Jean Barman & Bruce Watson on Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest
Interviewed by Sara Kolbet
1 Disc – 10 Tracks – 60:48
TRACK 1 – 0:00
TRACK 2 – 1:14
SARA: What is your name and why are you interested in Hawaiians in the NW?
BRUCE: I am Bruce Watson. I am retired. I used to teach at Vancouver Community College for a number of years and I have been researching for the past fifteen years the maritime and the land-based fur trade and part of this was the Hawaiians and that’s why I’ve become interested.
JEAN: My name is Jean Barman. I’ve written about British Columbian history for the last twenty years and realize that we cannot just think of British Columbian history from the perspective of people who are on the top, in government and economic life, we also have to look at ordinary people and their everyday lives. And when we do that we realize that British Columbia’s position on the Pacific, on the crossroads to Asia makes it a very important component of the province’s history that there are people who have come from Asia throughout the settlement history of British Columbia.
TRACK 3 – 10:03
SARA: Start again.
BRUCE: I am Bruce Watson. I’ve been researching…
BRUCE: I’m Bruce Watson. I’m currently retired. I taught history and English at Vancouver Community College for a number of years and for the last fifteen years I’ve been doing research into the maritime and land-based fur trade and this is why I became interested in the Hawaiians as well as other groups in the fur trade.
JEAN: I’m Jean Barman. I’ve written about British Columbia history and taught at the University of British Columbia for the last fifteen to twenty years and I’ve realized increasingly that you can’t write about a place until you write about the average, ordinary people as well as writing about politics and economics from the perspective of those on top. British Columbia’s location on the Pacific at the crossroads to Asia has meant that considerable parts of the population of the province have come from Asia as opposed to coming from Europe or the rest of North America.
SARA: How did you get together to work together?
JEAN: Bruce and I encountered each other in a number of the same associations, historical organizations and also at a reunion of Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest that was held at Fort Langley, which is an old HB post in 1992, I think. And since then we started talking about our mutual interests and I come at the topic from the perspective of British Columbia history, Bruce comes at it from the perspective of the fur trade, and we discovered that we knew about the same individuals, but we knew about different parts of their lives.
SARA: Where do you go to do research?
BRUCE: I use the maritime fur trade records from the New England area to capture the early Hawaiians as well as the British records from various sources, some of which are published, as well as the HBC archives in Winnipeg. And together we’ve come up with about 850 Hawaiians altogether and this is including more recent ones up to about 1900, from the British Columbia archives as well. Also, the Oregon Historical Society has also been a good source for us.
JEAN: My interest in terms of sources is quite different from Bruce’s, in that in terms of working on British Columbia history I’ve ended up talking to a lot of people who are descendents, and it’s the descendant’s stories of their grandparents, great-grandparents who are Hawaiian who got me interested in the topic.
SARA: Tell me about the book you wrote.
JEAN: We’ll both do it and she can take the one she likes. Bruce and I have a co-authored book that is going to come out from the Hawaii press shortly, that is called ‘Leaving Paradise, Indigenous Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest,’ that looks at Hawaiians who left the islands up to the time that America annexed the islands in 1898, and begins with the first Hawaiian who came to the Pacific Northwest, which was a woman who arrived in 1787.
BRUCE: Yeah, I was writing about this and gathering a huge amount of information and realized the amount of interaction and Jean had a lot of later information and we put it together and it was like one and one makes three. We found we had this huge databank and we were able to look at it objectively and academically, so we’re putting out this book now.
JEAN: One of the important points this book makes which is critical to the history of the Hawaiian islands and a reason why we’re very pleased Hawaii press will publish it, is when we look at the lives of Hawaiians in the pacific Northwest from 1787 through the 19th century, what we discover are indigenous people who are incredibly resourceful, self-reliant, dependable, they made lives for themselves. Most return home but some of them stay and have descendants across most of the Pacific Northwest to the present day. And this image and this reality… This image and this reality is very different from the story that we get when we look at the history of the Hawaiian islands from that perspective when basically it’s a tale of indigenous peoples of disappearing. They declined in numbers and they were portrayed, by missionary accounts in particular, as being unable to cope, as being idle, as being wasteful, as almost fading away because of what they themselves did as opposed to what happened in the larger society. And what happens in the Pacific Northwest is totally at odds with this, and these are the very same people, the brothers, the cousins, the sisters, of the people who are depicted so differently at home.
