Hawaiians in Hats

I thought I’d share some of my favorite pictures from an out of print Island Heritage book, Photographs of Old Hawaii (1977), which I’ve been using as inspiration for my thesis project. Not that anyone is reading my blog, but if any of these pictures belong to someone’s ohana, I’d be happy to take them down. I just think they’re beautiful, and I appreciate them because they look like some of my own family photographs. And yes, there is a hat to be found in all of these…(my main character in my thesis wears a little boater hat).

This photograph (1880) was taken by a professional photographer, A. A. Montano from Colombia, but it’s quite interesting that only the boy is in focus – which, in combination with his expression, I find rather haunting. I also love the way his hat looks.

In the book, the caption says that this is Jesse Ka’ai (A. A. Montano, 1880). I love her hat, which is a stylish variation on the boater.

These two ladies look like pa’u riders (A. A. Montano, 1880). I love the hybridization of Hawaiian and Western cultures in their outfits. At the time, postcards and other popular images of Hawai’i always showed Hawaiian women in grass skirts and leis – but if you look at the pictures that Hawaiians had taken of and for themselves, you’ll find that they pretty much wore the same clothes as the people buying or receiving those postcards. As a contemporary audience, we might look at those postcards and immediately read them as being stereotypical or nostalgic images of Pacific Islanders – but what else are they doing? Are they not also hiding the presence and impact of colonial occupation by excluding evidence of cultural interaction (good and bad) by only presenting a culturally “pure” native? That’s why these pictures are so important to me, because they speak to the real experiences of Native Hawaiians, which includes adaption, change, and innovation…

A man from Lahaina, Maui (R. J. Baker, 1911). I love his face, and his fluffy white hair…and of course, they way he wears his hat.

Okay, so he’s not wearing a hat, but he’s holding one…The boy in this picture reminds me a lot of my uncle when he was little, and also a James Van Der Zee portrait (T. Kelsey, 1925).

So here, it was maybe pau hana time? Talking story while they drive into town? I can imagine the melody of their conversation with their thick Hawaiian accents (T. Kelsey, 1925).

Well, enjoy the pictures! When I have stills to show from my thesis, I’m going to put them up here.



2 thoughts on “Hawaiians in Hats

  1. The boy in the 1st photograph is in focus because he is the only one who stayed still the entire time. The other folks probably moved slightly. Cameras at the time demand long exposures, that’s why you can actually find a lot of portraits of people with shut eyes.

  2. That is what I had assumed, but I was also wondering, I guess in a more spiritual way, why him? For that brief moment in time, only he is in focus…which makes it seem like an intimate visual connection…maybe it’s just a testament to his stamina, but I love to wonder..

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