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listening to leoiki:

engaging sources in hawaiian history

noelani arista

Leoiki means small voice. Leoiki is also the name of a woman who becomes

a central figure in my retelling of a familiar history, that of an “outrage,” an armed assault on an American mission station in Lahaina, Maui in October 1825 by a mob of English and American sailors. Leoiki was one of many Hawaiian women sold or traded to foreign sailors and ship captains in the Hawaiian Islands since the late eighteenth century “discovery” of Captain James Cook had sketched Hawai‘i in amidst the Pacif- ic waste of ocean that had formerly taken up space on Euro-American maps. Whaling ships began to arrive in Hawai‘i in 1819, their numbers increasing yearly, part of what would, in a decade or so, become a vast New England whaling fleet hunting the ocean from Hawai‘i to Aotearoa. In placing Leoiki at the center of this history, I think about the uncanny symbolism of her name—small voice—and how the story of her life has been forgotten to Hawaiian memory and history. Writing Leoiki back into history

is important because it became apparent through my research that hers is the

center of a larger story about the ways in which Hawaiian history has been written over the last two hundred years. Considering Leoiki’s story will also suggest to scholars particular ways of approaching and reading sources. By 1825 Hawai‘i was a favored stopping point for ships of different na- tions in the North Pacific. New England and English merchant vessels were already commonplace visitors to the islands, engaging in the mostly triangular trade between the Northwest coast of North America, Hawai‘i, and China. Sometime between March and October of 1825, a kapu prohibiting women from going out to ships for the purpose of prostitution was proclaimed by the ali‘i (Hawaiian chiefs), altering that familiar traffic of the burgeoning Pacific seaport towns. Enraged that they could not cajole, coax, or coerce Ha- waiian women into violating the kapu, the sailors turned their frustrations on

Biography 32.1 (Winter 2009) © Biographical Research Center

Arista, Listening to Leoiki


the American missionaries, whom they blamed for the emergence of this new unreasonably strict moral law. Writing on November 30, 1825, to the home office of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in Boston, the Rev. William Richards, the object of the October “outrage,” provided a vivid de- scription of the attack on his home and family by a mob of sailors made up mostly of crew members from the Daniel IV, a British whaleship. Richards’s letter also revealed that the captain of the whaleship, William Buckle, had purchased a Hawaiian woman on his last visit to the islands in March 1825, seven months prior to the outrage. Rather than simply hiring the services of a prostitute while the ship was in port, Buckle had purchased Leoiki from the Governess of Maui, Wahinepi‘o, after a week of negotiation. The terms of the verbal agreement were such that Buckle was granted permission to keep Leoiki on his ship from March to October 1825, but was required to return her to Lahaina at voyage’s end. Richards’s letter describing the outrage and the sale of Leoiki was pub- lished in the Missionary Herald, the monthly magazine of the missionary so- ciety that kept charitable-minded American Christians abreast of the prog- ress of the Gospel, and of their financial and spiritual investment in heathen lands (“Outrage”). In letters and official reports, the story of this “outrage” against missionaries found its way from the Pacific to New England. The story was also picked up by several American newspapers—the Hampshire Gazette, the Farmer’s Cabinet, and the New Hampshire Sentinel, to name just a few (“Sandwich Islands”). From direct correspondence between the Sandwich Islands Mission and the London Missionary Society, Rev. Richards’s story would eventually find its way to the British secular press, repeating the process of publication that had just occurred across the Atlantic (Bingham et al., Letter). Members of Buckle’s family became alarmed by the news, and notified him that his seem- ingly unseen actions oceans away could be brought to life in the animated and judgment-laden prose of missionary witnesses whose letters were read, and in whispered tones repeated, in the streets near home. A year and a half passed before Captain Buckle got wind of the published accounts which told of his actions. Instead of describing the woman sold as simply a “mistress on board,” 1 as Richards had, a joint letter composed by the Honolulu-based missionaries accused Buckle of purchasing a “female slave” (Bingham et al., “Outrage”). It was this letter, rather than Richards’s ac- count, that was published and republished in America. Arriving in Honolulu in October of 1827, after yet another six months of whaling, Captain Buckle sought the assistance of the English Consul Richard Charlton in bringing a

