In The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen Noenoe K. Silva reconstructs the indigenous intellectual history of a culture where—using Western standards—none is presumed to exist. Silva examines the work of two lesser-known Hawaiian writers—Joseph Ho‘ona‘auao Kānepu‘u (1824–ca. 1885) and Joseph Moku‘ōhai Poepoe (1852–1913)—to show how the rich intellectual history preserved in Hawaiian-language newspapers is key to understanding Native Hawaiian epistemology and ontology.
In their newspaper articles, geographical surveys, biographies, historical narratives, translations, literatures, political and economic analyses, and poetic works, Kānepu‘u and Poepoe created a record of Hawaiian cultural history and thought in order to transmit ancestral knowledge to future generations. Celebrating indigenous intellectual agency in the midst of US imperialism, The Power of the Steel-tipped Pen is a call for the further restoration of native Hawaiian intellectual history to help ground contemporary Hawaiian thought, culture, and governance.