“I found it harder to part with this spot than any other, for I believe the happiest moments of my very happy visit have been spent at this place.” (Crawford 111)
Minnie Leola Crawford was a young woman from the state of Washington who visited Hawaii in the early 20th century. During her trip, she wrote 22 letters to her mother in which she described all the adventures she had experienced. Crawford’s letters were first read by her friends who were very fond of them and “insisted on their publication” (Whitcomb Hassell 13). In 1913, Howard D. Berrett published the letters in the book “Seven Weeks in Hawaii by an American Girl” with plenty of photographs attached, taken by the author herself (Davis 83, Whitcomb Hassell 13).
Thirteen years before Crawford’s visit, Hawaii had officially become part of the US territory. During the 19th century, the American idea of increasing its influence in the Pacific and Caribbean developed (Poblete 693). Expansionists wanted “to make the best use of the lands, waters, flora, fauna and people they encountered” (ibid.). In 1810 however, the kingdom of Hawaii was founded (Poblete 697).
The first major European settlement in Hawaii, which was established in 1820, started the spread of the Christian belief on the islands (Poblete 698). The settlers were quickly accepted by the royal family, in particular by Queen Ka’ahumanu, resulting in long-lasting interaction between Hawaii and the United States (ibid.). From this day on, the American influence on Hawaii constantly increased. Native Hawaiians and the United States built economic relations and Hawaii “became the main source for American sugar production in the postbellum era” (ibid.).
Moreover, the United States started collecting plenty of uninhabited islands located in the Pacific to build an American empire (Immerwahr 63). At the same time, Americans started missionary work which led to a slow exchange of Hawaiian tradition with “Western structures and ideals, such as capitalism and a constitutional system” (Poblete 698). The Hawaiian language, previously having been passed on by music, was now expressed in Western characters (ibid.). The Hawaiian government soon tried to adapt to the new standards to be considered “an equally civilized nation” (ibid.).
Despite these efforts, the reigning Queen Lili´uokalani was overthrown by the Americans in 1893 and Hawaii was declared a republic of the United States (Poblete 698). Just five years later, in 1898, Hawaii was forcefully annexed (Poblete 699) and officially became US territory in 1900 (ibid.).
During her trip to Hawaii Crawford shows awareness of the US expansionism but tries to distance herself from the concept of American exceptionalism by making an effort to respectfully interact with the Hawaiians and their culture.
The influence of US expansionism can clearly be seen in the second to last letter Crawford wrote to her mother, approaching the end of her journey. As several-day long festivals were held in Honolulu, Crawford, by using an antonomasia, describes the American flag floating above the mass of people who came from all over the world to celebrate (Crawford 104). While she names Japanese, Filipinos, and Portuguese as a huge part next to the native population, the “Stars and Stripes” (Crawford 103) are literally standing above these nations.
Furthermore, Crawford witnessed the “Parade of Stars” (Crawford 107). During that event the 48 American states were presented in a grand festive – Alaska and Hawaii not yet officially being declared states, however, the intention seems obvious after the annexation of the island. Here again, Crawford uses the rhetorical figure of antonomasia to describe the parade (ibid.).
While the United States was keen on broadening its control over the small nation, Crawford as well cannot completely let go of westernized standards despite her best attempts. By writing about her initial expectations of her housing being of lesser quality than “first-class hotel[s] on the mainland” (Crawford 19) and describing the Hula-dance as “neither graceful nor pretty” (Crawford 48), the reader gets the impression that Crawford, after all, is still American and deeply influenced by her own culture and indirectly compares Hawaii to the United States.
However, instead of judging, Crawford has the visible habit of never actually using negative expressions but writing in neutral terms. While explaining the fruits she ate that day to her mother she describes them as having “a flavor unknown to the commercial product” (Crawford 35) and therefore comparing them in a very unusual way.
Furthermore, she shows a great open-mindedness in the majority of her texts: Often repeated words on several occasions consist of terms like “foreign” (Crawford 41), “different” (Crawford 54), “new” (Crawford 64), and “interesting” (Crawford 74). Moreover, Crawford uses an overwhelming amount of positively connotated adjectives and emotional language, such as “happiest” (Crawford 111), which show her positivity and enjoyment during her stay.
