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Hawaiian Root

Hawaii's history in story and legend is ancient and proud, dating back at least a thousand years before American colonies became a nation in 1776.  It is highly unlikely that the exact date when Polynesian people first set foot on these previously uninhabited islands will ever be known, nor much details about events occurring between that date and the first contact with Europeans.


The Hawaiians were a people without writing, who preserved their history in chants and legends.  Much of the early history has disappeared with the death of the kahunas and other learned men whose function it was to pass on this knowledge, by means of chants and legends, to succeeding generations.


Modern Hawaiian history begins on January 20, 1778, when Captain James Cook's expedition made its first contact with the Hawaiian people on the islands of Kauai and Niihau.  Captain Cook was not the first man to "discover" the Hawaiian Islands.  He was the first known European to arrive.


The language of Hawaii and archaeological discoveries indicate that Hawaii was settled by two distinct waves of Polynesian migration.  Cook himself knew that the original Polynesian discoverers had come from the South Pacific hundreds of years before his time.  First, from the Marquesas, came a settlement as early as 600 or 700 AD, and then from the Society Islands, another migration about 1100 AD.  Lacking instruments of navigation or charts or any kind, the Polynesians sailed into vast oceans.  They staked their knowledge of the sky and its stars, the sea and its currents, the flight of birds and many other natural signs.  They were superior seamen of their time.

Old Hawaii

In the centuries before the arrival of Captain Cook, Hawaiian society was a highly stratified system with strictly maintained castes.  Like medieval Europe and the other Polynesian nations, each caste had its assigned tasks and responsibilities.  Not until 1810 was there a single king over all Hawaii with the reign of Kamehameha.  Before then, there were a number of small kingdoms that divided the islands and were often at war with each other.


In each of these small kingdoms, the king, headed Hawaii's social pyramid, assisted by a chief minister and a high priest.  Next in ranking were the ali'i or chiefs, who varied in power depending on ancestral lineage and ability.  Persons especially trained in the memorization of genealogies were important members of a chief's retinue because a chief's ranking in society was determined by the legitimacy of his genealogy.  Chiefs ruled over portions of the land at the whim of the king, who could remove and replace them according to a system of rewards and punishments.


Below the chiefs in temporal power, but often far above them in spiritual power, were the kahuna, or priest craftsmen.  They were specialists in professions such as canoe-building, medicine, the casting and lifting spells, and in other fields.


The majority of Hawaii's people were commoners (makaainana), subjects of the chief upon whose land they lived.  They did most of the hard work: building fishpond walls and housing, fishing, farming, and making tapa cloth.  The commoners paid taxes both to the king and to their chief and provided some warriors for the chief's army.  These taxes took the form of food, clothing and other products. 


Below the commoners were a numerically small group of people known as "kauwa" or outcastes.  Little is known of their origins or of their true role in Hawaiian society, although they were believed to be slaves of the lowest order.


The Kapu System is what cemented the ancient social structure.  The word, known in English as "taboo" meant sacred or prohibited.  Violators were swiftly punished by being strangled or clubbed to death.  A commoner had to be careful lest his shadow fall across the person of a high chief, and he had to be quick to kneel or lie down in the presence of such sacred persons.  Birth, death, faulty behavior, the building of a canoe, and many other activities were regulated by the kapu system, which permeated all aspects of ancient Hawaiian life.


The Hawaiian temples (heiau) contained images which symbolized the gods.  The four major gods were known as Ku, Kanaloa, Lono and Kane, who represented the universal forces.  Commoners performed their own simple ceremonies to family or personal gods (aumakua) while the complicated religious life of the ali'i required the services of a kahuna in large temple complexes.  In some temples, human sacrifices took place.

