One of the greatest errors a person can make when picking up a history book is thinking that it represents the only narrative of a given place or time period. In fact, stories about a given event vary widely, depending on point of view (those in power often have a very different take than those out of power, for instance). The best historians acknowledge this reality early on to the readers.
One local historian who did exactly that was Cummins E. Speakman, Jr. in his slim book Mowee: A History of Maui The Magic Isle. Originally published by the Peabody Museum, the book provides a narrative history of Maui from pre-contact times through present day (in Speakman’s case, that was 1978).
“In writing this informal history, I have tried to tread the fine line between a scholarly work and one that is written for the general reader,” he wrote in the introduction. “No doubt other historians will take exception to some interpretations, although I have been careful to qualify such statements, especially about events before 1820, by saying ‘it is believed’ or ‘it is said that.’”
The book is a great introduction to Maui’s history. Updated in 2001 by local writer Jill Engledow, Mowee has been out of print since–until now. Mutual Publishing has released a new version, updated through 2013,
again by Engledow.* The book also has a simplified name–Maui: A History.
“We had customers ask for the book and we decided to bring it back in print and update it,” said Jane Gillespie, Mutual Publishing’s Production Director, in an Oct. 2 email. “We also felt the name Mowee was a little confusing to visitors, so we made it more clear that the book is about Maui’s history.”
The new closing chapter updates readers on the island’s pineapple and sugar production, population growth and environmental progress. Much in the last decade has been left out (you won’t find the word “superferry” there, for instance) but then again, but those wanting more detailed analysis won’t be reading a book like this anyway.
But one of the most striking additions is the following paragraph, which seems more of a provocation on the island’s most basic social conflict of our times than a wrap-up of history:
“While the aloha spirit prevails on Maui, the influx of more outsiders is endangering it,” concludes Maui: A History. “Mauians are aware of and friendly towards others, willing to help without being asked. Many newcomers are not concerned about island ways and traditions. Some replicate California-like compounds, as evidenced by walled houses in much of Wailea and Makena. As Maui receives more people from outside of Hawaii, this will remain an issue.”
Maui: A History sells for $13.95. For more information, check out Mutualpublishing.com.
*UPDATE, Oct. 7: A few hours after this post went up, Jill Engledow contacted me to say that she did NOT write the latest update to this book. In fact, she said that Mutual Publishing had asked her to do it, but she had declined. In response, Jane Gillespie said that Engledow’s name was still on the book cover because she provided the earlier 2001 update, but that Mutual had updated the book “in house.”