History of Hawaii

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The history of Hawaii begins sometime between A.D. 124 and 800 A.D., with more radical theories placing the earliest Polynesian settlers to the 10th century. Around 1200 AD Tahitian explorers found and began settling the area as well. This became the rise of the Hawaiian civilization and would be separated from the rest of the world for another 500 years until the arrival of the British. Within five years of contact, European military technology would help one ruler conquer most of the people and eventually unify the islands for the first time.

The Kingdom of Hawaii was prosperous and important for its agriculture and strategic location in the Pacific. American immigration began almost immediately after European contact, led by Protestant missionaries. American methods of plantation farming for sugar required extensive labor. Several waves of permanent immigrants came from Japan, China and the Philippines. Meanwhile, the native population began to decline steadily from disease from 300,000 in the 1770s to 60,000 in the 1850s to 24,000 in 1920.[1] Americans within the kingdom government rewrote the constitution, severely curtailing the power of king King David Kalakaua and the rights of Native Hawaiians and Asian citizens to vote. Queen Liliuokalani attempted to re-store the old royal powers in 1893 and was overthrown by businessmen with help from the US military. The Republic of Hawaii was formed for a short time until the government agreed to join the US in 1898 as the Hawaii Territory. In 1959 the islands became the state of Hawaii as an equal state of the United States.

Discovery and settlement

Austronesians expansion map (French)

Dating of the first settlements of the Hawaiian Islands are a topic of much debate.[2] Archeology seems to indicate a settlement as early as A.D. 124.[3] Patrick Vinton Kirch's books on Hawaiian archeology, standard textbooks, date the first Polynesian settlements to about 300 A.D. with more recent suggestions by Kirch as late as 600 A.D.. Other theories suggest dating as late as 700 A.D. to 800 A.D.[2] More radical theories have been advanced from high-precision radiocarbon dating that drastically alter the timeline. These theories place the first settlements of Hawaii after 1120 A.D.[4]

The history of the ancient Polynesians was passed down through oral genealogy chants that were recited at both formal and family functions. The genealogy of the high chiefs could be traced back to the period believed to be inhabited by gods. The pua ali‘i were considered to be living gods.[5]

By about 1000, settlements founded along the perimeters of the islands were beginning to cultivate their own foods in gardens, and by 1500, they would begin to spread inward to the interiors of the islands and religion began to be more emphasised.[6]

A Tahitian priest named Pā‘ao is said to have brought a new order to the islands around 1200. The new order included new laws and a new social structure for the islands separating the people into classes. The ali‘i nui was the king, with his ‘aha kuhina just below them. The ali‘i were the royal nobles with the kahuna (high priest) below them, the maka‘āinana (commoners) next with the kauā below them as the lowest ranking social caste.[7]

The rulers of the Hawaiian islands (noho aliʻi o ko Hawaiʻi Pae ʻAina) are a line of native Hawaiians who were independent rulers of various subdivisions of the land and islands of Hawaii. Their genealogy is traced to Hānalaʻanui and others.[8] The ali‘i nui were responsible for making sure the people observed a strict Kapu (a code of conduct relating to taboos). The system had rules regarding many aspects of Hawaiian social order, fishing rights, and even where women could eat. After the death of Kamehameha I the system was abolished, and the Hawaiian religion soon fell as the gods were also abandoned.[9]


Kailua-Kona, Island of Hawaii

Religion in Hawaii is much the same as most other Polynesian cultures, with a theology, ritual and a code of conduct.[10] There are many gods and heroes in the Hawaiian religion. Wākea, the Sky father weds Papahānaumoku, the earth mother. From these two spring everything, including the other gods.[10]

Hawaiian religion was polytheistic, with four deities most prominent: Kāne, , Lono and Kanaloa.[11] Other notable deities include Laka, Kihawahine, Haumea, Papahānaumoku, and, most famously, Pele.[11] In addition, each family is considered to have one or more guardian spirits or family gods known as ʻaumakua that protected family.[11] One such god is Iolani, the family god of aliʻi families.[10]

One breakdown of the Hawaiian pantheon[12] consists of the following groups:

  • the four gods (ka hā) – Kū, Kāne, Lono, Kanaloa
  • the forty male gods or aspects of Kāne (ke kanahā)
  • the four hundred gods and goddesses (ka lau)
  • the great multitude of gods and goddesses (ke kini akua)
  • the spirits (na ʻunihipili)
  • the guardians (na ʻaumākua)

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=History_of_Hawaii&action=edit Another breakdown[13] consists of three major groups:

  • the four gods, or akua: Kū, Kāne, Lono, Kanaloa
  • many lesser gods, or kupua, each associated with certain professions
  • guardian spirits, ʻaumakua, associated with particular families

Liloa, Hākau and ʻUmi-a-Līloa

Līloa was a legendary ruler of the island of Hawaii in the late 15th century.[14] He kept his royal compound in Waipi'o valley. Līloa had two sons; his first born Hākau from his wife, Pinea, (his mother's sister), and his second son, ʻUmi-a-Līloa from his lesser ranking wife, Akahi a Kuleana.[15] Liloa's Kāʻei is the sacred feathered sash of the ruler that is now at the Bishop Museum.[16]:p. 120