Kamehameha I aka Kamehameha the Great

(b. about 1750s)


As a young man of about twenty-five, he was present at Kealakekua when Captain Cook's ships anchored there.  At the time, various kings had attempted to unite the entire island chain under one command.  Kamehameha proceeded to establish his rule of the entire island of Hawaii.  With the Big Island, Hawaii, safely in his hand, he set out to conquer the leeward islands, moving through Maui, Lanai and Molokai.  To take O'ahu, he built an immense fleet of canoes to transport his warriors.  They landed in a two-pronged attack with half the fleet coming ashore at Waialae and half at Waikiki.  The united force drove Oahu's defenders into Nuuanu Valley.  



Trapped in the valley, the Oahuans were forced to surrender or be pushed over the steep Nuuanu Pali.  The King of Kauai and Niihau accepted Kamehameha as his sovereign.

At this time, foreign ships arrived in increasing numbers, bringing domestic animals, trees, fruits and plants never before seen in Hawaii.  They also brought diseases, alcohol and firearms.  With little immunity to new diseases, the Hawaiians soon began to die in alarming numbers while the destruction of their traditional way of life brought on a melancholy loss of the will to live.

Queen Kaahumanu (b. 1772, d. 1832)

She was Kamehameha the Great's favorite wife.  A bold and intelligent woman, she served as kuhina-nui (premier sharing of kingly power) for Kamehameha II and as regent for Kamehameha III.  She played a leading role in the overthrow of the ancient kapu system.  In league with the King's mother, Keopuolani, she convinced Kamehameha II to sit down and eat with the women in violation of one of ancient Hawaii's most serious prohibitions.  In old Hawaii, women were second-class citizens, more severely handicapped by endless kapus than the men of any class.  With the overthrow of the kapu system, she was free to exercise her political authority.

Kamehameha II
(b. 1797, d. 1824)

A great contrast from his father,  Liholiho (Kamehameha II) was 22 years old when he became King.  Kaahumanu confronted the King and said that it had been his father's wish for her to share rulership of the land.  Had anyone attempted such audacity in front of Kamehameha I, the culprit might well have been slain on the spot.  Liholiho offered no objection and split his power in half with Kaahumanu.  Early in his reign, Kaahumanu and his mother, Keopuolani, talked him into sitting down to eat with a group of noble women in view of onlooking commoners.  The signal had unmistakenly been given that the ancient religion of Hawaii was dying.  Shortly thereafter, Liholiho ordered god images burned and heiaus demolished throughout the islands.  In 1823, Kamehameha II, Queen Kamamalu and a few chiefs and women sailed to England.  They toured London and joined in entertainments arranged in their honor by the British aristocracy.  While there, the King and Queen contracted measles, which Hawaiians had little immunity and died.


Kamehameha III (b. 1814, d. 1854)

Kauikeaouli, the last son of Kamehameha the Great to rule, ascended the throne while he was ten years old, upon the death of his older brother.  Kaahumanu governed as regent during Kauikeaouli's boyhood with the assistance of a council of chiefly advisors.  He was King at a most difficult period in Hawaii's history.  The influx of large numbers of foreign residents brought new problems concerning trade, credit, land titles and a plague of complications unknown to the simple Hawaii of just a few generations earlier.  His reign of twenty-nine years was the longest of any Hawaiian monarch.  


During his young manhood, personal troubles worthy of a Greek tragedy embittered his life.  Prince Kauikeaouli and his sister, Princess Nahienaena, were very much in love.  Such unions were acceptable among the nobles of ancient Hawaii, just as they were among Egyptian pharaohs.  Close relatives often married to keep the chiefly bloodlines pure and to assure children with powerful "mana."  This word describes a Polynesian concept in which certain persons possess supernatural power and authority derived from ancestors who held mana.  Tortured by love of her brother and guilt from new-found Christian beliefs that had made inroads into traditional Hawaiian ways, Princess Nahienaena drifted into despondency and died at the age of twenty-one.  Long after Prince Kauikeaouli became King Kamehameha III, he regularly visited her grave in Lahaina, Maui.

