New Book Notice: Matthew Kester, Remembering Iosepa

By April 11, 2013

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.

IosepaBut 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!

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks, Ben. I’m looking forward to this one. Back in 2009, Kester published an article on Native Hawaiians in Utah and their exclusion from citizens in the Western Historical Quarterly.

    Comment by David G. — April 11, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

  2. I’m really excited about this book… the cost is the only reason why I haven’t bought it yet.

    Comment by Amanda HK — April 11, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

  3. That’s why you get review copies, Amanda 😉

    Comment by Ben P — April 11, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

  4. Thanks for the heads up, Ben. This looks great.

    Comment by Christopher — April 11, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

  5. Thanks for the notice, Ben. I actually visited the Iosepa site a few years ago: you go to Tooele, then head south a few miles. As I recall hearing the story from someone who knew it, a location out in the middle of the desert is not exactly what the islanders were hoping for, but I’m sure the book gives more details. I just hope it gives both sides of the story rather than a correlated account.

    Comment by Dave — April 11, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

  6. I lived in Tooele County for a while and spent some time exploring Skull Valley. Unless you’ve visited Skull Valley in the middle of winter and again in the middle of summer, it’s hard imagine how difficult it must have been for these Hawaiian Saints. Making a living by farming in Iosepa would have been extemely difficult even for those native to the Great Basin and familiar with irrigation. Hawaiian islanders must have felt like they had arrived on another planet. Soils are poor, water supplies meager, and water quality marginal. Even today, agriculture in Skull Valley is limited to a few ranches and a half dozen sprinkler irrigated alfalfa fields.

    There is a sadness to Iosepa. These Hawaiian Saints left here homes to join with Zion and then found themselves isolated in an alien landscape and culture. I admire their courage and devotion to the gospel, but I can’t wrap my head around why the Church wouldn’t have found a more hospitable enviroment for them. It may be telling that the Goshute Indian Reservation is located near Iosepa. I’m looking forward to the book and hoping for a few answers.

    Comment by Seldom — April 12, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

  7. Thanks all for reading the book and for your comments… I believe Oxford will be putting out the paperback version soon, which will be a lot less expensive. I certainly hope to have done the story of Iosepa justice. It’s an amazing story and an amazing community, and speaks to the diversity of the Latter-day Saint experience, both past and present.

    With aloha,


    Comment by Matt K — May 1, 2013 @ 11:07 pm

  8. Thanks for dropping by, Matt. Congratulations on the book.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 1, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

  9. For those interested, my review is now up at Mormon Letters.

    Comment by Ben P — May 7, 2013 @ 8:20 am


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