115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Illustration of Houston Wood's “Third Rhetorical Position” in Kānaka Maoli ‘Olelo

Micheline Soong, Hawai'i Pacific University

I examine how Houston Wood, in his 1999 Displacing Natives, anticipates the development of Native Hawaiian scholars occupying the “third rhetorical position” within his analysis--a space that challenges and defies the false dichotomy of the either/or fallacy of colonizer/colonized power relations, by analyzing current examples of “Kānaka Maoli ‘Olelo.” 


I wrote an encyclopedia entry that was published in September 2015 for SAGE and the Association of Asian American Studies that traced the chronology and development of Hawaii's literary history, delineating and clarifying various categories such as Hawai‘i Literature, Hawaiian Literature, and the Literatures of Hawai‘i, etc.

Subsequently, I expanded the encyclopedia entry and presented a paper entitled “The Contested Spaces within the Literatures of Hawai‘i” at the Pacific Journeys: A Conference in World History at the Cross-Roads of the Pacific, held in Honolulu, Hawaii, on February 17, 2017.  While researching and writing that paper, I developed an additional line of inquiry about the current state of indigenous Native Hawaiian scholars whose research and scholarship constitute the further development of the category of writing known as “Kānaka Maoli ‘Olelo” as opposed to “Hawaiian Literature” or “Hawai‘i Literature”.

Picking up where Houston Wood's literary analysis left off in his 1999 work Displacing Natives: The Rhetorical Production of Hawai‘i, my line of inquiry aims to examine the evolution of Native Hawaiian scholarship and creative output as it develops away from the highly critical, racially-charged, post-colonial and mono-rhetorical language represented by Hawaiian scholars and activists such as Haunani Kay Trask beginning in the 1990s, into what Wood describes as a “third rhetorical position” which challenges and defies the false dichotomy of the either/or fallacy of colonizer/ colonized discourse. In examining the current scholarship of up-and-coming Native Hawaiian scholars and writers such as Brandy Nālani McDougall, Noelani Goodyear-Kaopua, and others, I propose that this subsequent generation of indigenous scholars owe their ability to occupy and operate in that “third rhetorical position” due to the effort of the early scholars who fought to establish a foothold in the American intellectual academy with the creation of Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge. I concur with Noenoe K. Silva's thesis in her book The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen: Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History, that this current generation of indigenous Native Hawaiian scholars is nothing new, and that Native Hawaiian intellectualism has deep roots throughout Hawaii's history. I argue that current Native Hawaii scholars are able to simultaneously embrace, reject, and subvert the oppositional power relations and boundaries of Western academic discourse while maintaining their fundamental Native Hawaiian values, beliefs, and practices, in a way that the previous generation was limited in doing.