1 You Have Been Very Thoughtful Today : The Significance of Gratitude and Reciprocity in Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange JENNIFER THIGPEN The author is a member of the history department at Washington State University, Pullman. In October 1819 the first company of American missionaries set sail for the Hawaiian Islands with the express intent of converting its inhabitants to Christianity. The missionaries earnestly believed that they might provide Hawaiian Islanders with the dual gifts of civilization and salvation and were eager to set about the work of bestowing them. Missionaries were surprised to discover that Hawaiians had gifts of their own to bestow, interrupting the missionary agenda almost from the moment of their arrival. Exploring the unspoken and often symbolic language of gifts, this article offers a re-examination of early Hawaiian-missionary contact to argue that Hawaiian and missionary women who situated themselves at the very center of the exchange of things were powerful figures in this missionary and colonial drama. In October 1819 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) sent a small band of missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands with the express intent of converting its inhabitants to Christianity. The company arrived in the islands informed with a set of preconceptions about both the native peoples they would encounter and the duties that male missionaries and their wives might properly fulfill in the labor of converting them. Men, as one prescriptive sermon determined, had undertaken missionary work to fulfill their roles as soldiers of the cross, in the holy war. Wives, the missionaries agreed, might play a complementary though decidedly less active role in converting rude and depraved Hawaiian islanders, providing vivifying examples of Christian femininity for Hawaiian women to emulate Heman Humphrey, The Promised Land. A sermon, delivered at Goshen, (Conn.) at the Ordination of the Rev. Messrs. Hiram Bingham & Asa Thurston, as Missionaries to the Sandwich Islands, Sept. 29, 1819 (Boston, 1819), 28, xiv. Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 79, No. 4, pages ISSN by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press s Rights and Permissions website, at com/reprintinfo.asp DOI: phr
2 546 Pacific Historical Review While the mission board s strategy left little room for the agency of mission wives or of Hawaiians of either sex, the role assigned to mission women ultimately created an opportunity for the development of important diplomatic relationships in the nineteenthcentury Hawaiian Islands. 2 My research reveals that the Hawaiian and American missionary women who came into close and sustained contact with one another in nineteenth-century Hawai i shaped the direction of the mission and the fate of the islands. Indeed, women stood at the very center of the Hawaiian-missionary drama. Despite missionary notions that women served merely supporting roles, mission documents demonstrate that mission wives played a central role in creating and sustaining critical diplomatic relations with the Hawaiian people. Hawaiians, for their part, virtually compelled mission wives to participate actively in the mission: In fact, some of the islands most powerful rulers the queens and other women of rank insisted upon it. From the earliest days of contact, Hawai i s royal women drew mission wives into an exchange relationship that would forever alter the lives of its participants. Women s importance in this period, however, emerges in the relationships built around the exchange of things. Mission wives, prohibited by the mission s governing board from taking an official role in the mission, nonetheless engaged in repeated reciprocal exchanges centered around gift giving, beginning from virtually the 2. My interpretation of women s work differs slightly from the one offered in Patricia Grimshaw s earlier, foundational work on the subject. Grimshaw argued that missionary wives experienced a conflict between their domestic role and the duties they were obligated to fulfill as missionary wives. Although wives were eager to participate fully in the mission, an ideology that valorized women s moral qualities, but insisted that these qualities, once a woman had children, be exercised primarily in the home, prevented such activity and in fact served to undermine their efficacy in the mission field. Mission wives, moreover, expressed frustration that the weight of domestic duties fell upon them, making a considerable draw on their time and effectively limiting their active work on behalf of the Hawaiians whom they had come to save. Yet, as Grimshaw noted: women s engagement in the mission was described in sex-specific terms. Approved female labor, I argue, far from preventing women s participation in mission work, created a venue for mission wives engagement in the kinds of meaningful work they envisioned for themselves. See Patricia Grimshaw, Christian Woman, Pious Wife, Faithful Mother, Devoted Missionary : Conflict in Roles of American Missionary Women in Nineteenth-Century Hawaii, Feminist Studies, 9 (1983), 491; Grimshaw, Paths of Duty: American Missionary Wives in Nineteenth-Century Hawaii (Honolulu, 1989), xii; and Mary Zwiep, Pilgrim Path: The First Company of Women Missionaries to Hawaii (Madison, Wisc., 1991), xvii.
3 Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange 547 moment of first contact and extending throughout the missionary period. Gift giving and exchange, I argue, allowed for the establishment of personal and then political relations. In the exchange of things, mission wives created favorable links with the islands politically powerful royal women. Gifts, then as now, are laden with meaning. In their exchange their conveyance from one party to another gifts may signal many things, and multiple meanings are sometimes simultaneous. To some of the American missionaries, lavish gifts of fruit (such as they received in the first days and weeks after landing) might have been understood as a gesture of welcome or an extension of peace and goodwill. To others, the gifts might have been interpreted as tribute from a subordinate group to their acknowledged superiors. As such, the gifts might have been interpreted as just and fitting. Shifting perspectives, however, alternate interpretations abound: Hawaiians are likely to have had a competing set of meanings attached to the gifts they proffered in their first contact with American missionaries, depending in large part on the status of the giver. Missionaries, unfamiliar with the hierarchies that governed Hawaiian social relationships, probably misunderstood the distinctions between gifts from ali i (the ruling class) and those from maka āinana (common people). Particularly as the mission period progressed and missionaries developed a close association with ali i, it seems possible and even likely that maka āinana provided gifts to missionaries as a signal of their respect. While it is quite possible that ali i offered their gifts out of kindness, they may also have been attempting to convey other sentiments to the band of missionaries. Rather than signaling their powerlessness or subordination, as the missionaries might have inferred, Hawaiian royalty who welcomed their visitors with gifts may have been attempting to convey their own status as beneficent donors, pointing to the relative dependence of their guests and establishing the imbalance of power that would structure Hawaiian-missionary relations in the years to come. As anthropologists have long insisted, gift giving is an inherently exchange-oriented behavior. 3 Gifts spark an almost endless cycle of exchange between donor and recipient, creating a flow of 3. Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies (London, 1970).