Līloa was the first born son of Kiha-nui-lulu-moku, one of the noho aliʻi (ruling elite). He descended from Hāna-laʻa-nui.[8][17] Līloa's mother, Waioloa, his grandmother, Neʻula and great grandmother, Laʻa-kapu were of the ʻEwa aliʻi lines of Oahu.[8][18] Liloa's father ruled Hawaii as aliʻi nui and upon his death would leave the rule of the island to Līloa. Kiha had had four other sons, brothers to Līloa. Their names were Kaunuamoa, Makaoku, kepailiula and a later son named Hoolana, whose descendants are the Kaiakea family of Molokai, distant relatives of Abraham Fornander's daughter.[19]

In his book, David Malo describes how Liloa originated the practice of moe āikane, the sexual relationship between males.[20] The relationships had no social stigma and were accepted practice beginning with the aliʻi and then copied by the other classes. Warriors would engage in the practice and then fight along with their counterparts without issue. The relationships cannot be defined using modern concepts of bisexuality. in many cases the men involved felt it an honor and responsibility to the honor their hana lawelawe.[20]

Līloa had two wives that gave birth to sons. His first born son, Hākau was born to Līloa's higher ranking wife, Pinea, while his second son Umi-a-Līloa was born to a lower ranking wife named Akahiakuleana. At his death, Līloa would pass on his rule of the island to Hākau and religious authority to ʻUmi.[18]

Umi was given a number of royal tokens to prove he was the son of Liloa, including a Niho Palaoa. The lei (necklace) was made of braided human hair and whale bone.

ʻUmi-a-Līloa (fifteenth century) was a ruling ali'i-ai-moku (district high chief of Hawai'i) who inherited religious authority of Hawai'i from his father, High Chief Liloa, whose line is traced, unbroken to Hawaiian "creation".[21] His mother was Akahi. She was of a lesser line of chiefs who Liloa had fallen in love with when he discovered her bathing in a river. He became Chief after the death of his half-brother Hākau, who inherited the lands of his father to rule.[22] Umi-a-Liloa was considered a just ruler, religious[23] and the first to unite almost all of the Big Island.[24] The legend of Umi is one of the most popular hero sagas in Hawaiian history. While there is probably embellishment to the story, as many sagas do, a portion of historic accuracy remains.[25]

ʻUmiʻs wife was Princess Piʻikea,[26] daughter of Piʻilani. Piʻikea and ʻUmi were the parents of son Kumalae[27][28] and daughter Aihākōkō.

His father was Ali'i-ai-moku Liloa, and his mother, Akahiakuleana (Akahi).[29] Each were married to another. The couple met when Liloa, the then ali'i-ai-moku of Hawaii was visiting the local area of Hamakua. He met Akahi there and claimed his right to her as King and she accepted. After they had consummated, Liloa told her that, if she was to have a male child, she should present the boy to him along with royal tokens he gave to her as gifts, to prove her boy was the son of the king. Akahi hid the gifts given to her by Liloa from her husband and later gave birth to a son. At the age of 15 or 16, his step father was punishing the boy when his mother intervened and told the man he could not touch him because the boy was his lord and chief. She recovered the hidden tokens of royal sovereignty to present to her husband to prove the high treason he would have committed. Akahi gave her son the gifts of the royal malo and lei niho palaoa which were given to her by his true father, that only the high chiefs wore, and sent Umi to Waipio to present himself to the king as his son.

Liloa's palace was well guarded and attended by several Kahuna. The entire enclosure was sacred and a penalty of death stood for breaching its walls. Umi entered the walled off enclosure with attendants afraid to stop someone wearing the royal insignia and walked straight to Liloa's sleeping quarters, waking the king. When Liloa asked who he was, he said "It is I, Umi your son". He then placed the tokens at his fathers feet and was proclaimed son by King Liloa. After learning of Umi, Hākau became upset and demanded answers from his father, who assured his first born that he would be king after his death and his brother would serve him. Umi was brought to court on an equal footing with his half brother Hākau, who was the son of Liloa with his first wife, Pinea from an ali'i family of equal rank to that of her husband. Living within Liloa's court alongside his brother, Umi found great favor from his father, only increasing Hākau's dislike of his half brother.[30]

Just before his death, Liloa bestowed on Hākau the succession as Chief stating telling Umi that he was to serve as his "man" (Prime Minister) and that both were to respect the other and should either have issue with the other it would be for them to decide.

Liloa died and his kingdom passed to his first born son, Hākau as promised. At first a decent king, he soon became brutal. To avoid his brother's anger, Umi exhiled himself to another district. There he takes wives and is begins building forces and followers. Chiefs begin to believe him to be of the highest chiefly nature from signs they see. He gives food to people and becomes known for caring for everyone. In contrast, Hākau refuses to attend to his fathers two favorite, ailing Kahuna requesting food after an illness. He refuses them food in an insulting manner.[31] Nunu and Ka-hohe were of the priestly class of Lono. They resented their treatment and plotted to see the kingdom in someone else's hand.[32] Hākau did not believe the priest to have any strength or power. Because Umi had been given spiritual authority, he disrespected the priests.[21] This was a period in Hawaiian history when no King could successfully defy a kahuna. Many had a royal bloodline, land and could leave their temples as warriors when needed but could never give up their spiritual responsibilities.[33] Through a messenger of Kaoleioku, of Waipunalei, the high-priest of the temple of Manini, at Koholalele the two priests made contact to Umi's court. The two priests traveled to Waipunalei where they supported Umi's revolt.[21]

When Hākau received news that his brother was preparing to war against him, he sent his main forces out to immediately prepare by seeking feathers to adorn their war regalia. After the men had left and Hākau was undefended, Umi's men came forward with a deception that they were there with bundles of offerings for the king. When the bundles were dropped to the ground they were filled with stones and rocks with which the men stoned Hākau to death with.

