History of Hawaii/Missionaries Sugar Immigration

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Missionaries, Sugar and Immigration in the Nineteenth Century[edit]


Sugarcane has historically been an important source of income for Hawaii. The colonial powers brought capitalism with them to Hawaii, and with it, the production of sugar. Sugar exportation became a central component of the Hawaiian economy in a short period of time due to the exploitative nature in which the land and population were handled by imperial powers. These events were a major turning point in Hawaiian history.

In the early 19th century, sugarcane agriculture was very limited on the Hawaiian Islands. The first commercial sugar plantations were developed in the 1830s under the reign of Hawaiian King Kamehameha III. The plantations in Hawaii were unlike those that existed elsewhere in the world during that time, such as Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Haiti. The main difference was that Hawaiian plantation owners paid their laborers. Some plantation owners leased land from the King to harvest sugarcane, paying a flat rate each year. One such plantation, called the Koloa Plantation, was operated by three American businessmen who founded Ladd & Company. The Koloa Plantation was built on 980 acres of land leased from King Kamehameha III for 50 years at a rate of $300.00 annually. The plantation grew from only 25 staff in September of 1835 to 100 by March of 1838. Male Chinese workers were often recruited to work in the mill with the Hawaiian natives. Within a year of being established, the Koloa plantation contained twenty-five acres of cane under cultivation and many buildings including twenty houses for native workers, a house for the superintendent, a carpenter’s shop, a blacksmith’s shop, a mill dam, a sugar house, a boiling house and a sugar mill. Life on the Koloa Plantation involved labor for both male and female workers. Laborers were assigned to living quarters and allowed to take Fridays off to maintain their own food crops, and Saturdays for cooking and preparing meals. The workers on the plantation were paid in the form of coupons which could be redeemed at the plantation store. The plantation was managed by twenty-six year old William Hooper, from Boston, Massachusetts. Hooper instilled a strong free labor system and a capitalist system on the Islands by creating a wage-earning labor force, as well as a consumer class that was dependent on a market of sugar exports. Hooper is credited for helping set the pattern of good owner-worker relationships in Hawaii. His successful development and organization of the Koloa Plantation ensured that even after he departed the island in 1839, his legacy and institutions would remain and flourish. Hooper’s most important contribution was instigating the development of a corporate-dominated sugar economy in Hawaii.

During the early years of sugar production, commerce between Hawaii and the United States was relatively limited. However, the California gold rush of the 1840s would change that. The California gold rush had a significant impact on the Hawaiian economy because it increased settlement on the west coast of the United States, which led to rapid agricultural and plantation development in Hawaii. American miners began sending their soiled laundry to Hawaii because it was less expensive than getting it laundered in the States. Mining companies began importing Hawaiian food, clothing, and other supplies from over the Pacific rather than haul them across the American interior. With increased revenue to Hawaii came increased opportunity for sugar plantation owners to expand. While in 1859 the Hawaiian Islands’ annual sugar production was only about 1.8 million pounds, towards the end of the 1860s, sugar exports from Hawaii had increased ten-fold, with annual sugar exports of over 18 million pounds in 1868. Due to the increase of sugar production, this lead to a high demand for laborers to assist the farmers. “The sugar industry increased from 10 plantations in 1858 to 22 plantation operating in 1861, and sugar farmers continued to request additions to the labor force.”. This increase in sugar production corresponds almost perfectly with the California gold rush, which occurred during the years of 1848 -1855. By the end of the 19th century, Hawaii’s sugar exports would skyrocket to hundreds of millions of pounds of sugar each year.

As the California gold rush demonstrates, the success of the sugar industry in Hawaii was largely tied to events that occurred in America. The American Civil War which began in 1861 is an example of this relationship. The Civil War largely spurred the sugar industry in Hawaii because the Union significantly reduced importing products from the Southern States. Hawaii therefore gained new markets in the North, who sought sugar elsewhere. This demonstrates how the Hawaiian sugar industry was widely influenced by greater economic production in the United States.

