This is the part of the year when posting slows down here at JI, as the end of another semester–and the prospect of final papers, grading, committee duties, etc.–cuts into our precious blogging time.
But scholarship still presses forward! This week, I received a review copy of Matthew Kester’s new and exciting Remembering Iosepa: History, Place, and Religion in the West, just released by Oxford University Press. Kester, a professor and archivist at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, explores a group of Hawaiin converts who joined the Mormon church, immigrated to Utah, established their own community in the middle of Deseret’s desert, yet eventually moved back to their homeland after the Laie Temple was built. I remember first hearing about this story when working on the Church’s Historic Sites Committee, and Benjamin Pykles, who also works on Mormon notions of space and has written an excellent book on Nauvoo, gave a presentation on the topic. Just the image of native Hawaiins building their own oasis in the desert is fascinating, and the story becomes even more interesting as you peel back the layers.
Here is the book’s blurb:
In the late nineteenth century, a small community of Native Hawaiian Mormons established a settlement in heart of The Great Basin, in Utah. The community was named Iosepa, after the prophet and sixth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph F. Smith. The inhabitants of Iosepa struggled against racism, the ravages of leprosy, and economic depression, by the early years of the twentieth century emerging as a modern, model community based on ranching, farming, and an unwavering commitment to religious ideals. Yet barely thirty years after its founding the town was abandoned, nearly all of its inhabitants returning to Hawaii. Years later, Native Hawaiian students at nearby Brigham Young University, descendants of the original settlers, worked to clean the graves of Iosepa and erect a monument to memorialize the settlers.
Remembering Iosepa connects the story of this unique community with the earliest Native Hawaiian migrants to western North America and the vibrant and growing community of Pacific Islanders in the Great Basin today. It traces the origins and growth of the community in the tumultuous years of colonial expansion into the Hawaiian islands, as well as its relationship to white Mormons, the church leadership, and the Hawaiian government. In the broadest sense, Mathew Kester seeks to explain the meeting of Mormons and Hawaiians in the American West and to examine the creative adaptations and misunderstandings that grew out of that encounter.
I’m only about fifty pages in at this point, but thus far it is great.
Importantly, this is yet another example of the new generation of Mormon historical studies: it blends exhaustive research with sophisticated theory to address issues much broader than Mormonism itself; indeed, the book’s very title (which doesn’t mention “Mormon”) hints to the fact that its intended audience is much larger than MHA–though it should certainly be an important contribution to that field, as well.
Order your copy today!