A review of a presentation about Unfamiliar Fishes by Sara Vowell

Yesterday I attended a presentation and reading by Sarah Vowell at the Brooklyn library.  The good news was Ms. Vowell did a very thorough job of research of Hawaiian Kingdom history.  It was good to hear a somewhat accurate discourse on our nations past.  As time went on I felt a little queasy.  It was not so much that Ms. Vowell was so put off by Hawaiian names and found so much difficultly in pronouncing them, to the point of calling Henry Opukahaia, Opuna, but to a lack of patient understanding.  She reported that it took her three years to complete her book, written mostly in New York and researched in Hawaii during two to three week visits.

What begins to worry me is the continuation of mythologies about our status.  She states that the deposing of our Queen was done as a conspiracy of business people and the minister John L. Stevens, but relies on the American claim to a legal annexation.  You know the facts and still miss the central point.  When Ms. Vowell discusses the opposition to Statehood she dismisses it as a vocal minority and appears to see legitimacy of the plebiscite or the vote for Statehood.  It occurs to me that the short period of time she dedicated to the Hawaiian condition relied on many of her prejudices as an American.  This includes a disdain for Monarchy and a suggestion on her part that good came out of the piratical acts of America by ending a hated Crown government.  But wait I also heard her say Queen Liliuokalani [She mispronounced the name] was probably the best person for the Hawaiian people at that time.

I realize she is trying to make history entertaining and cracks wise about Hawaii’s unique qualities. Good fun!  So what I see as the danger here is that because of her fame she becomes the de-facto spokesperson on the issues most dear to us in the independence movement.  Ms. Vowell alludes to her ancestry, Cherokee, then English and Scottish if I got that right, but claims some kind of correct deportment as a native person to be fair in her conclusions.

Conclusions are the problem!  She is capable as a historian [but spotty in her research] and suffers from a colonial mind when she comes to conclusion about Hawaiians as a people, as humans with rights.  Her self stated New England prejudices continue to bolster the US fraud.

She does not speak for Hawaiians and when she quotes David Malo that Unfamiliar fishes will come from dark shores and devourer our own, she sadly is unfamiliar to me.

Kai Landow

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Comment by Andrew on April 12, 2011 at 4:08am

Aloha kakou.

                          Last month the "Star-Advertiser" ran a review of the book which can be accessed by clicking here:


Comment by Pomaikaiokalani on April 11, 2011 at 9:12am

ALOHA Kakou, e Hawaii,

       I have not read Ms. Vowell's Book and have no desire to read it.  Simply because it perpetuates the LIE that there was an Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. 

       I seen Ms. Vowell on couple of T.V Shows talking about her book.  It turned me off.

       On January 16, 1893 United States invaded and occupied the Hawaiian Kingdom.

       Mahalo Nui for this excellent posting.  Native Hawaiians of the American Dream of Blood Quantum are dervouers of our own people!   


Long Live The Hawaiian Kingdom, o Pomaikaiokalani, Hawaiian National 1993

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