History of Hawai’i
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The history of the Hawaiian Islands with the arrival of Polynesians sometime between 124 and 1120 AD. But the islands remained isolated from the rest of the world until 1778, when England’s “Great Navigator” Captain James Cook arrived. The captain overstayed his welcome, and was eaten (sort of) for his troubles.
While Cook was the first European to actually arrive in the islands, the Spanish captain Ruy López de Villalobos was the first European to see them, in 1542. The Spanish named these islands “Isla de Mesa, de los Monjes y Desgraciada” for their location on the route linking Manila in the Philippines with Acapulco in Mexico, both of which were part of New Spain.
Within five years of Cook’s arrival, European cannons and guns helped Kamehameha I conquer and unify the islands for the first time. He established the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1795 and the House of Kamehameha that lasted until the death of Kamehameha V in 1872 and Lunalilo in 1874. The kingdom grew prosperous and important for its sugar and strategic location in the Pacific. But King Kalakaua compromised Hawaiian sovereignty by granting the United States the use of Pearl Harbor for a naval base in return for duty-free access to the American sugar market.
Immigration began almost immediately after Cook’s arrival, led by Protestant missionaries. Large companies descended from these missionaries established plantations to grow sugar. With the Hawaiian race dying, there was no labor for the plantations. And to answer the need, waves of permanent immigrants came from Japan, China, Okinawa, Korea, and the Philippines to work in the cane fields. The government of Japan assisted its own people in their emigration to Hawai’i, and Japanese came to comprise about 25 percent of Hawai’i’s population by 1896. Meanwhile, the Hawaiian population had all but succumbed to disease brought by the Europeans (particularly smallpox). It declined from about 1 million in the 1770s to just 60,000 in the 1850s to 24,000 in 1920. Today, there are only about 7,000 pure-blood Hawaiians remaining, although there are some 300,000 part-Hawaiians in Hawai’i and 560,000 nation-wide.
The Bayonet Constitution, written at the behest of insurrectionists, severely curtailed the power of King David Kalākaua. It employed excessive property and income requirements to disenfranchise the rights of many Native Hawaiians and immigrants to vote. As a result, this gave a sizable advantage to the plantation oligarchy. Queen Lili’uokalani tried to restore her royal powers in 1893. But she was placed under house arrest by local politicians with help from the U.S. consul Stevens, the captain and crew of the USS Boston anchored in Honolulu Harbor, and a local military force. Against the wishes of the Queen and with near unanimity opposed by Hawaiians, the Republic of Hawaii was proclaimed, and its government agreed to join the United States in 1898 as the Territory of Hawaii. In 1959, the islands became the state of Hawai’i.
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Hawai’i: A World Apart | Ancient Hawai’i: Culture • Society: Origins • Ahupua’a • Konohiki | Religion | Early Hawai’i: Chiefs and Rulers | Captain Cook • Kingdom of Hawai’i • Kamehameha I • Kamehameha II • Kalakaua: Bayonet Constitution | Lili’uokalani: Wilcox Rebellion • Overthrow | Statehood | Sovereignty
Hawai’i: A World Apart
Ancient Hawai’i: Culture
Ancient Hawai’i: Society
Ancient Hawai’i: Origins
Ancient Hawai’i: Ahupua’a
Ancient Hawai’i: Konohiki
Ancient Hawai’i: Religion
Ancient Hawai’i: Chiefs and Rulers
The Kingdom of Hawai’i
Kalakaua and the Bayonet Constitution
Overthrow of Lili’uokalani