Finding Meaning

Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature

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Winner of the Native American Literature Symposium's Beatrice Medicine Award for Published Monograph

In this first extensive study of contemporary Hawaiian literature, Brandy Nalani McDougall examines a vibrant selection of fiction, poetry, and drama by emerging and established Hawaiian authors, including Haunani-Kay Trask, John Dominis Holt, Imaikalani Kalahele, and Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl. At the center of the analysis is a hallmark of Hawaiian aesthetics—kaona, the intellectual practice of hiding and finding meaning that encompasses the allegorical, the symbolic, the allusive, and the figurative.

With a poet’s attention to detail, McDougall interprets examples of kaona, guiding readers through olelo no'eau (proverbs), mo‘olelo (literature and histories), and mooku'auhau (genealogies) alongside their contemporary literary descendants, unveiling complex layers of Hawaiian identity, culture, history, politics, and ecology.

Throughout, McDougall asserts that “kaona connectivity” not only carries bright possibilities for connecting the present to the past, but it may also ignite a decolonial future. Ultimately, Finding Meaning affirms the tremendous power of Indigenous stories and genealogies to give activism and decolonization movements lasting meaning.
“[Finding Meaning] sets a program for nuanced, historically attuned interpretations of race and ethnicity within ecocritical study and for identifying overlooked conceptions of environmental relation.”—American Literature

“A major contribution to an understudied field.”—Contemporary Pacific

“McDougall’s resolute critique of literary history offers a rigorous starting point for teaching Hawaiian literature, with respect and reverence for the deep wealth these stories hold.”—American Indian Culture and Research Journal

“A landmark publication in the field of Hawaiian literature.”—David Chang, author of The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832–1930

Finding Meaning will become a classic of Pacific literary criticism. McDougall shows the aesthetic beauty, literary complexity, and political urgency of contemporary Hawaiian writing.”—Craig Santos Perez, author of from unincorporated territory

“An essential breath of fresh air in literary criticism giving a Native poet’s readings of the expanse of meaning that can be found in Native literature using Native practice and knowledge. McDougall's work authenticates the vital decolonized artery of encoded interpretation with magnificent pulse. A definitive must-read for all interested in Indigenous literature studies.”—Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, author of Streaming
Finding Meaning
224 Pages 6 x 9 Published: 2018 Paperback (9780816537945)
Ebook (9780816533855)

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