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Lois-Ann Yamanaka (Wikipedia), The History of Pidgin, Obama's Birthplace Hits the Big Five-0

Author: Lois-Ann Yamanaka and others

Lois-Ann Yamanaka

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lois-Ann Yamanaka


September 7, 1961

Ho'olehua, Molokai, Hawaii
Occupation writer
Notable works Blu's Hanging, Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers

www .yamanakanaau .com

Lois-Ann Yamanaka (born September 7, 1961 in Hoʻolehua, Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi) is an American poet and novelist from Hawaiʻi. Many of her literary works are written in Hawaiian Pidgin, and some of her writing has dealt with controversial ethnic issues. In particular, her works confront themes of Asian American families and the local culture of Hawaiʻi.


Early years

She was born September 7, 1961 in Ho’olehua, Molokai, Hawaii. Her parents, Harry and Jean Yamanaka, raised her and her four younger sisters in the sugarcane plantation town of Pahala.

Both parents were school teachers, though her father later became a taxidermist. Following in her parents footsteps, Lois-Ann followed a path into education: In 1983, she received a Bachelor’s Degree, and in 1987 her Master's Degree, both in Education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.


She then went on to become an English and Language Arts resource teacher. Inspired by her own students' honesty demonstrated within poetry assignments, she began writing on her own. She completed her first book, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater, in 1993, which, was coined "'witty' and 'street-smart'" by Kiana Davenport in Women's Review of Books. The Novel, "composed of four verse novellas narrated by working-class Hawaiian teenagers...explore(d) such subjects as ethnic identity, sexual awakening, drug use, and abusive relationships." Lawrence Chua, of the Voice Literary Supplement, wrote, "Her poetry is enabled by its elegant structure as much as its indolent diction. Saturday Night is not a lonely specimen of street life but a bold push at the borders of meaning and memory." Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater received several awards including the Pushcart Prize for poetry and later, the fiction award given by the Association for Asian American Studies.

In 1996, Yamanaka’s second book, Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, again told in Pidgin, was a coming-of-age story made up of, "a series of connected vignettes", that, "examin(ed) larger issues of class and ethnicity". Lauren Belfer, of the New York Times Book Review, claimed the book to be, "somewhat impenetrable"...leaving "haunting images" in the minds of readers.

The next year, Yamanaka completed her third book, Blu’s Hanging 'which created even more of an uproar among Asian American critics. As the novel treated characters of both Filipino and Japanese American backgrounds within the Hawaiian landscape, she was given the Asian American Studies National Book Award in 1998, however, it was annulled almost immediately for its use of stereotypical language. Other known Asian American authors such as Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston emerged in support of Yamanaka during the controversy. The work was deemed, "a well-wrought but painful work" by Anna Quan Leon in the Library Journal. In defending herself, Yamanaka spoke out, telling Newsweek reporter Donna Foote that 'the distinction between the narrator and the author is not being made'".

Following Blu's Hanging, she published, Heads by Harry, which dealt with gay sexuality and gender identity issues. The book received mixed reviews. "To some extent, Yamanaka has replaced racism with sexism and homophobia, 'safer topics'", concluded Nation reviewer Mindy Pennybacker. However, Michael Porter, of the New York Times Book Review applauded Yamanaka's efforts, stating, "{she} delivers a precise look at this vibrant 'Japanese-American' culture yet still speaks to anyone who has experienced the joy, security and small humiliations of family life".

Name Me Nobody was her fourth book geared towards adolescents. In illustrating the difficulties of young "teen hood" and the surrounding superficialities, the "'vignettes of young girlhood praised for their vivid images and expert distillation of language" related a Horn Book reviewer, "Yamanaka provides young adult literature with a fresh and welcome voice "noteworthy for its complexity and richness'."

In 2004, Silent Years, a short film based on Yamanaka's screenplay was released. 'The story of a thirteen-year-old girl who finds herself caught between her abusive uncle and older boyfriend, it is based on two poems from her collection, Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre, and has been described as "brutal."[1] The film was locally produced and directed by Honolulu native and University of Southern California film school graduate, James Sereno.[2]

In 2006, Yamanaka explored a spiritual approach in the novel, Behold the Many, set on the island of Oahu. In the book, a young woman is haunted by ghosts which ends in what a Kirkus Reviewcontributor called a, "beautifully tragic" outcome. Carol Haggas, of Booklist wrote the book was a, "richly atmospheric novel which paints a chillingly spectral portrait of souls tormented by love and guilt."