4 548 Pacific Historical Review things that brings individuals and groups of people into continued and sustained contact with one another. In this way, gifts become active and productive of social relationships. Recent sociological literature, meanwhile, has focused on what gift giving might mean for the articulation and negotiation of relations among and between groups of people. 4 Taking a cue from the anthropologists and sociologists who pioneered the field, it is possible to use gift giving and exchange as the basis for understanding the development and evolution of social relations in a variety of historical contexts. Because gift giving is a largely symbolic language, an examination of exchange behavior allows us access into worlds that are not always articulated, either because actors should not speak directly about matters at hand or because they cannot tell us directly. Missionary wives, prohibited by the ABCFM and by social custom from taking an official role in the mission, wrote only about the roles and duties they properly filled in the project. Gift giving was one such approved function, and they wrote extensively about their duties in this regard. Most Hawaiians did not make use of written language at this time and thus cannot offer direct commentary on the events of the day or their perspective on them. The gifts they provided to and received from missionaries might be said to speak for them, constituting the language they used to convey meaning and intention. Studied carefully, the activity of gift giving reveals the evolution of relations and the negotiation of power among those often overlooked in the historical record. 5 * * * The missionaries gained their first exposure to Hawaiians after a small group of young Hawaiian sailors, working as deckhands and cabin boys aboard merchant ships, landed on American shores, ultimately making their way to Connecticut. Americans early interactions with the five youth (as they came to be known in missionary literature) suggested to a small, devout group of Protestants that 4. Aafke E. Komter, Social Solidarity and the Gift (Cambridge, U.K., 2004); Helmuth Berking, Sociology of Giving (London, 1995). 5. I refer here both to missionary and royal Hawaiian women. Where previous histories have considered royal women s political power in this period and the participation of mission wives in the mission project, only rarely have they connected women s work with the kind of political and cultural negotiations that took place in this period.
5 Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange 549 the residents of the islands were both in need of and receptive to the things missionaries had to offer. 6 Missionary diaries testify to the perception of Hawaiians as a degraded and ignorant people; missionaries earnestly believed, however, that they might provide Hawaiian islanders with the dual gifts of civilization and salvation, and they were eager to set about the work of bestowing them. Upon landing in Hawai i, however, the missionaries were surprised to learn that much had changed in the islands in the months since they had departed from New England. The islands revered King Kamehameha had perished shortly before their arrival, leaving his son, Liholiho (also known as Kamehameha II), as his successor. Endowed with a new political role (that of kuhina nui, or co-ruler), Ka ahumanu had taken a lead in assisting in the overthrow of the island s kapu laws. 7 The kapu system dictated daily activity between and among classes, between the people and the gods, and between the people and nature and thus governed many aspects of everyday life in the islands. 8 The missionaries rejoiced at the news. Sybil Moseley Bingham, a missionary wife who arrived with the first company on board the brig Thaddeus, exclaimed: The idol gods are burned!! She interpreted such changes as the result of God s labor on behalf of Hawaiians. The Lord has gone before us, she opined, seemingly opening the way for missionaries to begin distributing the gift of Christian salvation. 9 Thus poised to credit God for their triumphs, missionaries might have been surprised to discover that the Hawaiians they encountered had gifts of their own to bestow, effectively interrupting the missionary agenda from almost the moment of their arrival. Some of the first gifts came while a party of missionaries and their Hawaiian assistants went ashore to learn about their prospects for 6. The First Ten Annual Reports of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, with Other Documents of the Board (Boston, 1834), Gavan Daws argued that Ka ahumanu created this new role for herself, thus placing herself at the center of political affairs. See Gavan Daws, Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands (Honolulu, 1968), 55, and Jane L. Silverman, Kaahumanu: Molder of Change (Honolulu, 1987), Brian B. C. Young, The Hawaiians, in John F. McDermott, Jr., Wen-Shing Tseng, and Thomas W. Maretzki, eds., People and Cultures of Hawaii: A Psychocultural Profile (Honolulu, 1980), Sybil Moseley Bingham, journal, March 30, 1820, Journals Collection, Hawaiian Mission Children s Society Archives, Honolulu (hereafter Mission Archives); emphasis in original. Hiram Bingham, A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands (Hartford, Conn., 1847), 70.
