Bernice Pauahi Paki and Charles Reed Bishop: A Marriage of Imperialism and Intimacy in Nineteenth-Century Hawaiʻi

Quinn Akina


As a commercial acquisition and ideal location for American settlement, Hawaii was a vulnerable kingdom during the era of Manifest Destiny. Perhaps, it was this vulnerability, which underlay King Kamehameha III’s opposition to Hawaiian women “taking up with foreigners for husbands.” In 1850 at the age of 18, Princess Bernice Pauahi Paki challenged dynastic resistance when she terminated an arranged betrothal to a royal cousin in favor of marriage to a New England entrepreneur named Charles Reed Bishop. The joining of a Native Hawaiian princess and Anglo American foreigner at a time when Hawaii was the “object of expansionist lust” offers a rare but rich opportunity to examine the interplay of ethnicity, religion, class, and gender in attitudes toward interracial marriage. Moreover, an alliance of two unequally ranked individuals in such a complicated, power-laden scenario raises crucial questions about structures of dominance. For example, are power struggles and mutual love incompatible? Placing the Bishop marriage within a comprehensible framework that considers both imperialism and intimacy, this microhistorical narrative opens to critical scrutiny the idea that the union was a love match, strategic alliance, or both romantic and diplomatic. With its incorporation of Hawaii and United States histories, this project is a provocative analysis of a single marriage as an intimate and ambiguous zone of empire. My study of the intimate is not to turn away from structures of dominance entirely, but rather to relocate possibilities for individual agency in quasi-colonial contexts.


Imperialism; Intimacy; Interracial marriage; American missionaries; Kamehameha Dynasty; Bishop

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