As the century progressed, many plantation owners (some of whom were missionaries) had become very wealthy and powerful. Their influence on both the economy and religion of the island allowed them to manipulate the fledgling government. Sugar plantation owners dominated the capitalist system, and this allowed for significant influence in both public and private spheres of society. Firstly, the growth of the sugar industry was the major phenomenon to stimulate population growth in the form of immigrant workers, and with these people came their respective cultures. Secondly, the money brought into the island for sugar sales meant industrial development of the island, along with the many developments that come with wealth. It is therefore likely that the sugar industry had a significant impact on Hawaiian lifestyle and culture.

Another issue that resulted from the commercial production of sugar cane was the environmental impact it had on the island. Development of more efficient methods of cultivation allowed for greater yield per acre. Increase in production gave way to immense environmental degradation and deforestation. This altered both the resources and landscape of the island as a whole.

The plantations were harsh environments; however, they allowed natives to escape the traditional life on the islands, which consisted of hard labor for the Chiefs of the King, where failure to perform or complete work could sometimes result in death. People lived in “chronic fear” of the Chiefs on the islands and most people jumped at any opportunity to escape these norms and work on a plantation. The California Gold Rush, and the Great Mahele of 1848 where the traditional system of land ownership in Hawaii was destroyed, and the signing of the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1875, were all factors in the growth of Hawaiian outside investment and economic growth. With increased investment came increased exports. Sugar production on the island increased from 30 tons during Hooper’s time in 1838 to 375 tons. By the turn of the 19th century, exports climbed all the way to 298,544 tons.

The rapid increases in sugar exports seen towards the end of the 19th century were also in part due to reciprocity agreements between Hawaii and the United States. In 1856, the King of Hawaii commissioned the Hon. E. H. Allen to act as the Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary in Washington to negotiate an agreement between the United States and Hawaii that would allow entry to ports free of duty. Although the proposed agreement was initially received favorably by the United States federal government, it was heavily opposed by senators from southern states such as Louisiana that also relied on sugar production as a source of income. As a result, the agreement was initially rejected.

Finally, in 1875, the United States and Hawaii were able to reach agreeable trading terms. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 allowed for the admission of a number of products in the United States free from duty. Products listed in the treaty as being free from duty included: Muscovado, brown and all other unrefined sugar, commonly known as “Sandwich Island Sugar,” syrups of sugarcane, and molasses. By the end of the 19th century, sugar had fully emerged as the dominant export in Hawaiian industry, and many of the richest Hawaiians were those involved with the sugar industry.

A typical 19th century sugar plantation.


During the nineteenth century, Hawaii saw a high rate of immigration. At the time, many people were working on farms producing sugar cane, a driving force in the the Hawaiian economy. The sugar cane and pineapple industries provided many pull factors to potential immigrants.

Hawaii then looked to Puerto Rico for laborers. Puerto Ricans came to Hawaii looking to find employment in the many sugar cane fields because of their previous experience in Puerto Rico. There were two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico and completely destroyed their sugar cane plantations and left many without a job. This meant that a major producer of sugar cane was eliminated from the equation and now Hawaii was seen as a major producer. After many of the new immigrants work contracts had begun to expire, people began returning home or moving to mainland America to try and establish a life there. However, there were many who stayed behind and established communities including schools, churches and even building a stronger economy.

In order for the sugar industry to be commercially profitable, it was necessary to import foreign laborers. This is because the native population had been decimated by diseases which were introduced by Westerners to which the natives had no immunity. This shows that the elite class in Hawaii needed a working class group, so they allowed foreigners to migrate to Hawaii. Hawaii began accepting too many new immigrants and they were not necessarily paying these immigrants well in the sugar fields. Around 1864, King Kamehameha V thought that a Board of Immigration was needed to help control importation of foreign labor because the current process was very obsolete. During the 1900’s the demand for these two industries in Hawaii’s economy created a huge need for unskilled workers. According to an article called, Dual Chain Migration: Post 1965 Filipino Immigration to the United States, “The Hawaiian sugar planters deliberately recruited illiterate men who were either single or willing to leave their family behind, and by 1831, about 113 000 Filipinos mainly from the Ilocano provinces, had migrated to Hawaii.” This helps illustrate the large number of willing workers who had immigrated in order to make a living. The Board of Immigration in Hawaii failed to consider the needs of the immigrants that they were accepting from China specifically. Five hundred Chinese men were brought over to Hawaii to serve as additional workers. However, they did not bring over any women that lead complaints of prostitution and sexual perversion. The Board of Immigration later then was able to bring Chinese women to the islands in order for prostitution to be limited.

