iʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart’s (Kanaka Maoli) Cooling the Tropics: Ice, Indigeneity, and Hawaiian Refreshment puts an incisive lens to critical questions of sensoria of cold, ice as comestible, and thermal infrastructures in Hawaii. How have sensoria, taste, and ideas and materialities of cold shaped the dimensions of settler colonialism, empire, dispossession, and Kanaka Maoli sovereignty? Hobart, in five fundamentally interdisciplinary and triumphantly historical chapters, offers crucial conclusions on that question. Cold drinks like martinis and mai-tai’s, and cold foods like ice cream and shave ice, operate as discursive and visual languages for what counts as whiteness, civility, “good taste,” and recreation in the tropics. Ice, first trafficked in from abroad and later made in ice factories and machines on the Hawaiian Islands, has been used by white settlers to signify and symbolize status and civility, and is simultaneously taken up to undermine Native Hawaiian sovereignty and claims to their lands. A cool drink, Hobart shows us, is not just a cool drink.  

Broadly conceived, Cooling the Tropics “examines how such normative thermal relationships between bodies and environments have developed as a function of American imperial power, arguing that they continue to operate today as embodied expressions of ongoing settler colonialism (2).” Insistent upon how these colonial vernaculars and projects traffic in media, popular culture, as well as constitute foodscapes, Hobart’s work equally presses that these languages also shape enactments of dispossession, and when/how/where Kanaka Maoli sovereignties must be forcefully articulated. Weaving together undeniably thorough archival research, discourse analysis, and a sharp eye for spatial politics, Hobart gifts readers a truly unique and original piece of scholarship—there’s a genre of brilliance for every kind of reader.

Bookending her text with the politics, resistance, and settler colonial activity being enacted at Mauna Kea, Hobart also grounds the work in Kanaka Maoli instantiations of experiencing and knowing cold. Writing against pervasive climate determinism that wants to pin certain bodies in climatic place that are said to determine racialized characteristics, Hobart demonstrates that Kanaka Maoli have long understood culturally, cosmologically, and ecologically the role of cold, snow, and its connection to the sacred. Mauna Kea has long been a place of important cold for Native Hawaiians—and crucially, in ways that cannot be ignored. Hobart additionally argues that Kanaka Maoli can know expertly about snow, ice, and cold especially at Mauna Kea without ever having corporeally experienced the space. The physical, phenomenological interaction with material land does not reign supreme when it comes to Kanaka Maoli relations and expertise, thus debunking any argument that the Mauna is empty and/or outside human relations or can only be truly known through quantitative Science.

Hobart’s Conclusion reinforces this idea as she narrates her experience working in the outdoor kitchens at Pu’uhonua o Pu’uhululu wherein protectors work to obstruct the path being built for the Thirty Meter Telescope. We follow the ways that community infrastructures of care and generosity come to bear on strategies to keep food cold for land protectors, and ultimately Hobart pushes her readers to reflect on the questions of melt. She asks, “Instead of desperately holding together the pieces of crumbling infrastructure that was never meant to serve us, the environmental intimacies of melt might guide us toward worlds persistently calling for our return, ones predicated on change and growth—worlds that also require our maintenance and care” (146). As melt forms differently around us, we are also differently called to our distinct responsibilities with place and land.

Sandwiched between bookend interventions at Mauna Kea in the modern moment are four chapters that take us through a rigorous history of cold comestibles in Hawaii, leaning toward the urban but also taking up the rural. Chapters Two and Three bring us through Honolulu, tracing out the various ways that ice and the ice trade in the 1850’s-60’s was made to provide indicators for status, civility, and whiteness. Hobart shows us that ice as it is made into a foodstuff and a commodity good on the market, as well as the ice-places where such goods are served, become sites where colonial notions of race and gender are forged together, separately, and are at once adjusted to meet ideological ends. In this way, ice and the capitalist infrastructure that sprouts up around it in the form of ice cream parlors and ice factories shape the material landscape and urban space just as much as ice cream as an ideological object forms and informs its consumer. Chapter Three similarly delivers a clear analysis of the production of ice and how Honolulu was made into urban space as a result. Ice as a comestible in Hobart’s text carves materially, spatially, and socially. Most specifically, Hobart writes, “enthusiasm or curiosity around ice consumption (even when rarely available) responded, then, to a growing anxiety around the international recognition of Hawaiian sovereignty in a time of expanding foreign commerce (48).” Where white women have access to ice cream parlors and experience increased mobility, and temperance movements utilize cold water as their reformation icon, cool temperatures and cool drinks counter and mark Kanaka Maoli as uncivilized and land annexation is then made more palatable and justified.

