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Big Kahuna Meets the High Seas European

Updated on May 16, 2012

Visions of Hawai'i

The Hawaiian Islands stretch from the main island all the way west to Midway, the oldest of the group.
The Hawaiian Islands stretch from the main island all the way west to Midway, the oldest of the group. | Source
This painting depicts the natives as they were before European and Asian influences changed everything forever.
This painting depicts the natives as they were before European and Asian influences changed everything forever. | Source
This is one of our images of Hawaiian people today, which is about as far removed from the original as the islands are from the mainland US.
This is one of our images of Hawaiian people today, which is about as far removed from the original as the islands are from the mainland US. | Source
This is another image we see today. Many people in Hawaii are of mixed ancestry. By population, full blooded Hawaiians are relatively rare.
This is another image we see today. Many people in Hawaii are of mixed ancestry. By population, full blooded Hawaiians are relatively rare. | Source
King Kam I sided with his people in the struggle to stop European and other foreign incursion in Hawaii.
King Kam I sided with his people in the struggle to stop European and other foreign incursion in Hawaii.

One of the last First Nations to be conquered was Hawaii

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean sits a chain of Islands that was a paradise far removed from the rest of the world. It is thought that the sea faring Asian people who form the Polynesian nations either landed there deliberately, or got lost at sea and landed in a fortuitous fashion in this chain of islands paradise now called collectively, Hawaii. From the main island west to Midway, the several islands made up the community of the Hawaiian First Nations. Picture a string of island nations that lived in near perfect temperatures year round, where wild fruit and vegetables were available for the having. The mountainous nature of the islands created a wide diversity of ecosystems suited to a wide variety of species and growing conditions. Fishing was at one time plentiful and easily accessed from shore or in outrigger canoes and original wooden surf boards. For countless millennium people lived there isolated from the world and by the various islands, living virtually disease free. The only challenges were the occasional typhoon, tsunamis, the occasional high surf and the volcano on the main island. There was a strict system of taboos (kapu) that were rigorously followed on pain of death that involved relations between commoners with the rulers and also between men and women. Men and women could not freely intermingle. It also regulated fishing so that the resource would never be depleted; a lesson we could do well with today all around the world in sustainability, as the original Hawaiians achieved it. Otherwise, they lived in comfortably open grass huts in small villages and had a simple way of life.

As far as archeologist have been able to determine, the earliest settlements in the Hawaiian Islands were made by Polynesians with some suggesting Tahitian influences. They travelled to Hawaii using large double hulled canoes and imported with them pigs, dogs, chickens, taro, sweet potatoes, coconut, banana, and sugarcane. They grew these and also used the available indigenous resources in the wild and the sea nearby. They lived this way, undisturbed until one fateful day in the late 18th century, after which life irrevocably changed.

On January 18th, 1778 the “big Kahuna” met Captain James Cook and his crew, who were attempting to discover the Northwest Passage between Alaska and Asia. Captain Cook and his crew were surprised to find the Hawaiian islands in the north Pacific. They were named by Cook, the "Sandwich Islands ". After the discovery by Cook, other Europeans and Americans followed his lead to the Sandwich Islands to explore and exploit what might be available. They were quick to discover what a paradise the islands were. An entry was found in James Cook's ship log describing the natives as "riding the ocean's waves on wooden boards", which was the first written account of surfing. It was a few years more before the next wave of Europeans were to invade with other intents.

Thus, the problems that swept up the mainland First Nations almost three centuries earlier got a much later start here. The battle lines formed along religious lines between Catholics from the French side and Protestants from the English side. Even the Russians got involved. Though the Spanish were in the Pacific first, long before any of them, they never discovered Hawaii. Thus the Spanish influence did not exist here. The eight main islands were unified in 1810 under a single ruler, Kamehameha I with the aid of foreign weapons and advisers. By 1819, the old taboos were abolished. In the space of that time, a fort was constructed and there was an increasing trend to cash crops such as sugar cane and rice. The Russians had the first serious incursion. In 1815 the Russian empire affected the islands when Georg Anton Schäffer, an agent of the Russian-American Company, came to retrieve goods seized by Kaumualiʻi, chief of Kauaʻi island. Kaumualiʻi signed a treaty making Tsar Alexander I the protectorate over Kauaʻi from 1817 to 1853. Fort Elizabeth, near the Waimea River, was the main fort of three Russian forts that were built on the island. Russia did not extend their reach beyond this. The Russians were also involved with what we now call Alaska.

Serious European invasions began with the arrival of the English in 1843 and then the French on August 1849. The British had the first shot (no pun intended) at the kingdom. The most serious incident occurred on February 10th, 1843 when Lord George Paulet on the Royal Navy warship HMS Carysfort entered Honolulu Harbour and demanded that King Kamehameha III cede the Hawaiian Islands to the British Crown. At the point of the guns of the English frigate, Kamehameha III stepped down under protest. Kamehameha III surrendered to Paulet on February 25, writing:

Where are you, chiefs, people, and commons from my ancestors, and people from foreign lands?' Hear ye! I make known to you that I am in perplexity by reason of difficulties into which I have been brought without cause, therefore I have given away the life of our land. Hear ye! but my rule over you, my people, and your privileges will continue, for I have hope that the life of the land will be restored when my conduct is justified.” Done at Honolulu, Oahu, this 25th day of February, 1843.

