Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

-Nelson Mandela

Reggae music is a form of popular culture that has heavily impacted Oceania's musical, as well as social and cultural landscapes. The music's substantial following in the region gives it a large sphere of influence amongst Oceanic Island societies that reaches far beyond what is commonly perceived. Where once pillars of Oceanic societies like navigation were the primary links between the different islands, I would argue that reggae music is one of the larger contemporary links now connecting islands not only in Oceania, but throughout the planet. For many individuals and groups, reggae has been used as a platform to express to listeners all over the world the life experiences and realities of Oceanic peoples. In some cases, reggae has even become the voice of resistance against the Western hegemonic structures that continue to control much of the peoples and cultures within the region to this very day.  

Reggae sends strong messages of love, unity, and positivity which have undoubtedly made and continue to make a meaningful impact on the livelihoods of many people in Oceania, the diaspora communities throughout the world, and non-Oceanic Islanders. Furthermore, as places that are home to people of a wide range of ethnicities, the music has been pivotal at providing a space that promotes the unification of different groups, integrating multiple ethnicities and cultures, forging a broader Oceanic identity, and allowing a genuine connection to Oceanic peoples through the music. It has also helped connect Oceanianians to a global network, giving them the ability to express and represent themselves to other people around the world.

Reggae in Hawaiʻi and Oceania is far too often overlooked as simply music or some type of passing youth fad. Because of this, I set out to make my research help people understand the underlying movement that is taking place through this music as well as perhaps some important reasons for its resonance in the region beyond the stereotypes.  I hope that by exploring the topic from a more critical and deeper vantage point that it helps readers transcend beyond the typical understanding of reggae music, ultimately illuminating the true power that it possess and the positive contributions to society that it has made. Lastly I hope that my research helps people see this music as a contemporary form of expression for people of all heritages here in Hawaiʻi, Oceania, and the world. A music that revolves heavily around the present yet is strongly rooted in the past, tied not only to the legacy of colonialism that it was born out of, but more importantly ancient concepts about humanity and the rights of all of human beings.  

The purpose of this study was to gain more understanding of Pacific Island Society through the lens of music by locating the role of reggae in the contemporary Pacific. Primarily this study focuses on the islands of Hawaiʻi, ultimately aiming to use these islands as a window into the region as a whole. Specifically, I was interested in the music’s socio-cultural impact within the Hawaiian Islands and set out to achieve a better understanding about why the music has been appropriated in these places, how the music has been localized, and what are the larger implications of this phenomena, in particular as it relates to Pacific Island culture and society within the themes of globalization, social empowerment, human unification, anti-colonialism, and representations/identity. 

This musical phenomena is part of a larger discussion that involves a more general context of Pacific Island societies, thus linking into the field of Pacific Islands Studies which examines a broad range of social, cultural, political, economical, and historical knowledge within the region.

Pacific Islands studies at UH Mānoa is an innovative, interdisciplinary program committed to the production and dissemination of a wide range of knowledge about Oceania. The program focuses on the Island societies of this vast region, and the dynamic cultural, social, and political interactions that link them to each other as well as to the rest of the world. It seeks to understand the many worlds of Oceania through multiple conceptual lenses, drawn selectively from a range of academic disciplines and from the knowledge systems of the region itself. Pacific Islands studies promotes active, student-centered approaches to learning and encourages creativity in research and representation of Island issues.

-Center For Pacific Islands Studies at University of Hawai'i

My main intentions with this project are to first and foremost provide valuable insight and uncover many of the unspoken or unwritten details about this particular form of music by helping lay some of the scholarly groundwork on the topic. Secondly I aim to provide a space for critical dialogue on the subject matter that hopefully will help spark the interest and open the doors for more scholars to explore a cultural phenomena that for its tremendous impact on Oceanic Island societies has been paid little to no attention in the world of academia. 

Some major questions that drove the research were: How did reggae reach Hawaiʻi/Oceania and why has it had such resonance? How have these cultures collectively/distinctively localized the music? What are the similarities and differences amongst other geo-cultural consumer areas within Oceania as well as around the world? Who is playing/listening to this music and what are the implications? What type of social and cultural movements are attached to the music, if any, and what is their impact on these island societies? How do exported Hawaiian and Oceanic versions of reggae impact the people who listen to them? 

For thousands of years indigenous Pacific Islanders have had their own ways of understanding their world, remembering their pasts, and acquiring knowledge, expressed through an abundance of ways such as oral traditions, dance, songs, and tattoos to name just a few. In the wake of these cultures encounter with the Western world, much of these ways of knowing and remembering were overridden, thrown aside, and in some cases lost entirely as a result of the growing supremacy of the Western model.  However a movement led by both indigenous and non-indigenous Pacific Islanders has pushed for the reclamation of these traditional ways as an equally credible and respected source within the world of academia and beyond. It is with many of these traditional methods that I attempted to blend into the conventional ones to bring diverse sources of knowledge into this study. 

