Aikāne, A Kanaka Maoli Moʻolelo Beyond Queer Theory: Unsettling White Settler Logics and Empowering Indigenous Desires [Dissertation Prospectus]

Aikāne, A Kanaka Maoli Moʻolelo Beyond Queer Theory:

Unsettling White Settler Logics and Empowering Indigenous Desires


Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio



As queer Indigenous theorists have begun to map the relationship between the policing of sexualities and gender with the theft of land and settler colonialism, the lack of theorization of Hawaiian sexuality, its transformation and oppression through multiple waves of settler and missionary influence, is a critical blind spot in contemporary Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) scholarship. Indigenous feminisms are importantly rooted in an intersectional analysis of the proliferation of heteropatriarchy, which marks the intimate relationship between patriarchy, homophobia, and settler colonialism. As such, focusing this project on an analysis of aikāne and mana wahine through Kanaka Maoli literature represents and important intervention into the great indigenous feminism/ Indigenous queer theory conversation. Through a close examination of Kanaka Maoli moʻolelo (Hawaiian literatures, histories and genealogies), this dissertation will bear witness to and amplify the memory of Maoli sexualities and the Maoli imagination, and also argue for their usefulness as tools for challenging and ultimately unseating the “white Settler logics” that continue to confine both Native studies and Native sexualities. By concentrating on the term “aikāne,” this project will also develop a foundation for Kanaka Maoli queer analysis and theory, and seek to add nuance to existing Indigenous queer theories.

            In addition to the theoretical importance of integrating an analysis of Kanaka Maoli gender and sexuality within critiques of settler colonialism and the continued military occupation of Hawai’i, drawing upon these moʻolelo can also offer Kānaka Maoli the opportunity to begin to understand our unique history with regard to sexuality and desire. Debates over the past twenty years about marriage equality in Hawaiʻi have made the need for such research exceedingly apparent.[1] While many Kanaka Maoli Christians have declared that traditional Hawaiian values and same-sex love are incompatible,[2] a handful of Kanaka Maoli scholars have looked to the Hawaiian language archive to refute such homophobic claims (Kuwada 2013; “Ka Leʻa o ke Ola”). A detailed study of aikāne will augment the resources already gathered by these scholars.

In its subject, method, practice, and leo (voice), this project is conceived of as a decolonizing practice, joining the many other voices currently fighting to decolonize Kanaka Maoli moʻolelo and bodies. Since so many of the homophobic assertions that attempt to isolate our queer ʻohana (family, kinship) lack any historical mana (power, credibility, authority)—which is to say they cannot stand in the face of the overwhelming evidence found in our nineteenth and twentieth century nūpepa (Hawaiian language newspapers)—this dissertation must also continue the frustrating work of countering the enduring trend in Hawaiʻi and beyond that dismisses the need to consult Hawaiian language and other archival resources, while at the same time making flattening and ignorant claims about Hawaiian culture, values, and history.


Chapter 1: Historicizing Kanaka Maoli Sexuality at the intersection of LGBT Studies, Queer Theory, Indigenous Theory, and Settler Colonialism

This chapter will begin with a focused overview of current scholarly relationships between queer and Indigenous theory, as articulated by such writers as Chris Finley, Daniel Heath Justice, Mark Rifkin, Qwo-Li Driskill, Andrea Smith, and Scott Morgensen. Such work necessarily engages with the impacts heteropatriarchy, heteropaternalism, the policing of sexuality, and settler colonialism exert on both fields. While a handful of Kanaka Maoli scholars—Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa, Noenoe K. Silva, kuʻualoha hoʻomanawanui, Marie Alohalani Brown, and Noelani Arista—have discussed Hawaiian sexuality in their work, no study has yet situated the attack on Hawaiian sexuality and desire within the machine of settler colonialism that has sustained the longstanding and ongoing appropriation of Hawaiʻi. This dissertation will link the regulating and narrowing of Kanaka Maoli sexuality to that larger process of confining and regulating that defines occupation in Hawaiʻi.

In addition, it is important to acknowledge the specific regional nuances in Indigenous theory in the Pacific. While not engaging primarily with the larger corpus of Pacific sexualities, this dissertation will set its discussions in a Pacific landscape, preparing for later conversations between Pacific peoples about the shared links between the enforced narrowing of our desires and our specific colonial and occupied histories/presents. This project therefore acknowledges its status as part of an ongoing and strengthening discussion that is informing existing and future projects that explore the question of Pacific desires and Colonialism.


