Censorship through Black Magic: The Pacific Commercial Advertiser’s Brush with a Kahuna

Working as a newspaper editor is a public role. An editor may say something that will offend people. And sometimes people may threaten an editor’s life.

That was what Henry Martyn Whitney faced as the editor of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser. He criticized native Hawaiian boat men for their “outrageous charges” for boat services and threatened to offer the same services if they keep overcharging.

The angered boat men wanted to kill him, but legally. So they hired a kahuna to pray Whitney to death (“anaana” in Hawaiian).

The kahuna somehow obtained Whitney’s hair or fingernail clippings for the anaana. Whitney would later suspect that Postmaster Kalakaua or his chief clerk obtain the materials.

In the shroud of night, the kahuna went to the Pacific Commercial Advertiser building with a white pig and found the front gate locked. With the pig occasionally grunting, the kahuna then leaned over the fence and placed the pig, whose feet was tied, on the other side of the fence onto the stone steps. At midnight, the kahuna started his incantations in a “weird and minor key”:

“His voice could be heard at the distance of a few feet only. Towards morning, his language and voice became more fervid. The white pig, an involuntary assistant, gave a grunt from time to time. As the daylight broke, the Kahuna discharged at the building a series of heathenish imprecations and retired …”

The next morning, Whitney (pictured on the left) unlocked the front fence and walked through. Walking towards the building, he saw the white pig still lying on the stone steps with its feet tied. He asked a native Hawaiian friend about the pig, and he said that the boat men were trying to kill Whitney through anaana. Whitney then immediately ordered somebody to carry the pig to the wharf and throw it in the harbor to show defiance. He followed his orders, and the pig faced its watery end.

The failure of this scheme shocked the boatmen, and the kahuna blamed the gods and spirits who cowardly refused to attack Whitney, a white man.

Afterwards, the Advertiser challenged its enemies to attempt to use anaana on its employees:

“Seats for their Kahunas will be placed in front of the building occupied by the paper. A cage will be furnished for the white pig. And whenever the Kahunas become weary of repeating the weird incantations composed of our contemporaries’ editorials upon the wickedness of the Advertiser, the proximity of Mr. Cunha’s establishment may enable them to ‘work the growler’ with happy facility, and make the proceeding doubly interesting.”

– Alice Kim


“Praying to Death”
The Hawaiian gazette., November 08, 1898, Page 4, Image 4


One Comment on “Censorship through Black Magic: The Pacific Commercial Advertiser’s Brush with a Kahuna”

  1. […] Editor Henry Martyn Whitney, son of a missionary, founded the English-language newspaper as an “American newspaper” and alternative to the monarchy-run Polynesian. In the first issue, he said, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s