Development of the Western History Curriculum
By Robert Kajiwara
Done in partial completion of the Ph.D. in History degree at Liberty University
For many millennials, the idea of “group project” or “collaborative work” is terrifying. Millennials generally like some amount of socialization in work and life, so long as it does not interfere with their own work or creative processes, which “group work” is often known to do.1 A group, when comprised of people who work well together, have similar goals and complementary work styles, can often be extremely efficient and fruitful. However, group work in schools and some jobs are usually comprised of randomly assigned individuals with a varying degree of interests, visions, motivations, and abilities, and usually produces poor results while leaving few people happy. It is often slow, cumbersome, and ineffective, thus leaving many millennials with a negative overall impression of group work.
With that being said, one subject of historical study that might be well-suited for collaborative research would be the development of the Western history curriculum, which is itself a sort of large-scale collaboration with few easy answers and a plethora of controversy. Among the sources I had to select from were several that discussed this issue.
I was surprised to learn that during the late 1980s through the mid-90s there was a movement at Stanford University that wanted to do away with Western culture.2 I was just a little kid when these things were occurring. Although I am well known for being critical of imperialism and colonization done by both Western and non-Western nations, I have never advocated for the destruction of Western culture, or any other culture for that matter. On the contrary, many non-Western peoples, including both Ryukyuans and Hawaiians, have utilized some elements of Western culture to our advantage. We of course advocate for the preservation and promotion of our own respective cultures, while utilizing elements of other cultures as appropriate and altering them to fit our own needs. Thus, very few Ryukyuans or Hawaiians would advocate for the complete removal of all Western cultural elements from our societies, and would consider such a prospect to be excessive and extreme.
To be clear, there are some undesirable elements of Western culture that have forced themselves upon both Ryukyuans and Hawaiians, though this is the result of Western imperialism and colonization, not on Western culture. Some might argue that Western culture in part encourages imperialism and colonization, though this is a very general statement, and certainly not all aspects of Western culture are part of this. In my opinion, it is thus much more accurate to say that imperialism and colonization are wrong, and not Western culture as a whole.
The debate regarding Western history curriculums has been complex and messy.3 In 1979 Yale University returned $20 million that had been donated by Lee Bass for the study of Western Civilization.4 The money was ostensibly returned due to resentment of the excessive focus on Western Civilization in university history departments, and a desire to broaden Yale’s curriculum. As someone who focuses on Asian and Pacific Island studies, I am certainly in favor of a broadened curriculum and offering more courses on non-Western civilizations. But I do not think that means that studies on Western civilization have to be curtailed and that universities should not accept donations for its study. It is certainly possible to incorporate both Western and non-Western studies in a curriculum without compromising depth and quality. The study of one does not have to mean the neglect of the other.
I think it is a mistake to issue blanket statements like “Western culture needs to go,” because it is extremely general, does not actually get to the root of issues, and “throws the baby out with the bathwater,” so to speak. During a recent trip to the United Nations my colleagues and I attended a panel presentation on sexual violence. One of my female colleagues who is well-known for her advocacy against sexual violence was disappointed when one of the panelists stated that she “hates men.” I wasn’t offended because I understood the context of the statement, and I try to empathize with the pain of oppressed and marginalized demographics. But my female colleague pointed out that though sexual violence is predominantly targeted at women, it does also impact some men, and in any case, general statements like “I hate men” tend to be counterproductive and even harmful towards addressing issues, making progress, and protecting the rights of oppressed demographics.
Likewise I think it is unhelpful to make generalized statements when planning a history curriculum. Students should have a broad understanding of World history, with a variety of options to study different civilizations from around the world. In my opinion students should be required to have at least a little bit of experience studying a culture outside of their own in order to provide greater empathy and cross-cultural experience. This is standard practice in most countries, though it tends to be lost in the American history curriculum. Doing so will better prepare students to know how to handle cross-cultural interactions, will provide fuller, more accurate, and more nuanced views of history, and will improve the overall quality of historical studies.
Kaylin, Jennifer. Bass, Yale, and Western Civ. Yale Alumni Magazine. Summer 1995. Retrieved 7 December 2019 from: http://archives.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/95_07/bass.html.