In Chapters Four and Five, Hobart continues her laser sharp scholarship to look at foods like poi and shave ice and how these foods align or get utilized to undermine Kanaka Maoli sovereignty and resistance. Through a comparison of two pieces of policy that target poi, a fermented form of kalo, one hundred years apart, Hobart demonstrates that poi has been consistenly criminalized through racist, anti-Indigenous, and anti-Asian rhetoric. Poi’s counter food is, of course, ice cream—it stands as exemplar of whiteness, civility, sterility, and sanitization of the West. Ice cream is a pure food where poi is heavily surveilled as a Native food that is said to not meet safety standards in its making—it is an object of difference obsessed over by the colonial state one hundred years ago and also today. Hobart goes further to demonstrate that restricting poi is not only a local disenfranchisement of Kanaka Maoli food sovereignties but is politically spatial and dispossessive on a larger scale: “restricting poi distribution in the city necessarily, conveniently, and lucratively collapsed the business of nearby agricultural suppliers, eventually making the land available for luxury homes and the flagship campus of the University of Hawaii” (110). Civility here, then, is represented by ice cream, by tourism, and by Western academe.

In Chapter Five, Hobart argues that shave ice is a comestible that operates a bit differently. Shave ice and literal rainbow of flavors act as a melting pot, allowing it to operate as a metonym and metaphor “for Hawa’i’s success as a multicultural state (113).” Shave ice provides a perfect object to think with that brings relief to the entanglements of American nationalism, aesthetic and sensorial experiences of cold, and the invention of localness through its consumption. Importantly, this local identity produced by the consumption and enjoyment of shave ice evacuates indigeneity from the conversation and from the land. Rainbow imagery displaces Kanaka Maoli claims to place, and re-places those sovereignties with the uplifting of racial admixture. Crucially, in this chapter Hobart demonstrates how these forms of racialized dispossession operate among non-white communities as well, citing Asian American settler colonialism and the ways that the melting pot attitude and discourse is not simply unidirectional emerging only from white settlers in Hawaii.

Hobart’s Cooling the Tropics delivers a truly interdisciplinary analysis. Impressively drawing from Native Studies, Oceania Studies, Environmental History, Media Studies, Food Studies, and Human Geography among other fields and orientations, Hobart demonstrates how to analyze empire and settler colonialism across time and method. Contributing to a rich, contemporary conversation of critical ruminations on materiality, the elements, and questions of race and indigeneity, Cooling the Tropics pushes readers to think about how indigeneity is shaped in colonial discourses not only by the materiality of land itself, but also the creation and traffic of commercial goods. If a reader has any doubt that ice cream has dispossessive effects, they will be entirely convinced by this book’s finish. Hobart’s text additionally contributes to a vibrant conversation that has some of its foundations in analyses of racialization vis a vis climate determinism, with a brilliant twist. Yes, bodies can be racialized based on what kinds of temperatures and geographies they are thought to best “fit,” and, Hobart shows us, the temperature of the foods preferred and ingested can also carry racializing powers. The temperature of foods can also be understood as most “natural” for certain peoples of certain geographies to consume, in this case, ice both makes whiteness and unmakes civility.

While attentive to the local politics of place as they are shaped, dispossessed, articulated and rearticulated, Hobart never loses sight of how empire is always at work. Ice is inseparable from questions and analyses of imperial power as it is made to move across the globe via routes of capital. Hobart makes us see how racialization, anti-Indigeneity, and oppression are not as simple as necessitating only a local investigation. We must ask, how does foreign ice arrive at the Hawaiian Islands? What conditions of possibility and thinkability are necessary in the settler colonial and imperial mindset to package New England pond ice in saw dust and crate it around Cape Horn to be plopped in a martini or an ice cream machine? Hobart lays bare exactly the audacity it takes, and the material and ideological ruts and routes it leaves in its path, as well as the Kanaka Maoli response and resistance to their lands that have been gouged and dispossessed. This well researched book will fascinate and keep readers on the hook.

Jen Rose Smith (dAXunhyuu) is an assistant professor of American Indian Studies and Geography at the University of Washington. She is writing a book about ice-geographies, coloniality, and racialization, and is part of the Editorial Collective at ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies. Her work has been featured in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vogue Magazine, and The Geographic Journal.