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​Hawaii Through Ancient And Modern History

​The date of arrival of the first Polynesian settlers into what is now the U.S. State of Hawaii is hotly debated still to this day.

Polynesian Discovery and Settlement

The settlement of Hawaii is one of the most noteworthy accomplishments in human history. By the time European sailors found their way to the New World and the Pacific Ocean, Polynesian explorers had already been inhabiting nearly every island there for more than 100 years. They managed all of this through the simple use of canoes! Hawaii was discovered by Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands around 400 AD. By 900 AD all the Hawaiian islands were occupied and by 1000 AD agriculture became a key component to settlements here. The people worshiped two main gods, Ku, the god of war, and Lono, the god of peace and agriculture. They enjoyed life on the islands for 200 more years when the Tahitians arrived and conquered the inhabitants. The high priest established a system of having a king for every island. Royalty was even brought from Tahiti. This attention to bloodlines created social classes, or castes, that were practiced for years to come.

Ancient Hawaiian Ways of Life

The ancient way of life of these settlers involved learning household responsibilities from the grandparents and specialized trades, like herbal medicine or canoe making, through apprenticeships. Families often became dedicated to specific subsistence activities and islands specialized in economic activity. Early Hawaiians did not practice land ownership either as they believed that the land belonged to gods and therefore could never belong to a human. These religious beliefs held strong influences over daily life and dictated even social interactions. These years of life in Hawaii were ruled by supreme rulers on each of the big islands and below them, the chiefs. The chiefs managed land that was assigned to them by the supreme rulers and collected taxes for their areas. The supreme rulers were responsible for ensuring the people followed the strict code of conduct.

History of Hawaiian Governance

Unification (1795-1810)

In 1778, Captain James Cook became the first European to land on the Hawaiian islands. Hawaiians believed these European men were gods and treated them as such until one of them died. The Hawaiians wanted the men off their islands and in the retaliation, killed Captain Cook. Three years later, in 1782, Kamehameha became the supreme ruler of the big island, Hawaii. Trade began with European colonies and Kamehameha began taking control of other islands through warfare. In fact, the Unification is often referred to as the Civil War. Kamehameha believed he was to fulfill the prophesy of unifying the islands and achieved this goal in 1810 when the last 2 islands willingly joined the kingdom. He then created a legal system, taxation, international trade, and he did not allow anyone other than Hawaiians to inhabit the land.

The Kingdom of Hawaii

The Kingdom of Hawaii was established during the unification. From 1795 to 1893 Hawaii was independent and engaged in trade with the US and received missionaries from there who began converting the people to Christianity. In 1839, King Kamehameha III signed the Declaration of Rights which did away with traditional customs like the code of conduct and the practice of chiefs. The king then set off to obtain formal recognition as an independent nation from both the US and England in 1842 and 1843 respectively. This allowed Hawaii to enter into international treaties and agreements. In 1887, a new Constitution was forced on the King by a rebel group made up of foreign nationals which allowed them to take control of the Legislation and the Monarchy. Natives tried to protest yet they were unsuccessful and the new law held. In 1893, the grandson of American missionaries, Thurston, led a coup d'état which was supported by the invasion of US marines. The Queen was placed under house arrest.

Post-Kingdom Provisional Government and Republic of Hawaii

After the coup d'état, a provisional government was formed by 13 individuals. When President Grover Cleveland took office, he claimed the US had used illegal military force in Hawaii and demanded the Queen be returned to rule. The leader of the provisional government refused. The US government took a stance of non-interference in Hawaiian affairs and the provisional government established the Republic of Hawaii in 1894. When William McKinley took the US presidency in 1897, negotiations for annexation once again resumed. The Senate accepted the treaty of annexation and President McKinley signed it into law on July 7th, 1898. This created the Territory of Hawaii.

Hawaii as a U.S. Territory

Hawaii was a US territory from 1898 to 1959. In 1900, the US signed a bill that granted the islands a popularly elected government. The territory began to develop a tourism industry and became the sight for several US military bases over the years. The island no longer paid tariffs for sugarcane exports to the US and the extra money was used to invest in equipment. This benefited 5 large companies. At the same time, the island began to develop its pineapple industry. Following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the governors ceded to martial law and residents of the islands were ruled by the US military. This military rule came with censored media, power blackouts, curfews, and food rations. After the end of World War II, the territorial government voted to pursue American statehood.

Hawaiian Statehood

Hawaii was admitted to the US as a state in 1959. In March of that year, Congress approved and President Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act. In June, the residents of Hawaii voted to accept the bill and on August 21st, Hawaiians celebrated their admission to the US. it became the 50th state.

Hawaii Today

Today, Hawaii has a population of over 1.4 million people, 10% of whom are Hawaiian natives. The state has the highest Asian population (37%) of any state in the US. Although English and Hawaiian are the official languages of the 50th state, only about 2,000 people actually speak Hawaiian. The economy largely relies on agricultural exports, military bases, and tourism for success and survival. The cost of living here is high, and residents pay some of the highest income taxes of any U.S. state.

​Hawaiian History - Ancient And Modern Hawaii

Hawaiian GovernanceYears
Independent Villages and KingdomsPre-1795
Kingdom of Hawaii1795-1893
Provisional Government and Republic of Hawaii1893-1898
U.S. Territory1898-1959
U.S. State1959-Present

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