for annexation because he was alarmed by the events at Honolulu.
Secretary of State John Gresham declared that "it would lower our national standards
to endorse a selfish and dishonorable scheme of a lot of adventurers." When
Albert S. Willis, the new Secretary of State, informed Liliukalani that Cleveland
would restore her throne, she said that according to Hawaiian law, Thurston,
the leader of the revolution should be beheaded. Unlike the novel, she was willing
to forgive and forget, but the Provisional government refused the idea of abdicating.
On July 4, 1894, the Provisional government established a minority government, the Republic of Hawaii because hopes for annexation in the near future were crushed. However, when the strategic importance of Hawaii in the Spanish American war was recognized, annexation occurred on August 12, 1898.
Once again the novel turns to the Kee Hui and the Chinese community. A hui is a large family, bonded together for economic interests. On December 12, 1899, an old man died of the bubonic plague. Others began to catch it. If nothing was done it would quickly become an epidemic. The four houses of the victims were ordered burned after much controversy. But there were still many hiding from the quarantine of thousands of Chinese. It was proposed that the fire department should burn half of Chinatown, to save the other half and the rest of the islands. Unfortunately, when the blaze was started, the wind threw it in the wrong direction and All of Chinatown was quickly engulfed in a great conflagration. The hardest hit out of all were the Kees - they had the most to lose.
Again the novel is fairly accurate in its account of history. In 1899, Bubonic plague did break out in Hawaii.
"A strict quarantine was placed around the area, and military guards were stationed at the boundaries of Chinatown. All schools were closed, and no Oriental was permitted to leave the city." Suspicion was roused when the Chinese found that the precautions taken for them were not taken for the few haole (Caucasian) cases.
The houses of five plague victims were ordered burned. As in the novel, the fire began under control. But when the wind shifted, it turned toward Chinatown. There was a riot when people rushed to their houses to get their belongings. A total of 38 acres were burned, and 4500 people were left homeless. Once again, when the Chinese could not be convinced that the Board of Health had not purposely destroyed their homes, it is seen that Michener follows history closely. The Chinese took it personally, and would not forget the cruel act.
The fifth chapter, "From the Inland Sea," involves the arrival of the Japanese plantation workers, the introduction of a good breed of pineapples to Hawaii, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Japanese-Americans from Hawaii in
World War II.
Kamejiro Sakagawa was the Japanese immigrant to Hawaii that Michener followed most closely. In 1902 his family decided he would go to Hawaii for five years on a work contract. Before he left he fell in love and swore that he would return. Like most of the other 1850 Japanese laborers how left that day, in September, 1902, Kamejiro would not return. After arriving, the Japanese were sent to their new houses on the plantations. They were told to obey the lunas (the plantation officials). A few days later Kamejiro approached Whip Hoxworth to get some corrugated iron for a hot bath. After a long, tense period of time, Hoxworth gave him the metal. The Japanese needed to take daily hot baths. But they were better workers, so Whip did not mind.
Historically, in 1868, 148 Japanese went to Hawaii. Various misunderstandings occurred, as they did in the novel. For example, whenever a language barrier or a misunderstanding was reached, the lunas, usually Germans, violently subdued the Japanese workers.
Whip once again turned to his agricultural fancies. He had a theory that pineapple and sugar were natural partners - sugar needs a lot of water (one ton for one pound of water), and pineapples do not. Sugar thrives on low fields, and pineapples thrive on the higher lands. Since he had tried to grow pineapples unsuccessfully many times before, and was having problems importing a special breed of pineapples (Cayennes, from French New Guinea), he decided to enlist the help of a certain botanist, Dr. Schilling. Schilling sold him 2000 prime Cayenne crowns that he would grow in Hawaii. The Cayennes grew beautifully, and Whip was pleased.
Nobody actually knows who brought the first pineapple to Hawaii. "After annexation,
when the American customs duties were no longer charged on Hawaiian fruit, a
band of farmers from southern California settled around the town of Wahaiwa,
in the middle of the island of Oahu. They grew several kinds of crops, including
pineapples." James D. Dole later started the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.