Machen, J. Gresham. Testimony before the House & Senate Committees on the Proposed Department of Education. 1926. Retrieved 7 December 2019 from: https://reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/christian_education/Machen_before_congress.html
Nash, Gary. “Reflections on the National History Standards.” National Forum. Summer 1997. Retrieved 7 December 2019 from: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mlassite/discussions261/nash.html.
Sacks, David O., Thiel, Peter A. “How the West Was Lost at Stanford.” Independent Institute. 1 September 1995. Retrieved 7 December 2019 from: http://www.independent.org/news/article.asp?id=5205
Windle, Benjamin. 8 Innovations to Leading Millennials. The Thrive Co. 2019.
1Windle, Benjamin. 8 Innovations to Leading Millennials. The Thrive Co. 2019.
2Sacks, David O., Thiel, Peter A. “How the West Was Lost at Stanford.” Independent Institute. 1 September 1995. Retrieved 7 December 2019 from: http://www.independent.org/news/article.asp?id=5205
3Nash, Gary. “Reflections on the National History Standards.” National Forum. Summer 1997. Retrieved 7 December 2019 from: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mlassite/discussions261/nash.html.
4 Kaylin, Jennifer. Bass, Yale, and Western Civ. Yale Alumni Magazine. Summer 1995. Retrieved 7 December 2019 from: http://archives.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/95_07/bass.html.
By Robert Kajiwara
Done in partial completion of of the PhD in History program at Liberty University
As part of my studies in the Ph.D. in History program at Liberty University, Dr. Joseph Super offered valuable feedback regarding my lecture on the History of Okinawans in Hawaii. His first question was why was there a large gap in time between Kalakaua’s request for workers in 1881 and 1900 when the first Okinawans finally migrated to Hawaii. This is a good question that deserves addressing.
Though Japan had annexed Ryukyu in 1879, and in 1881 Kalakaua requested migrants come to Hawaii, Ryukyuans were not immediately drawn to the offer. They were still trying to restore their independence, or to at least advance their rights and well-being through negotiations with Japan. Japan’s attempts following the annexation to eliminate Ryukyu culture, language, history, and religion were met with open hostility, and even spurred Ryukyuan resentment towards Japan.1 Thus the priority of most Ryukyuans at the time immediately following annexation was not to migrate, but to try and improve their situation.
As mentioned in the video, some Ryukyuans did migrate to China during or immediately following the annexation process. They did this in order to try and get the Chinese government to help restore Ryukyu’s independence.2 China at the time, though, was going through several internal and external crises of their own and was unable to help. China itself would soon be colonized by Britain, France, Russia, and Japan, and then fall into a disastrous civil war.
The first Ryukyuans finally did migrate to Hawaii in 1900. Those who did were generally not the adults who had lived through the annexation, but their children who had come of age and found their job prospects nil due to Japan’s abolishing of the Ryukyu government as well as the land redivision, leaving them with few fields to work or ocean resources to harvest, as had been the norm since time immemorial.3 Most Okinawans who migrated to Hawaii were in their late teens or early twenties and found the plantation work in Hawaii to be their best option – or in some cases, their only option.
Dr. Super’s next critique was that I put significant time and attention into dispelling the false reasons that sparked the Ryukyu diaspora. I was aware of this, but I nevertheless believe it to be necessary and important. The false reasons mentioned in the video have been well-propagated, including in some of the most popular books about the diaspora, and had I not taken the time to dispell these fallacies it would surely give way to much questioning and criticism. Normally I would not devote such time and attention to dispelling false information in an overview history lecture, but in this case I believe it was necessary.
Kerr’s false reasons for migrating are highly damaging for Ryukyuans even in the present day because it advances the notion that Ryukyuans must rely on foreign nations (a.k.a. colonization) for our economic well-being. This continues to have a significant impact on most of the issues Ryukyu currently faces. In other words, I think Kerr’s bias is in favor of the military colonization of Ryukyu as can be seen in his derogatory and inaccurate descriptions of some of Okinawa’s characteristics, thus justifying the ongoing military occupation of Ryukyu by Japan and the United States.