BRUCE: In the Pacific Northwest, in the resources I’ve gone through, they were resourceful, reliable, dependable, they made lives for themselves, they were a great asset to the fur trade, and we get an entirely different picture when we looked at it from our point of view here.
SARA: Tell me a bit about the Maria Mahoi book.
JEAN: I also have a short book that came out in the summer of 2004 called ‘Maria Mahoi of the islands,’ which originated with a descendant asking me if I knew anything about his family. His family took me to his great-grandmother, Maria Mahoi, who was a woman born in about 1855 with an aboriginal Indian mother and a Hawaiian father who worked in the fur trade, who was illiterate, but all the same, because people remember, and we all have stories to tell through descendents, many, many descendents, I’ve been able to put together this story of her life and discover that yes, she was a tough woman, she knew how to take care of herself, she ended up with an island of her own in her own name, she protected her partners, two marriages she had a dozen children who she also protected and many descend into the present day, including Larry Bell.
SARA: Did she continue her Hawaiian culture?
JEAN: What’s clear when you hear the stories of descendents of Maria Mahoi, and I talked to several of her grandchildren who were brought up by her to a considerable degree, is that she valued her Hawaiian origins, she did not have the literal connections with it, she never went back to the islands, but she lived on Southern Salt Spring in an area which had about half a dozen families who were of Hawaiian descent, including some of the original men who worked in the fur trade and who lived into the 20th century, and these men together were behind building St. Paul’s Catholic church which still exists…These men, together with their neighbors, these Hawaiian men together with their neighbors were responsible for building St. Paul’s Catholic church in the first half of the 1880s, which still survives there today, which gave a sense of community that had a settler component to it, but it had a very important Hawaiian component. The first two baptisms there for instance were the children of Hawaiians in the fur trade.
SARA: With this new book, what do you want people to gather from it?
BRUCE: We want to make people aware of the Hawaiian presence here and how resourceful they were. How they fit right in and how they worked through the system and how their descendents remain here and what they’ve done and it gives a much broader picture of the area, of the Pacific Northwest. British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and southern Alaska.
JEAN: One of the difficulties for descendents, and it’s a very great difficulty indeed, is because of the lack of records in the Hawaiian islands is that no descendents in British Columbia or Washington or Oregon have been able to trace themselves back literally to families on the islands themselves. For instance, on Molokai there is a large Kalama family and they have attended reunions of the Kalama clan in Washington State. But the relationships are not as real as they should be, and we’re hoping that with this book, which has 850 biographies in it as well as the story, 850 biographies of men, with real names and often have multiple names, we hope we will play a role in connecting families in the islands with families that live in the Pacific Northwest.
SARA: Why did they leave Hawaii?
TRACK 4 – 10:04
BRUCE: That’s a good question. Why did the Hawaiians leave Hawaii? That’s a good question. I’m not sure myself. There seems to be a variety of reasons, one of which is a pure sense of adventure, another of which is perhaps a breakdown of the culture, the infighting that was going on. The Polynesians were great travelers and this was an extension of what they had been doing for a number of years and was part of their oral tradition. So it was natural for them to jump on ships and there were quite a few people willing to go on ships. The first woman who came here came on a ship and she wanted to come, this was her desire. Unfortunately she died while trying to go back to Hawaii, but this was the case, the people were interested, they had a great sense of travel, and they wanted to see the world.
SARA: How did the fur trade start?
BRUCE: The fur trade started with the furs that Cook brought back to China in a great amount. And word got out to New England as well as England so there was a rush of people from New England as well as England to come to the coast here. And of course Hawaii is a mid-way point between China and the NW coast. It became a natural station for all the ships to stop, so a very large number of vessels went from here to Hawaii to China and then they would come back again. And of course they were picking up people as they went through, so Hawaiians would go to china as well as to the NW coast. So that’s how they originally got here. And then later on the New York Company, John Jacob Astor’s pacific Fur Company got into the act, and he brought a large number of Hawaiians here and established a base at Astoria. And that’s how the Hawaiians started establishing themselves on land here, in 1810, 1811, and then the Northwest company took that over, and then the HBC took over the Northwest company and so really it was a HBC effort from 1821, and they succeeded, they had an establishment down in Hawaii and they brought a lot of Hawaiians over to the northwest coast.
SARA: What was life like on the forts?
