Aloha America

Hula Circuits through the U.S. Empire

Aloha America

Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 80 illustrations Published: July 2012

Author: Adria L. Imada

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Native and Indigenous Studies

Winner, 2013 Best First Book in Women's, Gender, and/or Sexuality History by the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians
Winner, 2013 Lawrence W. Levine Award, Organization of American Historians
Winner, 2013 Congress on Research in Dance Outstanding Publication Award

Aloha America reveals the role of hula in legitimating U.S. imperial ambitions in Hawai'i. Hula performers began touring throughout the continental United States and Europe in the late nineteenth century. These "hula circuits" introduced hula, and Hawaiians, to U.S. audiences, establishing an "imagined intimacy," a powerful fantasy that enabled Americans to possess their colony physically and symbolically. Meanwhile, in the early years of American imperialism in the Pacific, touring hula performers incorporated veiled critiques of U.S. expansionism into their productions.

At vaudeville theaters, international expositions, commercial nightclubs, and military bases, Hawaiian women acted as ambassadors of aloha, enabling Americans to imagine Hawai'i as feminine and benign, and the relation between colonizer and colonized as mutually desired. By the 1930s, Hawaiian culture, particularly its music and hula, had enormous promotional value. In the 1940s, thousands of U.S. soldiers and military personnel in Hawai'i were entertained by hula performances, many of which were filmed by military photographers. Yet, as Adria L. Imada shows, Hawaiians also used hula as a means of cultural survival and countercolonial political praxis. In Aloha America, Imada focuses on the years between the 1890s and the 1960s, examining little-known performances and films before turning to the present-day reappropriation of hula by the Hawaiian self-determination movement.


“[An] extensively researched history. . . . Archival digs brought Imada into contact with surviving dancers and their families, whose stories she wove with her own experiences to produce a comprehensive account of how the “adaptive and resilient practice” of hula works in conjunction with tourism. . . .Fascinating photographs of the dancers—with careful commentary on poses and dress—illuminate the mannerisms and views of the performers. “ — Publishers Weekly

“For a reader who is not deeply familiar with hula and its culture, and may be guilty of watching hula simply for the entertainment factor, Aloha America is a refreshing page-turner. Albeit the moderate level of scholarly information, Imada makes the text easy to digest, also injecting touching anecdotes of hula life behind the stage lights. The final product is a book that is more an interesting field study than strict academic rhetoric.” — Jamie Noguchi, Honolulu Weekly

Aloha America is an important and timely contribution to the hula literature and, more broadly, scholarship investigating the complex relationships between gender, performance, politics, and the arts. This book is highly relevant for scholars and students in anthropology, Pacific and indigenous studies, American studies, performance studies, and ethnomusicology. It provides a useful model for interdisciplinary research into indigenous artistic practices, underscoring both the agency of its interlocutors and the multifaceted nature of expressive culture.” — Lauren E. Sweetman, AlterNative

“Well written and beautifully illustrated with archival photographs, the book provides dynamic portrayals of individual Hawaiians…With chapter 3, on world exhibitions in the United States, as the book’s centerpiece, Imada tells a lively and layered history of hula circuits in the U.S. empire, an important story about hula practices and people operating beyond Hawaii but never outside its politics.” — Cristina Bacchilega, Journal of American History

Aloha America is an impressive and provocative book.  It will command a broad readership among scholars of American studies, colonial and postcolonial studies, gender studies, indigenous studies, performance studies, and U.S. history.” — Christine Skwiot, American Historical Review

“In Aloha America, Adria L. Imada offers a nuanced and detailed study of how hula performers from Hawai’i negotiated the objectifying gaze of audiences...Imada writes in a clear and engaging style, breaking down the theoretical concepts she draws from in concise and digestible fashion.” — Vernadette V. Gonzalez, Hawaiian Journal of History

“The brilliance of this book does not stop there, however. I find its methodology most intellectually energizing and inspiring.” — L. Ayu Saraswati, American Studies

Aloha America is an original, important contribution to Asian American studies as it foregrounds Hawaiian cultural movements, U.S. imperialism in the Pacific, and the embodied and emotional intimacies that shape gendered and sexualized relations between colonized and colonizer. It is theoretically sophisticated, empirically robust, and highly engaging...” — Miliann Kang, Journal of Asian American Studies

Aloha America is a richly textured and engaging narrative of the fraught relationship between the United States and Hawai’i as seen through the lens of hula, the region’s most recognizable and widely circulated cultural practice…. This is an utterly engaging and thorough work of scholarship, and it is a welcome contribution to the fields of dance, theatre, and performance studies, one that also deeply engages indigenous studies, gender studies, and American studies frameworks…. What Imada provides is a deep understanding of racially mixed, commoner-status, (mostly) female artists’ lives as they navigated the globe, imperial politics, and their own modern desires.” — Angela K. Ahlgren, Theatre Journal

Aloha America is a tour through the recovery of public displays of hula…. It is in the life stories of the dancers who carried hula into the wider world that Imada’s work makes its most original contribution.  Her views of the dual implications of the “uneasy yet mutually dependent relationship between tourism and hula” (p.11)…[help] to fill long-standing gaps in Hawaiian biography in general and in the history of hula in particular.” — Elinor Langer, Pacific Historical Review

