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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Pride in the Hawaiian Islands

By Bob Dye
Kailua writer and historian

More than a century ago, George Mooheaukauluheimalama Beckley of the Wilder Steamship Co. ordered made a Hawaiian flag that was 14 times longer than he was tall (5-foot-6). It measured 80 feet long by 40 feet high, and was then the largest flag in the world. He flew it from a 150-foot-tall flagpole in his yard on the south slope of Punchbowl, near Spencer Street.

Hawai'i may have been one of the world's smallest nations, but it had the biggest flag, thanks to Beckley's pride of place.

Now, Hawai'i has a national bibliography that surpasses those of all other once-small nations. This monumental work lists and annotates each important (sometimes amusing) item printed about Hawai'i in Hawaiian, English and other European languages. The period covered are those years from Western contact to shortly after annexation, for the most part the days that Hawai'i was "a politically distinct entity."

The day last April that the University of Hawai'i Press released the fourth and final volume of the "Hawaiian National Bibliography 1780-1900" could (maybe should) have been proclaimed Pride of Place Day. But unlike "Admiral" Beckley's grand flag, it went virtually unnoticed.

The handsome volumes are the realization of a "visionary" idea by Honolulu businessmen Samuel A. Cooke and Stuart T.K. Ho, who is credited with the inspiration. They enlisted as advisers the late Gladys Ainoa Brandt and Monsignor Charles A. Kekumano, and George R. Ellis, now retired from the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Compilation and annotation of the items are the work of David W. Forbes, who traveled to almost 30 libraries, from Australia to London. Himself a collector and author of books on Hawai'i, Forbes is a careful researcher and precise writer. Iris Wiley, retired editor of UH Press, was the project director. They began work in 1996.

The works' value to academic historians and rare-book collectors is obvious. But the volumes contain indispensable stuff for family historians and Hawaiian history buffs, like me, though some entries are not all that heady. For example, George Beckley is mentioned in Vol. IV as one host of a lu'au for a visiting American baseball team in 1888. A cousin of his, Fred Beckley (Frederika Bikale), is listed as the collector of sacred psalms for a publication of the Mormon Church. Other members of the Beckley clan are noted in other volumes. It's the same with other prominent kama'aina families, like Sam Cooke's.

Rulers of Hawai'i — the Kamehamehas and Kalakauas — dominate the entries, of course, but so too are there items documenting the contributions of those Hawaiians who toiled in the Legislature and served in the judicial and executive branches of government.

Because Forbes has wit and fun with prose, the reading is not onerous. If you like information, the chronologically organized entries are many, many cuts above the batting averages, box scores and lists of sport's trivia and "firsts" that I love to read.

I hope saying that doesn't trivialize the work, but encourages readers to give the four thick, heavy, somber green-covered volumes a chance to transport them into a past worth knowing about.

The trip is not cheap. The first volumes cost $100 and the latter $120. At those prices, it won't be as popular as "Shoal of Time," the paperback one-volume history of Hawai'i. So, I asked Bill Hamilton, director of UH Press, why the monumental work was conceived, and why did he publish it.

He said simply, "Pride of place."

The more folks who share in the pride of the patrons and producers of the Hawaiian National Bibliography, the better for us all.