After the death of Hākau the other Ali'i (nobles) of the island claimed their districts for themselves. Umi takes the advice of the two priest that assisted him by marrying many woman of high noble rank, including his half sister Kapukini and the daughter of the ruler of Hilo, where he had been given sanctuary during Hākau's reign. Eventually Umi would go to battle with all and conquer the entire island.[22][25]

Umi unifies the island of Hawaii under his control. He is faithful to those that had supported him and allows his three most faithful companions and the two Kahuna that had aided him, to help govern his lands.[25]


Aikāne relationships in Hawaii or homosexual or bisexual activity in the pre-colonial era, was an accepted tradition and is one of the best examples of a heterosexual community accepting the practice.[34] These relationships are accepted as part of the history of ancient Hawaiian culture.[35] The sexual relationship may begin in the teens and continue throughout the lives of the men, even though they maintain heterosexual partners.[36] The Hawaiian aikane relationship is well known to have been a part of Hawaiian noble life, including that of Kamehameha. Some myths refer to women's desires and therefore believed that some women may have been involved in aikane relationships as well.[37]

In regard to the aikāne relationship, Lieutenant James King stated that "all the chiefs had them" and recounts a tale that Captain Cook was actually asked by one chief to leave King behind, considering such offer a great honor. A number of Cook's crew related tales of the tradition with great disdain. American adventurer and sailor, John Ledyard commented in detail about the tradition as he perceived it. The relationships were official and in no way hidden. The sexual relationship was considered natural by the Hawaiians of that time.[38]


The traditional subdivision system of land has four hierarchical levels:

  • mokupuni (whole island)
  • moku (largest subdivisions of an island)
  • ahupuaʻa
  • ʻili (two or three per ahupuaʻa, but Kahoolawe for example had eight ʻili)

Some oral history relates that 'Umi-a-Liloa, son of the great High Chief Liloa, took control of the land and divided it into ahupua'a.[39] However, there is also a general belief that the natural organization of communities along stream systems is the foundation for the system, whose community governance system of Kānāwai is often attributed specifically to shared water usage.

The Hawaiians maintained an agricultural system that contained two major classes; irrigated and rain-fed systems. In the irrigated systems the Hawaiians grew mostly taro (kalo) and in the rain-fed systems they grew mostly uala (sweet potatoes), yams, and dryland taro in addition to other small crops.[40] This dryland cultivation was also known as the mala. It also consisted of (Kalo) Taro, (Niu) coconuts, (ʻulu) breadfruit, (Maiʻa) bananas, and (Ko) sugar cane. The Kukui tree was sometimes used as a shade to protect the mala from the sun.[41] Each crop was carefully placed in an area that was most suitable to its needs.[42]

Hawaiians raised dogs, chickens, and pigs that were domesticated. They also made use of personal gardens at their own houses. Water was a very important part of Hawaiian life; it was used not only for fishing, bathing, drinking, and gardening, but also for aquaculture systems in the rivers and at the shore’s edge.[40]

The ahupuaʻa consisted most frequently of a slice of an island that went from the top of the local mountain (volcano) to the shore, often following the boundary of a stream drainage. Each ahupuaʻa included a lowland mala (cultivated area) and upland forested region.[43] Ahupuaʻa varied in size depending on the economic means of the location and political divisions of the area. “As the native Hawaiians used the resources within their 'ahupua'a, they practiced aloha (respect), laulima (cooperation), and malama (stewardship) which resulted in a desirable pono (balance)”. The Hawaiians believed that the land, the sea, the clouds and all of nature had a certain interconnectedness which is why they used all of the resources around them to reach the desired balance in life.[44] Sustainability was maintained by the konohiki and kahuna: priests, who restricted the fishing of certain species during specific seasons. They also regulated the gathering of plants.[45] Ahupuaʻa is derived from Hawaiian language ahu, meaning "heap" or "cairn", and puaʻa, pig. The boundary markers for ahupuaʻa were traditionally heaps of stones used to put offers to the island chief, which was often a pig.

Each ahupua’a was divided into smaller sections called ‘ili and the ‘ili were divided into kuleana’s. These were plots of land that were cultivated by the common people. These people paid weekly labor taxes to the land overseer. These taxes went to support the chief.[45] There may have been two reasons for this kind of subdivision:

  • travel: in many areas of Hawaiʻi, it is easier to travel up- and downstream than from stream valley to stream valley
  • economy: having all climate zones and economic exploitation zones in each land division ensured that each could be self-sufficient for a large portion of its needs.

Each ahupuaʻa was ruled by an ali`i or local chief and administered by a konohiki.[46]


A konohiki is a headman of a land division or ahupua`a of the Kingdom of Hawaii and ancient Hawaii, who administered the land ruled by an ali'i chief.[47][48] The lands of the Ruling chiefs of Hawaii were divided into radial divisions of land when possible. These divisions were under the control of other smaller chiefs and managed by a steward.[49] Land was divided up in strict adherence to the wishes of the Ali‘i Nui. The island was called the mokupuni and was split into several moku. The moku (district) parameters ran from the highest mountain top, down to the sea. These divisions were ruled by an aliʻi ʻaimoku who would have been appointed by the ruling chief. Each of these mokus were further split into ahupuaau, named after the dividing boundary alter where taxes were collected for each area during the Makahiki. Each ahupuaau was then run by a headman or chief called a Konohiki.[16]:p. 71

