DEBRIEFING
Book Reviews Spring 2006

A MILITARY HISTORY OF SOVEREIGN HAWAII
By Neil Bernard Dukas
(Mutual Publishing, Pp. 222, $17.95, ISBN 1-56647-636-4).

Hawaii is rightfully known as the land of Aloha. Prior to 1893 Hawaii was a Polynesian kingdom. It was created by Hawaii's most famous son, Kamehameha I. To create his kingdom Kamehameha fought a series of wars lasting nearly fifteen years. These wars were, for the most part, fought using the warrior traditions of the Hawaiian people.

Dukas' book explains Hawaii's transition from its "feudal" period of warriors loyal to their particular chiefs into a peaceful, almost disarmed kingdom, with a small Royal guard: "That Hawai'i was once a nation inspired by great warriors is beyond dispute. To the military historian, Hawai'i's relatively rapid transformation from a fiercely proud warrior-dominated society to one ruled by polite diplomacy poses some intriguing questions." [p. VI]

In order to answer the questions raised by this transition, Dukas organizes his book into two main parts. In part one he offers a fascinating analysis of the "classical" warrior period of the eighteenth century. He describes the weapons, training, logistics and organization that allowed the Hawaiian mo'i (high chiefs) to field armies numbering up to 10,000 men.

The second part of the book is titled "Soldiers of the Crown" and deals with Kamehameha's reforms and the evolution of the forces of the Hawaiian kingdom, both regular and volunteer, which he had created.

The most interesting period covered in this work is that transition overseen by Kamehameha I. He centralized all military forces on the Islands under his control by disarming all potentially rival chiefs. In addition, Dukas also notes a change in values by quoting an early visitor to the islands: "instead of a divided and lawless aristocracy, the king and his chiefs compose a united corps of peaceable merchants, whose principal object is to become rich by the pursuits of trade." Dukas concludes, "Commercial success replaced bravado in warfare as the fount of prestige." [p. 110]

A sadder reason for this change was the death of Hawaiians from introduced diseases. As Dukas notes, Kamehameha's worse military setback was not caused by enemy action: "A plague (cholera or typhoid, or perhaps both) swept through the Hawaiian camp in 1804, taking with it the better part of Kamehameha's warriors." [p. 88]

A Military History of Sovereign Hawaii is a handsome volume with many rare illustrations. It is a worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in Hawaiian history and warfare.

Grant Jones

2006 by the author and Historical Publication Inc. Reproduction without permission strictly prohibited.