Native Hawaiian History
Hawaii joins Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and New Zealand (Aotearoa) to make up the three island groups of the Polynesian Triangle—an area that shares similar language, culture and traditions. At around the 7th century, Polynesians from Tahiti and the Marquesas became the first people to settle in Hawaii. They formed a unique culture to survive on these isolated islands.
The original Native Hawaiian society developed around a caste system. People were born into and remained in specific classes, with royal and priestly castes and a slave caste. The islands also developed a land tenure system that resembled European feudalism. The people were governed by kapu, or religious taboos derived from the Hawaiian worship of gods. Each island developed its own specific trade—for example, Oahu became a cloth manufacturer, while Maui artisans specialized in canoes. Four distinct chiefdoms eventually emerged: Hawaiʻi, Maui, Oʻahu, Kaua’i.
In 1810, King Kamehameha I united these chiefdoms into a single kingdom under a monarchy, which he ruled until his death in 1819. He was succeeded by his son, King Kamehameha II, who ruled until his death in 1824, followed by King Kamehameha I’s second son, King Kamehameha III.
In 1840, King Kamehameha III voluntarily gave up his absolute power in order to create a constitution. It established the rights of citizens and split the government into executive, legislative and judiciary branches. Although King Kamehameha III remained in control of these branches, he worked with a House of Nobles and a House of Tenants who represented citizens’ rights. To protect Hawaii from foreign incursions, King Kamehameha III sent delegations to the United States and Europe in 1842, resulting in recognition of Hawaiian independence in treaties signed by many of the world’s foreign powers the following year.
Hawaii’s Colonial History and Immigration
In 1778, British navigator Captain James Cook landed on Kauai and explored the surrounding islands, which he dubbed the “Sandwich Islands,” a name later used by colonists. Native Hawaiians believed Cook was the god Lono, as his boat’s mast resembled Lono’s symbol in religious rituals. Cook was killed in a skirmish between Native Hawaiians and his crew, who had accused locals of stealing a boat. His remains were cremated and buried in a sacred place.
In 1819, Queen Ka‘ahumanu accepted the first Protestant missionaries. The Reverend Hiram Bingham and his fellow missionaries arrived in Kailua in 1820. Over the next 40 years, they established churches and congregations throughout the Hawaiian Islands. European and American whalers also arrived in the 1820s, transforming Hawaii from a trading to a cash-based economy. The decade additionally marked the beginning of a switch to an agricultural economy based on crops, notably sugar and coffee, run by a wealthy white American planter class.
These fruit and sugar plantations required workers. Plantation owners brought in an influx of immigrant contract plantation workers looking for better economic opportunities from Japan, China, the Philippines, Korea and Portugal, many of who stayed in Hawaii. In 1853, Native Hawaiians made up 97 percent of the islands' population—which dropped to 16 percent by 1923.
Overthrow of the Monarchy and Statehood
The monarchy was stripped of most of its authority in 1877, when a group of Hawaiian Natives and foreign nationals, including American citizens, forced King Kalakaua to sign a new constitution dubbed the Bayonet Constitution and instilled themselves in the government. When King Kalakaua died in 1891, he was succeeded by Queen Liliuokalani, who attempted but failed to revise Hawaii’s constitution.
In 1893, a group of sugar and pineapple businesspeople supported by the U.S. government overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy and Queen Liliuokalani. They instilled the coup’s leader, Stanford Ballard Dole—a member of the family who started the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, now known as the Dole Food Company—as the president of the Republic of Hawaii.
Hawaii was formally annexed into the United States in 1898 to use as a military base to fight the Spanish in Guam and the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. More than 50 years later, after a long road to statehood, Hawaii was admitted to the Union in 1959 as the 50th state. To this day, some Native Hawaiian groups contest the annexation and contend that Hawaii remains an independent kingdom.
READ MORE:Hawaii’s Long Road to Becoming America’s 50th State
Attack on Pearl Harbor
With its strategic position between the mainland of the United States and Asia, Hawaii has long been an important military ground. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii. The attack destroyed nearly 20 vessels and killed more than 2,300 American soldiers, including more than 1,100 alone on the USS Arizona.
With the rest of the world engaged in World War II, the United States had so far avoided battle while supplying the British and pressuring Japan to end its military expansion in Asia. The day after the attack, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Japan. On December 11, Japan’s allies Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, officially engaging the country in war.