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charge of libel against Rev. Richards for the almost certain damage the accu- sation caused to his public reputation, and for the explanations he must of- fer to his employers, friends, and family back in England. The charge of libel brought personally against Rev. Richards would be an important line of de- fense for Captain Buckle against the very serious accusation of slavery that the joint letter raised. The English Consul informed Richards of the severity of the charge, since “the purchasing of any person, male or female by any British subject serving on board of any ship, even for the purpose of liberating them from slavery is an act of piracy and punishable with death without benefit of clergy” (Richards, 6 Dec. 1827). To protect himself against the charge of libel, Rev. Richards collected official statements—certificates recorded under oath—from Hawaiian and Tahitian eyewitnesses to the sale of Leoiki by the chiefess Wahinepi‘o. These certificates are among the first legal documents produced in Hawai‘i, and were recorded in Hawaiian and English (Certificates). Still, as important as the depositions were in exonerating Rev. Rich- ards of libel, they are marked by a profound absence, for Leoiki refused to give sworn testimony about whether or not she was sold to Captain Buckle by Wahinepi‘o. If the aim of my historical project was to look for Leoiki’s “voice,” that voice would not be found in any of the usual archival sources, and certainly not among these certificates. Fortunately, an archivist friend of mine, Kanani Reppun, happened to locate by accident Leoiki’s genealogy while providing assistance and expertise to a colleague at Kawaiaha‘o Church.

I could tell from the testimony of the chief Hoapili that Leoiki had conceived

a child from her five month journey with Captain Buckle. While Hoapili not-

ed that, “the child of the bargain is big,” he provided no information about that child’s name. The offspring of Leoiki and Captain Buckle was not men- tioned in any of the conventional sources I had found. Indeed, most of the missionary correspondence—letters, journals, and reports—was concerned with the wrong done and the threats made against the lives and property of American missionaries. The outrages did not concern the “female inmates,” “the slaves,” nor the “prostitutes” themselves; instead, the outrages were com- mitted by transient foreigners—American and English sailors—against for- eign settlers—American missionaries who had taken up residence a scant four and a half years before the kapu was pronounced. Even the certificates themselves, while frequently describing the sale of Leoiki and the conversations that occurred with her and about her, work pur- posefully toward proving Rev. Richards innocent of the charge of libel. For the most part, the depositions are unconcerned with bringing Captain Buck- le to account for his purchase of Leoiki, except to demonstrate that such a

Arista, Listening to Leoiki


transaction had taken place. The serendipitous discovery of Leoiki’s genealogy yielded a startling piece of information that I will argue is the closest thing to Leoiki’s testimony that we are going to get. According to the genealogy, Leoiki named this child, a boy, William Wahinepi‘o Kahakuha‘akoi Buckle. 2 This is where my practice as a historian is informed by culturally literate ways of reading Hawaiian texts. We are not going to find Leoiki’s little voice if we look in all the usual places. And yet, though she declined to provide a sworn statement, Leoiki “recorded” her testimony in the fine Hawaiian tradi- tion of naming her child. Most people can understand naming a child after his father, but why does her son carry both of Wahinepi‘o’s names? Leoiki’s naming of her son both for the chiefess who sold her and the man who bought her is an act simultaneously respectful and critical. In Hawaiian custom, chil- dren are named for ancestors, or in this case, for the chief Leoiki served, as a way to remember those ancestors coupled with the hope that the child will be imbued with the spiritual strength, grace, and skill—in other words, the mana—of those who came before. In this way, parents honor their genealogy and the legacy of their ancestors in the birth of a new child. Names can also act as mnemonic devices for the remembrance of stories and particular events. With William Wahinepi‘o Kahakuhaha‘akoi Buckle we see both of these modes of meaning making in play. The first would cause people to hear the name and think that she was honoring her chiefess, hop- ing for the mana of the ali‘i to be connected to her son, and also hoping that such a connection would benefit her family. But, if we think about the sec- ond tradition of memorializing events in names, we see the critical function of Leoiki’s naming her son after the economic intercourse between her chief- ess and the child’s father that resulted in his conception. This kind of culturally literate interpretation of the genealogy-as-source is invisible to historians who lack Hawaiian cultural and linguistic fluency, because all they may see when looking at a genealogy are names. But this way of reading is to some extent also rendered invisible to Hawaiian scholars, be- cause this way of reading may be so obvious that the writer may overlook the necessity of unpacking the cultural significance of naming children for events, or bestowing upon a child a name imbued with mana. Such writers may feel that these things need not be discussed, written about, or held up as the loca- tion of Leoiki’s “voice,” due to the commonplace or mundane nature of cer- tain cultural practices in our community. I cannot overemphasize the scene I envisioned when I saw this name in the genealogy for the first time. Young William Wahinepi‘o Kahakuha‘akoi Buckle is walking through town, on his way to church on Sunday. People stop to say “aloha” in greeting, and when he continues on his way, the kinds of

