The best books for understanding contemporary multicultural Hawai‘i

Dennis Kawaharada Author Of Local Geography: Essays on Multicultural Hawai'i
By Dennis Kawaharada

Who am I?

I lived most of my life in Hawai‘i’s multiethnic community—an amazing place, where, for the most part, people of diverse ancestries got along. The foundation of tolerance was the culture of Native Hawaiians, who lived isolated from outsiders for centuries before the nineteenth century and thus had few prejudicial ideas about others. The natives generally welcomed them and adopted their beliefs. While confrontations and violence occurred, they were limited, not long-term or widespread. Of course, outsiders brought their racial and cultural prejudices, but, today, with a high rate of intermarriages among all the ethnic groups, Hawai'i is one of the most integrated societies in the world.


I wrote...

Local Geography: Essays on Multicultural Hawai'i

By Dennis Kawaharada,

Book cover of Local Geography: Essays on Multicultural Hawai'i

What is my book about?

A reviewer summarizes the contents: “Kawaharada explores the historical and contemporary terrain of his beloved Hawai'i. From a memoir of boyhood days in Kane'ohe to a travelogue from a recent expedition to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, each of these essays weaves Kawaharada's experience into something larger, creating a remarkable tapestry of cultural, personal and natural history.” A reader wrote, “You gave me a way to relate to the multicultural life here. ...your words taught me, your voice and insight enriched me with your dedicated studies, humanitarian concerns and uninhibited expression; they filled a void and gave me a needed friend.” Another wrote, “I've read many books about Hawaii (history, culture, fiction, non-fiction), but none have made the culture here as real and dynamic as yours.”

The books I picked & why

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Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen

By Liliuokalani,

Book cover of Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen

Why this book?

Hawai‘i’s multiethnic society began in the nineteenth century when Europeans and Americans settled in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. Hawaii's Story is narrated by Queen Lili‘uokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch. The monarchy adopted Christianity and a constitutional government, accepted white settlers into their families through intermarriage, and allowed settlers to buy land and participate in the government. Their openness was met by betrayal when white settlers overthrew the monarchy in 1893. The Queen abdicated her throne to avoid bloodshed, with the hope that the US would reverse the illegal overthrow and restore her nation’s sovereignty, but her efforts at restoration were unsuccessful. Hawai‘i would be a very different place today if the Queen and her people had opposed their nation’s overthrow and annexation with violence.

Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen

By Liliuokalani,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen (1898) is an autobiography by Lili'uokalani. Published in 1898, the book was written in the aftermath of Lili'uokalani's attempt to appeal on behalf of her people to President Grover Cleveland, a personal friend. Although it inspired Cleveland to demand her reinstatement, the United States Congress published the Morgan Report in 1894, which denied U.S. involvement in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen appeared four years later as a final effort by Lili'uokalani to advocate on behalf of Hawaiian sovereignty, but it unfortunately came too late. That same year, President…


Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii

By Ronald Takaki,

Book cover of Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii

Why this book?

Pau Hana is a concise overview of the immigration of workers from around the Pacific and the world, which created Hawai‘i's multiethnic community in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The immigrants were recruited by the Hawaiian Monarchy and white sugar planters as laborers for their highly profitable plantations. Workers arrived from China, Portugal, Japan, Puerto Rico, Korea, the Philippines, and even Norway, and settled in the islands. Takaki details the work they did, the camp housing, the abuses and retaliation, the opium and alcohol, the gambling and prostitution, and the worker strikes that eventually resulted in better wages and working conditions.

Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii

By Ronald Takaki,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pau Hana as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1983: by Ronald Takaki- Life on the plantation from 1835-1920.


Recollections: Memoirs of John Dominis Holt, 1919-1935

By John Dominis Holt,

Book cover of Recollections: Memoirs of John Dominis Holt, 1919-1935

Why this book?

