History of Hawaii/Early Independence

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First Settlers and Society[edit]

Arago – 'Supplice Sandwich'

The earliest people to arrive and settle the Hawaiian islands were Polynesian seafarers who travelled from Marquesas in the 3rd century. The Polynesian sailors were expert navigators and would have reached Hawaii in their voyaging canoes at a time when Western boats rarely left sight of land, demonstrating how advanced the society was at the time. A second large wave of migration from Tahiti took place approximately 700-1000 years later, although it is argued that by some that there was simply one long, steady migration spanning across this entire time period.

With these settlers came the Tahitian priests, including the high priest Pa’ao who brought new reform to the religious and social structures on the islands. This new form of religion brought a rigidity and new type of caste system to Hawaii, as well as developing the idea of kapu, or taboos, and the practice of human sacrifice (as seen in the artists rendition "Supplice Sandwich").

The caste system that was introduced was extremely strict, and although it was not unheard of for a person to move from one social class to another, it was very rare. The four class groupings on the island were the Ali’i, Kahuna, Maka’āinana, and the Kauā, and in each there class there were several subclasses. The Ali’i was the highest class in Hawaiian society and consisted of chiefs and sub-chiefs who ruled over the islands, and in common mythology the chiefs used a supernatural power known as ‘mana’ to rule their kingdoms. The next class was the Kahuna which consisted of advisors to the chief such as priests and generals, as well as professionals such as doctors and boat makers. The Maka’āinana were the common people of ancient Hawaii. They performed tasks such as farming, fishing, and hunting to feed not only their families but also their chiefs and Kahunas, much like the serfs of medieval Europe did for their lords. The final class, the Kauā, were the servitude class of Hawaii, much like African slaves brought to America. This class was comprised of prisoners of war and law breakers and was often used as human sacrifices or as servants to the upper classes.

The social system that held the Hawaiian peoples together from the time of the Tahitian migration until after the arrival of Europeans was known as the Kapu system. The laws of Kapu can be split into three basic categories based on their origins: ones derived from the basic tenets of the Kahuna religion, ones associated with maintaining the social caste system, and those used by chiefs and other officials to maintain order. The first group of laws included rules that forbade men and women from eating together and prevented women from eating certain types of foods, such as bananas for example. The second category included the rules that men and women had to follow when in the presence of members of a higher class than themselves. For example, lower class Hawaiians could not touch the shadow of an Ali’i, which would avoid them stealing his ‘mana’. The final group of rules were the political and legislative decisions made by the chief, which were the ancient Hawaiians laws. Any violations of Kapu, even accidental ones, were punishable by death. These social and religious dogmas preserved the Hawaiian culture for over 1500 years until the arrival of Europeans and are still spoken of today in classic mythology and Hawaiian legends.

Captain James Cook and Hawaiian Contact with the West[edit]

Captain James Cook

After Polynesians came to inhabit the island; the Marquesans and the Polynesians began to live a simplistic life, building temples and irrigation ponds and fishing. Yet, they still lived in isolation from the rest of the world for the next six hundred years until the arrival of Captain James Cook. A prominent British explorer, navigator and cartographer. James Cook was born in November of 1728 in the small village of Marton-in-Clevland in the riding of Yorkshire. His parents were a conservative couple, whose only surviving children (besides James) were two daughters by the names of Margaret and Christina. As a child, James had a steady adherence to his “own plans and schemes”, which often attracted the reverence and respect of his companions. His first sight of the sea was in Staithes as a teenager, where he was instantly enamoured by it.

On June 17th, 1755, James Cook volunteered for the Royal Navy at Wapping and by June 30th, 1957 he became Master of the 24-gun frigate, The Solebay. This portrayed his ability to gain the respect amongst his peers. James made three voyages through the Pacific for the Royal Society of Britain between 1768 and 1789, and his trips to Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, were only a few of his voyages. His third journey began on February 10th, 1776 as the Master of the HMS Discovery. The official purpose of the journey was to find a profitable passage through the Northwest to the Pacific Ocean, but it would ultimately lead him to become the first documented Westerner to discover the islands of Hawaii.

