Scholarly in tone and hardly a breezy read, this book nevertheless captured my attention because it explores two questions I’ve pondered about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) in Hawaii.
How can so many Pacific Islanders belong joyfully and faithfully to a church that for years discriminated against people of color (barring African Americans from the priesthood, for example).
And isn’t there some element of exploitation in one of the Islands’ most popular tourist attractions, the church’s Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, where performers from around the Pacific, many students at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the church?
Aikau, a Hawaiian from a Mormon family, grew up in Utah and is now an associate professor of indigenous and Native Hawaiian politics at UH-Manoa. Her own mixed feelings about the church launch the story but she quickly moves on to themes of colonialism, identity, land use, faith and the Polynesians’ special relationship with Mormonism, born of an early missionary’s vision of them as one of the lost tribes of Israel.
If these questions trouble you, too, Aikau offers detailed, well-researched and intelligent answers.
Hokulani R. Aikau
University of Minnesota Press 2011
228 pages, 2011