History of Hawaii – Ten Turning Points

What are the 10 most significant turning points in the history of Hawaii?

First, let’s be clear: The “history” of Hawaii I’m talking about here began in 1778, with Western contact. The Hawaiians recorded history through chants that told of births and deaths, battles and victories. But none of it was written down until Captain James Cook showed up.

And that would be the number one most significant turning point. When Cook happened upon this fleet of islands out in the middle of the Pacific, he changed everything for the people of those islands.

For the very first visit, those people now knew that other lands existed not just in stories passed down through generations but in real time. The people who lived in those previously unknown faraway lands were different in appearance, language and culture.

Oh yes, and the Hawaiians also learned that those people had a whole new set of unknown diseases, which over the next hundred years would so devastate the Hawaiian people that their population was cut to approximately a tenth of what it had been when Cook arrived.

The next big turning point would be the unification of the islands by Kamehameha, the ambitious Hawaii Island chief who overcame the armies of Maui Chief Kahekili to take control of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and finally, in 1795, Oahu. Kamehameha never conquered Kauai, but gained control through agreement with that island’s chief. Never again would each island be the fief of a local chief; now they all belonged to one nation.

Turning point number three would be the death of Kamehameha in 1819. His strength and wisdom had kept things somewhat under control as Hawaii learned to deal with an influx of profit-hungry outsiders.

As is so often the case, the two sons who followed him lacked that strength and wisdom, and buckled to the superior power of outside influence. Soon, the chiefs who craved Western goods had wrestled away control of the lucrative sandalwood market, and the mountainsides were stripped of their bounty to pay for trinkets for the chiefs.

Number four: The overturning of the kapu system. Queens Kaahumanu and Keopuolani took advantage of the death of their mutual husband, Kamehameha, to overthrow this system that had governed the civic, social and religious life of their people for generations. It is said this is the first time in history that a people discarded their own religion.

Number five: The missionaries’ timing was impeccable. They arrived in Hawaii just months after the overthrow of the kapu. They found a people disordered and downhearted, suffering from losses caused by Western disease, the greed of their chiefs, and the disappearance of their traditional religion. It was an open field for the missionaries, and soon Hawaii was a Christian land.

Number six:The Mahele, beginning in 1848, brought Western-style private property ownership to the islands, and in the process left many native Hawaiians without land in their own home.

Number seven: The overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 by white businessmen ended nearly 2000 years of control by people of Polynesian heritage whose ancestors had settled these islands. The new rulers established a Western-style republic, biding their time until they could persuade the United States to take them in.

Number eight: Annexation. In 1898, those who had desired and orchestrated that overthrow turned the Republic over to the United States. It was now the Territory of Hawaii.

Number nine: The December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor brought the islands under the control of the military, exposed Hawaii to thousands of U.S. Mainland service members and sent the sons of Hawaii to faraway lands. Nothing would ever be the same for these isolated, rural islands.

Number 10: Statehood finally came in 1959. Now these islands in the middle of the sea were incorporated into the world’s most powerful nation, a far-flung outpost of military might and subject of romantic fantasy around the world.

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