Kamehameha IV
(b. 1834, d. 1863)

He was the first grandson of Kamehameha the Great to become King of Hawaii.  During Kamehameha IV's reign and that of his successor, there was a growing agitation on the part of the sugar planters for annexation to the United States to secure a dependable market for their product.  Many foreign residents did not wish to become citizens of Hawaii but wanted to be able to vote in elections.  They wanted political power to safeguard their interests and would have preferred that common Hawaiians remain vote less.




Kamehameha V  (b. 1830, d. 1872)

Brother to Kamehameha IV, Lot Kamehameha was the final direct descendant of Kamehameha the Great to sit on Hawaii's throne and the last Hawaiian monarch to reign in the old style.  After him, Hawaii's rulers were elected by the Hawaiian Legislature.  Problems with the United States continued as they had during his brother's reign.  Agitation by certain elements in favor of annexation by the U.S. threatened Hawaii's independence.  Lot tried to defuse relations by promoting a treaty of reciprocity that would allow Hawaiian sugar to enter the American market duty-free.  The Civil War had cut the Union off from Southern sugar and so there was a great demand from the North for sugar.  Racial troubles increased in Lot's era due to well-founded suspicions that the Whites were trying to take over the Kingdom.  In 1866, a fist fight broke out in the Legislature between White and Hawaiian members.  Such an incident was probably long overdue for it was a most peculiar legislature wherein white legislators refused to speak Hawaiian, the kingdom's official language, and native Hawaiian members refused to use English.  Lot never married and had no child, and died without naming a successor.

(b. 1835, d. 1874)

William Lunalilo was confirmed as King of Hawaii by the Hawaiian Legislature after an informal popular vote.  Lunalilo was more liberal than his predecessor and made serious efforts to democratize the constitution.  Once again, the question of the treaty of reciprocity with the U.S. rose.  The Hawaiian sugar industry needed a natural market like the United States to absorb its increasing production.  King Lunalilo allowed himself to endorse the cession of Pearl Harbor, though he felt it was an unwise accommodation to the powerful American giant.  Once the news reached the Hawaiian public, they were outraged.  Widespread disapproval of the idea forced its eventual abandonment.  He died without naming a successor.

(b. 1836, d. 1891)

King David Kalakaua was elected by the Hawaiian Legislature of 1874 amid scenes of violence and indignity.  His rival for the throne was the dowager Queen Emma.  King Kalakaua was concerned with the well-being of his native Hawaiian people.  He maintained a policy of filling administrative posts with Hawaiians wherever possible, a practice that did little to calm the fears of American businessmen who had supported him against Queen Emma.  While favoring his people, Kalakaua repeatedly and sincerely insisted that there was room in Hawaii for all kinds of people.  King Kalakaua became known in Hawaiian history as the "Merry Monarch."  He loved parties, balls and entertainment.  He enjoyed talking to such noted visitors as Robert Louis Stevenson.  He included mass dances of the ancient sacred hulas in his parties.  Toward the end of his reign, his cabinet was overthrown, a new constitution deprived him of almost all his power, and an ill-fated insurrection took place favoring the abdication of Kalakaua and his replacement by Princess Lili'uokalani.



Lili'uokalani (b. 1838, d. 1917)

She was already leading the nation as regent when King Kalakaua died in San Francisco.  At the time that she became Queen, the political and economic climate was extremely complicated.  Rivalry was intense between white businessmen who dominated the economy and native politicians who still retained the power to get things accomplished.  The annexationists were badly outnumbered, and certainty the majority of the Hawaiian people, as well as many white residents, were against annexation.  But the economic power structure was not intimidated by mere lack of popular support.  On the whole, these businessmen were those who considered Hawaiians incapable of self-government.  And, as businessmen, the annexationists believed that the monarchy was too inept to safeguard the interests of property and profits.


