Video: “The Polynesian Problem”: Western Studies of Pacific Islander Origins


“What is a Polynesian?” This is a question with a long and troubling history embedded in settler colonialism. From Europeans’ earliest encounters with the Pacific, White Europeans expressed a fascination and partial identification with the racial origins of Polynesians. Polynesians seemed to represent “natural man” in the purest state. In nineteenth- and early twentieth-century social-scientific studies, Polynesian origins became the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. Physical anthropologists such as Louis R. Sullivan declared Polynesians to be conditionally Caucasian. Maile Arvin discusses this history from a Native Hawaiian feminist perspective, attentive to the ways Polynesians have challenged and appropriated such ideas.

Related exhibition: Uncovering Pacific Pasts

Presented March 17, 2021 by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology and the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture.

About the Speaker


Dr. Maile Arvin is Assistant Professor of History and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She is a Native Hawaiian feminist scholar who works on issues of race, gender, science, and colonialism in Hawai‘i and the broader Pacific. She is the author of Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawaiʻi and Oceania (Duke University Press, 2019) 


Good evening. My name is Jane Pickering, and I am the director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. And I'm delighted to welcome you to tonight's lecture, sponsored by the Peabody Museum and the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. 

I'd like to start by acknowledging that the museum at Harvard and the collections it stewards there are located on the traditional territory of the Massachusett people, and we strive to honor this relationship in ways that are authentic and collaborative. Since the museum is currently closed, I come to you this evening from the Connecticut shoreline, the traditional lands of the Quinnipiac, or, People of the Long Water Land. 

We're delighted this evening to have Dr. Maile Arvin with us who will discuss the history of Western studies of Pacific Islander origins from a Native Hawai'ian feminist perspective. But it is now my pleasure to introduce my colleague, Dr. Ingrid Ahlgren, curator of oceanic collections at the Peabody Museum, who will introduce our speaker. Thank you. 

Thank you, Jane, and good evening, everyone. Again, as Jane stated, my name is Ingrid Ahlgren. I am the curator for the oceanic collections at the Peabody Museum at Harvard. And I myself am calling in this evening from Somerville, Massachusetts, from my home here, which is situated, as is the museum, on the homelands of the Massachusett tribe, a group of people that has continuously persevered through centuries of conflict and change. I want to pay my respects to their elders past, present, and becoming. And I want to encourage all of you that are watching and listening to investigate the histories of the lands that you are currently on. 

I am truly honored and delighted to be able to bring an exciting program to the public here tonight with Dr. Maile Arvin, with her work and a message that I think is an important one to hear. Dr. Maile Arvin is an assistant professor of history and gender studies at the University of Utah. She is a Native Hawai'ian feminist scholar who works on issues of race, gender, science, and colonialism in Hawai'i and the broader Pacific. 

At the University of Utah, she is co-director of the Pacific Islands Studies. Her book, Possessing Polynesians-- The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai'i and Oceania, was published in 2019 with Duke University Press. And this year, in 2021, the book won an honorable mention for best book in history by the Association for Asian-American Studies. She is also published in the journals Meridians, American Quarterly, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, The Scholar and Feminist, and Feminist Formations, as well as the nonprofit independent news site Truthout. 

Now, on a more personal note, Dr. Arvin's work, as presented in her book, Possessing Polynesians, and particularly the work concerning the need to continue to critically untangle and call out anthropology's institutional and disciplinary histories regarding the inventions of race, came out at a critical time for my own work at the Peabody Museum. It's been about a year ago now, a year and a few days, just days before the pandemic closed the museum's doors, thanks to the pandemic, we had just launched-- myself and co-curator, Dr. Tristan Jones, based out of the Australian National University-- an exhibit called Uncovering Pacific Pasts-- Harvard's Early Endeavors in Oceanic Anthropology. 

And this exhibit was part of a global set of exhibitions across the world. Over 30 institutions, museums, cultural institutions, were asked to reflect on their own institution's legacy in the development of the professionalization of anthropology and archaeology specific to the Pacific and in the Pacific region. And we have to remember that this discipline essentially started in that region-- and perhaps Maile will touch on this-- started with the wild speculations of Europeans and Americans, thinkers and explorers, on the origins of Pacific Islanders. Where did they come from? How did they get there? 

And these were essentially racially motivated ideas. And their early speculations has spawned and formed the foundations of centuries of theories and methodologies that continue to influence the discipline today. And for Harvard, it became clear in developing this exhibit, Uncovering Pacific Pasts, that the museum and Harvard University has had an integral role in the development of the field, but also the popularity and kind of the scientific validation of many of these ideas. And so by tracing the intellectual history and Harvard's role specifically, we attempt to really critically self-reflect and uncover some of these racially motivated narratives and hopefully make space for them to be countered. 

Now, as I've mentioned to Maile while reading her book, I was struck, but not really surprised, by how many names in this material were so familiar to me, in her exploration on the scholarship of race in the Pacific. They were students, they were professors, and other people that had strong ties to Harvard. So they were all familiar to me and resonating. And my copy of her book became littered with circles and arrows and Post-it notes, tracing the individuals that she's talking about back to the very people that I had been talking about in the exhibit. Essentially, there's this genealogy of ideas and people that have been pivotal in this racial logic and scientific obsession with the region. 

