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Hawaii History

The earliest known inhabitants of the islands migrated from the Marquises and Tahiti.  These Polynesians brought their religion with them and their daily lives were heavily influenced by their worship.  The remnants of stone temples, or Heiau, can still be found throughout the islands.  Human sacrifices were common.

Place of Refuge, Big Island
Two Ki'i Guard the Place of Refuge on the Big Island
The society was highly class conscious in that each person's role in life was determined by what class they were born into.  Each island was ruled by a chief, or alii nui, and war among rival chiefs was common.  The population was divided into nobles, priests, and commoners.  The privileged class was given land by the chief.  The commoners paid for the protection of the chief by giving him some of their crops or daily catch.  There was a strict kapu or taboo system of rules and restrictions for various segments of society.  Priests and rulers determined correct behavior for the people and breaking kapu resulted in death.  The only possibility of escape was to flee to a pu'uhonua, or place of refuge.  If the Kahuna pule (priest) there performed a ceremony of absolution, the offender could return home safely.  While harsh by modern standards, the kapu system kept order.

On January 20, 1778 Captain James Cook landed two ships at Waimea on Kauai and spent two weeks exploring Kauai and Niihau.  A year later Cook returned to explore the Big Island and was killed during a skirmish.

Kamehameha I established himself as monarch over all the islands in the late 1700's and ruled until his death in 1819.  In 1819 Kamehameha's son, Liholiho, abolished the kapu system of taboos.  

The arrival of Westerners dramatically impacted Hawaii and its people.  During the first half of the 19th century, foreign whaling ships wintered at Honolulu and Lahaina, bringing influences that impacted the indigenous culture.  Foreigners, and especially missionaries, brought a new lifestyle, morality, and religion.  Christianity changed both worship and culture.  The first sustained sugar plantation was established in 1835 on Kauai.  Growing sugar cane and pineapple changed land ownership and ethnic makeup as field workers were imported from China, Japan, and other countries.  The Hawaiians, with no natural immunity to Western diseases, were decimated and became a minority.  

Hawaiian culture and power gave way to Western ways and rule so much that in 1893 Sanford Dole took power in a bloodless revolution.  The Republic of Hawaii was established on July 4, 1894 with Dole as president.  Hawaii became a U.S. territory on July 6, 1898.  Congress provided a territorial government in 1900, and Dole was the first governor.  

Hawaii's economy and government were dominated by five companies.  Directors of the companies were also in charge of most public commissions.  Hawaii became the chief defense post in the Pacific for the U.S.  On Dec. 7, 1941 World War II began for the U.S. when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  

After many attempts  Hawaii became the 50th of the United States on August 21, 1959.  In the 1960's and 1970's the Hawaiian economy moved away from its past dependence on pineapple and sugar production and tourism became the islands' major industry.  The most important industries in Hawaii today are tourism, defense, and agriculture.


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