6 550 Pacific Historical Review establishing a mission on the island. Mercy Whitney, also a member of the first company of missionaries, recalled: the natives... brought almost all kinds of fruit, which the island produces. The missionaries also received a large hog, and a quantity of sweet potatoes and sugar-cane. 10 The gifts had been sent on behalf of Kalanimoku, a high chief on the island. Although it is unclear whether missionaries expressed such sentiments to their donors directly, they received the gifts with great eagerness and anticipation. Fruit in particular was a delightful treat. As one missionary confessed: fresh provisions relish well after living almost half a year on salt food. 11 If Mercy Whitney and her mission brothers and sisters were grateful for the offerings of fresh food they received in the first days and weeks after landing in the islands, they had continuing reasons to be thankful. In addition to the gifts indicated in Whitney s journal, the missionaries described a seemingly endless bounty of provisions. The gifts were undeniably generous; their quantity and abundance attested to this. Samuel Ruggles, the mission s schoolteacher and husband to Nancy Ruggles, acknowledged as much in the days after the missionaries landing. The natives appear very kind, expressing their generosity by sending us hogs, potatoes, melons, and various kinds of fruit. 12 Yet Samuel Ruggles s journal entry is striking for its overt articulation of such an interpretation: Mission diaries and letters rarely describe kindness and generosity as motivating factors in the supply of missionary wants. To the contrary, the first band of missionaries more commonly interpreted gifts of this kind as tokens of gratitude from the Hawaiians. Writing shortly after the missionaries arrival, Elisha Loomis offered what was perhaps a more characteristic missionary perspective on such gifts. The widow of Kamehameha sent us a present of fresh fish, cocoanuts [sic], sweet potatoes, bananas, sugar cane, [and] bread fruit, Loomis recounted, expressing much satisfaction that we had come to bring them good things Mercy Partridge Whitney, diary, April 5, 1820, Journals Collection, Mission Archives. 11. Samuel and Nancy Ruggles, journal, April 5, 1820, Journals Collection, Mission Archives. 12. Ibid. 13. Elisha Loomis s journal, dated March 31, 1820, as referenced in the Reverend and Mrs. Orramel Hinckley Gulick, Pilgrims of Hawaii (New York, 1918), 74; her full name was Ann Eliza Gulick.
7 Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange 551 This interpretation was in keeping with missionary beliefs about both the value of their work and the subjects of their labor. Missionaries promised to introduce Christian salvation to the inhabitants of the rude and dark shores of Hawai i, much as they intended to bring literacy and civilization. 14 These, to the missionary mind, represented tremendous gifts, and it came as no surprise to them that the bearers should receive gracious hospitality in return. Offering a window into missionary perceptions on the character and value of their labor, Mercy Whitney recalled that one of the brethren had suggested that the Hawaiians who had come to greet them regarded the missionaries as apostles. 15 Given such self-perception, missionaries initially appeared disinclined to interpret gift giving in any other way but as an expression of gratitude from Hawaiians, royal and common alike, in anticipation of the greater gifts they would soon receive. Regardless of their intention to deliver gifts of such magnitude, the missionaries had much to be grateful for, as the gifts of shelter and food might have reminded them. In journal accounts of their earliest days in the islands, missionaries commented frequently on their blessings and noted their thankfulness at the 14. Bingham, A Residence, Whitney, diary, April 6, This understanding is similar to Capt. James Cook s interpretation of his treatment by Hawaiians nearly half a century earlier. Daws argued that Cook had been welcomed with honors usually reserved for high-ranking aliis or chiefs. Cook, moreover, recognized his treatment as only right.... It was a sensible primitive who bowed before a superior civilization. Daws, Shoal of Time, 5, 2. See also Ralph Kuykendall and A. Grove Day, Hawaii: A History from Polynesian Kingdom to American Commonwealth (New York, 1948), 13. Anthropologists and historians have engaged in an extended and vigorous debate over whether or not Hawaiians in the eighteenth century received Cook as the returning god Lono. It is not my purpose to engage the specifics of this fascinating debate here. Rather, the concerns raised in these discussions remind historians of the importance of attending to cultural structures in an effort to apprehend and interpret the activities of our historical subjects accurately. Where Marshall Sahlins rightly insisted that scholars ground historical interpretation in the culture-specific qualities that may have motivated our subjects, Gananath Obeyesekere urged historians to examine rigorously the secondary sources upon which we have long relied to reveal and explore the distorted lens through which Westerners see Hawaiians. Robert Borofsky, Cook, Lono, Obeyesekere, and Sahlins, Current Anthropology, 9 (1997), 256, 257. I proceed in this discussion cautioned against accepting and repeating missionaries interpretation of Hawaiian behavior. At the same time, I accept Sahlins s premise that one cannot do good history... without regard for ideas, actions, and ontologies that are not and never were our own. Marshall Sahlins, How Natives Think: About Captain Cook, for Example (Chicago, 1995), 14. See also Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago, 1985), and Gananath Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: Mythmaking in the Pacific (Princeton, N.J., 1992).
8 552 Pacific Historical Review supply of their wants. 16 To the modern observer, however, missionary gratitude appears somewhat misplaced: After a month s residence in the islands, Mercy Whitney took a moment to reflect on the abundant blessings that came in the way of gifts from their Hawaiian hosts, going so far as to note the names of specific donors. Yet she ultimately pointed to God as the source of those blessings. The Lord, she observed, supplies our daily wants, almost without care. 17 Such an interpretation appears perfectly consistent with missionaries faith in God s divine intervention. God, for the missionaries, did not work in mysterious ways but in a completely logical and explicable manner, enabling them to do their work in spreading the Gospel. It would not have been a leap for the missionaries to believe that God had supplied appropriate even abundant provisions for the mission. 18 Although the missionaries continued to point to God as the ultimate source of such gifts, they also continued to benefit from Hawaiian generosity, profiting in particular from the largesse of ali i, who gave gifts both great and small. In the first weeks and months after their arrival, missionaries received a host of gifts, ranging from fruit to potatoes and sugar cane to an elegant fly brush. 19 The gifts that ali i provided to American missionaries during the initial stages of contact suggest the political and diplomatic savvy developed in the decades leading up to the missionaries arrival. While missionaries had only limited exposure to Hawaiians 16. Samuel and Nancy Ruggles, journal, April 5, 10, Whitney, diary, May 31, This is not to suggest that the missionaries were not thankful for the gifts they received or that they did not express gratitude to their hosts; rather, I argue that they ultimately credited God for the supply of their wants. See Samuel and Nancy Ruggles, journal, July 25, Here the missionaries offered gratitude to the king but attributed his behavior to the exercise of God s will. Sarah Joiner Lyman expressed like sentiments in 1834, noting: the Lord opens the hearts of the people to satisfy missionary needs. See Margaret Greer Martin, Sarah Joiner Lyman of Hawaii: Her Own Story (Hilo, 1970), Whitney, diary, April 5, July 7, On Kaua i, where the situation was somewhat different, the king there, Kaumuali i, provided the Ruggles with housing and a taro patch. These gifts might be interpreted as repayment for the return of his son who had accompanied the missionaries to the islands on board the Thaddeus. Nevertheless, the Ruggles family appears to have understood the reciprocal nature of the relationship they established with the king in accepting his gifts. In July 1820 the Ruggles family acknowledged gifts of mats and tappers, as well as bananas and pineapples, noting: Never before were our obligations of gratitude so great as they now are. Samuel and Nancy Ruggles, journal, July 25, 1820.