In addition, the author includes plenty of Hawaiian words to describe her environment in the Indigenous language. When writing about the gala days, she mentions that there was a “luau” (Crawford 104) taking place nearby the ex-Queen’s residence, meaning there was a public celebration. The last page of her book also contains a listing of Hawaiian vocabulary and English translations (Crawford 113). By including the Indigenous language, Crawford tries to adapt parts of the Hawaiian culture and pays respect to the people’s lives on the islands.
The gala days in her last letters as well were written in full enjoyment, nevertheless, they show us a rare occasion of Crawford talking about the political situation at her time. While she describes the harmony between the shown American standards and the native population, she talks about the latter as “happy, light-hearted people whose land it really is” (Crawford 108). As she is indirectly criticizing the forced annexation of Hawaii and the following impact on their land and culture, Crawford just writes in the best of ways about the Hawaiians themselves.
In her last letter as well, Crawford clearly criticizes the way Americans treated the island and its people: “Watching this happy, nature-loving people in their beautiful setting […] I can but wonder that a people writing and speaking so much on conservation of natural beauties should seek to make Hawaii less Hawaiian” (Crawford 111). After her well-expected positive description of the people, she talks about Americans as being proud of their nature and culture in the same way, as they write and talk about conserving their own land. Due to the pretty close comparison of these two nations with the same goal – persevering their nation – she is questioning the US intention of controlling Hawaii even though she is obviously aware of American history.
Hereby, it is important to mention that Crawford never actually names certain historical or political events, as her mother and she herself seem to be educated about current events and the letters were never intended to be published in the first place. These rare indications are even more surprising considering these factors. Due to these circumstances we also get to read Crawford’s unfiltered opinions without any hidden intentions.
Thanks to Crawford´s detailed descriptions of Hawaii’s history and culture, not only her mother but the readers, in general, get a deep insight into the population, events and Crawford´s perception of them and her time in Hawaii. It becomes obvious that she takes the time to get to know Hawaii in detail, e.g., the vocabulary, names, and historical events. In all of her letters, there are native terms and explanations which implicate her interest and passion for the island.
After all, she “found it harder to part with this spot than any other” (Crawford 111) because she spent “the happiest moment of [her] very happy visit” (ibid.) on the Hawaiian beach. She again expresses her feelings by including a rhetorical figure, in this case a figura etymologica. With those words Crawford ended her very last letter before returning to the US, proving that, while falling back into clichés from time to time, she was not only deeply enjoying her stay. Furthermore, she acted in a very respectful manner in front of the Hawaiians and their land despite the political situation she is even able to criticize.
Crawford, Minnie Leola. Seven Weeks in Hawaii by an American Girl. John J. Newbegin, 1913. Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/sevenweeksinhawa00craw/page/n7/mode/2up.
Davis, David. Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku. Nebraska UP, 2015. Ebook central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ulbhalleebooks/detail.action?docID=3571060.
Immerwahr, Daniel. “The Territorial Empire” The Cambridge History of American and the World: Volume 3: 1900–1945, 2021, pp. 63–74. Cambridge UP, doi: 10.1017/9781108297530.004
Poblete, JoAnna. “The American Island Empire: US Expansionism in the Pacific and the Caribbean.” The Cambridge History of America and the World: Volume 2: 1812– 1900, 2022, pp. 693–715. Cambridge UP, doi: 10.1017/9781108297479.
Whitcomb Hassell, Susan. A hundred and sixty books by Washington authors, some other writers who are contributors to periodical literature, lines worth knowing by heart. Lowman and Hanford Co, 1916. Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/hundredsixtybook00hassrich/page/n5/mode/2up.
“Hawaii state administrative map”, Vidani.com – maps of the world, http://www.vidiani.com/administrative-map-of-hawaii-state/. (accessed 30.06.2022)
Crawford, Minnie Leola. XX “Seven Weeks in Hawaii by an American girl”, p.112.