In Keelikolani vs Robinson, the term is also defined as a Land Agent. In Territory vs Bishop Trust Co. LTD., when the agent was appointed by a chief they were referred to by the title of konohiki. When referring to the titled person as Konohiki, this meant that they were charged with the care of the division of land for the king or nobility the land was awarded to. The term could also be a designated area of land owned privately as compared to being owned by the government.[50] A chief of lands could not lose life tenure on the land even after being discharged from the position, but a head man overseeing the same land has no such right.[51]

Often ali'i and konohiki are referenced together however, while most or all konohiki were ali'i nobility, not all ali'i were konohiki. The Hawaiian dictionary gives the definition as a headman of a land division, but it is also used in describing fishing rights as well. The term when broken in two parts is as follows: Kono being defined as to entice, or prompt and hiki defined as something that can be done. The konohiki was a relative of the ali'i and would oversee the coordination of the property, including water rights, land distribution, agricultural use and any maintenance. The Konohiki would also make sure the right amounts of gifts and tributes to the ali'i were properly made at the right times.[52]

As capitalism was incorporated into the kingdom the konohiki would become the tax collectors, landlords and wardens over the fisheries.[52]

Cook's arrival and death

HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery

Captain James Cook led three separate voyages to chart unknown areas of the globe for the British Empire.[53] It was on his third and final voyage that he encountered the Islands of Hawaii.[54] He first sighted the islands on 18 January 1778.[55] The Hawaiians had begun openly challenging the foreigners. He anchored off the coast of the island of Kauai and met with the local inhabitants to trade and obtain water and food for their continued voyage. On 2 February 1778, Cook continued on to the coast of North America and Alaska searching for a Northwest Passage for approximately nine months. He returned to the island chain to resupply, initially exploring the coasts of Maui and the big island and trading locals, then making anchor in Kealakekua Bay in January 1779. After Cook departed Kealakekua, he was forced to return in mid-February 1779 after a ship's mast broke in bad weather.[56]

On the night of 13 February, while anchored in Kealakekua Bay, one of only two long boats (lifeboats used to ferry to/from ship/shore) was stolen by the Hawaiians.[57] In retaliation, Cook tried to kidnap the aliʻi nui of the island of Hawaii, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. On 14 February 1779 Cook confronted an angry crowd. Kanaʻina approached Cook, who reacted by striking the royal attendant with the broad side of his sword. Kanaʻina picked up the navigator and dropped him when another attendant, Nuaa stabbed Captain Cook to death.[58]

Kingdom of Hawaii

House of Kamehameha

Kamehameha I, founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii

The House of Kamehameha (Hale O Kamehameha), or the Kamehameha dynasty, was the reigning Royal Family of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, beginning with its founding by Kamehameha I in 1795 and ending with the deaths of Kamehameha V in 1872 and William Charles Lunalilo in 1874.[59][60] The kingdom would continue for another 21 years until its overthrow in 1893 with the fall of the House of Kalakaua.[61]

The origins of the House of Kamehameha can be traced back to half brothers, Kalaniʻōpuʻu and Keōua.[62] Kalaniʻōpuʻu's father was Kalaninuiʻīamamao and Keōua's father was Kalanikeʻeaumoku, both sons of Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku.[62] They shared a common mother, Kamakaʻīmoku. Both brothers served Alapaʻinui, the ruling King of Hawaiʻi island.[62] Hawaiian genealogy notes that Keōua may not have been Kamehameha's biological father, and that Kahekili II might have been the figure's real father.[62][63] Regardless, Kamehameha I's descent from Keawe remains intact through his mother, Kekuʻiʻapoiwa II, a granddaughter of Keawe. Keōua acknowledged him as his son and is recognized by official genealogies.[62]

The traditional mele chant of Keaka, wife of Alapainui, indicates that Kamehameha I was born in the month of ikuwā (winter) or around November.[64] Alapai had given the child, Kamehameha to his wife Keaka and her sister Hākau to care for after the ruler discovered the boy had lived.[65][66] Samuel Kamakau, in his newspaper article writes "It was during the time of the warfare among the chiefs of [the island of] Hawaii which followed the death of Keawe, chief over the whole island (Ke-awe-i-kekahi-aliʻi-o-ka-moku) that Kamehameha I was born". However, his general dating has been challenged.[67] Abraham Fornander writes in his publication, "An Account of the Polynesian Race: Its Origins and Migrations": "when Kamehameha died in 1819 he was past eighty years old. His birth would thus fall between 1736 and 1740, probably nearer the former than the latter".[68] "A brief history of the Hawaiian people" By William De Witt Alexander lists the birth date in the Chronological Table of Events of Hawaiian History" as 1736.[69] He would be named Paiea but would take the name Kamehameha, meaning "The very lonely one" or "The one set alone".[70][71]

Kalaniʻōpuʻu, the young Kamehameha's uncle, would raise him after his father's death. Kalaniʻōpuʻu ruled Hawaiʻi as did his grandfather Keawe. He had a number of advisors and priests. When word reached the ruler that chiefs were planning to murder the boy, he told Kamehameha:

The god Kū-ka-ili-moku was left to Kamehameha I by his uncle Kalaniʻōpuʻu

"My child, I have heard the secret complaints of the chiefs and their mutterings that they will take you and kill you, perhaps soon. While I am alive they are afraid, but when I die they will take you and kill you. I advise you to go back to Kohala." "I have left you the god; there is your wealth."[62]

After Kalaniʻōpuʻu's death, Kīwalaʻō would take his father's place as first born and rule the island while Kamehameha would have religious authority. A number of chiefs supported Kamehameha and war soon broke out to overthrow Kīwalaʻō. After a number of battles the king was killed and envoys sent for the last two brothers to meet with Kamehameha. Keōua and Kaōleiokū arrived in separate canoes. Keōua came to shore first where a fight broke out and he and all aboard were killed. Before the same could happen to the second canoe, Kamehameha intervened. By 1795, Kamehameha would conquer all but one of the islands.

