Keeping the Core: John Dominis Holt, Charles Kenn, and Models for Definition and Preservation of Kanaka Intellectual Culture in the Mid-Twentieth Century

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Duncan, Brady Austin
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Middle Tennessee State University
This study examines the works of and public memory surrounding two prominent Native Hawaiian intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century, John Dominis Holt IV and Charles William Kenn. Despite the relative anonymity of the latter among non-academic circles, both men proved crucial to the evolution of Indigenous Hawaiian thought and praxes of preservation throughout their careers. The principal aim of the study was to examine the output of both figures to identify and compare their stances on the attributes, practices, and concepts integral to a broader Native Hawaiian identity, the state of Hawaiian intellectual heritage and preservation at the time of their writing, and the prospects for the same in a post-annexation, foreign-ruled Hawai‘i. These stances were then subject to a juxtapositional analysis, identifying those points of agreement and contention between Holt’s and Kenn’s understandings of Hawaiian intellectual and cultural identity and their history. General findings suggest that while both Holt and Kenn took great issue with reluctance surrounding the preservation of Native intellectual products introduced to the populace by foreign religious officials and institutions, both saw a vital interest in the same among young people and sought to use various means of dissemination to share their knowledge and pride of self with other Indigenous Hawaiian people. Perhaps due to a childhood spent in the company of former aristocrats traumatized by the loss of land and title to Western invaders, however, Holt defined his Native identity in the past tense, using a language of loss or diminishment, while Kenn, a practitioner of Native religion and martial arts, saw a far more present continuity of “traditional” Indigenous Hawaiian practices in his daily life. The study itself utilized simple textual analyses of written works produced by Holt and Kenn throughout their careers, privileging those pieces explicitly treating with Native identity where possible and aiming to incorporate works intended for academic, enthusiast, and broad lay audiences alike in roughly equal measure. To properly contextualize their contents and concepts, themes, and figures from Hawaiian history integral to my analysis of their portfolios, a secondary source base spanning academic works on religion, linguistics, anthropology, folklore, and history, among other fields, as well as periodicals, commentary, and volumes directed towards broader audiences is consulted throughout.
Charles Kenn, Hawaii, Intellectual History, John Dominis Holt, Kanaka, Preservation, History, History of Oceania