Devotees of the Bancroft Library: “We’re archive rats!”

This past Saturday, I jumped in my car and headed to Berkeley to attend the annual meeting of the Friends of the Bancroft Library. I love this University of California campus and especially U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, which houses some of the most precious and rare manuscripts of the American West. That day, I met other people — historians, authors, and avid readers – who are also devoted to preserving and supporting the library’s treasures. It was a gathering of fellow “archive rats.”

The Queen and the Clevelands (Grover and George…)

September 2 is the birthday of Hawai’i’s last reigning monarch, Lili’uokalani. Born in a grass house in 1838 and adopted by Hawai’i’s ruling dynasty, the infant girl who would become Hawai’i’s last queen began her tumultuous life 174 years ago at the base of an dormant volcano in Honolulu.

Queen Lili’uokalani, Hawai’i State Archives

For the past several years, historians, Hawaiian cultural practitioners, and others who keep Lili’uokalaini’s memory alive, have gathered at the grounds of Iolani Palace on her birthday to lead walking historical walking tours in an event called Mai Poina (Don’t Forget.) The tour on her birthday sold out but there are still a few spots left this coming weekend, September 7-9.

Talking Story at the Outrigger Canoe Club

On my last night in Honolulu on tour for my new book, Lost Kingdom, I was invited for drinks at the Outrigger Canoe Club, which sits at the far end of Waikiki Beach, in the shadow of Diamond Head. The club is a key setting for the novel, The Descendants, which is now an Oscar-winning film starring George Clooney.

The Outrigger is a small, private club with an outsized history in Hawaii. Founded in 1908, it is the place where legendary surfer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, a five-time Olympics medalist who competed as a swimmer and water polo player for the U.S. in the 1912, 1920, 1924, and 1932 games. A photo of Duke is mounted on the wood-paneled wall as you enter the dining room, with the words underneath it, “Ambassador of Aloha.”

Book Group Pick: Lost Kingdom

Mahalo nui loa –  Hawaiian for thank you very much! – to the dozen or so book groups I’ve heard from around the country that have picked Lost Kingdom as their monthly or quarterly read. I’m truly grateful to all of you – from Liz Epstein’s Literary Masters groups (10 book groups in the San Francisco Bay Area) to Catherine Hartman’s lovely group of Stanford alum and other book-loving friends in Chicago to Jason Poole (The Accidental Hawaiian Crooner) who also organizes a reading group in Pittsburgh. I’m especially grateful to Julie Robinson of Literary Affairs, who organizes book events and moderates book groups in Beverly Hills and the Los Angeles area, for choosing Lost Kingdom as one of her recommended reads. Here are some questions to discuss on Lost Kingdom that come from Liz Epstein at Literary Masters. Hope they’re helpful and if you have other questions, I’d be delighted to skype or phone into your book group for a chat if my schedule permits.

Remembering Pearl Harbor: How a Gilded Age Scoundrel Waged a War of Words over the estuary that became Pearl Harbor

In the early hours of Sunday, December 7, 1941, seventy years ago, Japanese bombers launched a surprise attack against the US military base at Pearl Harbor. The devastating attack on Hawaii, which was then an American territory, profoundly shook the nation and hastened its entry into World War II.

Attack on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941 Photo courtesy of the National Park Service Archives

Searching for Kau Kau

I first came across the word kaukau in a note that the Hawaiian Princess Ka‘iulani wrote to Robert Louis Stevenson more than a century ago.

The Scottish novelist and his family had arrived in Honolulu in the afternoon of January 24, 1889, and the beautiful princess dropped them a short note, inviting them to her family’s estate and adding that “Papa promises “good Scotch kaukau….

To try to track down the word’s meaning, I went to the Hawaiian Electronic Library Web site, which searches several Hawaiian dictionaries simultaneously. But because Hawaiian words can have multiple meanings depending on their diacritical marks (which weren’t used in the 19th century) the modern Web site offered an array of possible spellings and definitions.

The Queen’s Prayer

The last queen of Hawai‘i’s best known composition is Aloha Oe, which is heard in the soundtrack of everything from Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” to the Disney movie “Lilo and Stitch.” But the one that brought tears to my eyes this morning was “The Queen’s Prayer,” a hymn she wrote when she was imprisoned for eight months following a failed insurrection against the 1893 overthrow of the independent kingdom of Hawai‘i.

A tribute to Queen Lili‘uokalani at the Kawaiaha‘o Church

Every Sunday, congregants at Honolulu’s Westminster Cathedral, the Kawaiaha‘o Church, sing this hymn, known as Ke Aloha O Ka Haku, in alternating verses of Hawaiian and English. It is a reminder of the last Hawaiian monarch’s faith and her ability to forgive her enemies. During the year, the church holds a few “Ali‘i” services to remember the Kingdom of Hawaii’s high chiefs, usually on the Sundays before their birthdays.

Today was the “Ali‘i Sunday” dedicated to Queen Lili‘uokalani, who was born on September 2. She was born in 1838, the same year that the Cherokees were forcibly relocated from their homelands to Indian Territory along the Trail of Tears, and she died in 1917, long after Hawaii had been annexed to the United States. But she remains deeply alive to Hawaiians. So I decided to learn more about how some Hawaiians feel about their last queen at today’s service.

Practicing History Without a License: Adam Hochschild

Adam Hochchild

Sandy Tolan’s History in Disguise

Sandy Tolan