Kamehameha III. Kekauluohi.

A missionary called Gerrit P. Judd; who had become the British Minister of Finance, secretly sent envoys to the United States, France and within Britain, to protest Paulet's actions. The protest was forwarded to Rear Admiral Richard Darton Thomas, Paulet's commanding officer of the HMS Dublin who arrived at Honolulu harbour on July 26th, 1843. Admiral Thomas negated Paulet's actions. After this, on July 31st, 1843, he restored the Hawaiian government. In his restoration speech, Kamehameha III declared that "Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono ", the motto of the future State of Hawaii, which is translated as "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness ". This ideal was to be short lived. For in short order, other invaders would come with their own ideas about how to better run the island nations; and not necessarily for the original inhabitants.

A little more than six years later, the French admiral Louis De Tromelin arrived in what we now call Honolulu Harbour with La Poursuivante and Gassendi. De Tromelin and made ten demands to King Kamehameha III on August 22nd, 1849, mainly that full religious rights be given to Catholics. There was a ban on Catholicism, established by the English Protestants that had been partly lifted, thus giving partial religious rights to Catholics. By August 25th the demands had not been met. After a second warning was made to the civilians, French troops overwhelmed the skeleton force and captured Honolulu Fort that had been constructed by the English. They spiked the coastal guns and destroyed all other weapons they found such as muskets and ammunition. They then raided government buildings and other property in Honolulu, causing considerable and heavy damage. After the raids the invading force withdrew to the fort. De Tromelin eventually recalled his men and left Hawaii on September 5th, 1849.

By 1853 the Hawaiian population was decimated by “trader's diseases from diverse places such as Japan, China, the US and other places. The original population at the time of the arrival of Captain Cook was estimated at between 300,000 to 500,000 people and this dropped to some 70,000 by 1853. by 1900, there were only about 10 % of the original Hawaiian population and immigrants were rapidly growing in numbers by moving in and by being born there. The US encouraged some of the local kings and queens, some of whom wound up in opulent lifestyles. This was in a bid to gain a further foothold in the new territory.

After the French left, the US got involved. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 between the Kingdom of Hawaii and the United States allowed for duty-free importation of Hawaiian sugar from sugarcane grown there into the United States beginning in 1876. This promoted sugar plantation agriculture as a new cash crop. In exchange, Hawai'i ceded Pearl Harbor, including Ford Island, together with its foreshore to four or five miles back, free of cost to the U.S. The U. S. demanded this area based on an 1873 report commissioned by the U. S. Secretary of War. This treaty explicitly acknowledged Hawai'i as a sovereign nation.

The treaty also included duty-free importation of rice, which was by this time becoming a major crop in the abandoned taro patches in the wetter parts of the islands. It was the influx of Chinese, and later Japanese immigrants from Asia that brought this about, in more or less total disregard for the locals. They were needed to support the escalating sugar industry that provided the impetus for expansion of rice growing. High water requirements for growing sugarcane resulted in extensive irrigation water works projects on all of the major islands. This was created to divert streams from the wet windward slopes to the dry lowlands.

Thereafter, as various European and Asian powers vied for control including the now established US republic, the Hawaiians staged several rebellions and coups in the later years of the 19th century. There were also internal rebellions. The main ones occurred in 1887, 1888, 1889, 1893, 1984, 1895, 1897 until the annexation to the US in 1898 in what was the first instance of US imperialism. Since then, It has been one of the 50 states of the US. The annexation to the states upset the Japanese who had 61,000 people living on the islands at the time, compared with the US population of 27,000. This was a divisive point between Japan and the US. The two countries were to interact later in the islands on Dec. 7th, 1941 during the Pearl Harbour attack.

The First Nations peoples who had inhabited the islands for nearly a thousand years in peace, were another group that were to be stricken with the arrival of the Europeans and then in this unique case, the Asians. The diseases that struck down some 90 % of the population in less than 100 years came from both Europe and Asia. Wars and rebellions accounted for more death and misfortune. Since 1900, this island nation has seen an increasing influence from the rest of the world as a tourist destination and an occasional battleground. Owing to the climate, many of the First Nations people that remain are doing better than their mainland counterparts. Many have assimilated into US culture and make a living off the year round tourist trade.

A History of Hawaii


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    • syzygyastro profile imageAUTHOR

      William J. Prest 

      8 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      This is very true. Consider that the constitution was written for the colonies that separated from Britain and did not include chattel slaves or anyone whose territories were ceded by conquest, which includes Afro Americans of the period prior to the 1960's and many First Nations to this day. Though we give lip service to liberty, but just attempt to act on it these days and you're likely to be profiled as a terrorist. It's actually worse than hypocrisy as ell as hypocritical.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 

      8 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      I have always, considered the subversion of the Kingdom of Hawai'i to be one of the greatest stains on the United States record. It shows up very well the great hypocricy of that particular country. They preach liberty, but only really if it suits their own interests. Thanks again for a fascinating article. It also shows the perils for a culture of uncontrolled immigration.


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