The Kingdom of Hawai’i: The History of the Hawaiian State Before It Was Annexed by America (Unabridged‪)‬

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Beschreibung des Verlags

The Hawaiian kingdom existed for about a century, from the early 1790s to 1893, starting when King Kamehameha finally united the islands and lasting until American planters and businessmen staged a coup and forced Queen Lili’uokulani to abdicate. During the century of its existence, the kingdom offered its native peoples considerable protection. For example, in the later 1800s, several thousands of Pacific islanders were, in effect, kidnapped and forced to serve as indentured laborers in places like the Guano Islands in Peru and plantations in Queensland in the nefarious practice called “Blackbirding”. The kingdom offered literacy, converted its people to Christianity, and accommodated its people to the intrusive outside world. The achievement of establishing the kingdom belongs to an outstanding warrior king, Kamehameha the Great.

Kamehameha was born about 1738 on Hawaii, the Big Island. He was an ali’i, from a chiefly line of descent of high social status. He was a canny leader and a formidable warrior who, by the 1790s, had taken over most of the islands except for stubborn Kauai and its small satellite island, Niihau. Kauai did not join the kingdom until a deal was brokered by an American trader in 1810.

Kamehameha is probably the single most important figure in Hawai’i’s history. His life bracketed a time when Hawaii was its own world, and its people were unaware of the existence of anywhere outside the archipelago to when Hawai'i was inseparably joined to the world economy. A pivotal year was 1778 when the British exploring expedition under the famous Captain Cook “discovered” the islands. Cook was killed in 1779 by Hawaiians in a brawl based on mutual misunderstandings. Kamehameha was there, and he quickly realized the utility of firearms and cannons and used them in his conquest. He had two English captives who became close advisors and helped smooth Hawai'i's transition from an isolated island group to a participant in the Pacific world.

The intrusion of the outside world was inevitable, epic, and destructive. The islands’ total population at the time of Cook’s “discovery” is unknown, but it is variously estimated to be between 300,000 to 1,000,000 at the point of contact in 1778. Like the Americas in the era of discovery, the Hawaiians were vulnerable to diseases introduced from elsewhere to which they had no immunity, including venereal diseases, measles, smallpox, and other afflictions. The native Hawaiian population dropped to 130,000 in 1830, 51,000 in 1872, and 46,000 near the kingdom’s end in 1890, and Native Hawaiians became a minority on their own islands in the years before 1900.

Hawai’i’s history is a complicated and fascinating story with many ups and downs. Ultimately, the Native Hawaiians, a Polynesian people, became a minority in their own homeland, reduced to social and economic marginalization. Over the decades, the kingdom went from Kamehameha's absolute monarchy to a constitutional republic in which the kings were not much more than figureheads. The islands went through boom-and-bust cycles of dependency on sandalwood, then servicing the Pacific whaling fleet, then the sugar industry. As the 19th century moved along, the islands’ strategic location became of interest, particularly to the US Navy, who wanting a lease on Oahu’s Pearl Harbor. These dependencies brought both opportunity and disaster to the kingdom.

There’s a small but active political movement that argues Hawai'i is occupied territory illegally annexed in 1898, and there remains a divisive and complex debate over who owns what land. In the same vein, most Hawaiians feel their history is unique, and the kingdom of Hawai'i is at the center of that.

Colin Fluxman
Std. Min.
27. Januar
Charles River Editors