BRUCE: What did the Hawaiians do on the posts? They tended to stick with the posts on the coasts, because they were close to the water. They never rose through the ranks, but they were often used as intermediaries between the native people and the traders themselves. Very trustworthy, very dependable. In fact, in 1842 when one of the officers of Fort Stickeen was murdered, it was really the Hawaiians that moved in. There was chaos and it was Hawaiians who established order and took the body and made sure things were done correctly, and threw out interlopers, etc. And just showing common decent good sense. And they intermarried with local people as well, but the majority of them went back to Hawaii.
SARA: Was it difficult to get back to Hawaii?
BRUCE: Was it difficult for them to go back to Hawaii? Quite a few did go back but they would see their family, their place of birth, but then they would reenlist. So frequently they would come back here again and we don’t know exactly why, we can only guess that this was full employment. Things had become a little chaotic in Hawaii, we’re not certain.
JEAN: As to reasons why the Hawaiians worked very long in the fur trade, we have to look at the history of the Hawaiian Islands themselves. From the 1840s you have what was a communal system of land, where it was used in common through a hierarchical system being replaced through American initiative in good part, by a system of private land holding. And if you were a native Hawaiian and you wanted to claim a piece of land, you had to be there within a two-year window within the late 1840s, and so you have repeated stories of Hawaiians who are working in the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest and they go home for a holiday, or they go home thinking they’re going home permanently, and the land that they thought they were going to go back to is now in private hands, it may be on the way to being a sugarcane field. And so you had both push and pull factors. You had advantage of employment in the fur trade. You had a certain amount of collegiality in the fur trade, because there would be three or five or in the case of Fort Vancouver, there would be up to sixty men at the same post, you could continue traditional practices, as opposed to going on at home where you might have your family, you might have relatives, but it could become a much more difficult place to make a living. You had an alternative, which became very big, and that was that you could go on a whaling ship, you could go on contract on a whaling ship, and that was much harder work, or you could from the 1860s you could go and dig guano on various islands across the pacific, and that was filthy dirty work. So by comparison, the fur trade was quite good, and after the fur trade goes into decline in the Pacific Northwest, after the boundary settlement between Britain and the US in 1846 a number of Hawaiians come for a number of other reasons. They come and work in lumber mills. They come on their own. They come as adventurers. So they continue to come to the northwest through the 19th century, although it’s more difficult to trace there are some manifests of ships and you can see for instance, during the gold rush in British Columbia in 1858 you would have a dozen or two dozen Hawaiians registered on the ship, often coming with their wives and in many cases we have the records of them coming, with their wives and the records are so sparse we don’t have too many.
SARA: Why did Fort Victoria start?
BRUCE: Fort Victoria, why did it start? It was close to the time of the international boundary when they had to settle that, because this area was in dispute for a number of years. From 1818 and they had to establish a final boundary. And as a matter of caution, to secure southern Vancouver Island because originally, I believe the US congress had drawn a line right through Vancouver Island and cut off the southern part on what they had desired to have as the international boundary, HBC moved up into the area and established a post which is now Victoria and under them it was Fort Victoria.
SARA: They were trying to keep their boundary?
BRUCE: It was essentially to establish a foothold in that area, so they could secure southern Vancouver Island.
JEAN: After Fort Victoria was established, three years later in 1846 you had the international boundary settlement. And the HBC even though it continued to have some rights to its property south of the border in the Oregon and Washington states, it needed a fur headquarters and the headquarters had been Fort Vancouver and it had moved north to Fort Victoria, so once you have the boundary settlement in 1846, Fort Victoria grows in importance, as the headquarters of the HBC in the Pacific Northwest.
SARA: I want to ask about relations among Europeans, Hawaiians and native peoples. Could you first explain First Nations?
JEAN: For an American audience, First Nations is not a very useful word. For an American audience the use of First Nations can be a dangerous word. It’s the word aboriginal people in Canada use for themselves, but I’m reminded of a story of a black student from the University of Washington who came to see me about the possibility of doing graduate work and in the middle of a conversation an aboriginal woman from Canada came into the office and I introduced them and he said
TRACK 5 – 10:04
Who are you and she said I’m so and so and Jan says well, I’m First Nations. And the young black woman just stiffened up and she said Oh dear oh dear. And I said why are you saying oh dear oh dear? And she said is that like Aryan nation? I don’t know if I should be talking to you. So it’s a word which if you think about it, First Nations, has difficulty in being exported wide distances.
