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 their people.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 publish."
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. 


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