On the morning of January 18th, 1778, Captain James Cook documented seeing first the island of Oahu, followed by the island of Kauai, and was surprised to see Native canoes in a place he had first thought to have been uninhabited. He landed on Kauai in Waimea Bay, where he describes how he was first greeted with reverence by the native islanders. It is argued by scholars that the ceremony surrounding Cook's arrival was because his landing coincided with the festival of makahiki, an annual harvest festival. The god of the harvest, Lono, was who the Hawaiian priests identified Cook as. They treated him as such and went so far as to call him akua; which many have taken to mean 'god'. However, it has been brought to light that the term akua does not hold the same connotations as the English translation. Instead it refers to any being of nature, or one of immense power, which may be an invisible spirit or a living person.

The descriptions of the first encounters he and his crew made describe that the Hawaiians “differ but little” from the other indigenous populations in the South Sea Islands. They regarded the native Hawaiians’ customs, physique, and languages as similar to those of Tahiti, although their descriptions of their tattooing practices were poor in comparison to the complexity in design of the New Zealand, Tonga or Tahitians. Captain Cook’s documentation of the first visit to Kauai does give a high appraisal to the Hawaiians clothing and general attire. He describes the local people’s outfits as “elegant and pleasing beyond compare”, demonstrating that he did hold some respect for the natives that he had just encountered.

Cook’s original visit to the Hawaiian Islands was brief albeit tumultuous, and on February 2nd, 1778 he departed north towards North America. During the visit, he took the time to briefly study the indigenous culture, as well as learning the original native names for the archipelago. Before his departure, James Cook officially named them the Sandwich Isles after the sponsor of his third voyage, the Earl of Sandwich. Cook's men however, did not share his penchant for geography and anthropology. The men often opted instead to harass locals much to the chagrin of the local chiefs, who encouraged their people not to retaliate. This would be short-lived, however, by the end of the trip Cook and his crewmen had discovered a local Hawai'ian stealing the iron boards along their ship and arrested him, angering many of the local warrior class. Cook took this opportunity to take a break from his scholarly/exploratory endeavors and engaged in what the British Empire did best, violent suppression of native dissent. Cook and his men brought more than wholesale slaughter, they also brought with them epidemics of disease, both traditional and venereal. Native population numbers, as cited in NoeNoe Silva's book Aloha Betrayed, dwindled to 135 000 by 1832, only 60 years from Cook's initial visitation.

Many believe that Cook was the first European to discover Hawaii or the “Sandwich Islands” as Cook referred to them. However, writer NoeNoe Silva in her book Aloha: Betrayed gives detailed translated works of many indigenous people of the time, and her argument insists that Cook was not the first white man to travel to the islands. Still, it is a widely believed fact that Cook was the first European explorer to arrive in Hawaii.

Cook’s given name to the islands was used up until the 19th century, and many of the European and Asian traders that made the voyage to the islands during this time took up permanent residence there. Hawaii was beginning to prosper, but relations with Cook and the indigenous peoples were beginning to sour. On January 24th, King Kalaniopuu returned from a conquest in Maui to meet with Cook who was treated with divine honors. After receiving goods from Kalaniopuu to stock his ships Cook and his two vessels departed, only to return a few days later after being battered by heavy storms. However, the reception by the natives upon their return was not what Cook had expected.

It was here that Cook’s men, and Cook himself, began a succession of violent episodes against the native Hawaiians. One such incident involved a chief and the theft of a boat off of Cook’s ship. Cook wanted the boat returned to him and when it was not he ordered a blockade of the harbor. At first the natives did nothing, not wanting to engage the foreigners in battle. But, Cook decided to take a landing party onto the island and hold King Kalaniopuu hostage until such a time that his boat was returned. When he landed Cook was surrounded by a large crowd of natives who demanded he explain himself. Believing the chiefs and their people to be hostile Cook and his men began a confrontation that resulted in the killing of many natives and a handful of chiefs. Throughout this confrontation the Hawaiians did not believe that Cook could be killed as he was Lono. At one point in the fight however, Cook was wounded. Upon seeing this the natives realized that Cook was no akua. He was stabbed and killed at Kealakekua Bay, near Kona, and his remains were presented subsequently to Vancouver when he returned to the islands.