SARA: So about the relationships…
BRUCE: Early on there seemed to be a great deal of respect between the fur traders and the Hawaiians because they were very useful to each other. Early on the relationship between the Hawaiians and the fur traders was rather cordial. They seemed to get along; they seemed to respect each other. They had their own areas of work and they fulfilled these functions. And they would come to the rescue of each other if necessary and this was important in those days. And they depended on each other for survival. So there was, I’m just guessing from the records, there seemed to be a certain amount of affection on both sides. There wasn’t necessarily discrimination like we seem to think it these days, but there was a certain dependency.
SARA: And what about with the native people?
BRUCE: That’s interesting. At times there was suspicion but at times they did couple with native people and had families so there was a whole range there but they were often used as intermediaries by the traders between the native people and themselves. They were a kind of buffer. That was later on. And they served that function fairly well.
JEAN: My sense is Hawaiians treated aboriginal men and aboriginal women very differently. The people in charge of the fur trade, the HBC, used them often in defense positions against aboriginal men but on the other hand they had families with aboriginal women. And in doing that they were no different than virtually everyone else in the fur trade, whether you were there from Scotland, whether you were there from French Canada, whether you were there from England. If you were in the fur trade for any length of time, it’s almost certain that you would have a family with a local native woman. And at some point you might move on or the woman would decide she was going to move on because these are women who were equally tough, but you don’t distinguish how the Hawaiians behaved toward native women from how anyone in the fur trade behaved toward native women.
SARA: Some stories. Maria’s father’s story. Also, if there are some in your book.
JEAN: Many of the men in the fur trade who came from Hawaii are very little known. We have their names in the records and not much else. And one of the men in this category is a man called Mahoi who has a woman, an aboriginal wife, has a daughter called Maria born sometime in the 1850s. Now, how we know about a daughter like this is very often through the recollection of the family and through baptismal records, through marriage records. And Maria arrives out of obscurity when her first child by a sea captain out of Maine via California is baptized in 1871 and from that, from these records which are very small in themselves but are very important, we know about her parentage, we know about herself, she was about fifteen or sixteen at the time. We know that the man she had partnered with was in his late twenties, and there was often this big age differential for most similar marriages. And we know where she came from, where her partner came from. And it’s from these tiny pieces of information that we’ve been able to put together stories of a considerable number of Hawaiians who had families with aboriginal women. Or in some cases had families with half-Hawaiian daughters of earlier liaisons of Hawaiian men and local women.
JEAN: William Taiwai. The one who goes berserk at Nisqually.
BRUCE: What about the one who deserted? Was there a certain amount of rebellion within the ranks? Of course there was, especially when opportunities presented themselves. For example, at Nisqually when gold was found elsewhere, Fort Nisqually when gold was found elsewhere, some of the Hawaiians did go off and try their luck at gold and some came back and were hired back in again, because most people did not find gold, and the same happened in the California gold rush, some of them went south and returned without gold and were usually let back into the fold because they were dependable people. But they did strike out occasionally.
JEAN: The Hawaiians were not just in the fur trade. Hawaiians were extremely important for the first generation of missionaries who came to the Pacific Northwest. Nearly all the missionaries in the 1830s had Hawaiian help and the reason they had Hawaiian help is very interesting, because they had come supposedly to save aboriginal people in the Pacific Northwest but they didn’t really trust them and if you read what they were saying they weren’t really keen on them. But the Hawaiians were a buffer between places from which they had come, which was Boston, New England, and they were in close contact with their fellow missionaries in the Hawaiian Islands all the time, and with the indigenous people. So you had both Hawaiians of the first generation, but you also had several sons who had been born to Hawaiian men at Fort Vancouver and aboriginal women who then came and in a sense nurtured the missionaries. For instance, Narcissa and Marcus Whitman who became notorious because they managed to get themselves murdered along with a lot of other people in the 1840s, but Narcissa Whitman had a young Hawaiian boy of about 12 who gave her comfort on an everyday level and she was convinced she was going to convert in the way missionaries in new England had converted young Hawaiians. And it’s this young boy who in fact goes and tries to save her daughter when….I want to get the boy, should I get the boy’s name? When Narcissa Whitman, when Marcus and Narcissa Whitman’s young daughter disappears and they look for her frantically around the encampment, it’s this young boy of about twelve who first finds evidence and in fact she has gone into the water and played and drowned, which is what happens. So we read in the missionary history of the US about poor Narcissa Whitman who loses her child, but what we don’t hear is that the person who comforts her is this twelve-year-old half-Hawaiian, half native boy.
SARA: Any other stories?