Ultimately, in my opinion, in order for the movement to decolonize the field of Pacific Studies to be successful, integrating the indigenous voice, perspective, and epistemology into the dominant discourse of Pacific Island Studies as Dr. Wesley-Smith put it are fundamental. To go above and beyond, it is also important that we acknowledge and celebrate the merit of these inside and outside of academia. Secondly and perhaps most importantly, it is pivotal that we direct the focus and use the knowledge that is gained from studying Oceania to benefit the people of the region and the communities they live in. As Stewart Firth asks, “How can we understand the region in ways that will make people better off?” Once Pacific Islanders are realigned as not just the center of the study, but the center of the production that goes on behind the study and the primary benefactor of what comes out of these studies, then we can rest assured that serious steps towards decolonizing the field of Pacific Studies have been made. 

With that said, I felt that producing a website instead of a traditional thesis was the most appropriate way to share the knowledge I have learned. The literature that resulted from the research needed to be presented alongside the music, art, and film that influenced it. A website allows the knowledge to be utilized both inside and outside of scholarship so that the work can be just accessible to a middle school student as it is to PhD candidate. I hope that this site creates a platform for artists, fans, students, and so many others to come to listen, watch, read, learn, and contribute making the relationship between the knowledge a two way street. Hopefully it also allows the study to continue growing, not just sit as a static piece of information so that the discourse on the subject can continue to be revised as the future unfolds and parts of the story previously unknown are discovered.

Literature Review & Conceptual Framework 

Some of the knowledge for this project was based off a handful of literary selections that directly address the theme of reggae in the Oceania. The first and one of the main pieces I referenced was Jennifer Cattermole’s masters thesis titled “The routes of roots reggae in Aotearoa/New Zealand: the musical construction of place and identity.” The piece explores how New Zealand musicians and consumers have used reggae to locate and construct their sense of place and cultural identity, using reggae to overcome their sense of cultural dislocation, marginalization, and demoralizations. Ultimately Cattermoles thesis aims to examine reggae in New Zealand in order to shed light on how the acceleration in the pace of globalisation has changed the dynamics within the multiple relationships between culture, identity and place, leading people to re-think and reflect about place in different ways as they become increasingly aware of human interconnectedness around the globe. I used a similar approach my own thesis, except switching the site from Aotearoa to Hawaii.

Another important piece of Pacific literature related to my study is ku‘ualoha ho‘omanawanui’s “From Ocean to Oshen: Reggae, Rap, and Hip Hop in Hawai’i.” This piece takes a more historical look at the evolution of reggae in Hawaiʻi, especially through the Jawaiian phase, and examines the music as a form of cultural hybridity. I plan on using this work as a historical reference point to build off as I lead into the contemporary state of the music. Another piece I pulled from is Luis Alvarezʻs “Reggae Rhythms in Dignity’s Diaspora: Globalization, Indigenous Identity, and the Circulation of Cultural Struggles.” Alvarezʻs essay explores the consumption of reggae amongst diverse indigenous groups and theorizes the cultural connections between these groups and the establishment of a “diaspora” through reggae based of shared struggles for empowerment, dealing heavily with the themes of indigenous identity and globalization that were components of this project. 

Last but certainly not least, this style of my thesis was influenced by former CPIS graduate April Hendersons masters project titled “Gifted Flows: Netting the Imagery of Hip Hop Across the Samoan Diaspora”, Her work, although not directly related to my topic, is a sound example of how to explore a particular genre of music’s socio-cultural role in a Pacific Island society.  I relied mainly on the study of reggae in the Caribbean context through a collection of essays from notable scholars in the field titled “Chanting Down Babylon” as well as the work of one of the leading reggae academic specialist, Barry Chevannes.

Finally, I drew from some of the more broad theoretical frameworks of great thinkers and visionaries. These are some of the notable scholars whose ideas and concepts have influenced this work: Globalization – Victoria Lockwood, Stewart Firth, Indigenous Knowledge & Epistemology – David Gegeo, Epeli Hau'ofa, Albert Wendt, Decolonization & Resistance – Franz Fanon, Identity/Representation – Stuart Hall, Vilsoni Hereniko, Popular Music Culture – Reiland Rabaka. 
Hopefully this study will contribute and expand on this existing literature on Oceanic/Hawaiian reggae as well as more general literature about reggae, by addressing the various dimensions that have made it important in the Caribbean context: struggles against colonialism and oppression, a reflection of life-worlds and realities, an uplifting tool for political and sociocultural change, and as a vehicle for liberation. 