For his first royal residence, the new King built the first western-style structure built in the Hawaiian Islands, known as the "Brick Palace".[72] The location became the seat of government for the Hawaiian Kingdom until 1845.[73][74] The king commissioned the structure to be built at Keawa'iki point in Lahaina, Maui.[75] Two foreign, ex-convicts from Australia's Botany Bay penal colony built the home.[76] It was begun in 1798 and was completed after 4 years in 1802.[77][78] The house was intended for Kaʻahumanu,[79] but she refused to live in the structure and resided instead in a traditional Hawaiian-styled home only feet away.[75]

Kamehameha I had many wives but held two the most high regard. Keōpūolani was the highest ranking aliʻi of her time[80] and mother to his sons, Liholiho and Kauikeaouli. Kaʻahumanu was his favorite. Kamehameha I died in 1819 and his son, Liholiho would become the next king.[81]

Kamehameha II, and the new office of Kuhina Nui

Kamehameha II in England with Queen and entourage

After Kamehameha I's death, his first born son Liholiho left Kailua for a week and returned to be crowned king. At the lavish ceremony attended by commoners and nobles of the kingdom he approached the circle of chiefs, as Kaʻahumanu, the central figure in the group and Dowager Queen, spoke: "Hear me O Divine one, for I make known to you the will of your father. Behold these chiefs and the men of your father, and these your guns, and this your land, but you and I shall share the realm together" Liholiho agreed officially, which began a unique system of dual-government consisting of a King and co-ruler similar to a co-regent.[82] The new Kamehameha II would share his rule with his stepmother, Kaʻahumanu. She would defy Hawaiian kapu by dining with the young king, violating the law separating genders during meals and leading to the destruction of the old Hawaiian religion. Kamehameha II died, along with his wife, Queen Kamāmalu in 1824 on a state visit to England where they succumbed to measles. He was King for only 5 years.[81]

When Kamehameha II and his queen died in England, the remains of the couple were returned to Hawaii by Boki. On board the ship, "The Blond" his wife Liliha and Kekūanāoa would be baptized as Christians. Kaʻahumanu would also convert and become a heavy Christian influence on Hawaiian society until her death in 1832.[83] Since the new king was only 12 years old, Kaʻahumanu was now senior ruler and named Boki as her Kuhina Nui.

Boki would leave Hawaii on a fatal trip to find sandlewood to cover a debt and would be lost at sea. His wife, Liliha would be left the governorship of Maui and would unsuccessfully attempt to whip up revolt against Kaʻahumanu, who, upon Boki's departure, had installed Kīnaʻu as a co-governor.[83]


Kaʻahumanu with Charles Kanaʻina

Kaʻahumanu was born on Maui around 1777. Her parents were aliʻi chiefs of a lower ranking line. She became Kamehameha's consort when she was fourteen. George Vancouver states: "[O]ne of the finest woman we had yet seen on any of the islands".[84] To wed the young woman, Kamehameha had to consent to make Kaʻahumanu's children his heirs to the Kingdom although, in the end, she produced no issue.[21]

Before his death, Kamehameha selected Kaʻahumanu to rule along with his son. Kaʻahumanu had also adopted the boy.[85] She had the highest political clout in the islands. A portrait artist remarked of her: "This Old Dame is the most proud, unbending Lady in the whole island. As the widow of [Kamehameha], she possesses unbound authority and respect, not any of which she is inclined to lay aside on any occasion whatsoever".[86] She is one of the most influential leaders in Hawaii's history.[87]

Sugar reciprocity

Sugar had been a major export from Hawaii since Captain James Cook's arrival in 1778.[88] The first permanent plantation in the islands was on Kauai in 1835. William Hooper leased 980 acres of land from Kamehameha III and began growing sugar cane. Within thirty years there would be plantations on four of the main islands. Sugar had completely altered Hawaii's economy.[89]

American influence in Hawaiian government began with American born plantation owners demanding a say in Kingdom politics. This was driven by missionary religion and the economics of the sugar industry. Pressure from these foreign born politicians was being felt by the King and chiefs with demands of land tenure. After the 1843 takeover by the British, Kamehameha III relented to the foreign advisors to private land demands with the Great Mahele, distributing the lands as pushed on heavily by the missionaries, including Gerrit P. Judd.[90] During the 1850s, the U.S. import tariff on sugar from Hawaii was much higher than the import tariffs Hawaiians were charging the U.S., and Kamehameha III sought reciprocity.[91] The monarch wished to lower the tariffs being paid out to the U.S. while still maintaining the Kingdom's sovereignty and make Hawaiian sugar competitive with other foreign markets. In 1854 Kamehameha III proposed a policy of reciprocity between the countries but the proposal died in the U.S. Senate.[92]