And so this book and the exhibit complement each other in some ways. But Maile's work really drills down and expands upon these ideas. And she demonstrates why, looking back on these racist histories that have often been dismissed as pseudoscience or no longer accepted ideas of the past-- you know, that was the early days of science-- she demonstrates that their study is absolutely critical and remains relevant for today. Much of this early thinking, which has been validated, it's been propped up by the Western ideals in the name of science, curiosity, knowledge, universal humanity, these ideas and this thinking still haunts, as she calls it, indigenous peoples today in many ways. 

And so there's a lot to take away from this work. And it has implications, by my estimations, beyond Polynesia and the region of Oceania. And as a scholar myself, that's the product of this academic genealogy who works for an institution that benefited from this thinking, I'm excited about the opportunity to continue to learn, listen, and discuss this evening. And so with that, I am absolutely delighted to introduce you to Dr. Maile Arvin. 

Thank you so much, Ingrid, for that warm introduction. And thank you to Jane and Diana and Chloe behind the scenes for running this event. It's really my pleasure to be here. And I am calling in from Salt Lake City. And the land here is the land of the Ute, the Goshute, the Piute, and the Shoshone people. 

I do have a couple of slides put together to help illustrate parts of the things that I'm going to be talking about today. So hopefully you all can see that now. But really, I want to start today by talking a little bit about how the book came to be and then share some more details from the book related to the two main theories that I talk about in it. Namely, the logic of possession through whiteness and regenerative refusals. 

So there are really many genealogies to how I came to write this book. But I'll start by sharing a little bit about the book's personal and academic origins. So my mom grew up in Waimanalo. She lives in Waimanalo now, which is a small, largely native Hawai'ian town on the windward side of Oahu. And she grew up on a Hawai'ian homestead that was leased to her parents by the territory of Hawai'i in the early 1950s. And so that house, by the time that I came to know it as a child, was always full of cousins and aunties and uncles. 

And as beloved as that house was, as I got older, I also noted that many people in my family struggle to have a permanent secure housing in Hawai'i, because of the high cost of living in Hawai'i. And my tutu's modest house was not large enough to accommodate all of them. I also came to understand that it was unlikely that most of the other people in my family would ever receive their own Hawai'ian homestead, because of the notoriously long waiting list on which people still regularly die before ever actually receiving a homestead, as well as the blood quantum requirement. That requirement, which was enshrined in law the 1920 Hawai'ian Homes Commission Act and is still in force today with very few amendments, states that a person must have no less than one half part Hawai'ian blood in order to be eligible to lease a Hawai'ian homestead. 

So this 50% requirement needs to be proven through historical documentation, such as notations of a person's race on their birth certificate, which can often be elusive or flawed. In 2008, Kehaulne Kauanui published a book, Hawai'ian Blood, about the legal history of this Hawai'ian Homes Commission Act. And it provides a really essential account of the ways that native Hawai'ians fought for rights to land that had been illegally seized through the 1893 overthrow of the Hawai'ian kingdom. Due to the influence of the big five sugar corporations, which did not want to concede any land to native Hawai'ians, the homestead program ensured that a minimal number of lands deem unsuitable for plantations would be leased to, but never owned by, Native Hawai'ians. And it limited those lands to those who were, quote, "no less than one half part Hawai'ian." 

So while Kauanui's book illuminates much about the legal and political construction of the 50% blood quantum rule and its legacies for Native Hawai'ians, I found myself desiring a deeper understanding of the idea of blood quantum itself and the history of the racialization of Native Hawai'ians. In graduate school, one my advisors was Denise Ferreira da Silva whose mentorship and challenging texts towards a global idea of race pushed me to seek out genealogies of race in Hawai'i and the broader history of social scientific knowledge production about the broader Pacific. 

Such work was needed, I felt in part, because there is a popular and enduring myth that Hawai'i has no racism. That it is a multicultural and multiracial melting pot where diverse ethnicities are universally celebrated. Though Hawai'i is certainly more racially diverse than many parts of the continental United States, and there are really important alliances made across racial groups in Hawai'i, white supremacy and settler colonialism have embedded racial hierarchy and violence within the islands for a very long time. As I began to do the research for this project, I found that this myth of racial harmony in Hawai'i was tied in significant ways to an older racial fiction, namely the idea that Polynesians are almost white. 

At first, I could not explain white settlers designating Polynesians as almost white. But I saw it recurring so often across social scientific writings from the 19th and early 20th centuries that I was really forced to confront it. And ultimately, both myths, that of Hawai'i's racial harmony and of Polynesians supposed proximity to whiteness, I came to see are not just products of benign ignorance, but the intentional outcomes of settler colonial science that sought to naturalize white supremacy and indigenous dispossession in the Pacific Islands. In other words, social scientific questions about race in the Pacific Islands have never been innocent or apolitical, but are deeply implicated in creating and shaping racial categories that allow the structure of settler colonialism to operate. 

So with this project, I also wanted to know how Native Hawai'ians and other Polynesians worked with and against such racial knowledge. This led me to analyze a diversity of responses across time and medium, from the early 20th century Maori anthropologists, Te Rangi Hiroa-- his own writings about the caucasoid nature of Polynesians-- all the way to contemporary Native Hawai'ian testimonies about the role of blood quantum today. 