An excerpt from Yamanaka's next work has been released. According to the April 2007 issue of Honolulu Magazine Yamanaka's upcoming novel has been given the working title of The Mother Mary Stories[1].


Yamanaka is married to John Inferrera; in between writing, they both teach. Together they have a son, John, Jr. and live in Honolulu, Hawaii. Lois-Ann also is co-owner of a writing school, Na`au.[3]

As an author

"Lois-Ann Yamanaka's fiction focuses on young, working-class Japanese-Americans from Hawaii who struggle with such typical issues of adolescence as sexual development and peer acceptance while coming to terms with their cultural identity as the descendants of Japanese immigrant laborers."

"Yamanaka once said,' My work involves bringing to the page the utter complexity, ferocious beauty and sometimes absurdity of our ethnic relationships here in the islands. The way we language about each other and with each other in 'talk story' communities resonates in me with every word I write. I know this because as my friend Lisa Asagi says, 'It's impossible to ban the sound of memory'."[4]


While Yamanaka believes that her characters "know the sound of their own voice," and admits to being highly inspired by her own experiences growing up amongst Hawaii life and culture, including the pidgin language, she also attributes much of her work to the other authors who have inspired and influenced her. In an interview, Yamanaka states what a huge influence reading William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury has had on her. In no way does Yamanaka compare her work to that of Faulkner, only that such works help keep her humble and rooted. She describes her experience as, "In the presence of this genius, I felt embarrassed." (216) Yamanaka also cites June Jordan, Ai, Thulanie Davis, and Jessica Hagedorn as major inspirations in terms of their use of voice in poetry. In general, Yamanaka counts herself lucky to be in the same category as other female Asian American writers such as Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan.[5]

List of works

Among her principal works are:

  • Saturday Night at the Pahala Theater, a book of poems written in Hawaiian Pidgin (1993)
  • Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers (1996)
  • Blu's Hanging (1997)
  • Heads by Harry (1998)
  • Name Me Nobody (2000)
  • Father of the Four Passages (2001)
  • The Heart's Language (2005)
  • Behold the Many (2006)


Other publications[edit]

  • Yamanaka, Lois-Ann. "This Man Is an Island." The New York Times 18 January 2009, Opinion sec.: WK14. Print.
  • Yamanaka, Lois-Ann. "Sunnyside Up." Chicago Review, Vol. 39, No. 3/4, A North Pacific Rim Reader (1993), pp. 175–178,

External links[edit]


  1. Jump up^ Story of child abuse told in 'Silent Years' – The Honolulu Advertiser – Hawaii's Newspaper
  2. Jump up^ Story of child abuse told in 'Silent Years' – The Honolulu Advertiser – Hawaii's Newspaper
  3. Jump up^ Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich. Gale, 2009.
  4. Jump up^ Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2009. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich. Gale, 2009.
  5. Jump up^ Sarah Anne Johnson, "Lois-Ann Yamanaka: The Characters Know the Sound of Their Own Voice," Conversations with American Women Writers, Hanover: University Press of New England, 2004, 216

The History of Pidgin (Hawaiian American Language)

by Javier A. San Romá

By most scholarly accounts, the first Polynesians to settle the Hawaiian Islands are estimated to have arrived around 200-400 C.E. from the Southern Marquesas Islands. Several central theories have been hotly debated over the years to explain the ensuing settlement and origin of the Native Hawaiian people. One theory argues for a continued period of settlement over time by different groups of Polynesian people. Another theory points to a large-scale Tahitian invasion that conquered the existing population around 1200 C.E. According to Native Hawaiian accounts, the kahuna nui (high priest) Pa’ao sailed with men and women from Hawaiki and brought the purified kapu (sacred) system of forbidden objects and actions to the people of the Hawaiian Islands. Pa’ao initiated the high-priest line and the ruling families for each island with Pili Kaaiea (the pure chief) to establish a new royal lineage and purified kapu practice. Henceforth, all Hawaiian rulers would trace their lineage back to Pili. Often Pa’ao is described as Tahitian or Samoan in origin.