John Dominis Holt grew up in a wealthy chiefly family, with Hawaiian, Tahitian, and white ancestors. His memoirs give a detailed, colorful account of the wealthy Honolulu neighborhood around Fort and Beretania Streets, where he grew up in the 1920s and 30s and where “Hawaiian-ness was strongly mixed with British, American, and Asian influences.” Unforgettable are Holt’s accounts of learning about the worship of sharks from an old Hawaiian fisherman and living in the lively working-class district of Kalihi, where his religious mother moved the family to escape the decadence of Fort and Beretania Streets. Holt describes the experience as “a protracted hula ‘auwana” (modern hula), where a multiracial group of several thousand people “lived in comparative harmony,” speaking Hawaiian, Asian languages, and pidgin English, the lingua franca of plantation communities.

Recollections: Memoirs of John Dominis Holt, 1919-1935

By John Dominis Holt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Recollections as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"As a writer, his 1964 essay, “On Being Hawaiian,” spurred the Hawaiian renaissance in language, culture and the arts. As publisher of Topgallant Publishing Company, Ltd., Holt was a generous supporter of Hawaiian writers and of the Hawaiian culture. He was a trustee of the Bishop Museum.. Some called him a raconteur and bon vivant, others called him an elegant and artful communicator. Whatever the description, he was an erudite gentleman of the fading, privileged hapa-haole world of the early 20th century. In his autobiography, Recollections, Memoirs of John Dominis Holt, 1919-1935, Holt conveyed his impressions and thinking as a…


The Best of Bamboo Ridge

By Eric Chock (editor), Darrell H. Y. Lum (editor),

Book cover of The Best of Bamboo Ridge

Why this book?

Bamboo Ridge Press was established in 1978 to publish the multiethnic literature of Hawai’i. In this selection the best of its first eight years, the writers, of various ancestries, celebrate their families, cultures, and traditions, but also the cultures and traditions of others—a Hawaiian poet writes about a Tang fisherman; a poet of Chinese-Japanese ancestry and a writer of Puerto Rican ancestry reflect on Hawaiian activism; a white poet features bodhisattvas and Kuan Yin while another dedicates her song to a Hawaiian musician. Native Hawaiian writers are underrepresented in this collection published during a renaissance of Hawaiian culture, but a year earlier, in 1985, Bamboo Ridge also published Mālama: Hawaiian Land and Sea, an anthology of Native Hawaiian writers.

The Best of Bamboo Ridge

By Eric Chock (editor), Darrell H. Y. Lum (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Best of Bamboo Ridge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Poetry. Fiction. This anthology of fiction and poetry is a good introductory survey of Hawai'i literature. Selected from issues of the first eight years of BAMBOO RIDGE, The Hawaii Writers' Quarterly, it features the work of more than 50 writers and includes an introduction by the editors as well as an essay on Asian american literature in Hawai'i by Stephen Sumida.


Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake

By Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (editor), Mei-Li M. Siy (editor), Richard Hamasaki (editor)

Book cover of Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake

Why this book?

Westlake, a poet of Native Hawaiian ancestry, incorporates influences from Chinese Taoist and Japanese haiku poetry, Dada concrete poetry, the writings of Kerouac and Bukowski, as well as local pidgin and Hawaiian literary traditions. Westlake’s editor and friend Richard Hamasaki writes that the early poems are “calm, contemplative, and serene, often playful, celebratory”—humans interacting with nature, from rain, moonlight, and mountains, to bugs, frogs, and dandelions: “Looks of disbelief: / I’m on my knees / Washing a rock.” The later poems are political: “Westlake blasts away at Waikiki’s rampant tourism and American materialism, which replaced the native culture in his native land. He wonders, “how we spose / feel Hawaiian anymoa / barefeet buying smokes / in da seven eleven stoa ...?”

Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake

By Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (editor), Mei-Li M. Siy (editor), Richard Hamasaki (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Westlake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In an all-too-brief life and literary career, Wayne Kaumualii Westlake produced a substantial body of poetry. He broke new ground as a poet, translated Taoist classical literature and Japanese haiku, interwove perspectives from his Hawaiian heritage into his writing and art, and published his work locally, regionally, and internationally. The present volume, long overdue, includes nearly two hundred of Westlake's poems - most unavailable to the public or never before published.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Hawaii, plantations, and poetry?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Hawaii, plantations, and poetry.

Hawaii Explore 38 books about Hawaii
Plantations Explore 23 books about plantations
Poetry Explore 267 books about poetry

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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