What ties these different responses to settler colonial racialization together for me is an indigenous methodology that I call regenerative refusal. Regenerative refusals, as I'll talk more about later, are actions that seek to restore balance in life to indigenous communities through clear rejections of settler colonial modes of being. Analyzing such refusals, alongside the history and present of what I call the settler colonial logic of possession through whiteness, was important to my research both personally, because it gave me some relief and hope as I slog through these very racist social scientific texts, but also because it demonstrated consistently that settler colonial logics have never gone uncontested. 

So with that, let me jump into the book. So really, at its heart, the book is a critical history of the question, what is a Polynesian? This question is one that I've encountered personally many times in my life. And sometimes the question is just kind of geographical. Sometimes Polynesia is misunderstood as referring solely to French Polynesia, which is the French territory that includes Tahiti, rather than the broader region that encompasses over 1,000 islands and more than a dozen independent countries or territories. 

Others are unsure, after learning that I'm Native Hawai'ian, which is a subset of Polynesian, what that means exactly. Some insist that means part Asian. Or, what percentage of Hawai'ian are you? But aren't all the Natives extinct? That I, like many Native Hawai'ians and multiracial, with Chinese and haole, or white, ancestry, as well, often seems prove to them that their suspicions about Hawai'ian extinction are correct, however long I might spend explaining why such notions are both false and harmful. 

So there's a really long history to such questions and the attendant proprietary sense that many white Americans in particular display when they decide that my answers are not sufficient and that they actually already know what a Polynesian or Native Hawai'ian is. Indeed, since the earliest encounters between Europeans and indigenous Pacific Islanders, white Europeans and later, white Americans, express a fascination and partial identification with the racial origins of Polynesians. So to British captain James Cook and others, Polynesians seem to represent so-called natural man in his purest state. So European painters, such as William Hodges-- you can see his painting, "Tahiti Revisted," here on this slide-- he depicted Tahitian women in the style of classical Grecian bathers in this 1776 painting. And it's a little hard to see probably on your screens, but there are small figures in the lower right hand corner that are supposed to be Tahitian women, but look very much like classical Greek figures. 

So in later social scientific studies from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century, such ideas about the racial origins and classification of Polynesians became the subject of intense scrutiny and debate. So while these theories shifted over time, the enduring logic that Polynesians could be understood as more natural or classical or otherwise primitive versions of white civilizations remained throughout changes in social scientific trends. This logic really persists to this day, from the daily exotification of light-skinned Hawai'ian so-called hula girls as understood as naturally available sexual conquests for visiting white tourists, to complicated matters of legal recognition for Native Hawai'ian people. 

So the central argument of the book is that settler colonialism in Hawai'i, and Polynesia more broadly, is fueled by a logic of possession through whiteness. And the logic of possession through whiteness, both Polynesia the place and Polynesians the people, become exotic, feminized possessions of whiteness. Possessions that never have the power to claim the property of whiteness for themselves. Instead, the Polynesian race is repeatedly positioned as almost white, even literally as descendants of the Aryan race, in such a way that allows white settlers to claim indigeneity in Polynesia, since, according to this logic, whiteness itself is indigenous to Polynesia. 

This logic naturalizes white settler presence in Polynesia and allows white settlers to claim, in various ways, rightful and natural ownership of various parts of Polynesia. Notably, this idea of whiteness, making itself indigenous in order to control and own a place, violently attempts to replace the quite different definition of indigeneity held by many Polynesians and other indigenous peoples, which emphasize relationships and responsibilities to land as an ancestor. 

So today, white social scientists no longer claim that Polynesians are Aryan. Whiteness, like all forms of racial ideologies, has never been a completely stable or unchanging concept. Yet the historical production of Polynesians as very close to whiteness in social science continues to authorize white claims to ownership over indigenous Polynesian lands and identities. This is true despite the fact that whiteness is often unmarked as such in scientific discourse, more often operating through the language of the universal or the so-called good of mankind. 

Nonetheless, as Toni Morrison has written about tropes of Blackness in the writing of white American writers, this quote, "the subject of the dream is the dreamer." So too, the Western racial construction of Polynesians, from the 19th and 20th centuries, reflects this self-referential concerns of the West and white anxieties over their own shifting definitions of whiteness and humanity. 

And so while whiteness is commonly the name referent in these studies that I'm looking at, anti Blackness is also always a significant part of the Western construction of the Polynesian race as almost white. Like indigeneity, Blackness is so often simultaneously invisible and hyper visible. So ideas about Polynesia being almost white were always formed in distinction to ideas about Melanesians being Black. 

And so this is another map of the region. It actually comes from Te Rangi Hiroa's work in the 1930s. He was that Maori anthropologist that I mentioned before. And this map is laying out some of his theories about where Polynesians came from. And so you can kind of see the different routes mapped out, some with big question marks. He didn't really think Polynesians came from Peru, for example. But Te Rangi Hiroa actually really believed that Polynesians came through from Asia through Micronesia into Polynesia, but that Polynesians had come through Micronesia before it was settled by Micronesians. And so there was no ancestral racial mixing between Polynesians and Micronesians. And that there was definitely no racial mixing with Melanesians. 