Lili'uokalani announced her intention to promulgate a new constitution which would restore the power of the monarchy.  A Committee of Safety was formed by prominent annexationists.  They took it upon themselves to create a provisional government and a militia.  The Queen could have declared martial law and arrested the conspirators, but she felt that this would begin armed conflict which would result in loss of innocent lives.  The Committee of Safety then made its move and armed companies of militia took over government buildings and offices.  The evening before, marines and sailors from the U.S.S. Boston were landed to keep order in Honolulu and their commander, Captain G.C. Wiltse, openly supported the Provisionals.  The Queen was powerless.

Finally on January 17, 1893, the Queen faced the inevitable and surrendered under protest.  On January 31, Minister Stevens, at the request of the Provisional Government's advisory council, raised the U.S. flag over Honolulu.  Annexation was thought to be a mere formality.  President Cleveland's administration concluded that the monarchy had been overthrown by force with the complicity of the U.S. minister.

In 1895, Hawaiians loyal to the Queen staged a revolt in an attempt to restore Lili'uokalani to the throne.  The revolt was soon crushed and the Queen was arrested and placed under detention in an apartment of her own I'olani Palace. She was also forced to relinquish any claim to the throne as a condition to obtain amnesty for the Hawaiian rebels.

President McKinley signed the resolution of annexation on July 7, 1898.  It may have been a happy day for businessmen and new ruling classes of Hawaii, but for many others it was a day of sadness.  Large numbers of royalists and common Hawaiians gathered quietly at the home of deposed Queen Lili'uokalani and Crown Princess Kaiulani to silently console them and pay homage to the last monarch of the forever-lost kingdom.


Princess Kaiulani (b. 1875, d. 1899)

Victoria Kawekiu Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapala Kaiulani was born to Princess Miriam Likelike and Archibald Cleghorn, a prominent Honolulu businessman born in Edinburgh Scotland.  She was to be the next heir to the thrown following Queen Lili'uokalani.  Her exotic beauty was admired by many including Robert Louis Stevenson and she was pursued by eligible bachelors from the nobility and upper stratas of European society.  She became the first member of the Hawaiian royalty to receive the kind of training traditionally given to the children of European monarchs in preparation for ascending the throne.  She sailed to England, traveled widely, was taught many languages, literature, social graces and other subjects.  Hawaiians referred to Kaiulani as "Our Last Hope" as annexation seemed imminent.  After annexation, her vitality disappeared, she sought to get away from Honolulu with its atmosphere of swaggering American soldiers and the arrogance of the new government.  With a defiance that had become part of her character since the downfall of the Monarchy, Kaiulani went horse riding too often in the chilly wind and rain.  Doctors diagnosed her condition as rheumatism of the heart and she died March 6, 1899, surrounded by her heartbroken father, friends and relatives.



When the missionaries arrived in Hawaii in 1820, the Hawaiian people had already dismantled their heiaus and had rejected their religious beliefs.  From 1837 to 1840, nearly 20,000 Hawaiians finally chose to accept Christianity as their new religion.


The missionaries who came to Hawaii in the earliest years were a majority from puritan New England, which explains much about their character.  The missionaries reduced the Hawaiian language to written form, enabling the Hawaiian people to read and write in their own language.  Schools were established throughout the islands as rapidly as possible.  By 1831, only 11 years after the missionaries' arrival, some 52000 pupils had been enrolled.  The missionaries introduced western medicine and undertook the Kingdom's first modern census.  And the missionaries are credited to helping Hawaii become and remain an independent nation at a time when Hawaii was ripe for colonization.



The first newcomers were people of European ancestry, beginning with the English under Captain James Cook and then Americans who came as explorers, adventurers, businessmen and missionaries.  At first, all foreigners were known as "haole," which means outsiders or non-Hawaiians.  Since the first foreigners that the Hawaiians saw were Europeans, the word soon came to refer strictly to persons of European ancestry.  This meaning continues to this day although sometimes it can also be used derogatorily.


