Hawaiian History


A brief history of Hawaii  300AD ~ 1900


   A fissure more than 1600 miles long on the floor of the Pacific Ocean has produced the Hawaiian Ridge. Along the top of this ridge protrude the individual domes that are the Hawaiian Islands.   Before 300AD Hawaii was probably used as a base for peoples with a trans-Pacific contact between Asia and the northwest coast of South America. Around 300-500 AD Polynesians from the South Pacific, probably the Marquesas Islands, found the Hawaiian Islands in double-hulled voyaging canoes. The first heiau was build on the Big Island of Hawaii in 500AD and by 900AD all the main Islands were occupied. Heiau or temples were used to worship their two principal gods, KU, god of war and LONO, god of peace and agriculture.
   Tahitian explorers arrived in 1200AD and not only conquered the Marquesasians but enslave them. The Tahitian priest Pa'ao started the "kahuna nui" or high-priest line which initiated a ruling king for each island. From Tahiti, Pa'ao brought Pili who was the father of the royal line leading to Kamehameha I. Social classes emerge and the Hawaiian culture begins to form. The Hawaiians ate mostly vegatables and poi and supplemented their diet with fish and over 30 varieties of native limu (seaweeds). Noni and kukui were the most important herbs used to treat many different ailments.

   On his third voyage into the Pacific, the great explorer Captain James Cook, British commander of  HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, on January 18, 1778 found Oahu and Kauai. He was thought of by the Hawaiians as the reincarnation of Lono, one of their principal gods. He named Hawaii the Sandwich Islands in honor of the Earl of Sandwich. He returned to Hawaii a year later and dropped anchor in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island. Captain Cook was slain here on February 13, 1779 chasing after a stolen rowboat.  Because of European contact, contagious diseases such as cholera, measles and gonorrhea, decimated the Hawaiian population. The population was estimated at between 250,000 to 1 million when Captain Cook sailed into Kealakakua in 1779. By 1848 Hawaiians numbered 88,000



  In 1791 rum is introduced to the Hawaiians and in 1792 Captain George Vancouver brought cows from California to Hawaii. Kamehameha I became the ruler of the Big Island of Hawaii in 1782. In 1792 Kamehameha I conquered Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Oahu. In 1810 he unified the Hawaiian Islands under a single rule after negotiating a peace with Kauai. He believed he was destined by prophecy to unify the Islands and used western weapons to seize power. He shrewdly promoted trade with Europe and the United States.  He died in 1819 in Kona.


Kamehameha II takes control in 1819 and ordered the destruction of all heiau and the end to the kapu (taboo) system, idol worship, and he abolished the traditional Hawaiian religion. Kamehameha II formed a dual rulership with his wife, Kamamalu, that lasted 5 years. Kamehameha II sailed to England and died of measles with his queen on July 14, 1824. In the 1820s two new forces entered Hawaii: the Congregationalist missionaries of the Calvinist ideology and New England whalers. The missionaries arrived just as the Hawaiians were abandoning their religious system.


Kamehameha III proclaims the First Constitution which includes freedom of worship. US President John Tyler recognizes the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1842. In 1845 the Hawaiian capital is moved from Lahaina to Honolulu. In 1845 Kamehameha III proclaims the Great Mehele, changing the concept of land useage. It converted traditional Hawaiian land usage (Ahupua'a) to fee-simple titles. Foreigners were permitted to purchase land. Private estates were established. By 1893 foreigners controlled 90% of the lands of Hawaii.  Contract labor system was approved to bring foreign labor to the sugar and pineapple fields. By 1840 the forests of Hawaii, Oahu, Molokai and Kauai were stripped of mountain sandalwood trees, one of the world's most valuable natural products.


Kamehameha IV ascended to the throne after the death of his uncle. He and his wife were responsible for establishing Queens Hospital for sick and destitute Hawaiians. He translated the English Book of Common Prayer to his native language. He only reigned nine years and died of chronic bouts of  asthma.


In 1865 the Hansen's Disease (leprosy) colony is established at Kalawao, Molokai. In 1873 Father Damien de Veuster arrives on Molokai to aid the Hansen's disease victims. 1868 saw the first Japanese contract workers arrive in Hawaii. The first Portugese land in 1879.

David Kalakaua "The Merry Monarch" was the first king in history to visit the United States. The Merry Monarch attempted to restore Hawaiian traditions. Hawaii's famous hula festival held every April in Hilo is named after him.  Kalakaua died on a trip to San Francisco in 1891. His younger sister Liliuokalani took the throne. She wanted to restore the power to the throne that was signed away  by her brother Kalakaua. She was deposed on January 17, 1893. The queen authored a number of songs. The best known Hawaiian song ever is 

                 Aloha Oe.

"Thus sweet memories come back to me
Bringing fresh remembrance of the past
Dearest one, yes, thou art mine own
From thee, true love shall ne'er depart

Farewell to thee, Farewell to thee  (aloha oe)
Thou charming one who dwells in shaded bow'rs
One fond embrace 'ere I depart
Until we meet again"

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