So Melanesia is this distinct oceanic region west of Polynesia and south of Micronesia. And it includes the present day countries of Papua New Guinea, West Papua, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, or Kanak, and Fiji. And imperial and settler images of Melanesians projected fears about savage, dark-skinned cannibals and were used to justify practices of kidnapping and forced labor. Blackness, as understood in the continental US in reference to African-Americans, also, at times, played a significant role in racial discourses in Oceania, especially in Hawai'i and other parts of the Pacific where the US had power. 

So for example, in the period surrounding the overthrow of the Hawai'ian kingdom in 1893, US media repeatedly portrayed King Kalakaua and Queen Lili'uokalani as pickaninnies, with the same tropes that they would portray pickaninnies, and spread rumors about them having African-American ancestry in order to discredit them as legitimate rulers. There's a lot we could say about these cartoons, but this is just to give you an idea. 

Such racist images were enabled by discourses about Polynesians' proximity to whiteness, rather than being a break from them. For whiteness, in relation to Polynesians, always remained a question and a problem, despite accumulating social scientific knowledge over decades declaring various definitive answers. The question, what is a Polynesian, was always implicitly or explicitly a question about whether Polynesians were white or black. White settlers wanted Polynesians to be whiter, because it suited their own claims of belonging to Polynesia, while it also soothed colonizers racial anxieties about those that they dispossessed. 

This book, therefore, analyzes how western fears about Polynesian Blackness, through ancestral or more recent relationships with Melanesians and African-Americans, haunts the logic of possession through whiteness in deep and complex ways. These fears about Polynesians' potential proximity to Blackness are also always wrapped up in fears about Polynesian indigeneity threatening and undercutting the claims to indigeneity power and the resources made by white settlers in Polynesia. 

So overall, Possession Polynesians investigates narratives about Polynesian whiteness, not to reveal truths about Polynesians per se, but to expose the foundations of settler colonial power in a possessive form of whiteness that must be divorced of its claims to indigeneity on the path to decolonization. My goal is not to provide a more so-called appropriate racial classification for Polynesians, but to show how racial knowledge, which is never stable but often shifting, has been and continues to be central to settler colonialism in Polynesia. 

In this sense, the book is a critical genealogy of whiteness in Polynesia more than it is a history of Polynesian-ness as self-determined by Polynesian peoples. Yet, what I show here is the history of how and with what consequences constructions of Polynesian-ness, whiteness, and Blackness have intertwined through enduring settler colonial ideologies and how Polynesians have alternatively accepted and refused them. 

So given the increased but varied usage of settler colonialism as an academic term in recent years, I just want to also briefly note how I defined the concept. So settler colonialism, as a structure of dominance, is particularly set on the exploitation of land. Though never monolithic or unchanging, settler colonialism is a historical and a contemporary phenomenon. Its power usually operates simultaneously through the economy, such as the turning of land and natural resources into profit; the law, such as the imposition of legal political apparatus of a settler nation state that replaces an indigenous form of governance; and through ideology, which means the culturally and morally defined ways of being and knowing, resulting from European post-enlightenment thought. And so I really see what I'm talking about here, with the logic of possession through whiteness, as one strategy that is deployed within the ideological power of settler colonialism, which is often in articulation with, but irreducible to, the economic and juridical forms of governance that also constitute settler colonialism. 

So with that introduction, I'll start by sharing a little bit from my book's second chapter. And really, the first half of the book traces the development of the logic of possession through whiteness through social scientific literature that was referred to as the so-called Polynesian problem. This literature began around the 1830s and continued for at least a century, delving into what was considered the mystery of Polynesians' geographical and racial origins. I look specifically at 19th century ethnology that constructed Polynesians as Aryan, and thus sharing an ancient ancestry with Europeans. Then I look at physical anthropology of the early 20th century, which conditionally classified Polynesians as Caucasian. And then early to mid-20th century sociology, which created the idea of Hawai'i as a racial melting pot, in which the end result of all that racial mixture would be whiteness. 

And I'd be happy to talk more about any of these chapters in the Q&A. But for now, I'm going to just share a bit from the second chapter and this history of physical anthropology. So one of the physical anthropologists that I look at in that chapter is Louis Sullivan who worked in Hawai'i in the 1920s. And he was in Hawai'i in a joint appointment between the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Bishop Museum, which is located in Honolulu, Hawai'i. And Sullivan was hired by both institutions to undertake a so-called definitive investigation of the Polynesian elements in the Hawai'ian population and to direct the production of a collection of photographs and plaster casts of living subjects that would be used in the American Museum of Natural History's exhibition halls. 

The photographs and plaster casts were seen as very vitally important data for the eugenics field. And eugenics, at this time, was a major component of progressivism-- the movement to address long standing social problems through various forms of institutionalization and scientific modernization. So eugenicists' views towards Native Hawai'ians were not necessarily explicitly anti-Hawai'ian or anti-Polynesian. Indeed Louis Sullivan saw himself as something of an advocate for Native Hawai'ians especially for the so-called part Hawai'ians so speaking at the second International Congress of Eugenics in New York City in 1921, Sullivan remarked that, quote, "the part Hawai'ian is biologically a better individual than the full Hawai'ian, more capable of coping with modern conditions of life and civilization." 