9 Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange 553 prior to their voyage, Hawaiians had extensive contact with Westerners and had become quite adept at dealing and negotiating with foreigners. Even though historians agree that Capt. James Cook s arrival in the islands represents neither the starting point nor the most important event in the narrative of Hawaiian history, the years between his visit in 1778 and the missionaries arrival in 1820 had been busy ones in the Pacific. 20 Beginning in the 1780s, the islands became a desirable stopover for fur-trading ships destined for China. Honolulu subsequently emerged as an important Pacific trading center. Indeed, the islands became a hub of Pacific travel, bringing Hawaiians into regular contact with western travelers and traders during the later part of the eighteenth century. Some, induced by the charm of the islands and the generous policies of the king, took up residence in the islands. By the time missionaries arrived in 1820, the Hawaiian Islands (O ahu in particular) had begun to develop the characteristics of a melting pot. 21 As a result of Hawaiians interaction with traders, they developed an affinity for western goods and learned to make a close bargain with foreign traders. Hawaiians would no longer exchange a few bits of iron for the products of their soil and their skill at handicraft as they had in their interactions with Cook. 22 Moreover, high-ranking Hawaiians engagement with guests missionaries, traders, and travelers alike ought to be interpreted within the structure of nineteenth-century Hawaiian culture, where the rules of reciprocity were governed by perceived social inequalities. Prior to contact with the West, the native system had been ordered by a reciprocal obligation and understanding between ali i and maka āinana. 23 In this reciprocal relationship, ali i distributed land for use by maka āinana; in return, maka āinana paid tribute in the form of labor in farm and fishing. 24 Ali i may 20. Noenoe Silva, Aloha Betrayed: Native Resistance to American Colonialism (Durham, N.C., 2004), 18. Elizabeth Buck, Paradise Remade: The Politics of Culture and History in Hawai i (Philadelphia, 1993), Kuykendall and Day, Hawaii, 37. See also Valerio Valeri, Kingship and Sacrifice (Chicago, 1985), xviii. 22. Kuykendall and Day, Hawaii, 30; Daws, Shoal of Time, Lilikala Kame eleihiwa, Native Land and Foreign Desires: Pehea Lā E Pono Ai? How Shall We Live in Harmony? (Honolulu, 1992), Silva, Aloha Betrayed, 40. While some historians have used such exchanges as evidence that the relationship between commoners and chiefs was a feudalistic one, Noenoe Silva has insisted that such exchanges, if not excessive... [were] not usually
10 554 Pacific Historical Review have understood their relationship with the missionaries as one akin to their relationship with common people. In this way, the gifts from high-ranking Hawaiians almost certainly came with a set of obligations replicating those between ali i and maka āinana. Additionally, gift giving and generosity appeared as a means by which ali i might engage in a display of mana that is, divine power. 25 In the extension of gifts, Hawaiian royalty provided not just for the needs of their guests but, in the process, simultaneously created a debt between themselves and the missionaries while enhancing their own status. It is undeniable that the Westerners who visited and began to inhabit the islands in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries set in motion a series of profound social, cultural, political, and economic changes. One scholar has characterized the Hawaiian Islands in this period as an ever increasing foreign world, wherein old traditions were disintegrating with Western contact. 26 Similarly, Noenoe K. Silva has persuasively argued that Westerners sowed the seeds of the destruction of Hawaiian culture. Besides disease, Silva has noted, the haole also brought the idea of trade for money, a concept that spelled widespread destruction in the islands. The economic shift toward trade affected the islands economy in a direct way, of course. But related changes imposed deeper, long-lasting change in the islands: In their quest to repay their debts to traders, ali i ordered maka āinana to cut down virtually all the sandalwood trees. This wrought havoc on the natural landscape, causing poverty and malnutrition among maka āinana and ultimately changing their relationship to ali i. 27 resented by the maka āinana. Before the introduction of a cash economy, Hawaiian society might be understood as stratified but interdependent. Silva, Aloha Betrayed, 40, 39. See also Kame eleihiwa, Native Lands, 11, and Buck, Paradise Remade, For a discussion of mana, see ibid., Kame eleihiwa, Native Lands, 13; see also Buck, Paradise Remade, Silva, Aloha Betrayed, 26. See also Buck, Paradise Remade, 17 18, Although Elizabeth Buck argued that disease was more culturally devastating than capitalism and the incompatible culture of the West, she agreed with Silva regarding the long-term, devastating consequences of contact. Silva and Lilikala Kame eleihiwa both linked the loss of Hawaiian sovereignty to the early economic changes initiated by contact with Westerners. See also Sally Engle Merry, Colonizing Hawai i: The Cultural Power of Law (Princeton, N.J., 2000), 43 44, and Noel J. Kent, Hawaii: Islands Under the Influence (New York, 1983), 20. For figures relating to the decline of the native population in the islands, see David Stannard, Before the Horror: The Population of Hawai i on the Eve of Western Contact (Honolulu, 1989),
