Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism

learned about Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism by Noenoe K. Silva from the endnotes in Articulate While Black. My library acquired a copy for me from the Timmins Public Library. Silva, who is a professor of Hawaiian politics and language, wrote a highly academic account of Hawaiian history from its first encounters with explorers up until the end of the nineteenth century, while maintaining her focus on the islands’ battle against American annexation. Aloha Betrayed was loaded with endnotes, most of which referred to sources originally written in Hawaiian. Silva concentrated on the Hawaiian side against annexation, which is often ignored in English-language histories because most researchers can’t read Hawaiian. Thus Hawaiians were rather open in their opposition to colonialism, knowing that the Americans couldn’t read what the local newspapers were writing about it.

Silva explodes some myths about the annexation, one of which was that the Americans took over without so much as a peep from any Hawaiian:

“The myth of nonresistance was created in part because mainstream historians have studiously avoided the wealth of material written in Hawaiian, as Nancy Morris has carefully detailed. It is easier not to see a struggle if one reads accounts written by only one side, yet since the arrival of Captain Cook there have always been (at least) two sides of a struggle going on.”


“One of the most persistent and pernicious myths of Hawaiian history is that the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) passively accepted the erosion of their culture and the loss of their nation…But as Amy Kuʿuleialoha Stillman has observed, ‘Hawaiian-language sources suggest a remarkable history of cultural resilience and resistance to assimilation.'”

Silva documented the peaceful interactions between the Hawaiian population and the American officials who chose to ignore Hawaiian sovereignty, even though the Kingdom of Hawaii was recognized as a sovereign nation in the mid-nineteenth century. The resources–and cheap labour– that the islands provided were too much for the Americans to pass up. Why not develop a ruse of needing to save the “natives” from their uncivilized ungovernable selves and extend the American empire into the Pacific as well? It was too easy, especially when missionaries on the islands were constantly exploiting the islanders’ state of life in order to justify their own reasons for being there:

“That the Kanaka Maoli were part of an uncivilized race was the primary assumption of the first and each succeeding company of missionaries. It justified the appointment of missionaries, the bearers of civilization, to their positions of power. Later, after eighty years of missionization, the same discourse was deployed to justify the U.S. political takeover of Hawaiʿi: the uncivilized were said to be incapable of self-government.”

The Hawaiian monarchy and its people remained committed to peaceful interactions with the Americans. There was no hostile takeover of the Hawaiian islands, however the annexation when put to vote was close to unanimous against. The last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Liliʿuokalani, always maintained that Hawaii had to have the backing of international law and opinion in order to protect itself from colonization. Thus she was aware of how the appearance of Western “civility” would help her cause, otherwise Hawaiians would be portrayed as uncivilized savages. She sought peaceful means through negotiation and by her own articles in the press:

“In other words, to some extent, Kanaka Maoli agreed that they had become civilized. For them, however, agreeing to become civilized had more to do with retaining their independence as a sovereign nation than with acceptance of the racial or cultural hierarchy.”


“The queen’s insistence on peace but also on active resistance forms part of her important political legacy; her country’s government was taken not because she was weak but because she acted boldly.”

Aloha Betrayed ends in 1898, after the abdication and imprisonment of Queen Liliʿuokalani. I certainly learned a different perspective on how Hawaii was integrated into the American sphere.

Silva employed many Hawaiian terms throughout the text and cited lengthy Hawaiian passages, and always included an accompanying English translation. Fortunately she provided a glossary at the end, which I needed to refer to each time I read the book as many Hawaiian words and phrases were similar or differed by only one word. I needed to the glossary to keep the definitions apart.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *