The History of Hawaii
Hawaii was first settled by Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands or from Tahiti traveling in canoes. Polynesian settlers brought pigs, dogs, chickens, taro, coconut, sugarcane, banana, and many other types of flora and fauna that would become very important in the Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaii was first discovered in 1778 by Captain James Cook, who was attempting to find the fabled Northwest Passage, a water route between Alaska and Asia. He named the islands the Sandwich Islands, and news of his discovery led other Europeans and Americans to come to the islands. Westerners settled across the Hawaiian islands throughout the 1790s and 1800s. As a result of these influences, natives’ diet and living standards changed drastically.
Each of the Hawaiian Islands had a distinct rulers until 1810, when King Kamehameha I united them, forming the Hawaiian Kingdom. Missionaries began arriving as early as 1820 in an effort by Europeans and Americans to convert the natives to Christianity. So many islanders converted that Hawaii became a primarily Christian nation. By 1840, Kamehameha III had created a Constitution for the Hawaiian Islands, and Hawaii had a very well developed governmental system. In 1848, the western-style concept of land ownership was implemented to allow for private ownership of land. During this time period, the economy of Hawaii became dominated by large sugar and pineapple plantations, both industries that would have lasting impacts on the islands. Before this period, the land on the islands was owned in common, by all of the residents. This change, known as the Mahele, left many native Hawaiians without their own land.
In 1843, Hawaii came under British rule, though sovereignty was re-established later that year. This, however, was a sign of things to come. The rule of the Kingdom of Hawaii would be challenged several times during the 1880s and 1890s. Throughout the 1890s, there was much turmoil over whether Hawaii would become a territory of the United States; it did so in 1898 after the Hawaiian Kingdom government was overthrown by American colonists in 1893. These changes were symbolic of the end of nearly 2000 years of control by native Hawaiians of Polynesian ancestry.
Hawaii was still considered a U.S. Territory in 1941, when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor prompted the United States to enter World War II. At this time, few Americans had heard of Pearl Harbor, though it held immense strategic importance for the US Navy. This surprise attack brought the territory international attention, and life would never be as isolated or as rural as it had been before the war, as Hawaii was exposed to thousands of military members from the mainland. Hawaii was put under martial law for the duration of the war. Today, Pearl Harbor is one of the most well-known tourist destinations in the state.
President Eisenhower finally signed a bill allowing for Hawaiian statehood in 1959. Hawaii formally became recognized as the 50th state after an official vote showed 94 percent in favor of statehood. Since that time, however, there has been a significant movement headed by Native Hawaiians to regain Hawaiian sovereignty. Since becoming a U.S. possession in 1898, various political parties in Hawaii have advocated for self governance, with some calling for succession from the United States.
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