Friday, January 18, 2013

Hawaiʻi Research Adventure: Days 13-17

Alas, my Hawaiʻi Research Adventure concludes!

Day 13: Back to the State Archives...and a Language Lesson

On Monday, I returned to the State Archives to continue my research into the Hawaiian Kingdom's customs records. But I spent only about two hours there. In that time I finished looking at a complete collection (eight volumes) of materials relating to the "shipping" of seamen. (When Hawaiians signed contracts to work on whaling ships, but also when they signed contracts to work for guano companies or work in mills in North America, they "shipped" to those places. It is an apt term to describe the process/experience whereby Hawaiian men literally got on ships and traveled for months to their new places of work. The interesting thing, however, is that after 1850, Hawaiians who signed up to labor on sugar plantations, too, "shipped." They used the same contracts, followed the same laws, and employers got access to these workers through the same process of "shipping" that the Hawaiian Kingdom used for workers who actually got on ships. [In fact, quite a fair number of cane workers in the islands actually did get on boats to work on plantations on different islands than their home islands. So in that way, they "shipped," too.])

So that was my morning. When I left the archives at 11:30AM, it was raining cats and dogs. (Do people use that saying here in Hawaiʻi?) I ran through the rain to the bus stop. I got soaked. Back on campus at Mānoa I grabbed some Indian food on campus (it wasn't bad) and brought it back to Hale Mānoa to snack on while I hung up my wet clothes to dry and put on some dry clothes. At 1:30PM I went downstairs to meet a woman in the lobby who had offered to give me some kōkua (assistance) with my Hawaiian-to-English translations. I had sent out an email to the Hawaiian Language Department at UH-Mānoa seeking kōkua from any graduate student(s) who might be willing to meet with me for a few hours and look at my translations. For a while I had heard nothing. Then, just before leaving for Hawaiʻi, I received one email from a student whose basic response was, "good luck with that!" ;)

Then, this past weekend (Days 11-12 of my trip), I received another response. A young woman doing graduate work in Hawaiian Language at the university offered kōkua! She agreed to meet with me on Monday afternoon. So we met at Hale Mānoa and immediately walked out into the rain across campus to a place to grab some lunch. When we sat down to begin our mini-lesson, I pretty much immediately realized that she was going to overwhelm all my expectations. I thought I'd have to show her my translations on my laptop computer (since I don't have access to a printer here), but instead she showed up with print outs of all my translations; not only that, but she had spent time of her own writing her own translations so that I could compare our translations side by side!

We were supposed to meet for two hours but ended up working and conversing for nearly three. She patiently answered all my questions about ka ʻōlelo (the language), even some crazy grammatical questions that I still barely understand the answers to. But most of all, she offered not only help, but also encouragement, affirming the importance of my research and basically telling me the same thing that my Chinese language teachers used to tell me: "jia you, jia you," which in Mandarin means "add oil, add oil." And it means, basically, "keep pushing forward!" :)
(There's probably a way to say the same thing in Hawaiian. I wonder what it is...)

I went back to Hale Mānoa and looked over the translations again for another few hours, trying to re-translate what I had already done, to make it just a bit more right, all the while knowing that there is no such thing as perfection in translation. It is impossible. The English language will never say exactly what the Hawaiian language says, so the best I can do is to try and capture the general mood and meaning of what I think I'm reading.

Day 14: Back to the Mission Children's Society...and a journey through Chinatown

On Tuesday I decided to spend the whole day back at the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society Library. On the way out the door of Hale Mānoa I bumped into my East Coast friend again, who was also headed to the Mission Houses to do some research. So we grabbed the bus together and headed down there at 10AM. I returned to the same sugar plantation records I had begun examining the week before. These are the records of just one plantation on Maui. They are exceptionally detailed records. Quite a bit of stuff in Hawaiian, too. I had started in the 1850s and now on Day 14 I was pushing into the 1860s. The plantation was growing, hiring more laborers. At lunchtime I took a break and wandered back to Hula Dog on Bishop Street for a fake-meat veggie hot dog with banana relish and guava mustard. Yum! Fresh lemonade, too. I brought my lunch back to the Mission Houses and we sat outside, had lunch, and talked about what we were finding in the archives. Then we went back in and kept researching. The place is supposed to close at 4PM, but somehow we were there until 4:30 or even later, and then finally we got kicked out. But the locker area where we had stored our bags (because you can only bring a limited number of things into the archives) had been locked up for the day. So we then had to apply to the librarian to help us retrieve our things. Thankfully, everyone down there, at both the Mission Children's Society Library and also at the Hawaiian Historical Society—they share the same space—are extremely helpful and kind and friendly.

