“Unfamiliar Fishes” by Sarah Vowell

“Unfamiliar Fishes” by Sarah Vowell

“Unfamiliar Fishes,” is author Sarah Vowell’s new book that focused on what happened when a small group of protestant missionaries sailed from Boston Harbor in 1819 with the goal of saving the souls of the Native Hawaiian people.

Vowell has a great passion for traveling and learning about the history of the places she travels to, therefore this is her third book on U.S. history. The reason she used the words “unfamiliar fishes” was because throughout the book you will stumble upon unfamiliar Hawaiian words such as Kalakaua and Liliuokalani.

“Hawai’i went from having no written language here on the islands to seventy-five percent of all Hawaiians learning to read and write their native language,” said Vowell.

I am currently reading this book and I think it has a lot of humor and facts about the history of Hawai’i and the American Annexation in Hawai’i in 1898 which I found most interesting to read about. Vowell mentioned in the beginning of the article there were an estimated 300,000 native Hawaiians in 1778 Captain James Cook, the first Christian/non-Hawaiian can ashore. By the year 1990, the population of Hawai’i was a minority being a mix between native Hawaiians and Asia descent.

I believe that this is a great book for those interested in Hawaii’s language history because Vowell mentions how Protestant missionaries wanted to help save the Hawaiian language by creating a written language for the natives. Because of this, we now to this day have a written language that people in Hawai’i are learning every day.

Hawaiian immersion schools are teaching the written and oral language and we even have a Hawaiian Language Online Dictionary. Overall, if it was not for the missionaries that traveled to Hawai’i, then the Hawaiian language would not be alive now and Vowell stresses on the specific of this time in history in her novel.

Here are articles about Vowell’s book:

NPR Article

The Kansas City Star Newspaper Article

Here is a link of a video interview with Vowell:



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