The Quilt Speaks: Crafting Gender and Cultural Norms in Hawaii

Una Kimokeo-Goes

Abstract


When protestant missionaries first arrived in Hawaii in the early nineteenth century one of their first concerns was the nudity of the indigenous population and the introduction of cloth and sewing was an early priority. Their hope was that sewing would help turn these savages into appropriate Christians. However, with the introduction of fabric, thread, and metal needles, unexpected skills developed. Feminist scholars have often recognized that so-called “women’s crafts” hold important values. Quilting allows women to work collectively, to reflect on cultural and national values, and to offer political challenges. Analyzing the history of sewing in Hawaii and using the quilts themselves as texts, we can understand how Hawaiian quilts were able to fulfill many of the missionaries’ norms about Christian women, but also subvert aspects of the missionary belief system. Although the West gained influence in the islands, the Hawaiian quilt continued to voice the beliefs of native identity.

Keywords


quilting; Christianity; rhetoric; Native Hawaiian; gender; Indigenous identity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18432/ari29403

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