The two of us left the archives talking about some interesting things we had found. We had both read the letters of a guy who had traveled from Hawaiʻi to Louisiana in the years just before the U.S. Civil War to inspect sugar plantations there. He sent back detailed reports from Louisiana on the latest sugar-making technology and engineering practices. But, we both wondered, how is it that he wrote absolutely nothing about labor?! This was at the dawn of the American Civil War, and he was in the Deep South viewing plantations that relied wholly on enslaved African-American labor. And he never said once whether he approved of slavery, or disapproved of it, or whether labor was even something that he might have to think about back in Hawaiʻi. Instead, he "boiled" sugar down (pun intended) to its technological aspects, assuming that the human costs would be the easier part. Somehow he assumed there was no difference between black slave labor in the U.S. South and indigenous contract labor in Hawaiʻi. (And no mention of Chinese "coolie" labor, too...yet...[keep reading!])

We wandered into Chinatown looking for dim sum. We almost went to one place, but then a nice woman working security at one of the neighborhood's semi-enclosed marketplaces, told us we should try a different place. Always placing local opinion above our own general lack of knowledge, we took her up on it and ended up going to a place called "Olden Dragon," but we assume it was once called "Golden Dragon" but the "G" had, at some point in the past, fallen off their sign.

I ordered something called "Fujian style tofu." I never had Fujian-style food before. When the waitress came for my order I asked for "Fujian doufu," pronouncing "tofu" in Mandarin. I don't know, I always do that out of some weird habit carried over from my college days when I studied Chinese. But just that—just saying "doufu" instead of "tofu"—caused her eyes to light up and she replied to me in Mandarin saying, "oh, you can speak Chinese?" So I said "you yidian" ("yeah, a little"). She laughed. And then she asked, in Mandarin, what else we wanted. I said, "wo bu zhidao" ("I have no idea"), because I wasn't going to presume to order for my friend. For the rest of the evening, the waitress wanted to chat with me in Mandarin. I tried to keep it to a simple "xiexie" ("thanks") now and then. The last thing I wanted was for her to ask me something I didn't understand and then look stupid! (I figure I sounded stupid enough just saying what I could say in Mandarin.) The whole experience was kind of weird, to think, here I am in Hawaiʻi working so hard to learn the Hawaiian language, yet in Honolulu's Chinatown at a Fujianese restaurant, I ended up chatting with someone in Mandarin.

Day 15: A Morning of Meetings...and Back to the Bishop Museum

On Wednesday morning I had two meetings. The first one was at 10AM in the Hawaiian Collection research room at the Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaiʻi. I met with a research librarian there who was extremely helpful and attentive to my project. Although, in the end, she suggested that perhaps there wasn't much in the Collection's holdings for my project, she still gave me a grand tour of the facility, including a look at the breadth of their holdings. I would not hesitate to say that theirs is probably the most extensive collection of materials related to Hawaiʻi in the world. (I don't know how the total volume of materials at the State Archives, Hawaiian Historical Society, or at the Bishop Museum compare. If they are all so big, or bigger, than my mind will really be blown! When you do most of your research in New York, as I do, you get the feeling that there isn't that much material out there on Hawaiian history. But lo and behold, you come here to Hawaiʻi nei and there is so much stuff!!)

My next meeting was with a professor of Hawaiian Language at the university. Despite his busy schedule and his important stature in the field, I could tell from the first second in his office that perhaps no one could possibly be more welcoming. (This is generally a Hawaiian thing. People here really do mean it when they say, "aloha kaua," literally meaning the sharing of love/mutual respect between two people. Despite its commodification in touristy-land over in Waikīkī, the idea of "aloha" is maoli (it's for real, yo!). And I feel so lucky to have shared it with some people here. That said, I know I'm way over my head here trying to make sense of nineteenth-century Hawaiian-language materials. But this professor was more kind and supportive than he ought to have been. He affirmed that this is an important project, and that he would do whatever he could to offer kōkua. I was also happy to hear him speak very highly of two other Hawaiian language scholars/teachers I now know: one, my first ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi teacher who I studied with in New York City in 2010-2011; and secondly, the graduate student who I had met with just two days before! He said I couldn't have been luckier to have met my ʻōlelo teacher in NYC when I did, that I couldn't have asked for a better teacher. And he said that the young woman I met on Monday was an extremely promising student of ka ʻōlelo. For me, I'm generally uber-impressed with anyone who studies and teaches Hawaiian language. But he's right, I am lucky to have met these special people on my journey...

This morning was just too good. I was just too happy after these back-to-back meetings. Too much aloha! My somber New York heart just couldn't handle it all! :)

And so I ended up missing my bus to the Bishop Museum Library. Then the next bus was late. Damn. And then it was incredibly crowded and slow. And then I had to transfer to a different bus downtown to get to the Bishop Museum. Long story short, when I arrived at the library I was a full hour late for my research appointment. Nevertheless, they kindly accommodated me, and I quickly returned to looking at the records I had looked at the week before. These are the records of a company that managed labor and other materials for a guano company in the equatorial Pacific. I was able to finish this collection just before the library closed.

