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Book Review, Current Issue, Vol. 31 No.3

Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance

Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance. Stephanie Nohelani Teves. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018; Pp. 220.

Given the ubiquity of “aloha” in Pacific tourism and marketing, Hollywood feature films, and Hawai’i state politics, what precisely does the concept offer for Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) now? Stephanie Nohelani Teves’s Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance crucially intervenes into the discourses, practices, and performances of aloha that appropriate the concept from its Hawaiian cultural context to the detriment of Kanaka Maoli. Drawing from Native Pacific cultural studies, American Indian studies, performance studies, and queer and feminist theory, Teves’s multidisciplinary text examines the complex negotiation and resignification of aloha within a range of contemporary Hawaiian performances, from Hip Hop musician Krystilez and drag queen Coco Chandelier to ghost tours and online commenting forums.

The varied performances that Teves examines point to how Kanaka Maoli experience aloha as both a constraining, disciplinary force and a connection to Indigenous identity and community. Teves tracks these contradictions of aloha throughout chapter one, such as its actual codification into law through the 1986 Aloha Spirit Law. She ultimately argues that Hawaiian performance articulates aloha as a strategy to disarticulate it from its most commodified forms and to enact defiant indigeneity. According to Teves, defiant indigeneity is performance that challenges, deconstructs, and resists colonial settler state politics, while also affirming the ongoing defiance, existence, and survivance of Indigenous peoples. Akin to José Esteban Muñoz’s theory of disidentification, defiant indigeneity “pushes forward this possibility of something else that creates and reconfigures Kanaka Maoli life through performance” (84). As a theory and method, defiant indigeneity allows for a capacious understanding of Indigenous performance and performativity as world-making.

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