While the early settlement history of Hawaii remains a matter of perspective, one thing is clear; the people of the Hawaiian Islands had developed their unique and highly advanced seafaring culture to great heights by the time of European contact in 1778. At the time of European contact it is estimated that between a quarter to one million Native Hawaiians inhabited the Islands. After a mere 70 years of contact with Europeans and other foreigners, the Native population had been virtually decimated by the introduction of diseases. By 1848, there were only 88,000 Hawaiians left in the Kingdom of Hawai’i under Kamehameha III (Sakoda & Siegel, 2003).

As trade expanded between the Kingdom of Hawai’i and other nations, the establishment of the sugarcane plantation economy took hold of the island during the mid-19th century. This new economy required a large pool of workers, which led to the immigration of Chinese, Pacific Islander, Portuguese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and Puerto Ricans to the islands. Sakoda & Siegel (2003) describe how the first pidgin emerged:

When the plantation era began, the Hawaiians were still in control of their islands, and their language was dominant. It was the language of government and of education for all non-European children, and it also became the language used to run the plantations. But many white plantation overseers did not learn Hawaiian fully, and the same was true of the imported Chinese laborers. A new form of language began to be used for communication among whites, Chinese, and Hawaiians— with words mostly from Hawaiian but with pronunciation, meanings, and structure different from Hawaiian. When laborers started coming from Portugal and other countries in the 1870’s, this new language consolidated on the plantations. So the first real pidgin in Hawai’i was Pidgin Hawaiian, not Pidgin English.

From 1874 to 1887, a series of political events and a declining Hawaiian population combined to further weaken Hawaiian sovereignty and cultural dominance. Beginning with the signing of the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1875, the political and economic institutions of the island began to fall into the American sphere of influence. The Reciprocity treaty gave free-trade access to the US market for sugar in exchange for the lands upon which the Pearl Harbor Naval Base would be built. Another significant development at this time was the influx of entire immigrant families to the island coupled with the increase in the number of English-medium schools. During this period, English also began to gradually replace Hawaiian as the language of the plantations, and as a result an English-lexified pidgin (or Pidgin English) began to develop (Sakoda & Siegel 2003).

It is important to remember that Pidgin Hawaiian and English mixed together on the plantation in myriad ways before it became systematic. When it became systematic and regularized as a primary language of the population, it became known as Hawai’i Pidgin English (HPE). The emergence of this new language occurred during the first decade after Hawaiian annexation to the United States. As generation upon generation of different ethnic groups learned HPE as their primary language, it became further solidified as a language that began to incorporate influences from other languages such as Cantonese, Portuguese, and Japanese. For these reasons, linguists refer to Hawai’i Pidgin English as Hawaiian Creole English because it incorporates many different influences from different languages.

Obama's Birthplace Hits the Big Five-0

By Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Sunday, August 23, 2009

HONOLULU -- Our Japanese American cousins always said behind our backs that we Hawaii cousins were 10 years behind the times. So when our home became a state in August 1959, it would logically follow that it took a while for our birth certificates to catch up. For a few years, this new state still issued Certificates of Hawaiian Birth. I was born on the island of Molokai -- blink and you missed Kaunakakai, its port town, 1,000 residents on the whole island at the time, a pineapple, red-dirt-permanently-embedded-in-your-heels kind of place. It was a very provincial island in 1961, the birth year that President Obama and I share.

So as our state celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend, the fuss over Obama's birth certificate -- its authenticity and what it might be hiding -- has been kind of perplexing to me. The president's mother is American. His father is Kenyan. Is he an anomaly because he is of American and Hawaiian and Kenyan heritage? Exotic? Because he's from a state that isn't a state because we aren't on the mainland? Because he is from this provincial place that had been a state for only two years when he was born? For a few voices shouting loudly from the fringe, that has been enough reason to raise questions about whether he really is what he says he is.

Here, we have another question: Is Hawaii legally a state? Was the Kingdom of Hawai'i stolen? Some native Hawaiians say that, though Obama is American in the eyes of America, the real issue is that Hawaii is not a legitimate state in the union. We were a kingdom taken by force by the revolutionary Committee of Safety, which was backed by the U.S. Marines. Our queen was forced to abdicate her throne in 1893 to prevent bloodshed among her beloved subjects.