Banner Description

Illustration & Text by Kamea Hadar

“Mahiai” is the Hawaiian word for “farm” or “farmer”. Here the three dimensional canvas splits the mahiai down the middle, showing him balancing a bunch of green bananas in one hand and a machete in the other. The division alludes to Man’s changing relationship with Nature. In his earliest days as a hunter-gatherer, Man was at the mercy of Mother Nature and what she randomly provided for him. Later, with the development of agriculture, the relationship changed and the two sides began struggling for control. In recent times Man has gained more and more power and has become so overwhelming that the rest of the environment is suffering. The majority of today’s population has no idea of how to live in harmony with our earth because urbanization and technology have taken Man’s personal connection with Nature out of the equation. This disconnection is represented by the white cloth printed with a luxury brand-like logo that the mahiai wears around his neck. It contrasts greatly with his rural and very “blue-collar” lifestyle, and hints at the modernity that comfortably wraps us yet at the same time has a choke hold on our lives. The figure looks up toward his future with a stern and questioning gaze, wondering if Man can find some kind of equilibrium with Nature that will give his bananas time to ripen and one day allow us to see the fruits of the labor of the Mahiai (Hadar, 2012).

Media Disclaimer

This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I have made such material available in an educational effort to advance understanding of musical, cultural, environmental, political, human rights, economic, and social justice issues. I believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


Formal/Informal Bibliography

* click on formal to download the formal bibliography *

A.    Music              

Music from Hawaiian Reggae Artists: The Green, Natural Vibrations, Ooklah The Moc, Mike Love, J-Boog, Fiji, Anuhea, Irie Love, Kimie, Paula Fuga, Sudden Rush, The Mana’o Company, Kapena, Butch Helemano, Kapono, Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, Billy Kaui, Bruddah Noland, Sistah Robi, Ekolu, Kaʻau Crater Boys, Humble Soul, Dubkonscious, Inna Vision, Pepper, Oshen, The Steppas, Hot Rain. 

Music from International Artists: Bob Marley, Groundation, Major Lazer, Snoop Lion, Busta Rhymes, Rebelution, SOJA, Damian Marley, Sizzla, Nas 


B.    Documentaries / Movies    

1.    BBC Series "The Story of Jamaican Music"

2.     Bob Marley “Come A Long Way” video documentary, by Dylan Taite (1979) 

3.    “Marley” by Kevin Macdonald

4.    “Mt Zion” (2013) 

5.    “Reincarnated” Vice Films (2013)


C. Classes 

1. Introduction To Hip Hop with Reiland Rabaka at The University of Colorado. 

2. Independent Study on Reggae & Rastafari with Reiland Rabaka at The University of Colorado. 

3. History of Pacific Islands I with David Chappelle at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

4. Contemporary Issues In Oceania with Terence Wesley-Smith at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

5. History of Pacific Islands II with David Hanlon at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

6. Learning Oceania with Terence Wesley-Smith at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

7. Re/Presenting Oceania with Tarcisius Kabutaulaka at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

8. Researching Oceania with Lola Quan Bautista at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

9. Regional Music of Oceania with Jane Moulin at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

9. Directed Reading on Reggae Studies with Njoroge Njoroge at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. 

10. Hawaiian Language with Trixie Iwalani Tasaka at Kapiolani Community College. 


D. Informal Interviews/Conversations  

1. Artists: The Green, Katchafire, Natural Vibrations, Groundation, New Kingston, Hot Rain, Naan Stop, Mike Love, Fortunate Youth, SOJA, The Expanders, Policulture, Bats In The Belfree.  

2. Individuals: Robbie Miller, Miah Ostrowski, Dane Nishikawa, Pat Mcfadden, Scott Steiner, Kainoa Carlson, Billy Miller, Sam Higgins, Chris Shiramizu, Ryan Miyamoto, Matt Peters, Ryan Peters, Kainoa Higgins, Louie Orleans, Tyson Ringey, FDB, Steph Lamattina, Andy Paul, Ryan Maxwell, Reed Eisenblumen, Nate Adelman, Philip Acuna, No'u Revilla, Kenneth Gofigan Kuper, Terence Wesley-Smith, Njoroge Njoroge, JP Kennedy, Caleb Keolanui, Brad Watanabe, Zion Thompson, Ikaika Antone, Jordan Espinoza, Kimo Kennedy, Justin Kalawai'a, Leslie Ludiazo, Temuera Morrison, Eric Smith, Seth Herman, Curtis Bergensen, Lem Oppenheimer, Dan Sheehan, Taylor Souza, Ryan Harrison, Ian Wesley-Smith, Daren Kamali, Kera Yonover, Robert Yonover, Caton Smith, Larissa Nordyke. 