And so, back on the bus. It took me another hour to return to Mānoa. (Lesson learned, if you are going to study Hawaiian history and your only housing option is at the University of Hawaiʻi, try to choose a topic that relies more on archives downtown or windward of downtown rather than anything leeward, because getting out there is a real pain in the ʻōkole...)

Day 16: State Archives...then a switch to the Mission Houses

On Thursday morning I woke at 7AM to rush down to the State Archives for the last time. I still had a bunch of materials I had requested that I had to look at. So I got there right at 9AM when they opened and began my research. It turns out that much of what I had to look at wasn't that useful for my project. A few of the volumes were so damaged that I was not allowed to handle them. The writing inside was so blurry, too, because the ink had bled so much, that they were impossible to read. Of the volumes and folders I did examine, much of it was in Hawaiian, and despite my best efforts to make sense of them, a lot of these were just plain confusing. Customs records from the 1850s. They used Hawaiian abbreviations (not something I am very familiar with!), and it was hard for me to tell the difference, for example, between a column labeled "K." and another column labeled "P." and yet another column also labeled "K." (Since there are only eight consonants in the Hawaiian language, lots of words begin with the same letter. This obviously makes understanding abbreviations that much harder.)

Ninety minutes into my research, I figured I had seen everything I could make sense of, so I packed up and migrated a few blocks over to the Mission Children's Society Library. I didn't have an appointment, but they were nice enough to accommodate me and let me continue looking at those interesting plantation records. Two days earlier, before our romp through Chinatown, when we had overstayed our welcome by thirty minutes and had our bags locked in, I had realized I was just on the cusp of some amazing materials in the collection. I had gotten up to the year 1865 and the plantation was now beginning to consider the idea of importing "coolies" from China. I wanted to know what happened. Did they ultimately hire Chinese labor? Did the Hawaiian workers and Chinese workers get along? How did the management feel about both sets of workers? Did they ultimately prefer one over the other? Which, and why?

So, as luck had it, I was able to spend a few more hours with this collection and follow it through 1866. Yes, it took me about four hours just to get through one more year's worth of data, but I was able to find out a lot of answers to these questions about the intersection of "coolies" and "kanakas" in the mid-1860s.

At 4PM I packed up and headed back to Mānoa. It was my last time on the bus. My last time downtown. I stopped at the health food store on the way home and got my usual, a huge overpriced heap of vegan food and my favorite drink: Cane Rush, made with local sugarcane!

The view out my window on my last night in Hawaiʻi. Diamond Head is at left, Waikīkī at right. I will miss you, Hawaiʻi nei. 
But New York is calling.

Day 17: Tomorrow

Day 17 is tomorrow, so I can't say exactly what will happen. But my plan is to wake up around 8AM, and besides brushing my teeth and grabbing some breakfast on campus, I will try and pack up my bags as much as possible and tidy up my room. At 10AM I will visit the Hawaiian Collection at the Hamilton Library and attempt to do a bit more research with the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association (HSPA) materials I had begun to look at last week. I will also take some time to look at some of the reference materials—bibliographies and such—that the librarian there had told me to check out before I leave.

Around 4 or 5PM I will return to Hale Mānoa and finalize packing. At some point I will call a taxi and put my two huge bags on my shoulders (one rests on my back, the other on my chest) and await the arrival of the taxi. Then, half an hour later, I will be at the airport, and then a few hours after that, on a flight to New York City.

And so my Hawaiʻi Research Adventure ends. Here's what I learned:

1) Doing archival research in Honolulu is pretty sweet! People like to say that I picked the best dissertation topic because I get to spend so much time in Hawaiʻi. They imagine that I probably go to the beach everyday after the archives close, and that I have a supreme tan, and that in every other way I experience "paradise." They are most certainly wrong. Archival research is tiring. I spend the majority of each day inside, whether it is in the archives (which in Hawaiʻi tend to be very cold; I always have to wear a sweater) or in my dormitory writing, translating, thinking. Yes, I have an awesome view from my room of Waikīkī and Diamond Head. But it is not the kind of view that inspires thinking about nineteenth-century Hawaiian history. If I was writing about the history of tourism, maybe it would be more appropriate. But looking at skyscrapers and at the unceasing crawl of traffic on the Lunalilo Freeway doesn't really inspire me to think any clearer about the histories of whaling, guano mining, sandalwood harvesting, or sugarcane milling. It's just not there in front of my eyes. Sorry, but Hawaiʻi's environment today is a mess. (And as for Honolulu, I will defer to the judgement of the Big Island lady who told us when we first arrived in Hilo that: "Honolulu? That's not a real island. It's just concrete.") I look at the Lunalilo Freeway and I see that Oʻahu has a huge car addiction problem. I look at the towers of Waikīkī and realize that that is where today's jobs are: in tourism. Not in extractive or plantation industries. Not to say that labor was better back then. But it can't be any good now, either. I can't even begin to imagine how many people clean Waikīkī hotel bathrooms, or wait on tourists' tables, for a living, and what their working conditions are like, and whether or not they are unionized, and whether anyone even notices or cares. Okay, okay, so I'm getting a bit too gloomy here looking out this window. The point is: Hawaiʻi is not a "paradise"; it is as full of contradictions and complexities just as any other place. Still, it is a sweet place to do archival research. It just doesn't have anything to do with romantic ideas about what Hawaiʻi is supposed to be like. It has to do with what the real Hawaiʻi is like, and that has a lot to do with the character of its people...