American control of Hawaii was considered vital for the defense of the west coast of the United States, and they were especially interested in Pu'uloa, Pearl Harbor.[93] The sale of one of Hawaii's harbors was proposed by Charles Reed Bishop, a foreigner who had married into the Kamehameha family, had risen in the government to be Hawaiian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and owned a country home near Pu'uloa. He showed the two U.S. officers around the lochs, although his wife, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, privately disapproved of selling Hawaiian lands. As monarch, William Charles Lunalilo, was content to let Bishop run almost all business affairs but the ceding of lands would become unpopular with the native Hawaiians. Many islanders thought that all the islands, rather than just Pearl Harbor, might be lost and opposed any cession of land. By November 1873, Lunalilo canceled negotiations and returned to drinking, against his doctor's advice; his health declined swiftly, and he died on February 3, 1874.[93]

Lunalilo left no heirs. The legislature was empowered by the constitution to elect the monarch in these instances[94] and chose David Kalākaua as the next monarch.[95] The new ruler was pressured by the U.S. government to surrender Pearl Harbor to the Navy.[95] Kalākaua was concerned that this would lead to annexation by the U.S. and to the contravening of the traditions of the Hawaiian people, who believed that the land ('Āina) was fertile, sacred, and not for sale to anyone.[95] In 1874 through 1875, Kalākaua traveled to the United States for a state visit to Washington DC to help gain support for a new treaty.[96][97] Congress agreed to the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 for seven years in exchange for Ford Island.[98][99] After the treaty, sugar production expanded from 12,000 acres of farm land to 125,000 acres in 1891.[100] At the end of the seven-year reciprocity agreement, the United States showed little interest in renewal.[98]

Rebellion of 1887 and the Bayonet Constitution

On January 20, 1887, the United States began leasing Pearl Harbor.[101] Shortly afterwards, a group of mostly non-Hawaiians calling themselves the Hawaiian Patriotic League began the Rebellion of 1887.[102] They drafted their own constitution on July 6, 1887.[103] The new constitution was written by Lorrin Thurston, the Hawaiian Minister of the Interior who used the Hawaiian militia as threat against Kalākaua.[101] Kalākaua was forced to dismiss his cabinet ministers and sign a new constitution which greatly lessened his power.[95] It would become known as the "Bayonet Constitution" due to the force used.[101]

The Bayonet Constitution allowed the monarch to appoint cabinet ministers, but had stripped him of the power to dismiss them without approval from the Legislature.[103]:152 Eligibility to vote for the House of Nobles was also altered, stipulating that both candidates and voters were now required to own property valuing at least three thousand dollars, or have an annual income of no less than six hundred dollars a year.[86] This resulted in disenfranchising two thirds of the native Hawaiians as well as other ethnic groups who had previously held the right to vote but were no longer able to meet the new voting requirements.[104] This new constitution benefited the white, foreign plantation owners.[105] With the legislature now responsible for naturalizing citizens, Americans and Europeans could retain their home country citizenship and vote as citizens of the kingdom.[106] Along with voting privileges, Americans could now run for office and still retain their American citizenship, something not afforded in any other nation of the world[107] and even allowed Americans to vote without becoming naturalized.[108] Asian immigrants were completely shut out and were no longer able to acquire citizenship or vote at all.[109]

Wilcox Rebellion of 1888

ʻIolani Barracks, 2007

The Wilcox Rebellion of 1888 was a plot to overthrow King David Kalākaua, king of Hawaii, and replace him with his sister in a coup d'état in response to increased political tension between the legislature and the king after the 1887 constitution. Kalākaua's sister, Princess Liliʻuokalani and wife, Queen Kapiolani returned from Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee immediately after news reached them in Great Britain.[110]

Kalākaua's distant cousin, a native Hawaiian officer and veteran of the Italian military, Robert William Wilcox returned to Hawaii at about the same time as Liliʻuokalani[111] in October 1887 when the funding for his study program stopped when the new constitution was signed. Wilcox, Charles B. Wilson, Princess Liliʻuokalani, and Sam Nowlein plotted to overthrow King Kalākaua to replace him with his sister, Liliʻuokalani. They had 300 Hawaiian conspirators hidden in Iolani Barracks and an alliance with the Royal Guard, but the plot was accidentally discovered in January 1888, less than 48 hours before the revolt would have been initiated.[112] No one was prosecuted but Wilcox was exiled. So on February 11, 1888 Wilcox left Hawaii for San Francisco, intending to return to Italy with his wife.

Princess Liliʻuokalani was offered the throne several times by the Missionary Party who had forced the Bayonet Constitution on her brother, but she believed she would become a powerless figurehead like her brother and rejected the offers outright.[113]

When Kalākaua died in 1891, his sister Liliʻuokalani ascended the throne. Queen Liliʻuokalani called her brother's reign "a golden age materially for Hawaii".[114]

Liliuokalani attempts to re-write Constitution

In January 1891, Kalākaua traveled to San Francisco for his health, staying at the Palace Hotel. He died there on January 20.[115] His sister Liliʻuokalani assumed the throne in the middle of an economic crisis. The McKinley Act had crippled the Hawaiian sugar industry by removing the duties on sugar imports from other countries into the US, eliminating the previous Hawaiian advantage due to the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875.[116] Many Hawaii businesses and citizens felt pressure from the loss of revenue; in response Liliʻuokalani proposed a lottery system to raise money for her government. Also proposed was a controversial opium licensing bill.[117] Her ministers, and closest friends, were all opposed to this plan; they unsuccessfully tried to dissuade her from pursuing these initiatives, both of which came to be used against her in the brewing constitutional crisis.[118]

