Way back in the early days of 2016, my husband and I decided that we would do something spectacular for his four week sabbatical rather than the yard work and errands that we’d initially talked about. Then randomly we decided we’d go to Hawaii, and we’d take the kids. I’ve never had a lot of interest in Hawaii, it seemed too touristy, too obvious, too not my kind of island, but once we decided we’d go (and take three kids aged five and under) for 2+ weeks in paradise, I threw myself into research mode. This meant that I read some history books, some guide books, some travel websites, and some non fiction books. Captive Paradise was the best of those I read. Haley understands that not only is the historical narrative a moving thing, there is a battle to control that narrative. Haley presents the facts without trying to pretty them up for political correctness. He fairly represents the life of King Kamehameha and those of his heirs as well as missionaries and their descendants. Add in the lives of explorers, tradesmen, ne’er do wells, and politicians, it is a very comprehensive history.
When we look at the world now, some of the boarders are taken for granted, it is wise to remember that when studying Hawaii the several islands that form the Hawaiian island chain were only tenuously “united” by Kamehameha in 1810. This was no peaceful melding of cultures and minds, but a violent and brutal struggle with oppression of the poor on all sides. An interesting and unintended consequence of Captain Cook’s landing is that with the weapons native Hawaiians were able to acquire they were able to conquer their neighbors. Kamehameha’s personal reign was lasted nine short years and shortly after his death missionaries from the US were granted permission to set up shop to forever change the course of history. Much has been said about the roles of those missionaries in the future of Hawaii’s annexation to the US, but I get ahead of myself. Captive Paradise follows those beginning interaction with the first waves of missionaries and Kamehameha’s heirs. Using first person sources, letters, etc Haley is able to take the reader back to a time of great uncertainty. He doesn’t paint one group or other as angels or villains but shows both their positive and negative contributions. For example, the Americans did discover the sandalwood value and begin the trade, but it was quickly taken over by the ruling Hawaiian class to disastrous ecological effects. Haley also outlines how the traditional practice of kapu was ended by the queen regent, a fact that vastly aided the missionaries work, at the same time, the imposition of Calvanist moral ideals about monogamy and marriage helped oust various hereditary lines that may have been strong enough to keep Hawaii more traditional. The book follows chronologically as Kamehameha’s descendent’s rule for sixty-four years only to have the monarchy lurch on for another twenty-five after that.
In a history so vast there are sure to be more important and less import historical figures. Haley does an admiral job of introducing the key players, outlining motivations, showing intended and unintended consequences all the while throwing in enough anecdotes to keep it interesting. This comprehensive work was both educational and fun to read. The flow was nice and at no point did I feel like I was getting bogged down in the details. While scores of books could be written about various aspects of Hawaiian history, this was a good catch all. I would recommend this to people going to visit, while it isn’t a travel book, the history outlined will enrich visits to places like Cook’s Bay and the Place of Refuge. I would also recommend this to anyone studying american expansion and colonization. Law students might also be intrigued by how the annexation came about (I’ll give you a hint: Illegally) in the first place. This isn’t a great book for book clubs or casual vacation readers.