2) The second thing I learned is that despite what people say in hushed, cautious tones again and again about the fact that I am a haole (a white man) studying Hawaiian history, that I should be cautiously aware that Hawaiians might not appreciate the fact that I am trespassing in their history, that I should be prepared to be shouted down by those who would much rather disagree with who I am rather than with what I have to say...
Despite hearing people say this kind of thing again and again, always in hushed tones, almost always as hearsay, almost always from the lips of haole (and not from Hawaiians), the whole premise is 90% wrong. First, let me discuss the 10% of it that is probably true. And that is this: that many people actually do feel strongly about who says what about Hawaiian history. And so they should. Because for way too many generations—for centuries—most Hawaiian history was told by white men about Hawaiians. And, no surprise, these white male historians had their own biases. They tried to tell stories about Hawaiian people while only accessing a sliver of the available information about the past. (For example, think of all the history books written about Hawaiʻi that don't even consult Hawaiian-language resources! How do people get away with that?) I am also sympathetic to this 10% for another reason: because the past is not just in the past, but the past is also in the present, and in the future. The contemporary cause of restoring Hawaiian sovereignty in these islands, for example, is not at all just a fight over the future of Hawaiʻi, but it is a fight over the past of Hawaiʻi, too. Many here believe (rightly so, in my opinion) that their islands were illegally taken by the United States and that they deserve to be given their land and leadership back. To make their case, though, they need history. And they should be rightfully skeptical of white men from New York who come over and purport to know their history. And so I understand if people are like, "hey dude, what do you think you are doing telling our moʻolelo (our history; our stories)?" or "hey dude, what do you think you are doing translating our ancestors' ōlelo (their words)?" Anyone would be right to ask such questions, to be skeptical and suspicious of someone like me. What are my motivations? Why does Hawaiian history matter to me? And, of course, I am often asking these same questions of myself, always trying to make sure that I know what I am doing—and to be alert to when I am failing, and when I am imposing or trespassing, and when I should stop. 

But here's the thing. Of the Hawaiian academics and archivists I met on this trip—and granted it was just a small sampling—no one ever said any of those things to me. In fact, I received extremely generous offers of support and encouragement and kōkua from everyone I met. This whole thing—this whole discourse about "angry Hawaiian academics" who don't like trespassers—I am led to believe is actually 90% myth. What it is, I posit, is an expression of fear on the part of those who actually do feel like trespassers, or worry they might be trespassing where they shouldn't be. I know this fear comes out of accumulated experience. I have read Haunani-Kay Trask—I love her work—and so I know that these conversations really have occurred in a very heated atmosphere on this campus and in the academy in the past. She lived through it. And it is still an issue we struggle with today. And thus I certainly understand why many haole historians are afraid to interpret Hawaiian history. They/we understand how politically sensitive and important this history is. We know it matters a lot to people other than ourselves, and I think that any historian in their right mind would (and perhaps should) feel a bit guilty saying things about a history that he or she has no personal stake in, while the consequences of what we might say about that history for other people are so great. So I understand the fear and trepidation. It is partly a product of "white guilt," I'm sure. It is also a legitimate fear that all historians have: the fear that we actually don't know what the hell we're talking about! I wouldn't doubt that. But we cannot—absolutely not—project our own guilt and fear onto some imagined "other" by claiming that this is not about our own demons but about "angry Hawaiian academics" out there. If there is a problem with white folks studying Hawaiian history, the problem, I imagine, is psychologically our own to bear. Let's not discursively place that onto others. It is not fair to displace that onto others. 


And so those are my two cents on the experience of doing research in Hawaiʻi! Overall, this was a great research adventure. I learned so much, and I met a lot of wonderful people. And I hope you all have enjoyed reading this travelogue. I don't know when I will come back. Once I return to New York I've got to focus on writing more dissertation chapters. So more on that to come in this blog, I'm sure.

Aloha nui to everyone, near and far, and much thanks for your love and support.