Knowledge and Power in the Pacific: Native Hawaiian Exploration in an Age of Empire


How can we understand the Pacific, Asia, and the broader world from indigenous perspectives–from the perspective of the people that Westerners claimed to “discover”? This paper turns the tables on stories of exploration by tracing the travels of two Native Hawaiians who traveled the Pacific in the late eighteenth century. Ka Wahine (a commoner and lady’s maid) and Kaʻiana (a male high chief who took an English captain as his lover) traveled to Macao, the Philippines, Pelau, the Aleutians, and Vancouver Island. Their motives, their experiences, and the ways they put their knowledge to use shed light on how knowledge and power were at play in the age of exploration. Placing indigenous exploration at the center of study opens up a much more sophisticated understanding of the forces at play in shaping the modern world and colonial spaces—especially if we use sources in indigenous languages by indigenous people.

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