11 Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange 555 The lasting negative effects of western contact, well documented by historians, can hardly be overestimated. But it is equally important to remember that at least in the earliest years of contact Hawaiians engaged in negotiations with Westerners from a position of power and authority, with an eye toward increasing the political viability of the Hawaiian Islands. At the close of the first decade of the nineteenth century, King Kamehameha successfully unified the islands, creating the potential for a politically and economically powerful Pacific nation. Traders eager to access the natural abundance of the islands initially appeared willing to make favorable trade with the Hawaiians, and when necessary to create political alliances with Kamehameha. In turn, Kamehameha appeared open to western influence, adopting both western dress and custom, relying at times on these western symbols of civilization when they seemed beneficial or provided the opportunity to facilitate trade. Kamehameha has been characterized as being uniquely able to take what he wanted from the haole and leave the rest alone. 28 In this way, Kamehameha demonstrated his savvy, keeping his foreign friends happy and useful. 29 Although circumstances in the islands had changed by 1819, the ali i who interacted with American missionaries appear to have been operating from Kamehameha s early example. In proffering gifts and foodstuffs, then, it is likely that ali i attempted to indicate and make clear the missionaries status as guests or subject peoples who were allowed to stay as long as they remained in the rulers good graces. Moreover, Hawaiian royalty implied in their gift giving that the missionaries were guests who could scarcely care or fend for themselves, requiring a host s indulgence and continued assistance. Hawaiians thus situated themselves as the benefactors to a befuddled group of guests, suddenly landed upon Hawaiian shores. 30 Fruit, meat, poi, and cheese were offered as part of a larger lesson about the ordering of relations in 28. Daws, Shoal of Time, Helen Wong and Ann Rayson, Hawaii s Royal History (Honolulu, 1987), One does not have to look far for historical precedent or parallel. Describing Anglo-Algonquian contact and the struggle to dominate rather than to be dominated, Kathleen Brown has argued that Indian men and women initially refused to acknowledge Anglo claims to superiority, treating the foreigners as they would subject peoples. The context is historically distinct, but the principle holds: In their interaction with American missionaries, ali i sought to rearticulate their position of autonomy and authority in the distribution of gifts. See Kathleen Brown, Good Wives,
12 556 Pacific Historical Review the islands. In their generosity, ali i deftly articulated the unequal status of the two parties engaged in this exchange. 31 Indeed, Hawai i s royal women appear to have been quite fluent in the related discourses of obligation and reciprocity and seemed prepared to interact with the American missionaries. Just days after the missionaries landing, Kalākua, a widow of Kamehameha, came aboard the Thaddeus, accompanied by a high chief on the island. From the outset, Kalākua was direct in her dealings with the missionaries. According to Nancy Ruggles, Kalākua brought with her a piece of cloth and requested us to make a gown like ours. The mission wives response, however, suggests that in the days following their arrival, the missionaries did not adequately perceive the nature of their relationship to Hawaiians. Relying on an interpreter, Nancy Ruggles explained that the dress could not be commenced until the following day at the earliest. 32 Still offering their gratitude to God, the missionaries did not yet feel the need to reciprocate to Hawaiians directly. Moreover, the missionaries had not yet come to appreciate the very real social and political power wielded by women in the Hawaiian Islands in general or by Kalākua (as a widow of Kamehameha) in particular, nor did they appear aware of the opportunity that Kalākua presented them. 33 Consequently, they failed to recognize that they declined her requests at their own peril. Looking back, we can discern the arrangement of relationships being articulated and negotiated in the proposed exchange and circulation of things. Kalākua and Chief Kalanimoku had offered abundant gifts of food to the missionaries, bringing additional gifts with them upon boarding the Thaddeus. When the first request for a dress was made, the Thaddeus was about to set sail for Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1996), See Maurice Godelier, The Enigma of the Gift (Chicago, 1999), 12. Maurice Godelier described the manner in which giving can establish a difference and an inequality of status between donor and recipient. 32. Samuel and Nancy Ruggles, journal, April 2, See also Lucy Thurston, Life and Times of Mrs. Lucy G. Thurston (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1882), article 15. M. Thomas Hopu served as an assistant to the missionaries in their journey to the Hawaiian Islands. 33. Esther T. Mookini, Keopuolani, Sacred Wife, Queen Mother, , Hawaiian Journal of History, 32 (1998), 1 2; Grimshaw, New England Missionary Wives, Hawaiian Women, and the Cult of True Womanhood, Hawaiian Journal of History, 19 (1985), 76; Silverman, Kaahumanu: Molder of Change.
