Hawaiian Blood

Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity

Hawaiian Blood

Narrating Native Histories

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Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 5 photographs, 2 tables Published: November 2008

American Studies, Native and Indigenous Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

In the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA) of 1921, the U.S. Congress defined “native Hawaiians” as those people “with at least one-half blood quantum of individuals inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778.” This “blood logic” has since become an entrenched part of the legal system in Hawai‘i. Hawaiian Blood is the first comprehensive history and analysis of this federal law that equates Hawaiian cultural identity with a quantifiable amount of blood. J. Kēhaulani Kauanui explains how blood quantum classification emerged as a way to undermine Native Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli) sovereignty. Within the framework of the 50-percent rule, intermarriage “dilutes” the number of state-recognized Native Hawaiians. Thus, rather than support Native claims to the Hawaiian islands, blood quantum reduces Hawaiians to a racial minority, reinforcing a system of white racial privilege bound to property ownership.

Kauanui provides an impassioned assessment of how the arbitrary correlation of ancestry and race imposed by the U.S. government on the indigenous people of Hawai‘i has had far-reaching legal and cultural effects. With the HHCA, the federal government explicitly limited the number of Hawaiians included in land provisions, and it recast Hawaiians’ land claims in terms of colonial welfare rather than collective entitlement. Moreover, the exclusionary logic of blood quantum has profoundly affected cultural definitions of indigeneity by undermining more inclusive Kanaka Maoli notions of kinship and belonging. Kauanui also addresses the ongoing significance of the 50-percent rule: Its criteria underlie recent court decisions that have subverted the Hawaiian sovereignty movement and brought to the fore charged questions about who counts as Hawaiian.


Hawaiian Blood is a triumph of scholarship from an emic perspective and a powerful indictment of the institutionalized form of racialism known as the ‘blood quantum’ as practised in the United States and especially in Hawaii. . . . This highly important study of how natives think and why enriches and challenges us all.” — Kaori O’Connor, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Hawaiian Blood is an important study that brings a complex issue to light and fills a gap in the literature on both indigenous and American studies.” — Eileen H. Tamura, Journal of American History

Hawaiian Blood obviously is required reading for anyone interested in Hawaiian history, but it can be profitably read by others concerned with ethnicity, land rights, definitions of welfare and more issues than a brief review can encompass. Though I have lived in the islands intermittently for almost 60 years, I found I could still learn from Kauanui’s book and am therefore profoundly grateful to her.” — Eugene Ogan, Pacific Affairs

“[A]n insightful and provocative analysis of the eligibility system imposed on the Indigenous peoples of Hawai‘i. . . . Kauanui has done a stellar job of describing and evaluating the impact of the relationship with membership, sovereignty movements and cultural relations in Hawai‘i. Her work is now part of a growing body of international scholarship that outlines the broad similarities in government action and indigenous response around the world and that may, collectively, begin to point the way for possible solutions to a formidable cultural and political challenge.” — Ken Coates, Journal of Pacific History

“A Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) scholar will read Hawaiian Blood with a mounting admiration for its author for all of the usual reasons that any scholar should admire a piece of work—scrupulous research, unrelenting analysis, and an unusually sound ear for language—all of which produce a genuinely usable and fascinating history.” — Jonathan Kamakawiwo‘ole Osorio, Journal of American Ethnic History

“In Hawaiian Blood, J. Kehaulani Kauanui teases out the vexed relationship between racism, colonialism and the political history of the Kanaka Maoli, otherwise known as native Hawaiians. In so doing, she demonstrates how the application of the fiction of ‘blood quantum’ has been used to render the Kanaka Maoli both too native and insufficiently native to reclaim their self-determination, their territories, and the political incidents of those matters.” — Joyce Green, Canadian Journal of Political Science

“Kauanui is a passionate critic of the concept of blood quantum, and her engagement with the issue of Hawaiian identity yields insights throughout the book, especially concerning the ways in which the law can work as a subtle agent of colonization.” — Stuart Banner, Pacific Historical Review

“Kauanui’s book itself represents a kind of genealogy on which contemporary sovereignty rights movements can draw.” — Katharine Bjork, PoLAR

“The argument that Kauanui makes in Hawaiian Blood is complex but compelling, showing through her careful readings of the historical record that questions of identity are often rhetorical rather than material, as different parties argue for specific constructions of identity. However, what Kauanui makes clear is that claims on or assignment of native identity certainly do have material consequences, especially when this can determine the future of a people.“ — Morris Young, Interventions

“The broader historical and anthropological questions raised by this study are thoroughly engaging, beginning with the metrics through which ‘Hawaiian’ identity and community membership should be measured. . . . Kauanui’s informed voice, as a scholar and Hawaiian, deserves a large and attentive audience in the coming debates over sovereignty and indigeneity.” — David Igler, American Historical Review

“This book is incredibly important in building a new understanding of colonization and racialization in Hawai’i, and is a must read for anyone interested in American Studies, Indigenous Studies, and/or Critical Race Studies.” — Judy Rohrer, American Studies

“This book will be of interest to upper-division and graduate students in a wide variety of disciplines, as well as to general readers seeking a deep understanding of the politics of the HHCA and current Hawaiian independence and sovereignty movements. Highly recommended. General readers, upper-division undergraduate students, and above.” — R. A. Cramer, Choice

“This work is an ambitious and carefully argued account of how the peoples of Hawaii moved across multiple modes of being: from a self-ruled polyglot community to becoming conquered United States colonial subjects and, eventually, transformed into culturally and legally segmented ‘American’ citizens made to submit to ‘blood quantum’ rules. . . . [A]n exceedingly well written and well argued work on a complex case.” — Cherubim Quizon, Anthropological Quarterly

Hawaiian Blood is an important work that addresses the racialization of Hawaiians in a way that no other work has done. J. Kehaulani Kauanui reveals how the fifty-percent blood quantum continues to divide the Native Hawaiian community and how it is affecting current court decisions and legislation. These analyses are crucial for the Hawaiian community as it continues to move to define itself and to exercise self-determination and sovereignty.” — Noenoe K. Silva, author of Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism

Hawaiian Blood tells a fascinating and important story that has not received sufficient attention in the historical research on Hawai‘i nor in the work on indigenous peoples more generally. Well written, accessible to students and sophisticated in its analysis, this book offers provocative new insights and theoretical perspectives on how we think about and use notions of race, blood, and belonging.” — Sally Engle Merry, author of Colonizing Hawai‘i: The Cultural Power of Law


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui is Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at Wesleyan University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
A Note to Readers xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Got Blood? 1

1. Racialized Beneficiaries and Genealogical Descendants 37

2. "Can you wonder that the Hawaiians did not get more?" Historical Context for the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act 67

3. Under the Guise of Hawaiian Rehabilitation 99

4. The Virile, Prolific, and Enterprising: Part-Hawaiians and the Problem with Rehabilitation 121

5. Limiting Hawaiians, Limiting the Bill: Rehabilitation Recoded 145

6. Sovereignty Struggles and the Legacy of the 50-Percent Rule 171

Notes 197

Bibliography 211

Index 229
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4079-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4058-4
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