JEAN: One more. We have to remember the fur trade lasted from 1810 until the 1850s and this meant there was a generation of children of Hawaiian men who were born there, children of aboriginal women who grew up. The HBC was quite good about hiring sons to work for them and it did so with a number of the Hawaiians but if we look at what happened we realize that some of them fit in well and did their job and others didn’t. One of these sons who really couldn’t cope was a son of a Hawaiian called Tai. And this was William. William was working at Fort Nisqually, and he was supposed to be looking at the sheep.
TRACK 6 – 10:04
He was treated as if he was somewhere between the local aboriginal and a Hawaiian and he is increasingly unable to cope. He gets into fights; he loses part of his arm. He escapes for a while to the gold rush and comes back, but eventually he disappears and dies, he drowns. So you can follow through two or three generations in the fur trade. If there had a been a sister with daughters, these daughters were almost always married to young French Canadians or Scots that were working for the fur trade, so they disappear into the edges of settler society in the pacific northwest. Sons and daughters of Hawaiians who worked in the fur trade lived very different lives because of their gender. Young men lived in the fur trade and were carried on whereas young women fled into the edge of settler society in the Pacific Northwest. And there are stories that one reads, and newspaper accounts of having only a glimmer of this identity of being Hawaiian two or three generation back and having family, descendents discovering that yes, this great-grandmother was a half-Hawaiian woman. Which has been increasingly part of this process of discovery that a lot of Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest are discovering. In 1992 there was a reunion of Hawaiians held at Fort Langley on the Frazer River in British Columbia and much to the surprise of the descendent that organized it there was something like two hundred, three hundred people who came, and they came from all over the Pacific Northwest. Throughout the afternoon people would talk about their families, talk about their inheritance, and a number of people found they were related, they were second cousins, third cousins, and their Hawaiian-ness had never been something they could bring to a public place and talk about with real excitement and real beginnings of understanding. Did Larry tell you about the woman from the newspaper in Honolulu who came in the early 1970s?
BRUCE: There was a transition between the maritime fur trade and the land-based fur trade and several Hawaiians who I see on maritime records start appearing on land-based records, so there was probably a certain affinity with the land here once they realized it was a place of employment, and they would reenlist and join up with a land-based fur company like the HBC or the Northwest Company. It would come back again.
JEAN: Can we talk a bit about the differences between the US and Canada after the boundary settlement? The lives of Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest changed once the fur trade went into decline with the boundary settlement in the middle of the 19th century, but it changed very differently on both sides of the border. Oregon was a settler’s society. You had the Oregon Trail, you had the movement to create Oregon as a territory and one of the important elements of this movement was that for people who came from the US was it was going to be a white place. They determined they were not going to be blacks there, there would be no free blacks there and there were also not going to be any civil rights for Hawaiians. So Hawaiians are part of all the anti-black legislation that is put into place in the 1840s. There were misogynation laws that said a white person could not be married to a black person and also could not be married to a Hawaiian and these laws remained in place until the middle of the 20th century. In British Columbia, in part because it began as a British colony, and the HBC was a quasi-British governmental organization, the Hawaiians were always treated with the same civil rights as everyone else was. So the Hawaiians could vote, Hawaiians could own land, and a whole number of them settle on the gulf islands precisely for this purpose. One of the intermediate places of settlement for Hawaiians was on San Juan Island, which was in dispute between Britain and the US. And was finally resolved in the favor of the US in the beginning of the 1970s. And as a consequence a lot of Hawaiians move north to Canada precisely because they wanted to have their civil rights. So it’s not as if they’re these passive kind of individuals. These were men and their families who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their life. They knew what they wanted to do in the Pacific Northwest. They settled on Salt Spring Island which is where Larry bells’ family was. It’s where William Naukana was whose ancestors include the Roland clan, and hundreds of other people who live across British Columbia to the present day.
BRUCE: All I can think of is the Hawaiians with VD…
JEAN: Btu there were more so anyone else. I think there were fewer Hawaiians that had venereal disease than anyone else in the fur trade.
BRUCE: I’ve got 5,600 names in my databank and Hawaiians are part of that and I’m trying to recall just certain stories and I can recall all kinds of stories except the Hawaiians.