“This book was a joy to read, full of intimate narratives and visual images of women and men in the hula circuits whose day-to-day actions, like wearing fur coats instead of cellophane skirts at professional photo shoots and befriending other 'staged' natives during the world fairs, countered the colonial 'Hawaiian' image that deprived colonized women of humanity and personal desire…. Overall, Aloha America is an excellent example of how scholars can use oral histories to examine the archival past and salvage stories, experiences and histories that are seemingly forgotten, silenced or otherwise marginalized.” — Hazel Yadira Perez, Journal of the Polynesian Society

"A valuable resource for anthropology, sociology, dance and performance, communication, Pacific Asian and Hawaiian studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies.... Highly recommended." — L. M. Foster, Choice

"[Imada's] arguments are convincing and the stories she tells are truly illuminating. Aloha America gives the reader  a sense of the complex interpersonal, intercultural relationships that enabled Hawaiians to preserve their cultural traditions in the face of the unrelenting hegemonic pressures of American imperialism." — James Revell Carr, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

Aloha America remains a valuable work which explores a wide number of important topics. Whether one is interested in American colonialism, American ‘native’ activism, military preparation or the history of entertainment, this book is a worthwhile contribution to the literature.” — Tom Packer, Women's History Review

“Aloha America contributes to both dance and Native studies by elaborating on the intersection between dance as the means through which traditions stored in bodies are transmitted through present-day scenarios…. [T]he text makes a substantial contribution to a more complicated and nuanced understanding of hula’s relationship to American imperialism throughout the twentieth century." — Angeline Shaka, Dance Research Journal

“Aloha America brings to life spirited women and men who resisted subjugation as colonial subjects while pursuing their own complex aims on the hula circuits. Imada’s work demonstrates the fruitfulness of digging deeply to unearth the kaona (hidden meaning) in public performances and personal archives.” — Valerie J. Matsumoto, Amerasia Journal

“Aloha America is a carefully researched and well-written account of the history of United States imperialism, colonialism and militarism in Hawai‘i, all seen through the multifaceted lens of “hula circuits.”... With its thoughtful interpretations and profound insights, Aloha America contributes significantly to the fields of American Studies, Anthropology, Pacific Island Studies and Women’s Studies.” — Miriam Khan, Pacific Affairs

“Aloha America offers a provocative cultural perspective on the history of colonialism, one that rightly frames hula performers as significant brokers in the ongoing and often contentious relationship between the US and Hawai‘i.” — Matthew Whittmann, Journal of Pacific History

"Reading Imada’s book was a fulfilling experience on many levels: academic, cultural and personal. . . . What Imada does quite beautifully . . . is provide a space in which these stories can be told."  — Emalani Case, Asia Pacific Viewpoint

"Imada has clearly opened venues for new and exciting research, activism, and dance in Hawaiian studies and American studies. This important book weaves archival, ethnographic, film, and personal memoirs to document hula practitioners as part of hula networks that circulated throughout the United States and Europe. I commend her for challenging the popular and state records of hula dancers as merely colonial objects and for offering a much more complicated understanding of Hawaiian agency and resistance." — Kehaulani Vaughn, Contemporary Pacific

"Attentive to global forces of U.S. imperialism and to the agency of discrete cultural producers, Adria L. Imada conceives of Hawaiian hula as constitutive of colonial relations involving collaboration and resistance. Moreover and significantly, 'hula circuits' outside of Hawai`i, she suggests, sustained Hawaiian culture (and hence nationhood) even as they transformed it—an astute and provocative contention." — Gary Y. Okihiro, author of Island World: A History of Hawai’i and the United States

"In Aloha America, Adria L. Imada shows how U.S. elites used a blend of tropicalism and orientalism to facilitate U.S. domination over Hawai'i. By foregrounding the eroticized bodies of Hawaiian women hula dancers, these elites created what Imada calls an 'imagined intimacy' between the U.S. public and the subjugated Hawaiians. The sexualized images of Hawaiian women helped to occlude resistance to U.S. imperialism in the Pacific and to make Hawai'i suitable for statehood by shifting Americans' attention away from its large Asian immigrant population. At the same time, hula served as a countercolonial archive of collective Hawaiian memory, preserving preconquest histories, epistemologies, and ontologies." — George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Adria L. Imada is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Note on Language ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction. Aloha America 1

1. Lady Jane at the Boathouse: The Intercultural World of Hula 29

2. Modern Desires and Counter-Colonial Tactics: Gender, Performance, and the Erotics of Empire 59

3. Impresarios on the Midway: World's Fairs and Colonial Politics 103

4. "Hula Queens" and "Cinderella": Imagined Intimacy in the Empire 153

5. The Troupes Meet the Troops: Imperial Hospitality and Military Photography in the Pacific Theater 213

Epilogue. New Hula Movements 255

Chronology. Hawai'i Exhibits at International Expositions, 1894–1915 269

Abbreviations of Collections, Libraries, and Archives 271

Notes 273

Glossary 337

Bibliography 339

Index 357
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2013 Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) Outstanding Publication Award

Honorable Mention, 2013 Lora Romero First Book Award (presented by the American Studies Association

Winner, 2013 Congress on Research in Dance Outstanding Publication Award

Winner, 2013 Best First Book in Women's, Gender, and/or Sexuality History by the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians

Winner, 2013 Lawrence W. Levine Award, Organization of American Historians

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5207-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5196-2
Publicity material