Pineapple Kingdom:
U.S. Conquest and the Hawaiian Pineapple

Shana Klein

"Pineapple Kingdom: U.S. Conquest and the Hawaiian Pineapple" was published in Active Cultures’ Digest, Issue 06, September 2020.

Images: Fig. 1. Marion Mason Hale, cover of The Kingdom That Grew Out of A Little Boy's Garden (Hawaiian Pineapple Company, 1931). Fig. 2. Marion Mason Hale, detail from The Kingdom That Grew Out of A Little Boy's Garden (Hawaiian Pineapple Company, 1931).


Shana Klein is a historian of American art. She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of New Mexico and is the author of the forthcoming book The Fruits of Empire: Art, Food, and the Politics of Race in the Age of American Expansion (University of California Press, 2020). Klein has been awarded several fellowships for her research at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Henry Luce Foundation, and Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, among others. Klein's research interests include American visual and material culture, food studies, race and post-colonial studies, and art and social justice.

As a pre-doctoral fellow combing through materials in the archive, I came across a colorful booklet about the Hawaiian Pineapple Company from 1927 entitled, "The Kingdom that Grew Out of a Little Boy's Garden" (Fig. 1). The cover illustration features a blonde-haired boy in a red tie and argyle socks, seated on the ground, shoveling soil around a plant. This genteel outfit seems an odd choice for working outdoors with dirt, but the aerial view of manicured fields behind the boy confirms that this depiction is idealized. The boy pictured here is, however, not a fictional character, but most likely James Drummond Dole, who would grow up to earn a degree in horticulture from Harvard University and start the Hawaiian Pineapple Company on 61 acres of land outside Honolulu in the early 1900s. This booklet advertising the Hawaiian Pineapple Company charts Dole's beginnings and provides dreamy images of pineapple fields and pineapple desserts that transport readers to an edenic, tropical Hawai'i.

But, as is the case for many food advertisements, what is excluded from the narrative is just as important as what is included. The pineapple "kingdom" that this booklet describes does not address the actual kingdom in Hawai'i that was destroyed by U.S. invaders at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1893, American forces overthrew Hawai'i's indigenous ruler, Queen Lili'uokalani, and took control of the Hawaiian capital. After imprisoning the Queen on the second floor of the 'Iolani Palace for nearly a year, Americans ousted the indigenous government and set up an interim one with U.S. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sanford Ballard Dole, James Dole's cousin once removed. A year later, the interim government appointed Sanford as Hawai'i's first governor, and then in 1900, the region was officially annexed. Annexation may have provided a favorable climate for U.S. business in Hawai'i, but its toll on Native Hawaiians was nothing short of devastating; the population shrunk profoundly from one million in 1778 to 40,000 in the years of annexation, a result similar to the genocide of Native Americans in the central United States.1 In the 1927 booklet describing James Dole as a hero who grew a fruit empire out of a modest garden, the Hawaiian pineapple is noticeably disconnected from indigenous removal and the deadly force of U.S. conquest.

Instead, the booklet's photographs endorse the U.S. agenda to control Hawai'i, including one image that shows an entrepreneur, likely James Dole, holding a pineapple on a sprawling landscape that stretches to the horizon (Fig. 2). Rows upon rows of pineapple plants rise from the soil, their crowns forming an ocean of silver spikes. A trail of pineapples stacked on the ground leads the viewer's eye to the man in the center who cradles a pineapple and stands alone in the sea of fruit. This picture is a fitting follow-up to the booklet's cover page that claims what can happen when American dreams are realized in Hawai'i. The man's solitary position in the landscape amidst vast fields spun the pineapple business as a heroic venture requiring a sense of adventure to start a new life in Hawai'i. Holding a pineapple like a trophy, the pineapple entrepreneur at center told viewers that the Hawaiian landscape could yield rich rewards.

These rewards, however, were paved on lands stolen from Native Hawaiians, whose communities were violently displaced, forced into indentured servitude by American companies, condemned for speaking native languages and practicing rituals, and ultimately decimated as a result of U.S. invasions. Indigenous activist Noenoe K. Silva writes, "step by step, the religion, the land, the language, and finally the government were overtaken by the drive for imperial domination."2 Also part of the program to colonize Hawai'i was the desire to colonize its natural landscape and cultivate pineapples on a large scale—an intimidating feat given that the fruit was not even indigenous to the region. When James Dole established the Hawaiian Pineapple Company and eventually succeeded in distributing pineapples to the masses, he directly benefited from the U.S. conquest led by his cousin and the program of indigenous removal attached to it. Although not everyone was seduced by fantasies of colonizing Hawai'i (a number of American congressmen opposed the U.S. invasion of the region), the publication of booklets such as The Kingdom that Grew Out of a Little Boy's Garden made American intervention in Hawai'i seem triumphant without referencing any of its lethal consequences. The meticulously dressed boy cultivating neat rows of plants on the cover of the company booklet contributes to this fantasy of the Hawaiian pineapple, covering up a history that was anything but virtuous.

1. Candace Fujikane, Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawai'i, Ed. Candace Fujikane and Jonathan Y. Okamura (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2008).

2. Noenoe K. Silva, Aloha, Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).

Active Cultures is a cultural organization that explores the convergence of food and art in contemporary life.