13 Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange 557 Kailua, where missionaries would be allowed to make their plea for the establishment of a permanent mission. It is significant, then, that Kalākua thought to make her request at the very inception of this relationship and just after she had made abundant gifts of her own. 34 She must have felt entitled to the gift of missionary labor. She had, after all, helped to provide for the company: The rules of reciprocity demanded some form of repayment. Moreover, Kalākua s request suggests her position of influence. Her status entitled her to the products of subject people s labor. She must have felt confident that her request would be honored, stemming not simply from the laws of obligation but also from her status relative to the missionaries, whom she likely regarded as sharing a similar social rank with maka āinana. Mission wives were not, she perceived, in a position to oppose or deny her request. Additionally, it is interesting to note the directness of the request: Kalākua s frankness is significant since it allows us to observe the extent of Hawaiian agency in negotiating the terms of their relationship with their American guests. That the missionaries did not at first understand or honor the request is interesting and important, but more salient in terms of the larger story is the way in which we can understand Kalākua s request as indicative of Hawaiian perceptions about the nature of the relationship between the missionaries and Hawaiians. If Kalākua had attempted to imply their status as guests in the transfer of gifts to the missionaries, she also reminded them of their subordinate status in her demand for a very specific kind of gift from the missionaries. The gift of food successfully created a debt, an obligation between two unequal parties. 35 This first request from Kalākua was likely meant to communicate a particular ordering of power relations in the islands. The specificity of that request probably served to emphasize the point. An exchange between mission wife Sybil Moseley Bingham and Queen Kamāmalu further reveals the nature of the evolving relationship between American missionaries and Hawaiians in the early years of the mission. Kamāmalu was a woman of considerable power. Daughter to Kalākua and wife to Liholiho, she might have 34. See Mauss, The Gift, For a fuller discussion of exchange as a means by which to cancel debt, see Edith Wyschgrod, Jean-Joseph Goux, and Eric Boynton, eds., The Enigma of the Gift and Sacrifice (New York, 2002).
14 558 Pacific Historical Review felt herself in a position to make demands upon the missionaries. In the spring of 1822, two years after the missionaries arrival, Sybil Mosley Bingham described Kamāmalu s requests for clothing in her diary and attested to the negotiations and tensions that resulted in attempting to satisfy the queen s wishes: Kamamalu has sent us a whole piece of cloth to be made up for her in shirts, Bingham wrote. Kamāmalu also expressed her desire that one or more of us would call to take her directions. Bingham thus called upon the queen, bringing another mission wife along with her. Although Bingham noted that they chatted quite familiarly, the women could not persuade the queen to use the cloth for gowns rather than shirts, the queen declaring that the latter... were so much more comfortable. 36 The diary entry offers an interesting account of the exchange. Sybil Mosley Bingham was careful to observe the familiarity that passed between herself and the queen, deliberately noting the tone of the conversation and what she interpreted to be the affectionate salutation of joining noses at the commencement of their meeting to indicate the growing relationship and possibly a burgeoning affection between the two women. 37 As cordial as the relationship appeared, however, the queen was steadfast in her desires: She would have shirts for their comfort rather than dresses for the propriety the missionaries desired. 38 Within two days Sybil Moseley Bingham had completed one garment and was ready to deliver it. In contrast to the familiar and relatively warm exchanges of just a few days before, Bingham complained that the queen s attention was focused elsewhere, on a game of whist. 39 Distracted, the queen hardly acknowledged Bingham, who noted that she received only a nod of cold civility for all of her efforts. 40 Bingham 36. S. M. Bingham, journal, March (2) (undated pages). 37. Ibid. 38. This story of autonomy and cultural persistence was widespread. Hawaiian culture, Mary Zwiep has noted, though weakened and changed by Western contact, still defined the laws and mores of the land. Zwiep, Pilgrim Path, 144. Similarly, Grimshaw has observed: the transformation of Hawaiians into Americans, which alone would satisfy mission wives, was a mirage to be sought in vain. Grimshaw, Paths of Duty, Grimshaw, New England Missionary Wives, 80. Missionaries condemned the habit of card playing. Presenting a problem for successful conversion, it also confirmed missionary beliefs about the supposed sloth and idleness of Hawaiians. 40. S. M. Bingham, journal, March 11, 182(2) (undated pages).
15 Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange 559 disguised her frustration, waiting awkwardly for a few moments before departing. If Sybil Mosley Bingham felt hurt and disappointed in her dealings with Kamāmalu, she fared little better in her interaction with Ka ahumanu, the favorite widow of Kamehameha, upon whom she called next. Bingham was no doubt irritated to find Ka ahumanu with some of her women and one or two chiefs... engaged in the same manner as the company we left. Once again, Bingham would have to compete with the cards for the regent s attention. Barely able to attract Ka ahumanu s interest, Bingham at least succeeded in persuading the queen to allow her to attempt to fit the garment she had made but was disappointed in the results. The garment was too small. Ka ahumanu very nearly dismissed the missionary, allowing [her] the satisfaction of knowing some alterations were needed. Although Bingham later confided to her diary her frustration at having been curtly dismissed by the royal women, she kept her feelings to herself. 41 Bingham s discretion in this regard suggests that she clearly understood that her role in this exchange was to provide something a reciprocal gift to their hosts in order to balance some of the debt missionaries had incurred in the two years since their arrival. In this way, the relationship between Hawai i s royal women and the mission wives resembles those between ali i and maka āinana. That is, the gifts of labor extended in the construction of garments seem to have been understood by both parties as a kind of expected payment or tribute to ali i. While missionaries were doubtless frustrated by this arrangement, they nonetheless appear to have understood these exchanges as necessary to establishing favorable relations with ali i. By the time the third company of missionaries arrived in 1828, the missionaries appear to have gained a clear understanding of the importance of maintaining amicable terms with their Hawaiian hosts. If, upon reflection, the missionaries understood that they would be allowed to stay to do good, eight years into the mission they clearly acknowledged their duties in relation to the royals. 42 Even requests thought to be unreasonable or impracticable were entertained by the missionaries because, in the words of Laura 41. Ibid., March 14, 182(2) (undated pages). See also Rufus Anderson, History of the Sandwich Islands (London, 1872), S. M. Bingham, transcribed journal, , p. 3, Mission Archives.