Japanese immigration to the Hawaiian islands began in 1868, but the systematic immigration of contract workers did not begin until 1884 when the Japanese government finally approved it. Prior to 1884 the Japanese government opposed sending their citizens to Hawaii because they did not want to be perceived as another “coolie storehouse”, or reserve of manual labor - like nations such as China. The Japanese Government also had a negative impression of Hawaii due to the behavior of American representatives in Hawaii through correspondence. Hawaiian Foreign Minister Robert Crichton Wyllie, who was a plantation owner in Hawaii himself and was therefore motivated by his own need for plantation workers, wrote to an American businessman in Japan, Mr. Eugene M. Van Reed. He arranged for contract workers from Japan to fill the many positions available at sugar plantations in Hawaii. This communication and the sugar industry on the islands are the main catalysts that began mass Japanese immigration. Van Reed’s correspondence resulted in 148 Japanese people arriving in Hawaii in 1868, which served to anger the Japanese government as Van Reed did not attain official permission from the Japanese government during treaty negotiations to begin immigration. The offense the Japanese government took to Van Reed's conduct halted Japanese immigration to Hawaii for the next seventeen years.

From 1778-1872, the overall population on the islands dropped from 300,000 to 50,000, due to a series of epidemics. It is estimated that over 46,000 Chinese were brought to Hawaii as laborers, mainly between 1876 – 1885 and 1890 – 1897. This shows the large contribution that the Chinese labor force had towards the Hawaiian economy. This mass immigration of the Chinese into Hawaii came to a close in the 1900`s. The annexation of Hawaii, meant that Hawaii became part of the continental United States of America and was therefore subject to the laws in the USA. This had vast implications to Chinese immigration in Hawaii. The Chinese Exclusion Act could now be enforced in Hawaii. This meant the legal end to large-scale Chinese immigration. The Chinese Exclusion Act stopped the supply of Chinese immigrants to Hawaii and forced plantations to seek workers from elsewhere. Since Hawaii could no longer rely on the Chinese to supply their labor force they had to encourage other cultures to immigrate. In early 1885, Japanese people again started coming to the islands in large numbers as contract workers, with many of them returning to Japan at the end of their three-year contracts. At first, they comprised a “low caste of Japanese gathered from the riff raff of the cities,” but as time passed the immigrants were said to have started coming from higher classes. In this year, two ships (one arriving on February 8th and the other on June 17th) brought over 900 Japanese to Hawaii, and immigration continued at a steady pace from then onwards. In fact, over 9000 Japanese contract workers and farmers came to the islands from 1885-86. The first Japanese immigrants in 1885 lived in unstable huts that they had to build themselves once they arrived.

The sugar industry and later the pineapple industry were and are Hawaii’s chief commodities and have substantially affected the state both politically and economically. In order for these two industries of cultivation to become commercially profitable they had to rely on cheap labor. Since the native population had been decimated by disease brought on by Westerners, plantation owners needed to import foreign workers. The Hawaiian native population went from 800,000 in 1778 to 40,000 in 1878, and the state became a hub for foreigners willing to relocate and work. Hawaii was the destination of the earliest and the largest Asian immigrations to America. It all began in the mid-19th century with many Asians flocking into the state to find work. The main ethnic groups were the Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Filipino. The plantation owners would only take on men, since women were deemed useless. Most Asian women were illiterate since education for a female child was deemed irrelevant and even jeopardized her chance for a good marriage. Through this immigration, Native Hawaiian’s became the minority in their own home. By the year 1884 Chinese laborers constituted about a quarter (22.6 percent) of the total population of Hawaii. Native Hawaiian's were being replaced by Asian workers willing to uproot their lives and work for next to nothing on these plantations. This immigration continued and allowed the sugar and pineapple industries to prosper until 1934 when the depression heightened racial animosity towards Asians. It was in this year that the Tyding-McDuffie Act restricted the entry of Filipinos into the United States to fifty persons a year. The act also changed the status of Filipinos from American nationals to alien immigrants. As years faded, so did the racial tension and tight immigration policies for Asians were loosened. If it were not for the immigration of Asians willing to work for almost nothing into Hawaii, the sugar and pineapple industries would not have been able to prosper and Hawaii would not be the prosperous and respected state that it is today.