I should mention that I do not believe all of Kerr’s work is inaccurate. He generally did a good job of demonstrating Ryukyuans as an independent nation. Had he simply stopped at this, he would probably be fondly remembered by Ryukyuans. Instead, his frequent use of words such as “primitive,” “barbaric,” and “semi-civilized” to describe Ryukyuans is indicative of his bias, his lack of historical empathy, and his lack of understanding of Ryukyu.
I plan on later doing a detailed critique of Kerr’s best known work, Okinawa: History of an Island People.
I think that all people, including historians, naturally have a bias and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. As Dr. Noelani Goodyear-Ka’opua told me, “All scholars (and people in general) have biases. Some scholars are aware of and up front about our biases and positionality. Others are not, and that is a reflection of their privilege.”
Academic studies about large nations are usually not detrimental to their survival or well-being, even if they contain some errors. For indigenous people, though, an inaccurate study can have a profoundly damaging impact on their day-to-day lives and even jeopardize our survival. Indigenous peoples such as Ryukyuans do not have the luxury of tolerating false information propagated by others that is harmful to the nation.
Overall Dr. Super’s feedback was helpful and will be useful when creating future lectures.
1Kerr, George. Okinawa: History of an Island People. Singapore: Charles E. Tuttle Company. 1958.
2“Kochi Chojo.” Ryukyu Shimpo. https://ryukyushimpo.jp/okinawa-dic/prentry-41324.html
3Uchinanchu: A History of Okinawans in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1981.
By Robert Kajiwara
All Ryukyuans (Luuchuuans) trace their genealogy back to Amamichuu, the matriarch of the Ryukyu Islands, and her husband Shinirichuu.1 According to tradition and the Umuru Usooshi (Omoro Sooshi – the written compilation of ancient Ryukyu oral traditions), Amamichuu was sent by God (Chinmamun, in the Okinawan language – literally, “Heaven’s Emperor” or “Heavens Supreme Lord and Protector”) to populate the Ryukyu Islands. Legend has it that God placed them on Kudaka, which is one of the close neighboring islands just to the east of Okinawa Island. The date of this event is not known, though modern archeological evidence suggests the Ryukyu Islands were populated as early as 32,000 B.C.2 To this day Kudaka is considered one of the most sacred locations in all of Ryukyu, and Ryukyuans regularly make pilgrimages there to pay homage to their ancestors and give thanks to Heaven for bringing them to Ryukyu.
My ancestors lived in the town of Yuntanja, or Yomitan, located around the west-central part of Okinawa Island. During the early 1400s Yuntanja had a leader known as Gusamaru (or Gosamaru) who proved to be extremely well-liked by the public as well as a capable leader and engineer.3 Around the year 1440 Gosamaru was asked by the Ryukyu Kingdom court to move to Nakagusuku to improve its castle and region. Several families from Yuntanja, including my own, chose to follow Gosamaru to Nakagusuku.4 My family genealogy can be found in the ancient records stored in the Nakagusuku Village and Yomitan Town archives. As with most Ryukyuans, my written genealogical records can be traced back to around 1,000 years ago.
Ryukyu experienced two golden ages, the first around the 15th – 16th centuries, and the second between the 18th – 19th centuries.5 Around the 15th century Ryukyu banned weapons in order to promote peace, and Ryukyu had friendly diplomatic relations with all of its neighbors. Ryukyu became a center for international trade, particularly with China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, and modern day Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Ryukyu government had requested that China send people to assist with the Ryukyu government administration, to teach Chinese studies to Ryukyuans, and to act as diplomats between Ryukyu and China. In 1392 the famous 36 Min Families arrived in Ryukyu from Fujian, China. They were given the district of Kuninda (Kumemura), located close to the royal court at Shuri, to inhabit. Overtime these Chinese scholar-bureaucrats eventually intermarried and assimilated into Ryukyu society, and today many Ryukyuans can trace partial lineage back to them.