Chapter 2: Defining Aikāne[3]: Etymology and Historiography

Although Kanaka Maoli sexuality and desire are expansive, and cannot be restricted to specific relations, this second chapter will examine the term aikāne as a well-recognized flash point for discussions of Hawaiian sexuality, and as a familiar tool for navigating the recorded history of the shifting, highly ideological representations of Kanaka Maoli desire. The rich and varied content of the nūpepa (Hawaiian language newspapers), archival resources—letters, laws, religious tracts and debates, many in ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language)—other historical texts, and translations provide the sources for coming to understand not only what aikāne meant, but what it was said or forced to mean through successive periods of turbulence in Hawaiʻi. Historicizing the use of aikāne reveals the attitudes about Hawaiian sexuality that were expressed, enforced, enjoyed, or hidden from the time of early literacy in the Hawaiian Kingdom, through to the territorial period, and into the ongoing “fake state” period of Hawaiʻi.

I will begin with the Kanaka Maoli moʻolelo printed and preserved in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century Hawaiian-language nūpepa, reading them as a generative source for understanding aikāne, and for recognizing the expansiveness and variety of Kanaka Maoli desire. The presence of a variety of Hiʻiakaikapoliopele materials in the nūpepa (hoʻomanawanui) offers us the opportunity to learn about Kanaka Maoli sexuality from the generations of our kūpuna responsible for preserving these moʻolelo. Kaʻao (story/ literature), mele (songs/ poems), and kanikau (dirge) also serve as sources for the ʻike (knowledges) necessary to unpack the celebration of aikāne. Of particular interest in this moʻolelo are the aikāne relationships between Hiʻiaka and Hōpoe, Hiʻiaka and Wahineʻōmaʻo, and Lohiau and Kauakahiapoa. Other important sources I will examine include are Ke Kaao o Laieikawai: ka Hiwahiwa o Paliuli, Ka Moolelo Hiwahiwa o Kawelo, Ka Moolelo Hawaii no Kamehameha, and Moolelo kaao no Kekuhaupio ke koa kaulana o ke au o Kamehameha ka Nui. In Lāʻieikawai the relationships between the Maile sisters, Lāʻieikawai, and Kahalaomapuana will be the focus, while Kāne aikāne relationships will be central concerns in the moʻolelo about Kamehameha. Beginning with these moʻolelo will allow me to survey aikāne relationships in a variety of materials, and insure that the descriptions and theorizing of aikāne relationships have greater nuance and reach. Together, these particular moʻolelo provide many examples of same sex desire arising at various intersections of gender, age, class and rank that will inform my approach to larger questions about fluidity of Hawaiian desire.


Chapter 3: Defining Aikāne—religious materials and normalizing laws


            To make apparent the intensity of the conflict between Kanaka Maoli desire and certain dimensions of settler ideology, in this chapter I examine how aikāne came to be defined by settler others, and at times, by their converts. By looking at the many editions of the Andrews, Parker, and even later Pukui and Elbert dictionaries, we can begin to uncover the workings of translation as a force for disciplining and sterilizing Hawaiian sexuality. We can also locate the origins and map out the progress of this transforming use of aikāne in the religious commentaries in the nūpepa and Biblical sources. To do this, this chapter focuses on the crucial difference between aikāne as a mark of a particular relationship, as found in the moʻolelo, and as a condemned identity, such LGBTQ, or an act, such as sodomy. I argue that without such reductions of relationships into defining natures or quantifiable actions, aikāne proves far too elusive for Christian commentary to seize upon and deconstruct. This chapter documents how aikāne came to be associated with the “sin” of sodomy, and then deployed in warnings against such sexual “perversions.” But further, through the emergence of the verb “hoʻāikāne,” a set of acts gets stigmatized as what makes someone be an “aikāne”—a classic case of circular reasoning.

This chapter will also address how normalizing laws in the early kingdom period paralleled the policing of sexuality found in religious instruction and published commentary that rewarded Kānaka who converted to modern conventions of sexuality. Any established laws that mention sodomy (moe aikāne) and sexual promiscuity (moe kolohe, hoʻokamakama) will be of interest here, but so too will laws regulating land ownership in relation to nuclear households, voting rights, marriage, and gender specific or exclusionary laws, for they often contain within them settler-conditioned responses to Kanaka Maoli desire.