Almost immediately after the attack, martial law was declared on Hawaii until October 24, 1944—the longest period in United States history. More than 2,000 people of Japanese descent suspected of disloyalty to the United States were rounded up, sent to the mainland and forced to live in Japanese internment camps until the war’s end.
Tourism and the Economy
By the start of the 21st century, agricultural giants such as Del Monte’s pineapple division moved out of Hawaii to find cheaper farmland. Tourism and the U.S. military are major drivers of the Hawaiian economy today.
Given its stunning location and balmy weather, the state remains a desirable destination for wealthy homeowners. In fact, Hawaii has the highest median home price of any state in the United States. A number of prominent businesspeople have bought homes on the islands, including Oprah Winfrey, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. In 2012, Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison—one of the world’s richest people—bought 98 percent of the land on the Hawaiian island Lanai and nearly all of its commercial properties.
Date of Statehood: August 21, 1959
Population: 1,455,271 (2020)
Size: 10,926 square miles
Nickname(s): Aloha State
Motto:Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono(“The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness”)
Tree: Kukui (Candlenut)
Flower: Pua Aloalo (Yellow Hibiscus)
- Before the arrival of British Captain James Cook in 1778, the Hawaiian language was strictly oral. Natives were taught by missionaries to read their language so that they could communicate the scriptures of the Bible. Banned in 1898 when Hawaii became a U.S. Territory and then resurrected as the official language in 1978, Hawaiian contains only 13 letters: five vowels and eight consonants.
- In 1866, after leprosy had begun to swiftly spread among the Hawaiian population without a cure, more than 100 victims were forcefully shipped to Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai to live in complete isolation. At its peak in 1890, more than 1,000 people resided in the colony.
- Mount Waialeale on Kauai is one of the wettest places on earth. Some areas receive an average of around 500 inches of rain each year.
- With rich volcanic soil and ideal farming conditions, Hawaii was for a while the only U.S. state that grows coffee (California recently began its own coffee venture). Handpicked in the Hualalai and Mauna Loa mountains on the Big Island, Kona coffee is one of the world’s most expensive brews at around $62 per pound for some brews as of 2022.
- Standing 13,796 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s tallest volcano. But it stretches about an additional 19,700 feet below the surface of the water, making Mauna Kea the tallest mountain in the world at around 33,500 feet. Mount Everest’s elevation, measured from sea level, is 29,029 feet.
- Hawaii’s population center is the most isolated on Earth—more than 2,300 miles from the United States, 3,850 miles from Japan, 4,900 miles from China and 5,280 miles from the Philippines.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, 1820s: Commercial agriculture and whaling transform Hawai‘i.
U.S. Department of State, Annexation of Hawaii, 1898.
University of Hawaii, Ancient Hawaii.
Pew Research, A Cultural Exchange within the Polynesian Triangle.
National Park Service, Native Hawaiian Heritage & Culture.
Library of Congress, Native Hawaiian Law.
Hawaiian Kingdom, Political History.
Brigham Young University, Hawaii Campus, From Cook to the 1840 Constitution:
The Name Change from Sandwich to Hawaiian Islands.
Hawai’i Tourism Authority, Hawaiian Culture.
Historic Hawaii Foundation, Bicentennial of the Arrival of ABMC Missionaries and Establishment of Three Historic Churches.
Library of Congress, Hawaii: Life in a Plantation Society.
National Geographic, Feb. 8, 1885 CE: Japanese Immigrants Arrive in Hawaii.
National Education Association, The Illegal Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom Government.
National Archives, The 1897 Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii.
U.S. Census, Remembering Pearl Harbor.
National Park Service, Pearl Harbor: People.
NBC News, Del Monte stops growing pineapples in Hawaii.
Town & Country, Why All the Billionaires Are Moving to Hawaii.