JEAN: One other story about Hawaiian individuality that we can talk about for the Americans is John Jacob Astor and Astoria. We’ve got to do the American Thing. That’s why we have a whole chapter on Astor. In the book we have a chapter on Astoria. Astoria is a fascinating phenomenon. It was started by John Jacob Astor in 1810, 1811, and was the first land-based fur trade in the Pacific Northwest. It’s interesting aspect is that for its labor it depended a good part on Hawaiians. It took a gamble. The ships who brought supplies to Astoria stopped at the Hawaiian Islands and each ship picked up Hawaiians. These Hawaiians were the backbone of Astoria for the 42 years of its operation. And because Astoria is so much a part of America there is something like half a dozen first-hand accounts of what happened on a day to day level and we put these six accounts together we discover we can trace what the Hawaiians were doing. They were maintaining the garden, they were doing the hunting, they were doing the fishing. They were keeping that place alive and keeping that place active, which is important when we think about history and we think about the American expansion westward. But when the histories of Astoria have been mentioned do they mention the Hawaiians? If they are mentioned they get a sentence, maybe one word. James Ronda has written the history of Astoria and he has managed to tell the story not seeing the Hawaiians who are doing virtually everything there and the reason we know is because they are all over the accounts. But they are invisible, like they are to so many American historians. Now I’m getting vicious.
BRUCE: Yeah calm down.
JEAN: it’s true. James Ronda is amazing. He can’t see it.
BRUCE: Another thing they did do at Astoria is they became intermediaries. There was often conflict between natives and the fur traders themselves and very often the Hawaiians were put on guard duty. They were sent out as guards to protect the fur traders themselves. They had various jobs. They were in the gardens, they were on guard duty, they were building, they were fishing, they were doing all kinds of things. They were essential to that operation really and they get very little mention for it.
SARA: Anything about Fort Vancouver?
JEAN: The center of fur trade operations in the Pacific Northwest was fort Vancouver, which is now a national historic site in the US, it’s located at Vancouver Washington just across from Portland. Hawaiians were a significant part of the workforce at fort Vancouver. There were 50 to 60 Hawaiians working there alongside French Canadians, alongside people who came from Scotland. And again, as it had been ten, twenty years before at Astoria it was Hawaiians who had been the backbone of everyday labor that sustained fort Vancouver
TRACK 7 – 3:33
From its formation in the early 1820s to the boundary settlement a quarter of a century later. The Hawaiians were so prominent at fort Vancouver that the area where all the workers lived was known as Kanaka Village and Kanaka is the word in the Hawaiian language for ‘person.’ And people from the Hawaiian Islands were often known as kanakas and the location at fort Vancouver was Kanaka Village, which tells us a lot about who was living there and who was prominent on an everyday level. One of the elements of the HBC we have to remember is that regardless of where you were from as an ordinary worker you had no chance to rise in the hierarchy. When you were hired as a laborer, whether you were French, English, Scots, French-Canadian or Hawaiian, you would not become an officer or person in charge, so the fact that Hawaiians never came in charge was not because they were Hawaiians, it was because they were hired as laborers on a two or three year contract and that was the way the company operated regardless of how well you did. Unless you started as an officer or a clerk at age thirteen you were a laborer all your life.
BRUCE: There are occasional variations of that but largely what you say is true. It was in fact a kind of feudal system where people’s stations were fixed and as Jean said if you were Hawaiian or Scot or French-Canadian it didn’t matter, you were fixed.
SARA: List of nationalities working?
BRUCE: The maritime fur trade there was East-Indian lascars who were working there. There were Chinese, there were Africans, there were French, there were Scots, there were English, there were people from Switzerland, there were people from Germany. You name it. There was the odd Italian and of course the Spanish were here as well. In fact some of the Spanish ended up in Hawaii, working there. They left from here and headed down to California and then over to Hawaii. One of the Africans for example he had been a slave and he went down to Hawaii and established himself in Waikiki and set himself up there. He married two women at the same time, I believe they were sisters, and he set up a hospital, so he looked after sick seamen. He set up a racing area for horses. He had a grog shop, he had a dairy, he had gardens. So there was a lot of interaction with various people who worked here at the coast.
TRACK 8 – 10:03
JEAN: If you worked in the fur trade and you had a job as a laborer, you had probably a three-year contract in which you agreed to work and at the end of that you would get your return passage home. So if you agreed to that in Honolulu, in Hawaii, you agreed to be in the Pacific Northwest for three years and you would be returned home. What did you get? You got a yearly wage; you also got board and room. In a sense that you got a place to live, which you probably built yourself, in the way men built Kanaka Village, in whatever style they could scrabble the lumber for. You also got a weekly ration of food. You worked for six days and when you quit work on Saturday you would get so many pounds of potatoes, so many pounds of salmon. Maybe something else, depending on what was available. You might get some flour, you might get some sugar. One of the advantages for the Hawaiians was the cheapest food to give to the workers was often salmon. They were very keen on fish but it was something for a lot of the other workers, particularly from French Canada and Scotland it was an incredibly boring, boring routine. But your life in the fur trade had a certain regulated quality to it and a certain dependability to it over the three years you put yourself.
