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Much more than a tropical paradise: This new travel guide will 'decolonize' the way you look at Hawaii

Crystal Paul, The Seattle Times on

Published in Travel News

HONOLULU -- Two thousand miles from the continental United States sits a chain of islands known for their tropical climes, natural beauty and geographical diversity. From mountains and active volcanoes to gorgeous postcard-perfect beaches, visiting Hawaii continues to be one of the most popular trips for U.S. travelers every year.

But for most of these tourists, Hawaii is little more than a tropical paradise vacation destination where you can lounge on a beach and drink cocktails. The plethora of guidebooks and travelogues written about Hawaii by non-Hawaiian travelers does little to challenge that perception. Few tourists are aware of the history and cultural turmoil Hawaii has undergone over the centuries to become what it is today -- a rich and complicated multicultural society contending with that history and navigating challenging political realities.

So a pair of Hawaiian academics recently took it upon themselves to challenge that stereotype.

In "Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawai'i," a new book from Duke University Press on sale in November, co-editors Hokulani K. Aikau and Vernadette Vicuna Gonzalez use the concept of the tourist guidebook, a genre that has long dominated writing about Hawaii, to encourage people to rethink their understanding of Hawaii and their relationship to it.

Gonzalez and Aikau solicited essays, stories and art from more than 50 Hawaiian contributors, and as submissions came in, they realized that instead of an alternative guide to a place, the project was morphing into a guide to decolonization.

"The 'Detours' project first started out as (us) thinking through what it might be like to take the genre of the guidebook, take that shape, the framework that it has, and have people from here tell stories of place, rather than have somebody from outside come here and tell everybody else where to go, what hotels to go to, what are the places to see and what are the things to do," said Gonzalez, associate professor of American Studies at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.


For instance: Aikau, a native Hawaiian who grew up in a small Utah town, says the question she heard most whenever she told people she was from Hawaii was, "Does that mean you do hula?"

"Hawaii is so overdetermined by images that are specifically associated with tourism, such as the hula girls and tiki culture and all of that, that growing up in a small town in Utah meant that the only way people could understand where I was from was as it was reflected through tourists' gaze," said Aikau, now an ethnic and gender studies professor at the University of Utah. "It's crazy to have been raised away from Hawaii and yet the only way people know you is through the tourist images. It was pretty painful."

Lost in the "touristy paradise island" narrative that traditional guidebooks have spun for decades is the fact that before Europeans and U.S. immigrants began arriving in Hawaii around 1778 -- often disenfranchising and bringing diseases that killed many Native Hawaiians -- Hawaii was a thriving archipelago ruled by Native Hawaiian ali'i, or chiefs. The unified Hawaiian Kingdom was eventually overthrown by U.S. troops in 1893.

"Detours" shows readers the true Hawaii, beyond mai tais and mountain hikes, offering a look at the colonial and military histories that led to a Hawaii whose economy is dominated by tourism and militarism often at the expense of the rights, independence and culture of Native Hawaiians.


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