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He Mau Palapala Mai Kalipōnia Mai, Ka ʻĀina Malihini (Letters from California, the Foreign Land) Kānaka Hawai’i Agency and Identity in the Eastern Pacific (1820-1900)
The purpose of this thesis is to explore the ways in which working-class Kānaka Hawai’i (Hawaiian) immigrants in the nineteenth century repurposed and repackaged precontact Hawai’i strategies of accommodation and resistance in their migration towards North America and particularly within California. The arrival of European naturalists, American missionaries, and foreign merchants in the Hawaiian Islands is frequently attributed for triggering this diaspora. However, little has been written about why Hawaiian immigrants themselves chose to migrate eastward across the Pacific or their reasons for permanent settlement in California. Like the ali’i on the Islands, Hawaiian commoners in the diaspora exercised agency in their accommodation and resistance to Pacific imperialism and colonialism as well. Blending labor history, religious history, and anthropology, this thesis adopts an interdisciplinary and ethnohistorical approach that utilizes Hawaiian-language newspapers, American missionary letters, and oral histories from California’s indigenous peoples. I argue that precontact strategies were critical to preserving and holding onto an ethnic Hawaiian identity in encounters with merchants, missionaries, and indigenous peoples in California throughout the 1800s.