Thus, Sullivan championed mixed race native Hawai'ians because, in his view, they were more quickly losing their qualities of their race and indigeneity as they assimilated into modernity. Sullivan believed that racial mixing was a boon to the Native Hawai'ian race, because he believed in so-called hybrid vigor, which is a concept that held that racial mixes were healthier and more well-adjusted than so-called pure Hawai'ians. Sullivan used anthropometric methods to obtain physical data from Native Hawai'ian subjects. And so these methods included measuring the stature or height span, head length and width, anatomical face height, nasal height and width, physiognomic ear length, height, and breadth. And this slide shows you some of those measurements. He even wrote a textbook or kind of manual to help standardize these practices. 

And so in anthropometry, all of these features were compared to the average or common features of other races and used to construct ideal racial types. This is an image from his handbook or manual. And then these are some of the facial casts that Sullivan directed and had displayed at both the American Museum and the 1921 second International Eugenics Congress. 

So each facial cast that you see here was made from live subjects. And they're carefully notated with that person's breakdown of their so-called blood quantum. So some are simply labeled Chinese man, while the Native Hawai'ian subjects had much more detailed fractions, allowing viewers to imagine the effects of racial combinations. So the captions inked across the chest of the 54 facial casts, included, for example, the ones you see here. The first one is Hawai'ian one fourth, white 3/4, woman. The figure in the middle is Hawai'ian 7/8, and Chinese one eighth, man. And the last figure is Hawai'ian one fourth, white one fourth, and Chinese one half, man. So scholar Anne Maxwell has suggested that white American audiences would have viewed these so-called racial type facial casts and other similar photographs as a way to, quote, "predict what would happen if other racial groups were allowed to mix with white Americans and if reversing the sex of the parents for each racial combination made any difference." 

So in addition to producing items for the American Museum's Polynesian Hall, Sullivan also understood his work as pursuing a more refined or complex answer to the classic Polynesian problem. In practice, Sullivan found this work challenging, as he found Polynesians to be what he called a so-called badly mixed population with a wide range of physical characteristics. To account for such differences, Sullivan came to argue that there were so-called two types of Polynesians. He called them the Polynesians of Polynesia. Those are the ones he thought were kind of the true authentic Polynesians, alongside the so-called Indonesians of Polynesia. 

And Sullivan illustrated these types in a 1923 article. And you can see some of the images from that here. Here, he contrasts the Indonesian type in the caption. If you can't read it fully, it says, "he represents the so-called Mongoloid element with Negroid characters." And that is compared to the so-called Polynesian type. And the caption for that one is, "in him, nature seems just to have missed producing a Caucasian." There's a lot more to say about these images, too. But I think maybe just most obviously, if you didn't have these captions, I think it would be quite difficult to make the kind of divisions or characteristics that Sullivan is assigning to these men. 

But in general, we see that Sullivan's creation of one kind of blacker type and one kind of whiter type of Polynesian clearly echoed long-standing social scientific distinctions between so-called Black Melanesians and almost white Polynesians. So Sullivan was arguing that these same Black and white distinctions existed within the Polynesian race itself. To Sullivan then, Polynesians might not be Caucasian, but they were, he argued, a so-called decided step in that direction. Or, they were descendants of Caucasians, perhaps having branched off near the stem. 

So this is really what I'm talking about when I talk about the logic of possession through whiteness. Because this is making a conditional identification between Polynesians and Caucasians that does not attempt to equate Polynesians with true Caucasians. Rather, Polynesians to Sullivan were, quote, "unsuccessful attempts of nature to make a Caucasian." So to him, they had some natural potential to become Caucasian, but it is implied they would not be able to achieve that status without intervention or guidance from other truer Caucasians. Racial mixing between Polynesians and white settlers was therefore viewed favorably by Sullivan, because he saw such mixing as hastening the true whitening of Polynesians and ushering in an undoubtedly white future of Hawai'i as it became more integrated into the United States as a US territory. 

Sullivan's research focused almost exclusively on Hapa haoles, or Native Hawai'ians who also had white ancestry, usually individuals who had lighter skin color and could sometimes pass as white. Of course, Native Hawai'ians mixed not only with haoles, but also other Asian immigrant populations. But scientists like Sullivan encouraged the public to understand mixed race Native Hawai'ians as whitened, no matter what the actual mixture was. Doing so downplayed the salience of racial difference in Hawai'i to white American settlers who remained a demographic minority there, despite wielding a monopoly over political and economic power in the territory. 

So just to acknowledge, a lot of this history is really difficult. It's really racist. And it's often just difficult to wrap your head around the kinds of logics that these social scientists were really deeply invested in. 

So now I'm going to just move to the last part of the talk where I talk more about Polynesians' actual reactions to some of this logics. And so in part two of the book, Possessing Polynesians, I analyze how Polynesians respond to, critique, and co-opt the logic of possession through whiteness in contemporary realms of law, science, and art, through what I term, as I said before, regenerative refusals. Regenerative refusals are actions that seek to restore balance and life to indigenous communities that continue to live with the structures of settler colonialism. 