BRUCE: Speaking of salmon, the HBC established more than just the fur trade, it established fish trading and lumber, etc. one of the exports they sent to Hawaii was salmon and often the salmon would arrive in casks so it was slightly off and they had to spice it up and we believe one of the sources of lomi lomi in Hawaii was the result of this slightly off salmon that arrived in Hawaii that they had to sell so they spiced it up a bit.
JEAN: Kanaka William. We should talk about Kanaka William.
BRUCE: oh, Kanaka William.
JEAN: He’s good. For the Hawaiians who were misbehaving at Fort Vancouver.
BRUCE: Yeah, well one of the Hawaiians that was interesting, who was trained by the missionaries and sent up to Fort Vancouver was…one of the Hawaiians that was of interest was William Kalehelehe who was sent up from Hawaii, had been trained by the missionaries there. And he established a church at fort Vancouver and he used to have services but not everybody cooperated and he had great difficulty getting Hawaiians to come to the services. He eventually stayed on there and was pushed out when the US Army was asserting itself and burning down the villages. They were pulling down his house while he was in it and they used him as an example of what not to do and so the army atoned for its sins and decided not to do that again. Anyway, William came to Victoria which was a natural move, that was its headquarters, and he was employed by the HBC doing a variety of things and even an interpreter for a Hawaiian who had killed his wife, mother and father in law and children and he was an interpreter for that. That was Peter Kokua who did the killing. So William served his function for a number of years. Now Peter Kokua he was an interesting person. He had worked at a couple of other posts and eventually retired to the Nanaimo area and he had drank too much and in a dispute had killed his whole family. And had tried to make an escape. What is interesting is at the inquest the jury who was looking into it pleaded for his life, saying he was not a Christian and shouldn’t be under Christian laws to get a death sentence. Anyway, their appeal didn’t work because he was hanged just outside of Nanaimo for his crimes. In fact there’s a bay named for him out there now.
JEAN: The missionaries from the islands had one of their first activities to try to make everybody in Hawaii literate so they could read the bible, they could come to salvation. And a consequence of this was there was a high level of literacy among the Hawaiians who come to British Columbia, come to Washington and Oregon from the 1830s onward. But Kanaka William who had been the missionary at Fort Vancouver and later at Fort Victoria is one step beyond that because he became a conduit for bringing Hawaiian newspapers. He subscribed to Hawaiian newspapers from Honolulu and they were sent to him in Victoria and then he shared them out every time they came with a number of the other Hawaiians living in Victoria. And we know this because when you look in the Hawaii state archives in Honolulu there are letters that are describing this, which we fortunately were able to have translated. Hawaii was an independent kingdom in the 19th century and they had consuls. There was a Hawaiian consul in Victoria, there was a Hawaiian consul in Port Townsend, which was a large lumbering settlement in Puget Sound in today’s Washington State and there were consuls in other places in the Pacific Northwest. And they provide another glimpse into the lives of Hawaiians because they mainly encounter Hawaiians when they get into trouble but we do see they come as sailors, we see a poor man who is working as a baker in port Townsend in Washington and eventually he becomes incapacitated and can’t work anymore. And so the local folk, this is south of the border so there is a lot of discrimination, they don’t want responsibility for Hawaiians who are comparable to black folk, and they appeal to the consul to give him a passage back to the Hawaiian islands which he finally does get. So it’s not easy to get glimpses of their lives in the Pacific Northwest but there are a range of sources that when put together tell us to a certain extent how people lived their lives.
BRUCE: Another interesting aspect is the number of fur traders that were working on the coast both in the maritime and the land-based fur trade who went to Hawaii, intermarried with Hawaiians and eventually became part of the establishment. A variety of people did. One, John Dominus, was working up here for the maritime fur trade in opposition to the HBC, his son married a person who became eventually queen Liliokalani, who was the last queen. John Young, one of the first settlers down there who was actually taken and held, along with Isaac Davis, both of them spawned children who ended up as members of counsel or the Hawaiian family so there was lasting lineage. And one HBC employee, Mr. Rhodes, went down there and established himself and eventually hi brother ended up as consul here in Victoria.