The next major event in Hawaii was the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. It took everyone totally by surprise - no one knew that the Japanese fleet was moving in, and they were now bombing. Shigeo Sakagawa, on of Kamejiro's sons, was delivering a telegraph cable when it happened. The announcements on the radio that he heard at the house of one of his deliveries went as follows: "I repeat. This is not a military exercise. Japanese planes are bombing Honolulu. I repeat. This is not a joke. This is war."
In truth, at 7:55 in the morning (Hawaiian time), on Sunday, December 7, 1941,
"366 Japanese bombers and fighters struck at the American warships lying at
their moorings at Pearl Harbor. Four of the American battleships were blown
up, or sank where they lay at anchor." Four battleships and eleven other ships
were badly damaged or sunk. The damage was phenomenal: 2330 Americans were dead
or heavily wounded. The Japanese only lost 29 airplanes, five small submarines,
and 64 men. One Japanese was captured by the Americans. "With Hawaii under
martial law, the army and navy could do as they pleased. Japanese language radio
programs were ordered off the air, and Japanese newspapers were forbidden to
Both in the novel and in history lies the fact that many Japanese Americans were persecuted. It is said that only one percent of the Japanese Americans were detained for security reasons. One of those, in the novel, was Kamejiro Sakagawa. He was taken because he refused citizenship (he still intended to return to Japan) and had worked with dynamite. Later on, however, Hoxworth Hale persuaded the authorities to let Kamejiro and other Japanese that he knew, go free.
Many of the Japanese Americans, to prove their loyalty to America, joined the armed forces. At first they were not welcomed; later on, when they had won a great victory in Italy by saving 300 trapped soldiers from Texas, they won back their pride. But it cost them over 800 men to save 300. The Sakagawa children proved to be heroes in the battle - two of them died in combat.
History tells us that after the bombing, the ROTC units were activated. Over 300 Japanese Americans, though, were discharged without explanation. 150 of them wrote a complaint to Washington, and on June 5, 1300 Japanese Americans went to the mainland for training. They were stationed at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, where many fights broke out when people called them Japs. Two Japanese battalions joined forces and went to Italy to aid in the cause. They quickly built a good fighting reputation for themselves. There actually was a Texan regiment that needed saving and the Japanese battalion did so. When they returned, "President Harry Truman reviewed the men and attached the Seventh Presidential Citation to their colors. 'You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice - and you have won,' Truman said" The price for winning was 650 dead."
The sixth and final chapter of Hawaii, "The Golden Men", deals with the characters in the novel who had made the most contributions to Hawaii, and were good, well rounded people. Because there are many events in this final chapter that have no historical bearing, (and due to the lengthiness of this section - it is, after all, only an injustice to compare a thousand page novel to history in so few pages - I have chosen not to compare the events with the actual events in history. Conclusions
Michener's Hawaii gives a total history of Hawaii until just before statehood. Reading Hawaii gives a historical view of the islands; something other than the pomp and splendor most commonly seen on the popular travel guides. Hawaii gives a fictional account of the true story. Never before had I realized that so much transpired in the years that Hawaii was inhabited by Americans. The pain and suffering of the immigrants, both Chinese and Japanese, was unknown to me. The novel cast a whole new light on the subject of the Hawaiian islands.
Hawaii will probably last a long time as a work of literature. Lorrin A. Thurston, a grandson of the missionary Asa Thurston, condemned Jack Londons depiction of Hawaii because of the poor account of history. He wrote that, of the impressions given, most of them are false. They are also given as facts. "Thurston charged London with the same general crimes which James Michener would be charged with after publication of Hawaii nearly a half a century later." Even though, I feel that, with my research as a basis, Michener created a fairly accurate representation of Hawaii, given the understanding that it is a fictional novel.
Hawaii serves in history possibly to educate those who read it on the subject of Hawaii. It is especially important because the novel shows history not from the general public's point of view, but rather from the diverse ethnic groups that it is about. The story is told through the natives, missionaries, Chinese, Japanese, and the large land holders. This total spectrum of the social class sheds light on all of the views in Hawaii. For this reason, Hawaii is very important in American history. If truly accurate in some areas that are difficult to research, Hawaii could even become part of history: A history of all of the nations involved.