The question explored in this chapter is therefore how religious instruction and commentary and legal transformations policed sexuality in ways that can be traced through Hawaiʻi’s history as contributing to major shifts in such cultural practices as naming, marriage, desire, and ownership. By examining these intersections, we can see the concrete connections between enforcing heterosexuality as a moral standard and the workings of settler colonialism.


Chapter 4: Re-reflections, Translations, and Hawaiian commentary

And yet, even during the earliest days of these cultural clashes, and even when the early printed dictionaries and religious columns begin to equate aikāne with sodomy and other “perversions,” our moʻolelo and mele often stood in stark resistance, demonstrating the survivance (Vizenor 2008) of Kanaka Maoli aspects of desire during the most hostile of periods. The newspapers were the battleground. Throughout most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, warnings against aikāne relationships and “sodomy” often appeared next to moʻolelo, kanikau, and other articles that celebrated aikāne relationships between makaʻāinana (common peoples), aliʻi (chiefs) and akua (gods). These moʻolelo represent an intentional, substantial, and persistent preservation of Kanaka Maoli sexuality.

Unfortunately, almost immediately after they appeared, and for long afterwards, many of these expansive moʻolelo that celebrate the vastness of Kanaka Maoli sexuality were sanitized and mistranslated for European and American audiences. A careful review of the translations, retellings, English publications, and scholarly editions produced by such writers as Abraham Fornander, Thomas Thrum, William D. Westervelt; by such Hawaiian figures as David Kalākaua and Emma Nakuina; and by Mary Kawena Pukui through her later collaborations with scholars such as E. S. Craighill Handy or Martha Beckwith, will allow us to witness the assimilating and silencing of Kanaka Maoli desire. Important work by scholars such as Noenoe Silva, Puakea Nogelmeier, Tiffany Lani Ing Tsai, and Cristina Bacchilega have begun to unpack the significant impact of these translations culturally and politically. Their contributions will be celebrated and built upon through this study.

A critical task of this chapter is to confront an essentializing binary that fails to challenge and critique appropriately how Kanaka Maoli authors and translators participated in the sanitation of Kanaka Maoli sexuality for a variety of reasons, and in doing so, participated in the proliferation of heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism. Kanaka Maoli Christian intellectuals are of particular interest when studying Kanaka Maoli sexuality and its transformation through the nineteenth century. Nuanced analysis is necessary to unpack the ways these Kānaka selectively appropriated Western and Christian teachings throughout our moʻolelo and nūpepa commentary. By following in the footsteps of scholars such as Kamanakaikalani Beamer, who move beyond fatalistic theorizings of the colonization of Hawaiʻi that portray Kānaka Maoli as helpless victims of history, and instead work towards unpacking how Kānaka Maoli participated and continued to shape their own history, this project works towards honoring and holding accountable Native presence in shaping Hawaiʻi even while being systematically oppressed in many avenues.



Chapter 5: Kanaka Maoli Sexuality in Contemporary Scholarship

This chapter turns to discussions of Kanaka Maoli gender and sexuality in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Texts such as Mary Kawena Pukui’s Nana i ke Kumu, Dr. Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa’s Nā Wahine Kapu: Divine Hawaiian Women, and Dr. kuʻualoha hoʻomanawanui’s Voices of Fire: Reweaving the Literary Lei of Pele and Hiʻiaka provide a scholarly grounding for a recent re-embodying of Hawaiian sexuality in ways that push back against the prevailing descriptions and translations. This chapter is concerned with how contemporary scholars investigate—or at times still misrepresent or ignore—Hawaiian sexuality. Previous scholarship concerning aikāne published by Robert Morris will also provide an important foundation in this chapter for understanding the persistent blindness, even among those who consider themselves sympathetic and expansive, in the analysis of Kanaka Maoli sexualities.

Paying particular attention to the source material used by contemporary scholars when discussing Hawaiian gender and sexuality allows me to track the continuing, though often unnoticed, impact of earlier efforts to discipline Kanaka Maoli sexuality through religious commentary and covert settler colonization in the translations of our moʻolelo. This chapter will also discuss the current political, social, and religious climate for Kanaka Maoli sexuality within occupied Hawaiʻi through contemporary literature and film.[4] The heated debates over marriage equality in Hawaiʻi in 2013 provide a focal point for seeing how enduring colonial attitudes still shape public debate over sexuality and relations of all sorts, and therefore stand as obstacles to articulating a Kanaka Maoli sexuality.