SARA: Back and forth.
BRUCE: There was back and forth. There was a tremendous amount of movement of integration and not only trade but people movement and people of mixed descent who were coming back and living up here, a mixture of Hawaiians and fur traders.
SARA: Any point where you disagree?
BRUCE: I don’t think so.
JEAN: We come at it from different perspectives and I think our position in the book represents our conversations, it represents a meshing of our perspectives. And I think the exciting thing is we had different windows into Hawaiians in the pacific northwest and we began to bring these together three or four years ago and discovered that as a consequence we could piece together lives over a longer period of time. An interesting example is John Cox who comes from the Hawaiian Islands on Astoria ships in 1810, 1811. He then goes with David Thompson, who is an explorer, back to Montreal. He hops on a ship to go back to the Pacific Northwest, he goes to London, he comes back around the Horn, he comes back to Astoria at about the time the war of 1812 is going on, and then he doesn’t disappear from the records. We find him in the 1820s when he’s one of a group of Hawaiians who are caught stealing some trade goods for their aboriginal wives. Then we find him later on at Fort Vancouver where he’s a pig herd. We have accounts of visiting missionaries who are introduced to Old Cox, as he’s known. His portrait is painted by Paul Kane, who is a very famous Canadian painter, and he finally dies at Fort Vancouver in 1849. so he spends four decades in the pacific northwest and we have no account from his perspective but by putting together these tiny pieces we get a good sense of this man who is a long-term trusted employee who has been essentially to Montréal, he’s been to London, he’s seen the world and he’s decided the pacific northwest is the best for him.
SARA: Anything else?
TRACK 10 – 4:25
JEAN: One of the relative latecomers to the Pacific Northwest was a man called George Kamano, about whom we’ve been able to find quite a bit. He used to tell the story to his family that he’d been shanghaied from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest. We think he probably came with the HBC. Who knows? He could have been shanghaied onto a ship of the HBC. In any case he works off of northern Vancouver Island but then he becomes involved with the Catholic mission up there. He works for the mission on a very remote island off of northern Vancouver Island called Harbledown. And when the mission leaves he, by this time with a local aboriginal woman, just stays on Harbledown Island and he has a family of ten children there. He raises the children, they are a very close family. He is visited by various traders and merchants who go up the coast. We have someone well-known who is collecting Indian artifacts who goes in and talks to him and we have this account. He finally dies in about 1918 but his family is scattered all over British Columbia and the story they take from him is he didn’t want to leave the island, eh was afraid someone would shanghai him like they shanghaied him when he was young, but this time they would take him back to the Hawaiian islands and he didn’t want to go.
BRUCE: The only thing I can add to that is that his wife was often not at home. She was a person of some importance and she was pot latching up and down the coast. Potlatching had a social political significance up and down the coast so she was often absent from home, having her own potlatches. But the family seemed to work and worked very well, so he was part of this whole thing.
SARA: What have you learned? Anything you’ve taken?
JEAN: One of the most important elements we’ve taken from doing research on this book is how you can look at something that seems fairly small, when we got together, we started writing the book, we were writing a book only about a group of men away from home in the pacific northwest and we didn’t think of the implications for the Hawaiian islands themselves. We weren’t aware that these men went back and forth repeatedly in their lives, we weren’t aware that the history of the Hawaiian islands itself as indigenous Hawaiians is usually interpreted is so very, very different and we had something that runs against the grain of American history and Hawaiian history and runs against the notion that the US had to take over Hawaiian island sin 1898 because indigenous Hawaiians were somehow deficient and couldn’t cope for themselves.
BRUCE: What I found interesting was the amount of interaction that went ton between the Hawaiian islands and the pacific northwest and how A, the number of Hawaiians who came up here and how they functioned and B, the amount of people who dropped out of the fur trade and became part of Hawaiian history. And there was a huge amount of interaction that went on and it’s continuing to this day and it’s something we’re not aware of. And this came through when we were writing.
JEAN: The other important element no one has been aware of before is how important Hawaiians were to the first generation of missionaries in the Pacific Northwest. They would not have survived in the early 1830s, 1840s if they had not had Hawaiians. They had Hawaiian cooks, they had Hawaiian houseboys, they had Hawaiians who were nurturing them in every kind of practical, everyday way. if we read about the Oregon trail, we read about the Protestant advance into Oregon, we read about common schooling, whatever kind of history we read about we don’t read about the Hawaiians as an integral part of that. And they were there. They were there on that everyday level.