Native Hawaiians and non-white Hawaiian residents, however, began to push for statehood. These residents wanted the same rights as U.S. citizens living in one of the 48 states. They wanted a voting representative in Congress and the right to elect their own governor and judges, who were currently appointed.Did Native Hawaiians want statehood? ›
The acceptance of statehood for Hawaii was not without its share of controversy. There were Native Hawaiians who protested against statehood. Prior to admission, various bills creating the state were stalled in congressional hearings since the early 1900s.Why did McKinley want to annex Hawaii? ›
President McKinley lobbied Congress to pass it, calling annexation a necessary war measure and claiming the U.S. military would greatly benefit from using Hawaii as a coaling station and naval base in its fight against the Spanish Navy in the Pacific.What argument does that document make annexation of Hawaii? ›
The document argues that annexation of Hawaii to the United States would be detrimental to the Hawaiian people, and should not be allowed to take place. It calls for the Hawaiian people to be given the right to self-determination, and for their rights to be respected and protected.How did statehood change Hawaii? ›
The cluster of islands that comprise America's 50th state are some of the world's most isolated: 2,390 mi. from the West Coast and 4,000 from Japan. But with statehood came a proliferation of commercial flights that connected Hawaii to the mainland and brought a massive influx of tourists.How did Hawaii achieve statehood? ›
President Eisenhower signed the bill into law on March 18, 1959. In June of 1959 the citizens of Hawaii voted on a referendum to accept the statehood bill and on August 21, 1959, President Eisenhower signed the official proclamation admitting Hawaii as the 50th state.Do Hawaiians want to be their own country? ›
Since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, Hawaiian entities, like the Nation of Hawaii, continue to fight to restore control of Hawaii. Hawaiians do not all agree on the current status of the nation, the process of how it should be restored or whether it should be at all.Do Hawaiians want to be part of the US? ›
Hawaiians, though, already declared their refusal to join the United States in the Kuʻe Petitions of 1897-1898, in which over 90% of Hawaiians voted against U.S. annexation. The U.S. vote for statehood in 1959 included many members of the U.S. military, who do not have the right to vote on behalf of Hawaii.Why are Native Hawaiians leaving Hawaii? ›
A study by Kamehameha Schools cited the high cost of living coupled with a lack of job opportunities and career growth in Hawaii.Was Hawaii illegally annexed? ›
In the 1901 case, DeLima v. Bidwell, the United States Supreme Court ruled that annexation via a joint resolution of Congress was legal according to American law.
If Hawaii had not been annexed it would have remained a republic or perhaps went back to being a kingdom.What were the effects of the annexation of Hawaii? ›
Hawaii lost its independence, unwillingly became a United States territory, gained a larger population of foreigners than native Hawaiians, and lost much of its culture. The United States, on the other hand, secured military advantage, economic enrichment, and the first territory outside of its boundaries.What was Hawaii before it was a state? ›
IMMEDIATELY before Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959, it was a Territory of the US. However, it had been a sovereign constitutional monarchy until 1893, when the last Queen, Lili'uokalani, was deposed by a group of American sugar planters and missionaries, with the support of the US marines.What agreement was made between the US and Hawaiian government? ›
Treaty of Reciprocity, 1875.
Allen signed a Treaty of Reciprocity. This treaty provided for duty-free import of Hawaiian agricultural products into the United States. Conversely, the Kingdom of Hawaii allowed U.S. agricultural products and manufactured goods to enter Hawaiian ports duty-free.
1. : to attach as an addition : append. 2. : to add (a territory) to one's own territory to form a larger country. the United States annexed Texas in 1845.What were the reasons for annexing Hawaii quizlet? ›
The United States wanted to use Hawaii as a platform from which they could have a dominant Military presence in the Pacific. It was whaling, sugar and pineapples that first brought Pearl Harbor to America's attention. U.S. business interests and naval strategists had long coveted the island kingdom.What were the reasons for Hawaii becoming a U.S. territory quizlet? ›
Why was the US interested in Hawaii? The U.S. was interested in Hawaii because they had natural sugar and the U.S. wanted to make plantations off of that sugar that was in Hawaii. Also the island could be used as a way station for shippers, sailors, and whalers trading with Asian nations.Why is the state Hawaii important? ›
Often called the Crossroads of the Pacific, the state is strategically important to the global defense system of the United States and serves as a transportation hub of the Pacific basin. Finally, Hawaii is a cultural centre and a major tourist mecca.What benefits did the annexation of Hawaii offer to the United States quizlet? ›
It was a large harbor in Hawaii. The US built a a navy base there. It provided protection and gave the United States a strategic advantage with Sea travel and war.