Abraham Fornander

In the Introduction to Abraham Fornander’s Ancient History of the Hawaiian People. (1996) Mutual Publishing, LLC. Honolulu, Hawai’i, (originally published the 1870s by Fornander)  Glen Grant of Hawai’i Tokai International College wrote “Abraham Fornander – Perpetuating Hawaiian History in the 19th Century”, pp. ix – xvii. The following account is quoted from Glen Grant’s introduction:

“One of the most outstanding haole 19th-century scholars in the Islands to incorporate the Native Hawaiian histories into a significant, coherent volume was Abraham Fornander. In his three-volume An Account of the Polynesian Race, Its Origin and Migrations and the Ancient History of the Hawaiian People to the Times of Kamehameha I. A native of Oland, Sweden, where he was born on November 4, 1812, Fornander had been given a university education in a rectory preparing for the ministry. However, as he was to state years later, “an indescribable desire held possession of my soul to see the new world and find or make a way for myself in life.” He set out for a life at sea as a whaler, serving as both a harpooner and boatsteerer… He first arrived in Hawai’i in 1838, at the age of 26. In 1842, after four more years aboard whaling ships, he finally settled permanently in the Islands…”

After taking on jobs such as planting coffee in Nu’uanu, “he married a chiefess from the island of Moloka’i by the name of Alanakapu Kauapinao, with whom he had four children… Fornander was survived by only one daughter, Catherine Brown.” (Catherine Kaonohiulaokalani Fornander).

“…he earnestly began his career as a journalist, editor and publisher, beginning in 1950 with the Weekly Argus, followed in 1853 by the New Era and Argus, and then in 1856, the Sandwich Island’s Magazine. After the death of his wife in 1857, he took charge of the Government Printing Office and edited the Polynesian Journal.”…His open advocacy of Hawaiian cultural practices such as dance, language, chant and spirituality often resulted in his being vilified by the missionary establishment.”

While he made few friends among missionaries, Fornander develop close associations with the Hawaiian royalty. His chiefess wife’s father was a medical Kahua and former governor of Moloka’i… In 1864 Fornander was appointed a Member of the King’s Privy Council and Circuit Judge over the islands of Maui, Moloka’i and Lana’i. During a five-year controversial term, 1865-70, in Honolulu as Inspector General of Schools, Judge Fornander attempted to separate the missionaries’ religious influence from public schools, improve female education and enhance the Hawaiian language learning materials. He was then reappointed Circuit Judge of Maui, Molokai and Lana’i. He regurned to Lahaina, Maui, where he lived on a large, rambling estate at the corner of Main and Jail (now Prison) Streets.

It was following his return to Maui between 1870 -71 that Judge Fornander began consulting with Samuel M. Kamakau and Kepelino on ancient Hawaian history. Through a series of extensive interviews tieh both Hawaiian historians, he began to focus his early academic training on the legends, folklore, history, geneaologies, and language of the Polynesian people. Although by his own admission his library on Polynesian cultures and languages was limited due to his relative isolation on Maui, his intellectual curiosity was expansive as he studied the racial history of Pacific Islanders. Utilizing the oral materials collected by Kamakau and Kepeline, Judge Fornander eagerly enlisted the talents of other Native Hawaiian assistants to enrich the oral materials. “I employed two, sometimes three intelligent and educated Hawaiians,” he explained in his introduction to volume one of An Account of the Polynesian Race, “to travel over the entire group and collect and transcribe, from the lips of the old natives, all the legends, chants, prayers, &tc, bearing upon the history, culte, and customs of the people, that they possibly could get hold of.” The research continued for three years.

While the number of elders was rapidly dwindling, and some refused to share their information with even their own fellow Hawaiians, the materials collected were to become a century later an invaluable source fore the serious researcher or cultural enthusiast who is seeking authentic oral traditions from ancient Hawai’i. “I am now in possession of probably the gretest collection of Hawaiian lore in or out of the Pacific,” he proudly wrote. Among the individuals he acknowledged for providing an extensive collection of Hawaiian antiquities was King Kalakaua, himself a folklore enthusiast whose “Myths and Legends of Hawai’i is still a popular bestseller in the Islands a century later.”





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