Review: Legends & Myths of Hawaii

People build their world from shared stories and I enjoy hearing others’ stories.  This narrative wanderlust led me over to the retelling of a set of Hawaiian myths by no lesser a source than King David Kalakaua.  He was the last male monarch of Hawaii, and seems to have a respect for the material tempered with a scholar’s instinct for context.  He is well versed in Hawaiian and Western traditions.

Hawaii has a shorter history than Europe or America.  The islands were unsettled before a few hundred years CE, and settlement seems to have been transient until circa 800 CE.  They can sustain humanity but they’re far enough from human settlement that bootstrapping their habitation was difficult.  One interesting aspect of that history is that the islanders claim a merged history and mythology that remains in the dim clouds of human memory.  Kalakaua imbues his discussion with both a realism for historical accuracy and a literary appreciation for the power of myth.

The legends are a combination of cheer leading for the various royal lines and tribal powers and general chauvinism for the emerging nation.  Kalakaua frames each with a political and social framing that helped me understand who has a stake in the power of the legend.  Then he dives in and tells the story as a story.  It’s enlightening in ways that many tellings of Western myths are not.


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