In 1879 Japan invaded Ryukyu using modern Western-style military weapons, and annexed it against the will of the Ryukyuan people. Japan, of course, went on to do the same to many other countries, such as Korea, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and more. The annexation devastated Ryukyu’s economy. Ryukyuans, who up until this point had been wealthy and prosperous, suddenly found themselves living in poverty. Particularly impacted were the government workers of the Ryukyu Kingdom, who now found themselves out of a job. This sparked the Ryukyu diaspora, in which thousands of Ryukyuans would flee into exile overseas to China, Hawaii, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, and elsewhere between the late-19th through the mid-20th centuries.
Meanwhile the Hawaiian Kingdom found itself in a crisis due to the massive decline in the Hawaiian population. Hawaii’s King Kalakaua worried that his people would eventually become outnumbered by haole (foreign, or white) settlers who were attempting to colonize and take over the Hawaiian Islands. Kalakaua saw Asians and Hawaiians as cousins, and requested that Asians and Pacific Islanders come to Hawaii to help replenish the Hawaiian population and assist the Hawaiian Kingdom. In 1881, just two years after the annexation of Ryukyu, Kalakaua traveled to Japan where he met with the Meiji Government, and requested that Japanese and Ryukyuans migrate to Hawaii, to which Japan agreed.6
In 1893 a small group of white American businessmen conspired with the United States Ambassador to overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom monarchy and establish their own oligarchy in what is often considered the single most traumatic event in Hawaiian history.7 Hawaiians to this day have struggled to re-establish Hawaii’s de facto independence.
The first Ryukyuans would arrive in Hawaii in 1900.8 Ryukyuans in Hawaii are often called Okinawans, or Uchinaanchu, since the majority migrated from Okinawa Island. In 1907 my great-grandfather Seitoku Fija (Higa) arrived in Maui from Nakagusuku.9 Ten years later my great-grandmother, Kamata Fija (Higa) would also arrive.10 They would eventually move to the Hakalau plantation village, located on the Island of Hawaii. Like most Okinawans, they would send money back home to their families in Ryukyu. Eventually they saved enough money and moved to the Island of Oahu. To this day Okinawans in Hawaii maintain thriving communities and relations with our friends and relatives in Okinawa.
Armstrong, Nevins Williams. Around the World With a King. New York: FA Strokes. 1904.
Coffman, Tom. Nation Within. Duke University Press: 2003.
Nakagusuku Village Historical Records.
Omoro Sooshi. 1531.
Sai On. Chuzan Seifu. 1697.
Sho Shoken, Sai Taku. Chuzan Seikan. 1650.
Hawaii Tomari Doshi Kai History Book.
Kyuyo. Tei Heitetsu, et. al. The Ryukyu Kingdom. 1745, 1876.
Uchinanchu: A History of Okianwans in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1981.
Yomitan Town Historical Records.
Yousuke Kaifu, Masaki Fujita. “Fossil record of early modern humans in East Asia.” Quaternary International. Volume 248, 18 January 2012, 2-11.
1Omoro Sooshi. 1531.
Sai Taku. Chuzan Seifu. 1697.
Sho Shoken. Chuzan Seikan. 1650.
2Yousuke Kaifu, Masaki Fujita. “Fossil record of early modern humans in East Asia.” Quaternary International. Volume 248, 18 January 2012, 2-11.
3Yomitan Town Historical Records.
4Nakagusuku Village Historical Records.
5The exact start and end dates of Ryukyu’s two golden ages are up for debate by scholars.
6 Armstrong, Nevins Williams. Around the World With a King. New York: FA Strokes. 1904.
7 Coffman, Tom. Nation Within. Duke University Press: 2003.
8Uchinanchu: A History of Okianwans in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1981.
9Hawaii Tomari Doshi Kai History Book.
Back in 2000, Dr. Haunani-Kay Trask wrote a fascinating article published in Amerasia Journal about Asian settler colonization in Hawaii. In short, Hawaiians have been colonized and oppressed not just by haole (white) Americans, but also by many Asian settlers to Hawaii, the majority of whom have supported and benefited from the U.S. occupation of Hawaii.
In actuality, local Asians in Hawaii should support the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Click the link below to read this fascinating article.
Trask, Haunani-Kay. Settlers of Color and “Immigrant” Hegemony: “Locals” in Hawai’i. Amerasia Journal. 2000;26(2):1.