Winner of the 2013 Ka Palapala Po‘okela Award for Excellence in Hawaiian Language, Culture, and History
As Hawaiians continue to recover their language and culture, the voices of kupuna
(elders) are heard once again in urban and rural settings, both in Hawai‘i and elsewhere. How do kupuna
create knowledge and “tell” history? What do they tell us about being Hawaiian? Adopted by a Midwestern couple in the 1950s as an infant, Leilani Holmes spent much of her early life in settings that offered no clues about her Hawaiian past—images of which continued to haunt her even as she completed a master’s thesis on Hawaiian music and identity in southern California. Ancestry of Experience
documents Holmes’ quest to reclaim and understand her own origin story.
Holmes writes in two different and at times incongruent voices—one describing the search for her genealogy, the other critiquing Western epistemologies she encounters along the way. In the course of her journey, she finds that Hawaiian oral tradition links identity to the land (‘aina)
through ancestry, while traditional, scholarly theories of knowing (particularly political economy and the discourse of the invention of tradition) textually obliterate land and ancestry. In interviews with kupuna,
Holmes learns of the connectedness of spirituality and ‘aina;
through her study and practice of hula kahiko
comes an understanding of ancient hula as a conversation between ‘aina
and the dancer’s body that has the power to activate historical memory.
Holmes’ experience has special relevance for indigenous adoptees and indigenous scholars: Both are distanced from the knowledge agendas and strategies of their communities and are tasked to speak in languages ill-suited to the telling of their own stories and those of their ancestors. In addition to those with an interest in Hawaiian knowledge and culture, Ancestry of Experience
will appeal to readers of memoirs of identity, academic and personal accounts of racial identity formation, and works of indigenous epistemologies. A website (www.ancestryofexperience.com)
will include supplementary material.
33 illus.Intersections: Asian and Pacific American Transcultural Studies Series
"[The book] is as much a poignant, deeply personal quest for the author’s Hawaiian genealogy as it is an analytically sharp critique of the imposition of a foreign epistemic paradigm on an indigenous one. . . . Holmes carefully positions herself as an attentive listener, a learner subordinate to the elderly Hawaiian knowledge-bearer. In doing so, she prioritizes her identity as a Hawaiian descendent over that of an academically trained researcher. Her stylistic choice to present dialogues and elders’ oral reflections as standalone narratives that are deliberately not framed within her own analyses or encumbered with theoretical flourish retains the original sequence and intactness of their speeches. It compels the reader to interpret Hawaiian expressions of Hawaiian cultural identity and epistemology independently of foreign theoretical frameworks such as political economy that Holmes finds inadequate for her task. . . . In sum, Holmes’s book advances our understanding of indigenous epistemologies and will be of interest to scholars examining the nature and construction of knowledge, colonialism and postcolonial theory, self-determination and the struggle for sovereignty, cultural revitalization, biculturalism, hybridity, identity formation and Pacific studies. It will also be a thought-provoking read for those investigating the politics of research methods and the relationship between researchers and those who are researched." —Pacific Affairs
(87:1, March 2014)
“In a time when dominant theoretical methodologies are increasingly being dismantled and/or modified to fit indigenous ways of knowing, Ancestry of Experience
is a welcome addition to collective efforts of reframing perspectives, cutting through the currents of assumption. Holmes is generous in offering us ways to read her story. . . . By freeing the reader in this way, Holmes opens up a welcome opportunity to trace how one can simultaneously exist in multiple spaces.” —Honolulu Weekly
(22 May 2013)
“Part memoir of a Kanaka academic in the diaspora searching for her ‘ohana,
part historical and ethnographic celebration of Hawaiian culture, and part documentation of the reality of Kanaka ʻŌiwi constant communication with our kūpuna o ka pō
(those who have passed into the pō
), Ancestry of Experience
is that rarity of rarities: an academic page-turner. Leilani Holmes’ book will bring readers to tears in its evocation of the enduring love and spiritual connection in an ʻohana
that spans many generations, and make them gasp at the incredible series of ‘coincidences’ that leads to Leilani’s re-connection with her ʻohana.
” —Noenoe Silva, professor of political science, University of Hawai‘i, and author of Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism
Author: Holmes, Leilani;Leilani Holmes
is a retired instructor in sociology at Grossmont Community College in El Cajon, California.