Liliʻuokalani's chief desire was to restore power to the monarch by abrogating the 1887 Bayonet Constitution and promulgating a new one, an idea that seems to have been broadly supported by the Hawaiian population.[119] The 1893 Constitution would have reduced suffrage by reducing some property requirements,[clarification needed] and eliminated the voting privileges extended to European and American residents. It would have disfranchised many resident European and American businessmen who were not citizens of Hawaii. The Queen toured several of the islands on horseback, talking to the people about her ideas and receiving overwhelming support, including a lengthy petition in support of a new constitution. However, when the Queen informed her cabinet of her plans, they withheld their support due to an understanding of what her opponent's likely response to these plans would be.[120]

Though there were threats to Hawaii's sovereignty throughout the Kingdom's history, it was not until the signing of the Bayonet Constitution in 1887 that this threat began to be realized. The precipitating event[121] leading to the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893 was the attempt by Queen Liliʻuokalani to promulgate a new constitution that would have strengthened the power of the monarch relative to the legislature, where Euro-American business elites held disproportionate power. This political situation had resulted from the so-called 1887 Bayonet Constitution. The stated goals of the conspirators, who were non-native Hawaiian Kingdom subjects (five American nationals, one English national, and one German national)[122] were to depose the queen, overthrow the monarchy, and seek Hawaii's annexation to the United States.[123][124]


The coup d'état itself was led by Thurston, who was the grandson of American missionaries[125] and derived his support primarily from the American and European business class residing in Hawaii and other supporters of the Reform Party of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Most of the leaders of the Committee of Safety that deposed the queen were American and European citizens who were also Kingdom subjects.[126][127][128] They included legislators, government officers, and a Supreme Court Justice of the Hawaiian Kingdom.[129]

On January 16, the Marshal of the Kingdom, Charles B. Wilson was tipped off by detectives to the imminent planned coup. Wilson requested warrants to arrest the 13 member council, of the Committee of Safety, and put the Kingdom under martial law. Because the members had strong political ties with United States Government Minister John L. Stevens, the requests were repeatedly denied by Attorney General Arthur P. Peterson and the Queen’s cabinet, fearing if approved, the arrests would escalate the situation. After a failed negotiation with Thurston,[130] Wilson began to collect his men for the confrontation. Wilson and Captain of the Royal Household Guard, Samuel Nowlein, had rallied a force of 496 men who were kept at hand to protect the Queen.[131]

The events began on January 17, 1893 when a policeman was shot and wounded while trying to stop a wagon carrying weapons to the Honolulu Rifles, the paramilitary wing of the Committee of Safety led by Lorrin Thurston. The Committee of Safety feared the shooting would bring government forces to rout out the conspirators and stop the coup before it could begin. The Committee of Safety initiated the overthrow by organizing the Honolulu Rifles made of about 1,500 armed local (non-native) men under their leadership, intending to depose Queen Liliʻuokalani. The Rifles garrisoned Ali'iolani Hale across the street from ʻIolani Palace and waited for the Queen’s response.

John L. Stevens, an American diplomat, conspired to overthrow the Kingdom of Hawaii

As these events were unfolding, the Committee of Safety expressed concern for the safety and property of American residents in Honolulu.[132]

United States military support overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawaii

The coup efforts were supported by United States Government Minister John L. Stevens with an invasion of U.S. Marines, who came ashore at the request of the conspirators.[133] The coup left the queen imprisoned at Iolani Palace under house arrest. It briefly became the Republic of Hawaii, before eventual annexation by the United States in 1898. Advised about supposed threats to non-combatant American lives and property[134] by the Committee of Safety, Stevens obliged their request and summoned a company of uniformed U.S. Marines from the USS Boston and two companies of U.S. sailors to land on the Kingdom and take up positions at the U.S. Legation, Consulate, and Arion Hall on the afternoon of January 16, 1893. 162 sailors and Marines aboard the USS Boston in Honolulu Harbor came ashore well-armed but under orders of neutrality. The sailors and Marines did not enter the Palace grounds or take over any buildings, and never fired a shot, but their presence served effectively in intimidating royalist defenders. Historian William Russ states, "the injunction to prevent fighting of any kind made it impossible for the monarchy to protect itself."[135]

American territory

Annexation to the United States

Political cartoon of 1898

In March 1897, William McKinley, a Republican expansionist, succeeded Democrat Cleveland in the White House. He prepared a treaty of annexation but it needed a 2/3 majority in the Senate and enough Democrats were opposed to block it. A joint resolution was written by Republican Congressman Francis G. Newlands to annex Hawaii was passed; it needed only a majority support. The War with Spain had broken out and many leaders pointed to the urgent need for Pearl Harbor if the United States was to be a Pacific power and be able to protect the West Coast. In 1897 Japan sent warships to Hawaii to oppose annexation. Talk of invasion and annexation of Hawaii by Japan made the decision even more urgent.[136]

McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution which annexed Hawaii. On July 7, 1898 creating the Territory of Hawaii. On 22 February 1900 the Hawaiian Organic Act established a territorial government. In the opinion of annexation opponents, this was illegal for they believed the Queen was the only legitimate ruler; no one listened. McKinley appointed Dole as territorial governor. The territorial legislature convened for the first time on February 20, 1901. Hawaiians formed the Hawaiian Independent Party, under the leadership of Robert Wilcox, Hawaii's first congressional delegate.[137]

Plantation era

Sugarcane plantations in Hawaii expanded during the territorial period. Some of the companies diversified and came to dominate related industries including transportation, banking and real estate. Economic and political power was concentrated in what were known as the "Big Five" corporations.