16 560 Pacific Historical Review Fish Judd, a member of this third company of missionaries, we do not like to refuse. In her reprinted memoir, Judd recounted an exchange between herself and Ka ahumanu. According to Judd, Ka ahumanu insist[ed] that we shall live with her. Judd shrewdly understood that refusal was not an option and trod carefully; even though she believed the plan to be unworkable, she was careful not to give offense, diplomatically offering an alternative acceptable to the queen. More significant, perhaps, is Judd s rendering of the interaction and her recognition of the extent of her obligation to the queen: We need wisdom to choose wisely between duties to be done, and what is to be left undone. 43 In choosing wisely among their duties and obligations, it is interesting to note the seriousness with which missionary women took their perceived responsibility to Hawai i s royal women. The request for clothing was one that wives took pains to fulfill. 44 Judd described one mission wife s dedication to such efforts, noting that she looked thin and careworn as a result of her labors on behalf of her family and the royals. Fancy her, Judd wrote, in the midst of these cares, receiving an order from the king to make him a dozen shirts, with ruffled bosoms, followed by another for a whole suit of broadcloth! 45 It is significant that Judd characterized the request as an order from the king. Clearly, by the time of Judd s writing, missionaries had begun to interpret his requests in such a way and to respond accordingly. That Bingham did not refuse, despite her other considerable obligations both to her own family and to the mission is equally important. 46 It is true that clothing was in demand by ranking women as well as by the king, all of whom seemed to fancy western dress, and that the missionaries felt compelled to reciprocate to their hosts. At the same time, however, 43. Laura Fish Judd, Honolulu: Sketches of Life Social, Political, and Religious in the Hawaiian Islands (New York, 1880), This is particularly significant when judged in comparison to the missionaries relatively sparse cache of clothing. Missionaries often complained that they were destitute of adequate clothing. See Outfit for the Sandwich Islands, reprinted in The Missionary Album, Sesquicentennial Edition, (Honolulu, 1969), Judd, Honolulu, 13. Given the dates, it is likely that the Mrs. B of Laura Fish Judd s description refers to Sybil Moseley Bingham. Both Sybil Moseley Bingham s diary and Hiram Bingham s memoir corroborate the extent of Bingham s engagement in such labor for Hawaiian royalty. 46. Grimshaw, New England Missionary Wives, 84.
17 Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange 561 the mission wives described a focus on providing this particular gift to the Hawaiians, even to their own detriment or exhaustion. Hiram Bingham reaffirmed the exertion of missionary wives work in this regard, noting that such demands from the king, his wives and other chiefs... required some sacrifices, and caused, during the first years, some expenditure of health and strength on the part of those who were willing thus to toil. 47 Such description of missionary labor, of course, grew out of the larger discourse of sacrifice that gave meaning to their work. The missionaries labor was animated at least in part by the extent to which they willingly sacrificed for the benefit of a degraded other. 48 At the same time, these passages indicate that providing clothing became a priority for missionaries. If missionaries were inclined to sacrifice, and if they felt some ability to choose the realm of such sacrifice, it is important that they so readily volunteered this particular labor. While it might appear that, in fulfilling their obligations, mission wives engaged in a kind of coerced labor, we must also note that the missionaries appear to have viewed their labors on behalf of the royal women as a means by which to ingratiate themselves to their hosts and to cultivate relations between the mission and the islands powerful ali i. In addition to a sense of duty to provide gifts to Hawaiians, the missionaries appear to have gained an understanding of the function of such exchanges in terms of advancing the larger goals of the mission. Hiram Bingham, reflecting on the mission s strategy, recalled that, immediately after receiving permission to establish a Protestant mission in the islands, the missionaries made it a daily object to gain their confidence, to make ourselves acquainted with their language, habits, and modes of thinking. Moreover, the missionaries endeavored to adapt our instructions to their capacities and most urgent wants. Hiram Bingham judged such tactics as the best means of access to their minds and hearts. Others apparently shared this attitude. Sybil Moseley Bingham articulated a similar logic with regard to her exchanges with the royal women just two years after their landing. If she had been offended by the dismissive attitude of Ka ahumanu and Kamāmalu, she nevertheless acquiesced in the larger interests of the 47. Bingham, A Residence, Brown, Good Wives, 45. Brown argued that the construction of an other helped to crystallize self-conscious articulations of one s own group identity, a process that also appears to have been at work in the islands.