Chapter 6: Aikāne and Queer Indigenous Theory, Beyond Identity

            A major shift in queer theory in the 1990s was away from the study of sexuality exclusively through the lens of identity provided by LGBTQ studies. Because historically Kanaka Maoli sexuality is not articulated in terms of identity, elaborating such a sexuality theory would contribute to strengthening and diversifying queer theory as it continues to move beyond the “politics of identity.” But beyond simply adding discussions of Kanaka Maoli desire to ongoing sexuality studies, such a theory would constitute a response on the ground in Hawaiʻi to prevalent abnormalizing logics of queering Kanaka Maoli sexuality that assume non-heteronormative desires are destructively deviant.

Indigenous queer theorists and allies have also begun to examine in great detail the intersections between settler colonialism, nationhood, and queer theory. Using much of the same language and interventions of Indigenous feminisms, including an engagement with heteropatriarchy and heteropaternalism, Indigenous queer theorists are showing how settler sexualities will be imposed on Indigenous peoples to further the project of colonization. Although these theories have been unpacked in some detail in Chapter 1, in this final chapter I will demonstrate how a Kanaka Maoli (beyond) queer theory can contribute to and even perhaps transform present Indigenous queer critiques.

My two main questions are therefore linked: 1) How can existing Indigenous queer theories help us gain a greater understanding of Hawaiian sexuality? and 2) how could an intimate understanding of Kanaka Maoli sexuality, developed through close readings in the archive, add greater nuance to the growing field of Indigenous queer theory, and add to the ongoing project of Kanaka Maoli scholarship that seeks to re-center Kanaka Maoli theories, methods, and practices, and contributes to decolonizing and nation building efforts.

The goal of this final chapter, and the dissertation as a whole, is therefore to conduct rigorous research into Hawaiian sexuality in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and English sources and commentaries in order to document fully and analyze productively the colonization of Kanaka Maoli desire, and to augment through an informed engagement with gender and sexuality the analysis of settler colonialism, the military occupation of Hawaiʻi, and contemporary Kanaka Maoli political discourse. This dissertation will put sexuality at the center of a shared ongoing analysis of the colonization of Hawaiʻi. An important additional benefit, however, will be its affirmation and reinforcement of a large body of recent work that depends upon and reveals the necessity of a fully informed engagement with the wealth of ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi resources, and that participates in the continued shift toward a more ethical research practice in Hawaiʻi.

Finally, this project is meant to reveal and celebrate resistance to heteropatriarchy through embodying Kanaka Maoli desire. These chapters will amplify those moments when Hawaiian sexuality is neither forgotten nor constrained by the grip of colonization. Here I will highlight and explore the survivance of Kanaka Maoli literature through the analysis of contemporary Kanaka Maoli writing (moʻolelo, poetry, music, etc) with particular focus on Kanaka Maoli desire in contemporary Kanaka Maoli literature. Writers such as Noʻu Revilla, Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada, Kealiʻi McKenzie and Lisa Kahaleʻole Chang Hall have joined the ranks of radical Native “queers” seeking to “lead their peoples in reimagining modes of embodiment, desire, and collectivity and defy their queered encounters with settler colonialism.” This literature continues to thrive as do our desires, and this dissertation can contribute to building a historicized literary foundation under the naʻau of what Kanaka Maoli writers are already embodying today through their work. Ultimately this dissertation and the contemporary survivance of Kanaka Maoli literature declares that a future celebration of Hawaiian sexuality can help redefine “models of nationhood” that will not be founded on the “heteronormative, patriarchal, nuclear family,” but produce instead “national belonging that, rather than a commitment to national chauvinism and insularity, performs creative solidarities and unlikely alliances in pursuit of Indigenous decolonization” (Morgensen, 25).

This text, an affirmation of Kanaka Maoli desire, is therefore offered as a gesture of aloha to my lāhui (nation), as we continue to struggle to regain our kuleana (responsibility, privilege, authority) towards our lands, resources, ʻike, and bodies.


[1]. See for more information on Hawaiʻi’s marriage equality debate results.


[3] Other terms, such as māhū, will be investigated; however, aikāne will serve as the central organizing term.

[4] Ke Kulana he Māhū: Remembering a Sense of Place, Kumu Hina