E.    Publications

1.    Cattermole, Jennifer. The routes of roots reggae in Aotearoa/New Zealand: the musical construction of place and identity. MA Thesis. University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, 2004. 

2.    Ha’uofa, Epeli (2008), We are the Ocean, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. 

3.    Wendt, Albert (1993). “Towards a New Oceania.” In Readings in Pacific Literature, edited by Paul Sharrad, Wollongong, NSW: New Literatures Research Center, University of Wollongong, pp. 9-19. 

4.    Hereniko, Vilsoni (1999), “Representation of Cultural Identities.” In Vilsoni     Hereniko and Rob Wilson (eds.), Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, Maryland, USA: Brown & Littlefield Publishers Inc, pp.137-166. 

7.    Gegeo, David (1998), “Indigenous Knowledge and Empowerment: Rural Development Examined from Within,” The Contemporary Pacific, 10:2 (Fall 1998), pp.289-315.

8.    Lockwood, Victoria (2004), “The Global Imperative and Pacific Island Societies”. In Globalization and Culture Change in the Pacific Islands edited by V. Lockwood (2004): 1-39. 

9.    Clarke, William (2000) “Pacific Voices, Pacific Views: Poets as Commentators on the Contemporary Pacific”. Canberra: Centre for the Contemporary Pacific, Pacific Distinguished Lecture, 2000. 

10.    Lockwood, Victoria (1993) “An Introduction to Contemporary Pacific Societies”. In Contemporary Pacific Societies: Studies in Development and Change, edited by Lockwood, Harding, and Wallace. 

11.    Overton, John (1999) “Sustainable Development and The Pacific Islands”. Chapter 1 in Overton and Scheyvens (eds.) Strategies for Sustainable Development: Experiences from the Pacific. 

12.    Firth, Stewart (2000) “The Pacific Islands and the Globalization Agenda”. The Contemporary Pacific 12(1): 178-192. 

13.    Multiple Authors. Chanting Down Babylon (1998). Philadelphia, Temple University Press

14.    April Henderson, Gifted Flows: Netting the Imagery of Hip Hop Across the Samoan Diaspora (1999), Thesis

15.    Henderson, April K. “Gifted Flows: Making Space for a Brand New Beat" in Flying Fox Excursions, a special issue of The Contemporary Pacific volume 22 number 2, (August 2010): 293-315

16.    Various Selections from Jocelyne Guilbault

17.    Lockwood, Victoria (2003). Globalization and Culture Change in the Pacific Islands. Pearson. 

18.    Newspaper Articles on Bob Marley’s Pacific Concerts 1979 

19.    Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Genre of Asian and Oceanic Origin, Roy Shuker, ed. (forthcoming)

20. Ho’omanawanui, Ku’ualoha. Reggae, Rap, and Hip Hop in Hawai'i." Crossing Waters, Crossing Worlds: The African Diaspora in Indian Country (2006): 273.      

21.    Hayward, Philip. Sound alliances: Indigenous peoples, cultural politics, and popular music in the Pacific. Continuum, 1998.

22.    Figuerda, Esther, Gerard A. Finin, Scott Kroeker, Katerina Martina Teaiwa, and Terence Wesley-Smith. "Islands of Globalization: Pacific and Caribbean Perspectives." Social and Economic Studies (2007): 32-40.

23.    Chang, Kevin. Reggae routes: the story of Jamaican music. Temple University Press, 1997.

24.    Cooper, Carolyn. Global Reggae. University Press of the West Indies, 2012

25.    Chevannes, Barry. Rastafari: Roots & Ideaology. Syracuse University Press, 1994. 

26.    Rabaka, Reiland. Hip Hop's Inheritance: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip Hop Feminist Movement. Lexington Books, 2011. 

27.     Low, Sam. Hawaiki Rising. Island Heritage Publishing, 2013. 

28.     Spitz, Chantal. Island of Shattered Dreams. Huia Publishers, 2007. 


Education develops the intellect; and the intellect distinguishes man from other creatures. It is education that enables man to harness nature and utilize her resources for the well-being and improvement of his life. The key for the betterment and completeness of modern living is education. But, 'Man cannot live by bread alone.' Man, after all, is also composed of intellect and soul. Therefore, education in general, and higher education in particular, must aim to provide, beyond the physical, food for the intellect and soul. That education which ignores man's intrinsic nature, and neglects his intellect and reasoning power can not be considered true education.

-Halie Selassie