In dialogue with the theories of other indigenous feminist scholars, including Leanne Simpson, Audra Simpson, and Lani Teves, regenerative refusals are, in my framing, concerned with divesting our communities from racialized and gendered hierarchies. And indigenous feminism seek to draw attention to how settler colonialism is fundamentally a gendered process that relies on the installation of heteropatriarchy to destroy colonized communities' connections to their bodies, to each other, and to the land. Regenerative refusals seek to restore these connections, often through the clear rejection of ongoing colonial ideologies, both imposed upon and sometimes deeply internalized within indigenous communities. So regenerative refusals and my usage are not about a return to exactly what things were like before. They are an ongoing reckoning with settler colonialism, rather than a denial of it. 

So I'm going to share a little bit more about regenerative refusal, as I write about it in chapter six of the book, particularly in relation to contemporary indigenous-specific art and the work of Samoan artist Yuki Kihara whose work graces the cover of my book. Chapter six is about how many contemporary indigenous-specific artists confront audiences with the ongoing violence of the colonial gaze on indigenous bodies. Such art is difficult in scholar Jennifer Doyle's sense in that it requires viewers to witness the colonial ideological production of the Polynesian and questions the viewer's complicity. So I argue that indigenous artists drawing attention to this production is necessary to the larger indigenous project of regeneration, creating and imagining indigenous futures where other relationships and different gazes might be possible. 

So Doyle's analysis of difficulty in contemporary art also resonates with Mohawk scholar Audra Simpson's theorizing of ethnographic refusal in anthropological settings wherein she asks us to consider stops, such as the stops or silences in an interview or other impediments to knowing as expansive in what they do not tell us. Yuki Kihara's work, I argue, embodies refusal in the sense that it subverts viewers' expectations of receiving so-called authentic information about indigenous cultures or indigenous feelings, as well as viewers' understandings that colonialism is a thing of the past, long since settled. 

So for example, Kihara's series, a study of a Samoan savage from 2015, includes a number of photographs, most of which feature a Samoan man being subjected to anthropometric tools that are being held by a white hand that, as you can see here, just kind of juts out of the side of the frame. And you can just see the sleeve of the white lab coat. So these tools explicitly referenced, not just physical anthropology as a field and anthropometry as a more particular kind of methodology, but also specifically the work of Louis Sullivan, that physical anthropologist that I was talking about earlier. 

So the subject of Kihara's study is an embodiment of Maui the Polynesian demigod who slowed the sun and fished up the islands. So like Sullivan's anthropometric photographs, Maui, in Kihara's work, is photographed apparently nude. And unlike Sullivan's work, in Kihara's images, the anthropometric subject seems to glow in warm tones of brown skin that shine against a black backdrop. This warmth contributes to the portrayal of Maui as both human and otherworldly and contrasts with a disembodied white hand, which stands out starkly against the black background. This Maui stares directly at the viewer or in portraits that are oriented in profile directly at the off-screen scientists holding the calipers to measure the size of his nose. Played by the Samoan artist Ioane, his expressions afeared, defiant and annoyed at the probing metallic tools measuring his nose and skull. The tools appear sharp and potentially painful, though Maui's blank resistant expressions betray no signs of being harmed. 

So Maui's countenance reminds viewers that he is a trickster and a shapeshifter who could likely easily escape, not only the anthropologist's calipers, but this bodily human form for another life form. And so in this other piece from the series, which is titled, "Sprinting, it deepens the association with shapeshifting by framing Maui running in a staggered photographic sequence. This futurist influence image, like other works of Kihara's, shows him still nude in progressive actions of sprinting from a crouched start with one knee bent, to a seemingly full sprint where he appears to be running full tilt out of the frame. Most of the figures are staring directly at the viewer, as he takes off with an alert and weary expression, as if he is running away from both the viewer and the anthropologist. 

In the last two figures, Maui has turned his head to look forward and out of the frame, as he perhaps escapes the white settler gaze and the logic of possession through whiteness that Sullivan invested in through such anthropometric studies. By running out of the anthropological frame, Kihara's Maui provides both a powerful rebuke to the violence of settler colonial science and the regenerative alternative history in which Polynesian ancestors get to refuse and frustrate anthropometrists like Sullivan. 

Maui is an Akua, or God, an ancestor to most Polynesian peoples and some Micronesian and Melanesian peoples, too. So by choosing Maui as the imagined subject of settler colonial science, Kihara provides a broad swath of Pacific Islanders a connection to this series and deliberately flaunts the designation of Samoan savage that an anthropologist might use to label Maui. The joke here is on the scientist who does not realize Maui's mana, or power, and by extension, the mana of all indigenous Pacific Islanders. 

Yet the representation of Maui by a Samoan male artist and the series title, "Samoan Savage," also evokes more specific references to Samoan men, as scholar Lisa Uperesa has noted, connecting the series to the evaluation of Samoan men as so-called natural athletes or savage players. Uperesa argues that, quote, "foregrounding their punishing, physical sporting performance may draw the cheers of the crowd in rugby or gridiron football, but it emerges from and remains tethered to racist imaginaries that ultimately continue to reinforce hierarchies, stereotypes, and ceilings based on racialized opportunities in the settler colonial Pacific nations, as well as in the US, UK, and beyond." 

So here again, we really see anti Blackness bleeding through the construction of an ideal white Polynesian race that many actual Polynesians and Polynesian men, in particular, cannot fulfill in real life, as they're often stigmatized and criminalized for their dark skin. Kihara series therefore centers the gendered aspects of settler colonialism and racial anthropometry, in part, by so powerfully focusing on the gendered and racialized body, as she does in her other works as well. 