18 562 Pacific Historical Review mission. In this early interaction, she acknowledged the promise of gifts in terms of gaining favor for the mission and the larger aims of the project. In her diary, Sybil Mosley Bingham shrewdly recognized that it was better to swallow her pride and gain some than to give up in frustration and lose all. 49 Far from resenting the labors they performed for elite Hawaiian women, mission wives willingly participated in these exchanges with the goal of converting Hawaiian islanders. Such attitudes regarding the gifts of clothing gained currency during the first years of the missionaries stay in the islands. They articulated their sense of obligation and also came to understand what might be accomplished in providing gifts of clothing to women of rank. Sybil Mosley Bingham seemed willing enough to continue to supply the queen s needs in this regard, but she appeared more than happy to furnish another of the queen s requests. She and some others much wish to have bonnets. This, Bingham noted, is a pleasant circumstance to us. Pleasant, indeed: The missionaries had been bothered from the beginning of their time in the islands by the sometimes uncovered or garlandadorned heads of Hawaiian women. While mission wives rejected fashion for its vanity, proper clothing and attire seemed to signify a great deal about the civility of the wearer. A proper New England lady, for example, covered her head with a bonnet in the interests of decorum and modesty. For missionaries, a covered head had an added religious injunction as well. A pious Christian woman would have covered her head as a sign of her submissiveness both to God and to men. An uncovered head, or one adorned with flowers, would have suggested immodesty, vanity, and a lack of proper deference. Hawaiian interest in acquiring bonnets, then, was met with real enthusiasm. Sybil Mosley Bingham and her sisters had begun asking women at home to send presents that would please these wahines. Bingham seemed to understand the allure of such items and appeared prepared to use them to her advantage. I have hinted to the Queen, she wrote, that perhaps some of the good ladies in America, since she was attending to the palapala, would probably send her one. 50 Enticing the queen to the palapala 49. Kent, Hawaii, 26; Bingham, A Residence, 101; S. M. Bingham, journal, March 14, Ibid. S. M. Bingham, journal, Oct 4, 182(2) (undated pages). Zwiep, Pilgrim Path, xv.
19 Missionary-Hawaiian Gift Exchange 563 (lessons in written Hawaiian), Bingham used the promise of a nice bonnet to advance a more spiritual cause. Although engaging the rules of reciprocity and compelled in some ways by her obligations to the queen, Sybil Mosley Bingham clearly recognized an opportunity when she saw one. Royal women s desire for dresses and gowns indicated the possibility of the transformation of Hawaiian women: Missionary wives were only too happy to sate the elite women s desires for western dress if it meant that they would cast aside the traditional tapa (bark cloth) they seemed to prefer and if it ensured that they would remain properly covered. 51 The request for hats put the promise of transformation that much closer to the missionaries grasp. Moreover, in this passage, Sybil Mosley Bingham indicated her intention to use the lure of a desired object to secure the queen s continued attention to her lessons. Bingham clearly recognized the power of a well-placed item. She had a hat of her own to dispose of and was waiting to put it to strategic use, writing: I will present mine where I think it will do the most good. 52 It must have been deeply gratifying to the missionaries to witness and have a hand in the transformation of the royal women. Missionaries might have wished that elite women would dress more like missionaries, donning the sober colors and inexpensive fabrics they wore as an indication of their modest means instead of the lavish materials and bright colors women of rank seemed to prefer. Nevertheless, mission wives appeared satisfied when Hawaiians adopted European-style clothing because it covered their nudity, which the missionaries took as a sign of Hawaiian incivility and worse. The supposed immodesty of Hawaiians had been a continual source of concern for the missionaries; Hawaiian nudity seemed a special cause of alarm for the mission wives. Clarissa Richards recorded her first impressions of Hawaiian islanders upon 51. Annette Weiner noted that in ancient Hawai i, the production and distribution of bark cloth was organized by class, with common people engaged in its production as tribute to ali i. High-ranking women, too, produced bark cloth, but the highest veneration surrounded these fabrics. Missionaries complained about the tappers the Hawaiian women wore, decrying their style and their failure to function as a mechanism of modesty. Yet, according to Weiner, such skirts were replicas of those worn by goddesses which were thought to have magical properties. The conflict over tappers takes on a new meaning in this context. Annette B. Weiner, Inalienable Possessions: The Paradox of Keeping-While-Giving (Berkeley, 1992), 83 84, S. M. Bingham journal, Oct 4, 182(2) (undated pages).
20 564 Pacific Historical Review her arrival in April Now I saw them, she wrote, wretched, degraded, ignorant... and yet my heart bled for them. They were destitute of clothing except a narrow strip of cloth twisted about their loins. In her reflections, Richards connected Hawaiian nakedness with their supposed degradation. She was not alone in her interpretation: Sybil Moseley Bingham had also decried the spiritual and literal nakedness of Hawaiians upon her first landing a full three years earlier. 53 It is not hard to imagine, then, that the opportunity to clothe Hawaiians presented itself as profoundly important to the mission. In the expected reciprocation of gifts, the missionaries found a surprising foothold. By providing clothes for the royal women, mission wives fulfilled their obligations to supply desired objects while also realizing some of their own goals for the transformation of the Hawaiian people, thereby advancing their own cause. If missionaries had been concerned about both the spiritual and physical nakedness of Hawaiians, and if Hawaiians were at first reluctant to take part in religious conversion, the missionaries could at least work to solve the more visible problem before them by providing gifts of clothing in the way of bonnets, dresses, shirts, and suits. Moreover, missionary wives attempted to use the desired items as a means by which to encourage not only the observance of western habits of dress but also to entice the Hawaiian women of rank toward Christianity, using clothing as leverage. Sybil Mosley Bingham was quite forthright as to her intentions. Dangling the promise of a new bonnet before the queen in exchange for a promise that she would continue attending to the palapala, Bingham quite clearly saw this exchange as an opportunity both to demonstrate gratitude and to use well-placed gifts to benefit the mission. The aims and effects of such a placement of gifts, then, were multiple. Clothing ali i thus might have appeared to Hawaiians as a requisite payment for their generosity and protection; to the missionaries, however, clothing and other items served to advance the mission objective of civilizing their hosts a first step on the way to providing them with the gift of Christianity. 53. Judd recounted an exchange with Ka ahumanu regarding distinctions between proper missionary clothing and those the royal women preferred. Judd, Honolulu, 40; Clarissa Lyman Richards, journal, April 23, 1823, Journals Collection, Mission Archives; S. M. Bingham, journal, March 31, 1820.