Isaak Iselin in Hawaiʻi, 1807

Through Hawaiian Eyes I – Task

European political concepts such as «kingdom», «nobility» or «commoner» did not map onto Hawaiian society, although they were regularly used in travelogues. The foundations of indigenous society were fundamentally different from those in Europe or America. Greatly simplified, the Hawaiian world view was based on the belief that «gods» and spirits manifest themselves in every aspect of nature, that people were a part of this balanced universe, and that they could gain or lose mana (power, prestige) through their actions. In simple terms, society was hierarchically divided into the strata of aliʻi (rulers), kahuna (priests), makaʻāinana (common people) and kauwā (lowest «class»). EuroAmerican travellers were conceptualized as members of the aliʻi at the time of Iselin's visit.

Hawaiian society was undergoing a massive transformation as Iselin visited the islands. From 1782 to 1812, Kamehameha I was subduing the archipelago, replacing a complex and splintered system of rule and land relations with a unified Hawaiian «kingdom».

Below is a passage from Iselin's edited journal. Written as he left the islands, it is a concluding remark by Iselin about Hawaiians.


Iselin private archive Basel, § 103 (bag), envelope II, journal clean copy, p. 58.