I think I'll try to wrap up just by saying a few things from the book's conclusion and then really look forward to talking with Ingrid and others about any questions you have. So the refusals that I analyze in part two are not just about voicing dissent, but also about enabling a transformed and liberatory future. Indigenous refusal then is not necessarily limited to a refusal to say something or a refusal to look a certain way. But as Audra Simpson's notion of ethnographic refusal signals a broader refusal to participate in the production of so-called natural authentic indigenous subjects who might be easily apprehended and utilized by Western social scientific knowledge production, Western contemporary art canons, or Western linear history. Regenerative refusals therefore push indigenous and non-indigenous peoples and places into relationships that deeply threaten settler colonial framings of time and space. 

So in refusing settler colonial knowledge production of the Native or the Polynesian, indigenous activists and artists do not just gaze back at the West, but look elsewhere to their own desires for themselves and their people. Regenerative refusals recognize violence and pain, but not to make that the center of indigenous identity. Rather, these refusals highlight the importance of envisioning and enacting different futures that are suffused with more love, humor, connection, and freedom. This is why the energy surrounding the kia'i, or protectors at Mauna Kea, and the powerful Kanaka Maoli testimonies against federal recognition in 2014-- both of those things I talk more about in the book-- was electric, even for those watching and supporting from afar. For even in the face of what seemed to be unwinnable or unchangeable circumstances, in these cases, people dared to refuse and demand a different future. Refusals allow for a blooming of desires beyond the strictures of settler colonialism that pretend to be eternal and unchangeable and beyond the settler assumption that Polynesia and Polynesians are and will always be the possessions of whiteness. 

There's a lot more to say, but I think I'll end there so we can have some time to talk more. So thank you. 

Thank you so much for sharing. I know it must be hard to condense years of work and a book into a 40-minute presentation. And there's so much there. So I really want to recommend to people to pick up the book, because it really is great. It does look like we have a few questions coming in, so I'm just going to dive in. This first one asks, how does the background you describe help explain the current negative stereotypes and discrimination against, quote, "Pacific Islanders" end quote, in Hawai'i and the narrowing of this term in popular usage to refer almost exclusively to Micronesians. 

Thanks for that question. Yes, I think my work has a lot to do with that context that you bring up. And my sense is, especially in Hawai'i, in the last decade or so, Micronesians have been racialized in a way. It's partly an anti Black racialization, that they're understood as the ignoble savages from another part of the Pacific that aren't really supposed to be in Hawai'i. That's all the kind of racist ideology that frames Micronesians in Hawai'i. And it really erases many things, but especially the history of the US imperialism in Micronesia and the issue of nuclear testing in Micronesia that the US government did that created a lot of necessary diasporas from Micronesian islands and many health issues that many Micronesians cannot find treatment for in Micronesia, but have to come to Hawai'i for. My work is more focused on really just kind of the implications for all this racial history, the implications of the construction of Polynesians as so-called almost white. 

But as I said, that construction is always, always dependent on the co-construction of ideas of Melanesians as Black. Often in these old racist scientific studies that I look at, Micronesians were sometimes kind of lumped with Polynesians and sometimes lumped with Melanesians. And so my sense is kind of continuing from this racist and racial history of social science today some of the ideas about some of the racist portrayals of Micronesians are drawing more from the history of Melanesian racist racial constructions, if that makes sense. 

And so the impact of all of this has been really devastating in many ways. But I think in the context that you're pointing out, it's particularly devastating because it breaks connections between different Pacific Islanders. And because of the ways that sometimes our communities internalize some of these ideas, it really breaks the ability for communities to really recognize and honor their relationships and ancestral genealogies that we have to each other. And so my one hope is that my work provides some of the history to help us understand where some of those divisions came from in order for us to do something different. We don't have to keep perpetuating racist ideas about Micronesians. We don't have to keep perpetuating internalized ideas about Polynesian exceptionalism. 

Yeah, thanks. That whole situation is a whole series of talks in and of itself. And there's a lot to unpack there, as well. And I'll just add on, I'm kind of curious about-- one of the things that struck me about your book, but also about your personal introduction just now, is how this kind of strong, early desire for Polynesians to be white or be almost white or proximally white, it didn't benefit Hawai'ians in that process. It was only to the end of benefiting white settler colonialists. And so I think that's an interesting point that you bring out in your book-- if you wanted to comment more, that's up to you-- about how being named proximally white doesn't actually give you any benefits, in particular for Hawai'ians or other Polynesians. 

Yeah, and there's a lot to say about that. I do talk some in the book about ideas of Polynesian exceptionalism, which has a lot of different historical examples. But one that comes from actually the work of my colleague, Kealani Cook, and his book, Return to Kahiki, he talks a lot about King Kalakaua's attempt to form a so-called Polynesian confederacy in like late 1800s that would have tried to counter European imperialism and colonialism into the Pacific. But Kealani's work points out that there are many reasons that the confederacy didn't ultimately work out. A major one was the bayonet revolution that really limited Kalakaua's power. 

