The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen

Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 5 illustrations Published: May 2017

Author: Noenoe K. Silva

Contributor: Thiong′o, Ngugi Wa

American Studies, Native and Indigenous Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen Noenoe K. Silva reconstructs the indigenous intellectual history of a culture where—using Western standards—none is presumed to exist. Silva examines the work of two lesser-known Hawaiian writers—Joseph Ho‘ona‘auao Kanepu‘u (1824–ca. 1885) and Joseph Moku‘ohai Poepoe (1852–1913)—to show how the rich intellectual history preserved in Hawaiian-language newspapers is key to understanding Native Hawaiian epistemology and ontology. In their newspaper articles, geographical surveys, biographies, historical narratives, translations, literatures, political and economic analyses, and poetic works, Kanepu‘u and Poepoe created a record of Hawaiian cultural history and thought in order to transmit ancestral knowledge to future generations. Celebrating indigenous intellectual agency in the midst of US imperialism, The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen is a call for the further restoration of native Hawaiian intellectual history to help ground contemporary Hawaiian thought, culture, and governance.


“A must-read for anyone interested in Hawaiian intellectual history and indigenous studies, this book results from amazing research and work that do not, however, weigh on Silva’s clear and cogent writing.” — Cristina Bacchilega, Journal of American History

"The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen is the most in-depth exploration of Native Hawaiian intellectual history to be published to date. . . . [It] is likely to join Aloha Betrayed as part of the modern canon of Hawaiian history, as well as provide a potential model for Indigenous intellectual histories in Oceania and elsewhere." — Kealani Cook, Journal of Pacific History

“Noenoe K. Silva’s work provides readers with a deeply meaningful way of studying the past in relation to the present and future. . . . Deeply motivating.” — Emalani Case, European Journal of American Culture

The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen offers a master class on how to use an archive. Required reading for anyone interested in the fields of Hawaiian history or Hawaiian studies.” — Hi‘ilei Julia Hobart, Contemporary Pacific

"Presents a rewriting of history by prioritizing what thus far has too often been dismissed or mistranslated: primary archival material in the Hawaiian language, more specifically, Hawaiian-language newspapers. . . . The value of this book lies in its conceptual multidimensionality." — Masha Gugganig, Pacific Affairs

"Noenoe K. Silva (Kanaka Hawai‘i) has published another brilliant and much-needed contribution to several scholarly fields, including intellectual history, indigenous studies, and Hawaiian historiography. . . . This project not only serves to add nuance to scholarly understandings of Hawaii’s history by considering the often-ignored archive of Hawaiian-language texts, but, more importantly, contributes to the indigenous sovereignty movement in Hawaii." — Leah Kuragano, Journal of American Studies

"A compelling and erudite book whose linguistic and methodological range demonstrates that dedication to Indigenous futures is deeply rooted in Native Hawaiian intellectual history. . . [The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen] powerfully brings together close readings, biographical study, and historical contextualization. Silva has produced a major work that demands the attention of all readers committed to Hawaiian history, Hawaiian literature, and Hawaiian studies." — David A. Chang, Native American and Indigenous Studies

"One of the ways in which suppressed languages are marginalized is by convincing users that it is not an adequate basis for intellectual production. Hence the importance of this work: The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen . . . ensures that the young generation has something concrete to help them feel connected to a rich intellectual ancestry. But the work as a whole has a resonance that goes well beyond Hawai‘i to other areas in the world where people are still struggling to decolonize their minds. It is a welcome addition to the global movement for the decolonization of languages and minds." — Ngugi wa Thiong'o, from the foreword

"Noenoe K. Silva’s latest book solidifies her reputation as the leading scholar of Native Hawaiian intellectual history. This book deepens our understanding of the Indigenous knowledges and mentalities that were skillfully transcribed into written form during the nineteenth century. Silva’s work connects contemporary and ancient Native Hawaiians in a trajectory of resistance to cultural annihilation, and demonstrates through her research and her own efforts that Native Hawaiian intellectualism is rooted in the concept of Aloha Aina." — Taiaiake Alfred, author of Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Noenoe K. Silva is Professor of Indigenous Politics at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and author of Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism, also published by Duke University Press.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o is the author of numerous works of fiction, poetry, plays, and criticism, most recently, Birth of a Dream Weaver.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Ngugi wa Thiong‘o ix
Acknowlegments  xi
"Ke Au Hawai’i" by Larry Kauanoe Kimura  xiii
Introduction  1
Part I. Joseph Ho‘ona‘auao Kanepu‘u
1. Joseph Ho‘ona`auao Kanepu‘u  21
2. Selected Literary Works of Joseph Kanepu‘u  53
3. Kanaka Geography and Aloha ‘Aina 82
Part II. Joseph Moku‘ohai Poepoe
4. Joseph Moku‘ohai Poepoe  105
5. Singing (to) the ‘Aina  150
6. Mo‘olelo Hawai‘i Kahiko  174
Conclusion  211
Appendix A: Kanepu‘u"s Selected Bibliography  215
Appendix B: Poepoe Selected Bibliography  217
Notes  221
Glossary  241
Bibliography  247
Index  263
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner of the Ka Palapala Po'okela Award in the "Aloha from Across the Sea" category from the Hawaii Book Publishers Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6368-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6352-1
Publicity material