Other European explorers would not meet such a grisly fate. George Vancouver, a member of Cooks first expedition, returned to Hawaii after Cook and had a much more amicable relationship with local Hawai'ians. Vancouver's interactions with King Kamehameha were so cordial in fact, that Vancouver was able to convince him to place the Hawai'ian islands under the protection of the British Empire. Earlier foreign emissaries, such as Alexander Baranov, would be repulsed and exiled from the islands when making similar suggestions.

Ten years later after the death of Cook, the first Chinese sailors arrived in the Islands after jumping off of a trading vessel. Shortly after, sugar cane became a massive crop to be grown on the island and had many uses. Pineapple plants and coffee were both attempted to be grown on the island years later. Even after Cooks death, the British still remained interested in the Hawaiian Islands. In 1794, Captain Vancouver, an officer in the British Navy, put the islands under the protection of Great Britain. Vancouver himself was present on Cook’s second and third voyages-the third being to the Hawaiian Islands.

King Kamehameha I[edit]

King Kamehameha I Statue - Honolulu

Throughout the time period of the Tahitian and Polynesian migrations and the subsequent Western contact, the islands were not united together as one nation or as one population. It was not until 1810 when King Kamehameha united the islands together politically that the islands of Hawaii became a singular kingdom. In 1819, the great King Kamehameha died and Prince Liholiho ascends to the throne as Kamehameha II, until 1824.

Even once Hawaii had been unified, there were still issues to be resolved in order to establish a stable Monarchy. King Kamehameha unified the islands with the spear but once he was in control he showed he could wield the sceptre of administration just as well. His first task was to remove the system of district chiefs. He gave the chiefs detached land portions far apart in order to prevent any chieftain becoming more powerful than him in any area. At the same time he made sure the most ambitious and untrustful chiefs were in his court as often as possible in order to ensure there were no revolts. By doing this and centralizing the power of Hawaii under one authority, King Kamehameha had brought Hawaii to a period of peace after decades of war. With his new authority Kamehameha was able to bring order to the chaos of Hawaiian war by creating laws ressembling many found in the Geneva Convention. For example, the ‘Law of the Splintered Paddle’ was created by Kamehameha during a raid on Puna when his foot became trapped in a crevice and a man bashed a paddle against his head till it broke. The new law provided protection to non-combatants during a battle. Through his reforms, it can be seen that Kamehameha strove to erase the savagery of war from Hawaii.

Growing up in Hawaii during the chieftain wars, Kamehameha experienced war and its brutality first hand. The experience drove him to establish a stable monarchy and to tirelessly work to remove the scars of war from Hawaii. With the removal of the old caste system, Kamehameha appointed governors to each island who in turn appointed government positions such as tax collectors. Never had such a system been seen on the islands of Hawaii before, and these reforms strengthened the power of both the Monarch and the nation. With a strong new government, King Kamehameha was able to improve infrastructure and promote order throughout his kingdom. With the goal to remove the ravages of war from Hawaii he constructed large terraces on mountains and dug irrigation ditches miles long to promote agriculture production. To the same end he hunted down and eliminated groups of thieves and bandits. He greatly improved the lives of his subjects, to the extent it was said to be like Saxon England under Alfred’s reign and that “the old men and children could sleep unharmed on the highways”. Hawaii was on its way to becoming the paradise we call it today.

Under the new monarch Hawaii emerged from a motley group of islands to an international state. Trades with the outside world had given Kamehameha a valuable edge during his conquest. During his reign he fostered those connections by giving aid to any ship that came to port and in some cases stopping his own chiefs from attacking visitors. Soon Hawaii established trade routes with the bordering continents on both sides of the Pacific. Thus, King Kamehameha successfully established and maintained a monarchy throughout his life and created a strong nation out of the Hawaiian Islands.