This makes Admission Day, as the statehood anniversary is sometimes known, more complicated. Robert Kanaka`ole Ebanez, one of the founders of the Hawaiian Independence Alliance, a sovereignty group, hasn't been in a mood to celebrate statehood. Ebanez believes that the bickering over the president's birth focuses on the wrong thing. To him, Obama is a legitimate Hawaiian citizen born after the "illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii."

Meanwhile, here in paradise -- land of white sandy beaches, ukuleles, grass shacks, mai tais with paper umbrellas and orchids, pineapples, surfing, domestic abuse, homelessness, juvenile delinquency, welfare dependency -- stockbrokers, teachers, firemen, fishermen, dog groomers and most other locals didn't even talk about our president's birth certificate over their Starbucks Frappuccinos as the morning news explained the controversy. No one seemed to care pau hana (after work) over a Heineken Light at Verbano, with "Wheel of Fortune" on the bar's TV. So he's a keiki o ka aina (child of the land), our president a local boy (and black at that) done real good -- bring home the kalua pig, baby. It was no big conspiracy. It was no big deal. It was, as Don Ho would say, "Ain't no big thing, bruddah." And why? Some continental folk, you mainlanders, just don't get us. It's true.

We are a state of painful paradoxes -- a haven for immigrants from China, Japan, Portugal, Spain, Puerto Rico, Korea, Germany and the Philippines who came in the late 1800s to work on haole (white) sugar plantations. Later came Samoans, Laotions, Tongans, Vietnamese, Fijians, Cambodians, Thais and Micronesians. We are a gigantic collision of cultural practices -- fireworks at the new year, $3 to $50 leis, dragon dances, dim sum takeout, coconut hair oil, gandule rice, sarongs, native cowboys, summer rolls and precious pesos sent home to family. We are a state of fragile tolerance.

We identify people by their ethnicities, or the way we've come to describe where everyone came from at some point -- the Portagee bank teller, the Japanee waitress, the Korean secretary, the Filipino attorney and even our black president. And it goes beyond identification. We live in a state where this balance has been and will be practiced for centuries.

This weekend was one good party at Honolulu Hale, the city government headquarters. The Makaha Sons, a prominent recording trio, played a concert, artists and crafters sold their wares, and Hawaiian food abounded. In the lead-up to the big day, local media coverage for the anniversary was incredibly comprehensive.

Comprehensive, that is, from a white perspective. Prominent Hawaii celebrities of all ethnicities spoke in prime-time television clips about their feelings on statehood. What they were doing at the time. How old they were -- all good. None spoke about the injustices of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. I didn't hear a native Hawaiian perspective addressing the issues of that complicated, fierce and, some feel, utterly maltreated community. State money spent on marketing and promoting the 50th anniversary had in essence whitewashed some of the truth.

But we all manage to grin. Sit and share a meal at the same baby luau. Work, hang out, intermarry, meet for coffee, toast the day's end with a Heineken Light. And, looking around, I think that when we celebrate -- or mark the day somehow -- again in 50 years, the balance we've struck here might not look so exotic to those watching from the mainland. It seems that all of America is progressing toward the mix we have here in Hawaii.

My sweetie wanted to take our stadium chairs to Iolani Palace on Admission Day to watch the sovereignty groups and activists speak out, maybe protest, chain themselves to the front gates, sit on centuries-old, delicate, threadbare thrones. Bring bento (lunch) and soda and take in the other points of view. He's native Hawaiian and calls himself a liberal conservative. Right. This means he believes that native Hawaiians have sovereign rights, but we still live in the most blessed nation in the world. How liberally conservative of him.

Hawaii has come a long way in the past 50 years. There were a lot of us on the lawn of the royal palace with our coolers and goza (straw mats). A lot of us of many ethnicities. All of us with a black president from Hawaii.

[email protected]

Lois-Ann Yamanaka runs Na'au, a school for writers, in Honolulu. Her latest novel is "Behold the Many."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

DMU Timestamp: November 01, 2017 20:56

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