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shaking of the head, the whispering in the corner, or the incredulous shrug- ging that took place in his wake, as the people recounted to themselves and to each other the story of his mother’s sale and his conception. Each time her son’s name was spoken, each time he was praised, reprimanded, or called to, the community was reminded of Leoiki’s story. With this vision I had a new impetus to look for Leoiki’s canny, intelli- gent negotiation of an impossible situation in the sources I had already ana- lyzed. Because of the discovery of her genealogy, I felt compelled to go back to the depositions and consider trying a fresh approach to their reading. A deposition by a man named Namale seemed available to a different inter- pretation than the one I previously constructed. Namale described the ex- change that took place between Leoiki and the chiefess Wahinepi‘o: “When she [Leoiki]had been on board two days she came on shore with eight dollars [dubloons] which she handed to Wahine Pio, saying, here is the money of the foreigner, he wishes you to give me to him for his—the money is yours, but if you take it, I am to go with him to a foreign country” (Certificates). Rather than focusing on Leoiki as someone forced to carry the money that is her own price between buyer and seller, I want to use Namale’s words to illuminate the complexities of Leoiki’s relationship to her chiefess. By plac- ing the money in Wahinepi‘o’s hands, Leoiki “tells us” that she has an in- timate relationship to the chiefess. We might also then speculate that she is reminding her chiefess at that moment of the intimacy of their ties through the casual brush of fingertips across Wahinepi‘o’s palm, or perhaps the tone in her voice, or the way in which she carried her body in a deferential manner. Like the naming of her son, these gestures—which included the placing of money directly into the hand of her chiefess—can be construed also in terms of both honor and critique, for only the most trusted people are allowed to be so close to those in power. From Leoiki’s physical proximity to Wahinepi‘o in this moment, we can infer something of Leoiki’s status and social impor- tance. While in humbled circumstances in relation to the ali’i, Leoiki’s ges- ture reminds Wahinepi‘o of the power she wields, but also that the seemingly absolute power of the ali‘i is tempered by the social mores of kuleana. Name- ly, if the ali‘i wished to maintain their rule, as well as the hierarchies of power upon which society was shaped and in which civilization functioned, one of the duties of the ali‘i was to care for the welfare of the people, those who by genealogy were imbued with less mana. Several depositions emphasized the binding nature of the chiefess’s decree; if Wahinepi‘o said that Leoiki had to go with Captain Buckle, Leoiki could not refuse. “Here is the money of the foreigner, he wishes you to give me to him for his— the money is yours, but if you take it I am to go with him to a foreign country.”

Arista, Listening to Leoiki


By introducing another anxiety independent of sex, morality, or the corrosive influence of money upon Hawaiian society, for the first time a source reveals Leoiki not as a mistress, or slave, or a thing that is bought or sold. According to Namale, Wahinepi‘o answered Leoiki by saying, “I shall not give you up, for I love you. Return the money to the foreigner, for it is money to take you away forever to a foreign country.” The anxiety that is revealed in Leoiki’s speech and Wahinepi‘o’s reply is one of alienation from homeland and from her place in relation to the chiefess. While the specter of being taken away from home to a foreign place forever may seem like something that doesn’t need interpre- tation, as a historian I had to think about what tropes or similar events were narrated in Hawaiian history 3 or experience that resonated with her words, to assist me in understanding what was at the heart of this anxiety, and more im- portantly, to help me adequately interpret the gravity of this kind of expression. The technique I have been employing may be counterintuitive to American historians, but sources in a Hawaiian oral historical context do not function according to the rules of the contemporary historical profession. Nor can our methods be employed without attention to the way in which words and speech were understood and functioned in a Hawaiian context. Words in Hawaiian oral traditions are imbued with power, or so the ‘ölelo no‘eau (proverb), “I ka ‘ölelo nö ke ola, i ka ‘ölelo nö ka make” (In speech there is life, in speech there is death) suggests. Words, proverbs, and idiomatic phrases are freighted with their past performances, past echoes, and past resonances, and in this way bear knowledge of past experience that constitutes a collective knowledge, or knowing. Bundles of meaning, emotions, intelligence, and mana may be ref- erenced by speakers and writers who choose particular words or phrases, and by so doing evoke the strength of passed expression, past history. By evoking or repeating these words or phrases, speakers intentionally connect their expe- riential moment with that of chiefly or priestly predecessors, with ancestors or wise individuals, thereby moving forward guided by and drawing upon exam- ple. 4 In this way the trajectory of present action is shaped by past experience, through the invocation of the spoken word. 5 Hawaiians who were trained to have retentive and relational memories were entrusted with portions of a vast oral tradition. These intellectuals, some of whom were living before the arrival of Captain Cook and the transforma- tion of kapu, became recorders and writers when they reproduced in writ- ten form the mo‘olelo—histories and stories—and all manner of genealogies, chants, and songs with which they were entrusted. These traditions, pub- lished or not, were circulated within a vibrant, written nineteenth century public sphere. In newspapers, manuscripts, letters, and by word of mouth, these traditions were reproduced, revised, at times synthesized, ma ka ‘ölelo