Attack on Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor was attacked on 7 December 1941 by the Japanese navy, sinking the main American battleship fleet. The four American aircraft carriers were not in port and escaped damage. Hawaii was put under martial law until 1945. The large Japanese American population was not interred, but hundreds of pro-Japanese leaders were arrested. It was the main forward base for the Pacific War. The Japanese tried to invade in 1942 but were defeated at the Battle of Midway. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, sailors, Marines and airment came through on their way to the front lines.[138]

Democratic Party

In 1954 a nonviolent revolution of industry-wide strikes, protests and other civil disobedience transpired. In the territorial elections of 1954 the reign of the Hawaii Republican Party in the legislature came to an abrupt end, replaced by the Democratic Party of Hawaii. Democrats lobbied for statehood and gained the governorship from 1962 to 2002. The Revolution also unionized the labor force, hastening the decline of the plantations.


All islands voted at least 93% in favor of statehood in 1959

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act on March 18, 1959 which allowed for Hawaiian statehood. After a popular referendum in which over 93% voted in favor of statehood, Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state on August 21, 1959.

Sovereignty movements

For many Native Hawaiians, the manner in which Hawaii became a US territory is a bitter part of its history. Hawaii Territory governors and judges were direct political appointees of the US president. Native Hawaiians created the Home Rule Party and seek greater self-government. Hawaii was subject to cultural and societal repression during the territorial period and the first decade of statehood.[citation needed] Along with other self movements worldwide the 1960s Hawaiian Renaissance led to the rebirth of Hawaiian language, culture and identity.

With the support of Hawaii Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, Congress passed a joint resolution called the "Apology Resolution" (US Public Law 103-150). It was signed by President Bill Clinton on November 23, 1993. This resolution apologized "to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893... and the deprivation of the rights of Native Hawaiians to self-determination." The implications of this resolution have been extensively debated.[139][140]

Akaka proposed what is called the Akaka Bill to extend federal recognition to those of Native Hawaiian ancestry as a sovereign group similar to Native American tribes.[141]

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  120. Daws, Shoal of Time, p271: The Queen's new cabinet "had been in office less than a week, and whatever they thought about the need for a new constitution... they knew enough about the temper of the queen's opponents to realize that they would endure the chance to challenge her, and no minister of the crown could look forward... to that confrontation."
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Further reading


  • Craig, Robert D. Historical dictionary of Honolulu and Hawaiʻi (Scarecrow Press, 1998).
  • Daws, Gavan (1968). Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-0324-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Fuchs, Lawrence H. Hawaii Pono: 'Hawaii the Excellent': An Ethnic and Political History.(1961).
  • Haley, James L. Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii (St. Martin's Press, 2014).
  • Kuykendall, Ralph Simpson, and Arthur Grove Day. Hawaii: a history, from Polynesian kingdom to American state (Prentice Hall, 1961).
  • Wyndette, Olive. Islands of Destiny: A History of Hawaii (1968).

Specialty studies

  • Aquino, Belinda. "The Filipino Century in Hawaii: Out of the Crucible." (2006). online
  • Beechert, Edward D. Working in Hawaii: A Labor History (U of Hawaii Press, 1985) 401pp
  • Brown, DeSoto and Anne Ellett. Hawaii goes to war: life in Hawaii from Pearl Harbor to peace (1989).
  • Chapin, Helen. Shaping history: The role of newspapers in Hawai'i (University of Hawaii Press, 1996).
  • Cochran, Thomas C. and Ray Ginger. "The American-Hawaiian Steamship Company, 1899-1919," Business History Review (1954). 28#4, pp. 342–365.
  • Forbes, David W. Encounters with paradise: views of Hawaii and its people, 1778-1941 (Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1992).
  • MacLennan, Carol A. Sovereign Sugar, Industry and Environment in Hawaii (2014).
  • Mak, James. "Creating 'Paradise of the Pacific': How Tourism Began in Hawaii." (No. 2015-1. 2015) online. 82pp
  • Melendy, Howard Brett, and Rhoda E.A. Hackler. Hawaii, America's Sugar Territory, 1898-1959 (Edwin Mellen Press, 1999).
  • Melendy, Howard Brett. Walter Francis Dillingham, 1875-1963: Hawaiian Entrepreneur and Statesman (Edwin Mellen Pr, 1996).
  • Rohrer, Judy. Haoles in Hawai'i" (2010) 124pp; scholarly survey
  • Russ, William Adam. The Hawaiian Republic (1894-98) and its struggle to win annexation (Susquehanna U Press, 1992).
  • Schmitt, Robert C. Historical Statistics of Hawaii (University Press of Hawaii, 1977).
  • Siler, Julia Flynn. Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America's First Imperial Adventure (2012).
  • Sumida, Stephen H. And the View from the Shore: Literary Traditions of Hawai'i (University of Washington Press, 2015).
  • Tregaskis, Richard. The warrior king: Hawaii's Kamehameha the Great (1973).
  • Vowell, Sarah. Unfamiliar Fishes, Riverhead, New York, 2011. (Covers 1820-1898)
  • Wilson, Rob. "Exporting Christian Transcendentalism, Importing Hawaiian Sugar: The Trans-Americanization of Hawai'i." American Literature 72#.3 (2000): 521-552. online

External links