But also something that damned it is that Hawai'ians went to Samoa proposing this confederacy, but they also came with ideas about how Native Hawai'ians were supposedly more civilized than Samoans. And so that's an example of even within-- both Hawai'ians and Samoans are Polynesian. But there is this idea that came, I argue, from this logic of a possession through whiteness that Polynesians were somehow better than other indigenous peoples. And as it trickled down, one consequence of that was that Kalakaua's confederation believed that Hawai'ians were closer to white than Samoans were. And by going to Samoa that they could help Samoans become whiter. 

I'm saying all this not to judge Kalakaua too harshly, but to point out that these ideas and the ways that they're internalized, they place real limits and constraints on how we relate to each other. And so even if some of these ideas seem like pseudo-science or just really old and outdated, of course they are. But I think the underlying point of my work is that there are some really insidious ways that these ideas have been internalized by Pacific Islanders. 

And I don't have all the solutions as to how to undo that. But I think just one way is to start confronting it more. 

Thanks, and I'm cognizant of our time so maybe we'll go just a couple minutes over time, if you don't mind. There's a question here that came in that says what do genetic studies show of Polynesian ancestry in relation to other races. And I might tag on or rephrase that to let you maybe answer, how does DNA and advances in DNA travel along with this longer history of desire to understand race in the region. 

Thanks, it's a great question. The fifth chapter in my book talks directly about this. I wouldn't say that genetic studies today are directly saying the exact same things that these older anthropological studies said. But I think, to some extent, they're motivated by similar desires and sometimes the way that they're structured, they're not critical of the colonial framework of some of these questions about where Polynesians came from. So I guess that's one way to answer the question. 

Just factually, many of these genetic ancestry, genetic mapping studies today, some say that Polynesians came from Asia, various routes through Asia into the Pacific. But there are also ones that claim various routes or some kind of, maybe not origins in South America, but they try to prove that there was ancestral voyages between indigenous people in South America and in Polynesia. And so for me, those studies, it's not that they're necessarily totally bunk. But again, I just think often the scientists who do them, even with the best intentions, or the ways that they're reported in the media, can often be very anti-indigenous indigenous in the sense that if you want to know where Polynesians came from, you should ask Polynesians. Or these kinds of studies should be shaped in significant ways by Polynesians themselves and the kinds of questions that they might have about their histories and not by non-Polynesian scientists who have different motivations. 

It's interesting about who gets to define what indigeneity means and what race means. And I think those are important things that you address in the book. You're getting several questions coming in, some interesting stuff about the lost tribe of Israel and also contemporary tensions with Asian settler colonialism in Hawai'i, Japanese, Filipinx, migrant workers. Lots of interesting stuff here, but we are running out of time. So I think I'll mention this one kind of comment or exhibit, and then I'll ask you one last question. 

It looks like there is an exhibition that recently opened at the Bishop Museum called Regenerations-- Challenging Scientific Racism in Hawai'i. And it looks like they implement Sullivan's photographs and how they may have taken on different meanings and purposes for Native Hawai'ians. And so Stacey's got a question about that that perhaps you guys can have an outside conversation about. But I did want to end with this two-part question, or two different questions that you can choose which one you want to answer, I suppose. 

But it says, thank you, of course, and it says we are now in a 21st century, why the demeaning and dehumanizing narratives against Polynesians? Why are they so difficult to change? And then the second question is, how is the concept of regenerative refusals being viewed in academia? So it's up to you. 

Hi, Stacey. And thanks for that shout out for the Bishop Museum, that new exhibit. And I know about that exhibit. And I think my work is being cited in it in some ways. And so I'm really excited to see what they've done with it. For the other question, I kind of understand the frustration with the first part of that question. Just like, why are we still dealing with these racist ideas, and why is it so hard to get rid of them. And I totally empathize with that feeling. But I guess for me, the reason is we're still in it. We're still living in a world that's really structured by settler colonial and racist ideologies. And so I think the things that I try to talk to my students about when I teach these kind of histories is always racism, it's not just about someone's personal perspective, which we can easily label as racist and dismiss. But racism is a really important structural force. And so to me, that's an important reason why it's not easy to just get rid of it, because it's not just people's personal viewpoints, but kind of the way our lives, our governments are structured that continues to operate through these logics. 

And the second part of the question, my book, I guess it's a little bit old now. But in academia, it's still fairly new. So I think it's to be seen how people will receive the regenerative refusals. But I guess with the exhibit that Stacey mentioned at Bishop Museum right now, it does seem like that it has kind of struck a chord and that it can offer something to people who are trying to grapple with these histories and the legacies that they have in the present. 

Thanks, yeah, I hope academia, in and of itself, can be a space that can foster more and more of these regenerative refusals, despite the fact that it is entirely a kind of Western grounded set of institutions. So it remains to be seen. 

But we have run out of time. So I just I want to say. Maile, that I am so grateful for you sharing your time. And it's really special to hear your powerful work in your own voice come out of your body. So I'm really grateful for that. So thank you. And thanks to everyone for joining us. I'm so sorry we didn't get a chance to answer everyone's questions. I encourage you to reach out to Maile directly or to myself, if it's related to the exhibit in the museum. And also, pick up a copy of her book. It's really wonderful. It's a great read. 

Thank you, everyone, for joining us tonight. And have a good evening, everyone. 

Thank you so much.