By the 1896 census, Japanese people comprised a quarter of the population in the Hawaiian islands. By 1910, they encompassed 40% of the population.


A typical 19th century sugar plantation.


As plantation owners sought outside labor many immigrants emerged to work in Hawaii. This immigration sparked by the sugar companies had an everlasting effect on Hawaiian culture, creating a multicultural society, along with the emergence of a new language – Hawaiian Pidgin. The language emerged as immigrants on plantation farms struggled to communicate with one another. In seeking a common language to communicate through, a hybrid primarily influenced from Hawaiian, English, Japanese, Chinese and Portuguese languages emerged. The language is often referred to as “Hawaii Creole”, or, “Hawaii Creole English”, due to its similar appearance to the English language. The language has historically been deemed a sub-standard of English, though many linguists argue the language stands separately. While English and Hawaiian are the two official languages of the legislature, Hawaiian Pidgin is still commonly heard in advertisements, neighborhood conversation and even sometimes in Hawaiian school systems. The language possesses its own specific spelling system, though it can be found spelled out in English. Hawaiian Pidgin also has a very unique intonation with word rhythms quite different than those found within the English language.

Missionary Ship


The industry was originally tightly controlled by “The Big Five”; five major corporations that started within the sugar industry. These five companies, started by missionary families, were Castle & Cook, Alexander & Baldwin, C. Brewer & Co., American Factors, and Theo H. Davies & Co. Dealing their workers very low wages, these companies were able to prosper. In the early-nineteenth century, Protestant missionaries from the United States arrived in Hawaii with the aim of Christianizing and “civilizing” its inhabitants, an idea related to that of manifest destiny. It was in 1810 that the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Ministers set a plan in motion to “[promote] the spread of the gospel in Heathen lands,” attracting a handful of American Protestant missionaries who began their journey from Boston to Hawaii in 1819. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by “children of nature,”--what they observed as Hawaiians, who in their eyes, were in need of Christ and a missionaries’ model of Western society. They were eager to evangelize the Sandwich Islands, believed to be “a dark and ruined land,” as many Protestants thought that the Second Coming of Christ was near. It was hoped that Hawaii could be transformed into a purely Protestant nation, ready for the Salvation of the Lord. While the missionaries failed to achieve the total victory of Protestantism they had envisioned at their onset, Hawaiian culture and legislation were profoundly Christianized under their influence, but not without having to overcome several obstacles.

Although the missionaries came to Hawaii with the intention of bringing Abrahamic faith to the Islanders, they were met with an opposition from merchants who had settled in Hawaii in the 1790s, and who desired an economic focus on Hawaii rather than a religious one. British merchants established trade by exchanging goods like guns, cloth, glass, and rum for Hawaiian sandalwood; they would then trade these goods to the Chinese for silk and furniture. At first, these merchants argued that allowing missionaries into Hawaii would have negative political and social consequences, and that they were “sent by the American government for political purposes.” However, sugar then quickly became a major industry fueled by emigrants brought to Hawaii by missionaries. This wave of emigrants helped power the missionaries’ cause for Christ by establishing a foundation of people to be “saved,” but it did not alleviate the negative opinions that were held by merchants towards missionaries and their work. The two different camps clashed so much, that by 1823, Reverend William Ellis called merchants, “the enemy” for their economic motivations hindered the latter’s religious cause. Since Hawaii’s population had faced a sharp decline and there weren’t enough people to work the sugarcane fields, Hakka emigrant workers were brought in with the help of the missionaries. One of the Reverends, Lias Bond, “operated a sugar plantation... in order to support his mission work.” There is a notable convergence of mission work and economic pursuit in Hawaii at this time, regardless of the tension between missionaries and merchants. The eager missionaries helped handfuls of refugees enter Hawaii safely, managing to show them their point of view, and successfully converting them to Christianity. On the other hand, the merchants and men of industry were benefiting from the mission work, supplied with plenty of workers--the fuel of Hawaii’s sugar crops. Although the established relationship between men of God and men of the empire was held in a negative light, the two continued to depend on each other for success in their respective pursuits.

