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Dossier Du corps à l’image. La réinvention des performances culturelles en Océanie

Debating on Cultural Performances of Hawaiian Surfing in the 19th Century

Jérémy Lemarié
p. 159-174
This article is a translation of:
Débattre des performances culturelles hawaiiennes au xixe siècle


Several years after the debate on the invention of traditions in the Pacific, this article highlights some work that reproduces or deconstructs inaccurate statements dealing with Hawaiian cultural performances. Through the case study of he‘e nalu (Hawaiian surfing) in the 19th century, this analysis explains why anthropologists and historians have come to contradictory findings regarding its decline. Early works dealing with diaries of missionaries and sailors have argued for the near extinction of surfing, whereas a new school of thought tapping into Hawaiian sources and French literature has pinpointed its vivacity. To clarify controversy, this study examines American, British, French and Hawaiian primary sources and sheds light on the state of he‘e nalu and its cultural performances in the 19th century.

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He‘e nalu and power relations in ancient Hawai‘i
Why have Missionaries been made the scapegoat for the collapse of he‘e nalu?
The revival of surfing and the creation of the first surf clubs
Demystifying the surfing revival
Hawaiian royalty supported he‘e nalu
Gathering new evidence with the Romantics

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The Pacific Islands region has been a challenging ground for anthropologists since Hau‘ofa (1975: 287-288) pointed out the relative lack of indigenous scholars. In the contexts of globalization and decolonization, the monopoly of Western social scientists over the identification of native traditions has been a matter of debate for the last forty years. In Hawai‘i, anthropologists like Roger Keesing (1989), Jocelyn Linnekin (1983) and Marshall Sahlins (1981) were targeted as reinforcing colonization by claiming that some customs were indigenous and some were not (Friedman, 1992a: 197, 1992b: 852, 1993: 746-748, 2002: 217-2018; White and Tengan, 2001: 385 ; Trask, 1991: 163 ; 1993: 127-130). These authors argued that some Pacific customs were ‘invented’ (Linnekin, 1983: 244) or ‘reinvented’ (Keesing, 1989: 22) when Hawaiian groups contested American hegemony by claiming indigenous rights ranging from recognition of Hawaiian ancestry to nationhood, in the 1970s. This issue of “invented...

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Bibliographical reference

Jérémy Lemarié, « Debating on Cultural Performances of Hawaiian Surfing in the 19th Century », Le Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 142-143 | 2016, 159-174.

Electronic reference

Jérémy Lemarié, « Debating on Cultural Performances of Hawaiian Surfing in the 19th Century », Le Journal de la Société des Océanistes [Online], 142-143 | 2016, Online since 31 December 2018, connection on 20 July 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/jso.7625

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About the author

Jérémy Lemarié

Maître de conférences vacataire en sociologie à l’Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne,

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