Friday is the 50th anniversary of Hawaii statehood. The statehood bill passed in March, 1959 with a stipulation that statehood should be approved by a vote of Hawaiian residents. The referendum passed by a huge margin in June, and President Eisenhower proclaimed Hawaii the 50th state on August 21, 1959.
If Hawaii did not become a state until 1959, what was its relationship to the United States before that, say December 7, 1941? And what do we know about our newest state, besides the fact that it is the birthplace of President Obama, or that it is the setting for Elvis’ “Blue Hawaii”?
For a broad perspective on Hawaiian history, and a good story as a vehicle, read James Michener’s classic 1959 novel “Hawaii”. The saga of a land from the time when the volcanic islands rose out of the sea to the decade in which they become the 50th state, Michener’s tale uses individuals’ experiences to symbolize the struggle of the various races to establish themselves in the islands.
Hawaii was untouched until Polynesian seafarers found the islands and settled there about a thousand years ago. They flourished, following their ancient traditions, until the early 1800s when American missionaries arrived. Then other national groups, with still more varying traditions--the Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos—migrated in large numbers. They struggled to maintain their cultural identities in the face of so many other peoples and practices as they also struggled to live in harmony with each other in this lush, exotic, romantic place.
“Island World: a history of Hawai’i and the United States” by Gary Y. Okihiro is a focused cultural history of the Hawaiian Islands, tracing the wide influence the archipelago has exerted on the world from the dawn of geologic time to the present. Okihiro describes how such diverse phenomena as warfare and religion, education and surfing, monarchies and music were affected by dominant world events.
Kathleen Dickenson Mellen, a native of Russell County, wrote several histories of the Hawaiian people, biographies of King Kamehameha and Queen Kaahumanu, and several novels set in Hawaii. Born in 1895 at Melrose in Castlewood, she married and lived in Hawaii from 1922 to her death in 1969.
For a quick description of Hawaii, check out “State by State: a panoramic portrait of America” with 50 writers on 50 states, and “These United States : original essays by leading American writers on their state within the Union” edited by John Leonard.
If you want to visit Hawaii, take a look at John H. Chambers’ “Hawaii”, an on-the-road history.
If armchair adventure is your preferred mode of travel, then “Blue Latitudes: boldly going where Captain Cook has gone before” by Tony Horowitz may be just your cup of tea. Horowitz set out to retrace the expeditions of Captain James Cook, who in three arduous voyages over 11 years, explored, mapped and opened a third of the planet, from Antarctica to the Arctic, Australia to Alaska, and the islands in between, ending in Hawaii.
According to Horwitz, "Cook, in sum, pioneered the voyage we are still on, for good and ill." Journeying to key Cook sites, Horwitz retells the sailor's story and tries to re-create first contact from the point of view of the locals--Tahitians, Maoris, Aleuts, Hawaiians, and others--and judge the legacy of his landing. That is, in times of political correctness, is Cook a discoverer or a despoiler?
In Hawaii, where the Polynesians murdered Cook in 1779, as in other locations, Cook surprisingly has faded from memory.
As Horwitz sees it, Cook still has something to teach us. "When we talk about the 'global village' that we live in today," he says, "it began to a great extent with Cook's voyages. The part I found most compelling was the drama of first contact between Cook and his men and foreign cultures. He stepped off his ship dozens of times into a complete unknown. I became struck by how open and curious they were and how closed and suspicious we've become by comparison.
"We're living in a moment when we're scared of the 'other.' Many of us are scared even to fly, yet [Cook] wasn't afraid of climbing onto a wooden boat and sailing off the edge of the known world, over and over again. He remained open to the cultures he encountered, and, for the most part, he did find a way to communicate and get along. It's striking to me that here we are—over two centuries later—and not doing very well at that job."
Horwitz, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, first became interested in Cook in the 1980s when he moved to Sydney after his marriage to native Australian and fellow writer Geraldine Brooks. "I arrived there really knowing very little about the place and in a state of some bewilderment," he says. "I guess, as a history buff, I started boning up on the local history. And the white history of Australia effectively begins with Captain Cook." He and Brooks and their son now live in Loudoun County.
For more about Hawaii, visit or call your library today at www.tcplweb.org or 988-2541.
Book ‘em, Dan-o!