114th Annual Conference - Pasadena, California
Friday, November 11 - Sunday, November 13, 2016

Militarized Lives and Anti-nuclear Beginnings in Kiana Davenport’s House of Many Gods

Kara Hisatake, University of California, Santa Cruz

Kiana Davenport’s House of Many Gods (2006) takes up the legacy of militarization in the Pacific and Hawai‘i. This paper explores the novel’s interlocking lives and afterlives, of generations and genealogies of families, militarization, and the environment, arguing that it shows a connective sense of the Pacific. 


Kiana Davenport’s House of Many Gods (2006) delves into the environmental nuclear legacy of the Pacific, moving through California, Hawai‘i, and the former USSR’s Chernobyl (now in Ukraine). As a part-Native Hawaiian author, she grounds her novel, like her other work, in Hawai‘i, but her novel is both local and global in its perspective on how nuclear and military legacies affect people and the environment. Davenport’s novel tells the multi-generational story of the Kapakahi family, whose men have a history of serving in the U.S. military. The novel highlights the painful irony of these militarized lives, as many in Hawai‘i serve in or around the U.S. military when it is the U.S. navy who helped to overthrow Queen Lili‘uokalani, last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and the U.S. who illegally occupies much of the land. The novel also explores nuclear afterlives, as the Kapakahi family and others are struck by the environmental pollution through bomb testing and nuclear fallout through cancer, birth defects, and genetic mutation. The novel culminates in moments of connection across cultures—Ukraine and Hawai‘i, with both Russian and Hawaiian characters—as well as the movement in 1970s Hawai‘i to protest military bombings and test sites.


In this paper, I explore Davenport’s House of Many Gods and its fictionalized representation of Hawai‘i’s militarization. I argue that the novel presents the intersections of settler colonialism, militarization, and post-Cold War nuclear legacies at both a local and global level. House of Many Gods grounds itself in Native Hawaiian epistemology to understand how a nuclearized world affects indigenous belonging. As the novel retells the story of 1970s anti-militarization movements aligned with indigenous belonging, I also suggest that the novel articulates an indigenous anti-nuclear sentiment in the twenty-first century that links to larger movements in the Pacific. The Cold War endures; it is what Jodi Kim calls “not only a historical period, but also an epistemology and production of knowledge, and as such it exceeds and outlives its historical eventness.” In this so-called post-Cold War moment, the Cold War lives on, not only in these legacies of radiation and pollution, but also in these legacies of protest and resistance across the Pacific, with the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific movement as one such example. As Hawai‘i is home to U.S. Pacific Command, whose Area of Responsibility is “half of the earth’s surface” and “promot[es] security cooperation, encourage[es] peaceful development, respond[s] to contingencies, deter[s] aggression, and, when necessary, fight[s] to win” (PACOM website) the novel makes clear the dangers associated with the post-Cold War: the U.S. military presences both, as Davenport writes “makes our islands safer” and also “makes us potential victims,” as Hawai‘i and the U.S. territories of the Pacific become the buffer zone for the U.S. continent against weapons from Russia and Asia.