The missionaries began their quest by targeting Hawaiian leaders in the hope that their conversion would influence the masses to follow. Little success was achieved with the King, Liholiho, who demonstrated relatively no interest in converting to Christianity. The missionaries were more successful with Hawaiian chiefs; more specifically, Kaahumanu and Kalanimoku. These chiefs, under the influence of the missionaries, would make significant cultural and legal changes in Hawaii. While missionaries agreed not to get involved in politics directly, they had no problem impacting politics and legislation indirectly by advising the chiefs and informing them about the laws and political institutions of Christian countries. These changes to culture and law in Hawaii had become visible by 1824 when the beginnings of a new moral law began to appear. Kaahumanu and Kalanimoku instructed Hawaiians not to work or travel on Sabbath and to attend school and church. On December 17th 1817, Hawaiian chiefs imposed new laws that prohibited murder, theft and adultery. In 1831, under the influence of the Protestant missionaries, the chiefs declared that Catholicism was extirpated in Hawaii and forced all Catholic missionaries to leave the island. Shortly after the extirpation of Catholics, the Protestant American missionary, Titus Coan, arrived in Honolulu. Coan demonstrated an amazing ability to convert large numbers of Hawaiians to Protestantism; his period of mass conversion was later deemed the “Great Awakening”. Between 1837 and 1840 approximately 100,000 Hawaiians entered the Protestant church as Protestantism had begun to reach the masses.

One major technique utilized by the missionaries to influence conversion was through literacy and also the establishment of print media. Teaching natives to read and write was an integral part of the “civilizing” process, working to increase Protestant conversion by the spread of Christian teachings, as well as colonial ideas such as capitalism rather than subsistence.

With the missionaries and other colonial settlers came the arrival of European disease that the island had never before been exposed to, such as syphilis and leprosy. Because the native peoples lacked the immunity to ward of these illnesses, their population was significantly depleted by epidemics such as the smallpox disease, which took thousands of lives in 1853. Illness weakened the native race, serving as another way in which missionaries and other settlers could assert dominance. Thus, a sense of biological superiority prevailed, creating a line of racial discourse and increasing the motivation for missionaries to civilize the native population.

The sense of accomplishment that the “Great Awakening” brought to Protestant American missionaries began to dissolve in 1839 with the arrival of the French Captain, C.P.T. Laplace. Laplace came with a list of demands that, if not met, would lead to war between France and Hawaii. The Hawaiian King, Kauikeaouli, met the demands of the Captain and ordered religious freedom for Catholics, a bond of $20,000 from the chiefs to guarantee compliance and a salute for the French flag. Before long the American Protestant missionaries were forced to compete against missionaries of Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Episcopalism.

In 1854, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions created the Hawaiian Evangelical Association to direct and control the Protestant mission in Hawaii, from within the island. In 1870, when the Hawaiian Evangelical Association celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the coming of the first group of missionaries, there were fifty-eight churches in the association, with a membership of 14,850 - approximately one-fourth of the whole population of the Kingdom. Clearly the Protestant missionaries had achieved great success in Hawaii, but they had ultimately failed to win the kind of absolute victory for Protestantism that they had been so sure of fifty years earlier.

One must not forget an important element of missionary work in the islands: women. In the early 19th century, women did not venture to Hawaii as missionaries themselves, but as the wives of missionaries. Men were highly encouraged to marry before they departed on a call. Missionary wives came from middle class New England lifestyles, where Protestantism reigned and there were clearly defined roles for all members of society.

Missionary wives were, “for the most part, energetic, intelligent, and well-educated women, daughters of farmers or small business men”. These women embodied “a passion to reform the habits, inform the minds, and modify the world views of those whose life-styles differed markedly from the model established by New England Protestantism.” The spirited involvement in the mission field of Hawaii is an example of women attempting to break through into the public sphere of life during the 19th century.

As the wife of a missionary, a woman’s focus revolved around the domestic sphere. In addition to bearing responsibility for the household concerns within their own homes, missionary wives were mainly involved in the lives of other women. These women from New England saw their Hawaiian counterparts as heathens in desperate need of salvation. Missionary wives saw it as their duty to reform Hawaiian women so that they were “genuinely pious, sexually pure, dutifully submissive and domestically oriented as housewives and mothers.” It was expected that Hawaiian women would then transfer these values onto their children.