Among the Caucasians who came in small groups as agricultural workers were Russians, Portuguese, Spaniards, Germans and Norwegians.  Many of these groups intermarried with Hawaiians and other racial groups.



The first group of indentured Chinese plantation workers arrived in 1852.  Between 1852 and 1856, several thousand Chinese were brought in to labor on the plantations.  By 1884, this number had risen to 18,254.  The Chinese people who migrated to Hawaii were mostly Cantonese from the Pearl River Delta near Macao.  Quite a few Chinese married Hawaiian women.  As a result, Hawaiian-Chinese families are common in Hawaii today.



In 1890 there were 12,610 Japanese listed in the census and the figure grew to 61,111 by 1900.  By the early 1900's, Japanese made up some 40 percent of the population of the islands.  A Federal Exclusion Act in 1924 almost completely halted any further immigration from Japan due to outgrowths of hostility towards them.



The majority of plantation laborers recruited to Hawaii came from the Far East.  However, some also emigrated from Europe.  Of these, the Portuguese formed the largest contingent from the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores.  Between 1878 and 1887, most of the 17,500 Portuguese contract workers for Hawaii's plantations arrived.



In 1903, the first major group of Korean immigrants arrived.  This was marked by the arrival of the SS Gaelic from Inchon, Korea.  During the next two and a half years, sixty-five boatloads of Korean laborers landed in Honolulu with 7,843 passengers.  Upon their arrival, the immigrants were scattered to plantations on Oahu and the Big Island.  Between 1911 and 1924, many of the bachelor Korean immigrants sent home for "picture brides."  Eight hundred Korean women arrived.  Subsequently, this helped to stabilize the Korean population in Hawaii.



The Filipinos were the last large-scale arrival of immigrant groups recruited to Hawaii as plantation laborers.  They were drawn mainly within the Philippine Islands - Tagalogs, Visayans, and Ilocanos.  Between 1907 and 1931, nearly 120,000 Filipinos, mostly males, came to the islands.


Puerto Ricans

On December 23, 1900, the ship Rio de Janeiro entered Honolulu harbor with the first significant group of Puerto Ricans brought to Hawaii for plantation work.  Due to some similarities in culture and general appearance, the Puerto Ricans intermarried frequently with Filipinos, Portuguese, Spaniards and Hawaiians.  The 1950 census, the last in Hawaii which counted Puerto Ricans as a separate group, gave a Puerto Rican population of 10,000.



The Samoan migration to Hawaii was unique in that the Samoans did not come as plantation workers and they were the only significant group of Polynesian migrants to Hawaii.  The first large group of Samoans came to Hawaii in 1919 when the Mormon temple was built in Laie on Oahu's northeastern shore.  In 1952 about 1,000 Samoans arrived in Hawaii.  It is estimated that in the 1970s that there were more than 13,000 Samoans and part-Samoans resident in Hawaii, the majority of them on Oahu.



Despite efforts of missionaries and other bluenoses among the non-Hawaiian population, the hula never became extinct although it faded from public sight during the middle decades of the nineteenth century.  For a long time this authentic native dance form existed underground, banished from the towns but still quietly and surreptitiously performed among the rural people.


It was performed as a form of religious rite to honor the gods and the chiefs.  It was usually dedicated to its patroness Laka, goddess of the hula.  The ancient Hawaiian dances were performed by both men and women.  The men's hulas were vigorous and forceful while those of the women were more sensual and esthetic.



Early missionaries disliked the hula they saw.  The sight of scantily clad women moving in rhythm to poetry offended their puritan ethics and they made strenuous efforts to abolish this aspect of ancient Hawaiian culture.


For a time, the lovely hulas of Hawaii were in danger of disappearing forever until the reign of King David Kalakaua.  He was particularly enthusiastic about reviving the  

hula in all its splendor and joy.  During his reign, professional hula troupes became popular again and they meandered about entertaining people at luaus, public occasions and  the theater.


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