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Hawai‘i, in Hawaiian language. I read forward chronologically in these sources to train myself to interpret sources such as the certificates of witnesses to Leo- iki’s, even though the sources I use to understand this document composed in 1827 may have been written or recorded much later in the century. 6 Almost twenty years after Leoiki’s negotiation with Wahinepi‘o, the Rev. William Richards was dispatched by Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) to Brit- ain, the United States, France, and Belgium to secure these countries’ rec- ognition of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Accompanying him on this journey in 1842 was Timoteo Ha‘alilio, the Hawaiian chiefly envoy. Experiencing homesickness and illness abroad, Ha‘alilio wrote to the King expressing his desire to come home. The King replied that it was better for Ha‘alilio to leave his bones in a foreign country than to fail in his mission. The idea of dying abroad, away from friends and family, of leaving one’s bones in foreign soil with no one to care for them, was a deep-seated anxiety for Hawaiians. Con- sidering Ha‘alilio and Leoiki’s situations in parallel, although their stories oc- cur twenty years apart, uncovers a common anxiety about being lost far from home, forever, and not having anyone to care for your iwi (bones). 7 Creative juxtapositions such as these assist me in understanding what is at stake for the actors involved, both as individuals and more generally as Hawaiians who have particular beliefs, behaviors, and cultural knowledge that was passed down experientially and through oral historical traditions. 8 This research on Leoiki as well as my work on other projects have assisted me in crafting a particular argument or intervention into ways of reading and writing history that involves a serious consideration of how Hawaiians made sense of experience, how they made history, and the ways in which we need to construct historical approaches that account for something more substantial than the recovery of “native voice.” In order to write Leoiki’s history, I real- ized the need to learn how to read, interpret, and engage the sources I found. When we want to frame our historical projects in terms of seeking “native voice,” Leoiki’s situation within the history of “the outrages” cautions us about simplistic assumptions about what counts as “voice” in sources, what counts as “source,” and whether or not we have the cultural and historical competence to hear and interpret that voice.


1. Richards’s letter was republished in the February 1827 issue of the Missionary Herald (“Outrage”).

Arista, Listening to Leoiki


3. When I say history, I mean the orally and aurally remembered words and experiences that Hawaiians of the nineteenth century wrote down in processes that have scarcely been discussed by historians dealing with what they consider non-literate societies.

4. This is another way in which words participate in a religious context in Hawai‘i; the connectivity of words with the past is one way in which mana is created, increased, and moved forward.

5. For the purposes of this essay I am not addressing the ways in which this practice also ensures movement forward and transformation, which it obviously does.

6. It is because of the attention Hawaiians of this time placed upon the spoken word that I give veracity and equal weight to ear witnessed testimony, as opposed to the emphasis usually placed in English upon words based on “eye-witnessed” testimony.

7. For Hawaiians and many other Pacific Island peoples, the iwi is the repository of the mana of an individual. Bones were considered sacred, and the bones of the ali‘i in partic- ular were ritually prepared after the chief’s death, and hidden to keep them protected.

8. Scholars need to investigate and have more conversations about how orally and aurally disciplined intellectuals made connections over time, and how they sifted through orally preserved “sources.” The method I describe attempts to approach the sources in this same fashion. What may seem like random juxtaposition to scholars unfamiliar with Hawaiian oral traditions labors under logics that still need to be uncovered, discussed, and given our serious consideration.

works cited

Bingham, Hiram, Dr. Abraham Blatchely, Levi Chamberlain, Samuel Ruggles, and Elisha Loomis. Letter to the London Missionary Society. 15 Oct. 1825. Commonwealth Mis- sionary Society/London Missionary Society South Seas Incoming Correspondence. School of Oriental and African Studies, U of London. ———. “Outrage of a Whale-ship’s Crewe.” Missionary Herald 22.7 (July 1826): 26–27. Certificates of several persons respecting Captain Buckle’s purchasing a mistress to accompany him on a sea voyage. 9 Nov. 1827. ABCFM-HI Papers. Houghton Library, Harvard U. “From a Correspondent of the New-York Observer (Boston 4 September 1826).” Farmer’s Cabinet 23 Sept. 1826. “Missionary Intelligence: Sandwich Islands.” New Hampshire Sentinel 8 June 1827. Richards, William. Letter to ABCFM. 6 Dec. 1827. ABCFM-HI Papers. Houghton Library, Harvard U. ———. Letter to Jeremiah Evarts. 30 Nov. 1825. ABCFM-HI Papers. Houghton Library, Harvard U. ———. “Outrage of the Master and Crew of the English Whaleship Daniel.” Missionary Herald 23.2 (Feb. 1827): 39–43. “Sandwich Islands: Extract of a joint letter from Missionaries, dated Oct. 15, 1825.” Hamp- shire Gazette 12 July 1826.