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Missionary View of Natives

A Claim of Superiority


"The Natives of the Hawaii Islands belong to the Malay race, modified by the Polynesian type. Physically, they are among the finest races in the Pacific, and they show considerable intellectual capacity. Previous to the introduction of Christianity they were not much more superior in moral character to any of the other savages in the Pacific. Polygamy, infanticide, and polyandry all prevailed. The idolatry of the Kanakas, as the Natives are called, was barbarous and bloodthirsty, for human sacrifices were frequently offered during the sickness of a chief, at the dedication of a temple, or the inception of war. On the other hand, the natives are even-tempered, light-hearted and a pleasure-loving race."

Nonverbal Messages of Superiority: This selection from the Encyclopedia of Missions published in 1913 is evidence of the condescending perspective that the New England Missionaries had of the Native population. It also highlights the divine obligation that the missionaries felt in converting the Natives from their previous sinful way of life. The superior view which the missionaries and other American immigrants maintained certainly contributed in the eventual subjugation of the Natives. Take for example the idea of a school, even though the missionaries may have been founding these institutions with altruistic motives, messages are still communicated through the dynamic of the institution, i.e. the head master, and teachers are White, New England, Protestant missionaries and the students, (in the more subordinate position) are Natives. This same logic transcends to the capitalist businesses which were established, such as Dole. The owner is White and American whereas the plantation workers are primarily made up of the natives or other Asian and Polynesian immigrant groups. The non verbal messages of white superiority and native inferiority are prevalent throughout the entire process of Hawaiian incorporation into the United States, whether they were intended or not.

A Personal Perspective: The writings of Mary Ella Spooner (Mount Holyoke, Class of 1872) in her autobiography reflect the American superiority complex and offers personal insight into the travels and experiences of a white, New England Protestant living in Hawaii.

This page was created by [name student] '[grad year] in History 283, Fall Semester 2003 - [e-mail]