Lehua, Ka‘ao a ka Wahine, by Gene J. Parola combines historical narrative with forbidden romance to paint a portrait of life in Hawai‘i circa 1819, just as Queen Ka‘ahumanu lifts the kapu, essentially abolishing the ancient Hawaiian religion and turning the caste system on its head. It’s a period of Hawaiian history that is often glossed over as teachers tend to quickly move to the coming of the Christian missionaries soon after, and I appreciated a more thoughtful approach to the effect these changes had on both the ali‘i and maka‘ainana—chiefs and commoners alike.
When I studied Hawaiian history in school, Queen Ka‘ahumanu’s actions were portrayed as noble, wise, modern. It’s only lately that the hardships of the kapu system and other less noble motives such as a desire for worldly material possessions at too high a cost are being openly discussed as part of a more balanced conversation about that time.
As a descendant of both the white merchants and the ali‘i, I remember many family conversations, arguments really, about the reasons the Hawaiian nation was eventually conquered by business interests supported by the US government and whether or not this was a pono. Through Lehua’s journey, I was better able to understand the different points of view.
I just wish I could go back in time to some of those family discussions and ask more questions!
Lehua is the first in a trilogy that follows a young ali‘i woman through this turbulent time. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
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