This reformation of Hawaiian women took place in many forms, including but not limited to “bible-reading groups, church meetings, school examinations, Sunday school picnics and tea meetings, as well as formal classroom instruction.” The wives of missionaries completed all these tasks while they were accompanied by their own children, of whom they had many: “with fertile couples, first infants arrived as early as nine or ten months after marriage...second and subsequent births occurred at around two-yearly intervals.”

The division between the work male missionaries were doing, and the work female missionaries were undertaking was stark. Male missionaries were quite content with the separation of the sexes: “they were vociferous in criticizing women who stepped outside their appropriate sphere” 6. In 1834, these women created a ‘Maternal Association’ whereby “they could discuss together those issues affecting their lives that were ignored in the mens deliberations.” Stating that the work of missionary wives was different from that of their husbands’ in no way diminishes their belief in their work; these women “believed they had a strong call in their own right to teach the nations”. Both missionaries and their wives’ efforts had a significant influence on the Hawaiian people in the 19th century.


Though remote and isolated, Hawaii was realized by many in the 19th century to be of rather strategic importance for both trade and naval operations. Russia, France, Britain and the United States of America all staked imperial claims on the islands throughout the 19th century, with the United States finally annexing Hawaii in 1898. The story of Hawaii throughout the 19th century is one of exploitation and mistreatment by nations with colonial aspirations on the islands, of immigration, of missionaries, and plantations. Though taken advantage of time and time again, the native Hawaiians were not passively colonized. Silvia Noenoe asserts that the European and American powers desired to exploit the land and subjugate its people, but the native Hawaiians resisted in a number of ways.

Foreigners established contact with the native Hawaiians in the 18th century. The first and most notable were the expeditions of Captain Cook, who discovered the Hawaiian islands in 1778. On his third expedition Cook was killed in a quarrel with the natives, who showed little fear of the Europeans and their superior weaponry. Resistance of colonizing punctuated 19th century Hawaii, though the mode of resistance was not homogenous. Silvia Noenoe emphasizes the variation of resistance throughout Hawaii, pointing out that the way in which people resisted in rural areas was vastly different from those living in more urban areas like Honolulu. Creating a nation in a form similar and recognizable to European and American governments was a strategy of resistance because it increased Hawaii’s chance of being recognized by a large power like France or England.

In the early 19th century Imperial Russia began to show a serious interest in the colonization of the islands, establishing three forts. Though a very brief and futile attempt, it was the first time in the island’s history that a government funded expedition had made serious efforts to settle in the islands. The French and British also made futile attempts to colonize Hawaii, but an agreement between the two countries recognized Hawaii as an independent sovereign nation.

The last and ultimately successful attempt at colonization was perpetrated by the United States in the later half of the 19th century. Through several trade agreements, the United States invested a great amount into the plantations and agriculture throughout Hawaii. Many Americans settled on the island, bringing Asian immigrants along with them as cheap laborers. Most of the islands’ inhabitants would not work for foreigners on Hawaiian ground. This labor boycott can also be seen as a form of economic resistance to colonialism exerted by Hawaii's native population. In 1893 the United States government funded an overthrow of Hawaii’s monarchy, ousting Queen Liliʻuokalani in January of that year. In his inaugural address, President Cleveland admitted that “substantial wrong has thus been done” and that the United States “should endeavor to repair the monarchy." Although many Americans were disturbed by such a blatant act of Manifest Destiny, no action was ever taken to restore Queen Lili’oukalani to her throne. The Hawaiians stood in opposition to Hawaii's annexation, as exhibited through the "1897 Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii" which was presented to the U.S. congress and turned the tide of opinion against annexation. However, this success was short lived as the Spanish American War soon forced the United States to annex Hawaii for strategic purposes in 1898.

Hawaii's past is marked by foreign powers with colonial aspirations intervening in Hawaiian affairs. The Hawaiians had successfully established a constitutional monarchy, which was recognized as sovereign by both France and England, but not taken seriously among world powers. Though the islanders never staged a full-on rebellion to colonialism, the various strategies they employed to resist colonialism are a mark of their courage and ingenuity.