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NAS Research Colloquium: “Native Hawaiian Sovereignty and Anti-Blackness: Reading Bodies and Writing Resistance,” Joyce Pualani Warren (Kanaka Maoli), Postdoctoral Fellow in Ethnic American Literatures and Cultural Productions

Dec 6, 2017, 12:00 pm1:30 pm

Many Nations Longhouse

In recent decades, Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) scholars have undertaken the vital task of
translating the approximately one million pages of Hawaiian-language newspapers published
during the 19th and 20th centuries. Two interconnected topics were prominently featured across
dozens of publications: Genealogies that connected all Kanaka Maoli to Pō, the generative
darkness that began the universe; and debates over what Native Hawaiian sovereignty was and
could continue to be, even in the face of US settler colonialism and racialization. While the
English-language medium of writing was introduced to Hawaiʻi by foreign settlers in the late
18th century, Kanaka Maoli had long practiced their own forms of script in the various motifs and
narratives they inked upon their bodies through kākau. Kākau, taken from the Proto Polynesian
word “tatau” (tattoo), is both a noun, the physical mark placed on the body, and a verb, to write.
In this talk, I engage both of these definitions to explore moments when these bodily and literary
mediums intersect: Namely, what Kanaka Maoli wrote, in both newspapers and journals, about
how the narratives of their bodies were created, received, and (mis)read by themselves and
others. I trace an arc between kākau and cosmogony that shows how Kanaka Maoli have
embraced figurative blackness as a means to combat settler colonial attitudes of physical, racial
blackness as a trait that made them unfit for sovereignty.

Joyce Pualani Warren recently joined the University of Oregon as the inaugural recipient of the
Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ethnic American Literature and Cultural Productions. Her research
interests include Pacific Islands studies, American literature, indigeneity, diaspora, nationhood,
ethnicity, and critical mixed race studies. Her dissertation, “Theorizing Pō: Embodied
Cosmogony and Polynesian National Narratives,” uses indigenous epistemology as a theoretical
framework to analyze contemporary Pacific Islands literature, exploring how figurative and
physical blackness are used to articulate indigenous peoples’ struggles for cultural and political
sovereignty. She has written pieces on literary nationalism, Pacific Islands studies in the
continental U.S., and mixed race and diasporic indigeneity, which have appeared in venues such
as American Quarterly, Amerasia Journal, and Mixed Roots Commons.


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