Book examines colonization of Pacific
"White Pacific" is a well-researched new look at the Euro-American colonization of the Pacific in the late 19th century.
"White Pacific: U.S. Imperialism and Black Slavery in the South Seas After the Civil War"
By Gerald Horne
(University of Hawaii Press)
Paperback, 253 pages, $29
Available online at www.uhpress.hawaii.edu
Gerald Horne's account begins with the Civil War of 1861-65, the North's defeat of the Confederacy and the collapse of the Southern cotton and sugar plantocracy. Almost immediately afterward -- and indeed for some time before -- American slavers poured into the Pacific, seeking and finding rich tropical soils to grow cash crops for export. Fortunes were made at the expense of individual, social and political devastation, especially in Fiji, Samoa and, of course, Hawaii.
As in the old South, the new plantations demanded human labor. In response, a resuscitated breed of Confederate expatriates carried out so-called "blackbirding" raids, kidnapping men, women and children and transporting them to growers throughout Oceania. From 1863 to 1904 as many as 100,000 Pacific islanders were sold into servitude. When that supply was exhausted, Japanese and Chinese workers were recruited, often by trickery.
Complicating the picture was America's rise as a colonial power and the spread of its interests toward Asia. Hawaii was viewed as the cornerstone of Washington's westward ambitions, a crucial refueling station and military base leading to the world's biggest market: Asia.
But there were obstacles, especially the Hawaiian kingdom's political resistance, while the influx of thousands of Japanese laborers was perceived as a growing threat to white interests. As early as 1843, annexation was in the air, especially after President Tyler outlined his policy of extending the Monroe Doctrine across the Pacific.
Increasingly desperate to avoid being swallowed, independent Hawaii sought alliances with Samoa, Fiji and powerful Japan -- thus sealing its own fate. In the 1880s King Kalakaua even sought to build a defensive confederation of Pacific island kingdoms. The Bayonet Constitution of 1887 and the coup d'etat six years later were in direct response.
Horne's book is a first-rate account of this turbulent period and its geopolitical context. His sharp analysis is fleshed out with memorable portraits of the actual human beings involved, such as "Timber-Toes" Proctor (nicknamed for his wooden leg) and the sadistic blackbirder "Bully" Hayes, who killed, raped and plundered his way across the Pacific until his own murder in 1877.
"White Pacific" deserves to be read and pondered by everyone interested in modern Hawaiian history.
is scholar in residence at Brigham Young University-Hawaii and adjunct professor of English and political science at TransPacific Hawaii College. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org