(EMPIRE and OCEANIA to 1900 – continued)
In 1778, Captain Cook and his two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, were sailing from Tahiti toward the American northwest, and they came upon the Hawaiian Islands during an islander religious festival. The islanders associated Cook with the festival deity. Cook and his men traded with the islanders for fresh meat and filled their water casks. Cook named the islands after the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, and, two weeks after arriving, Cook departed, with religious offerings: gifts of food, firewood and sacred objects. Cook sailed toward what was not yet called Vancouver Island.
Cook was looking for a passage to the Atlantic Ocean, but in the Arctic Ocean he was blocked by ice. He began a journey back to England by way of the Indian Ocean, and he stopped again at the Hawaiian Islands, hoping to do repairs there. This was during November, 1788. He stayed into February, and at the biggest of the islands, Hawaii, one of his small boats was stolen. A crewman shot one of the islanders, inflaming passions. Cook went ashore with some men to get the boat back, and islanders killed Cook and four Marines and dragged their bodies away – perhaps for a ritual meal.
Cook's ships returned to England, and word went out that the people of the Sandwich Islands were cruel and fierce savages. No ships appeared in the Hawaiian islands for seven years. Then, in 1786, ships began stopping off in the Hawaiian Islands at a rate of about one per year to trade for provisions and to take on fresh water.
European beachcombers had begun to appear on various islands in the Pacific, including the Hawaiian Islands. Some were the victims of shipwrecks, or they were men who had escaped from a ship's captain or for some reason wished to change ships. Two Englishmen who had washed up on shore in the Hawaiian Islands, Isaac Davis and John Young, learned the Hawaiian language well enough to serve as translators for a chieftain named Kamehameha, who had inherited power in the northern part of the "big Island" – Hawaii. Kamehameha was warring in an effort to expand his rule. With Davis and Young at his side, he used weapons acquired from the Europeans and tried European battle tactics. And Kamehameha's winning ways won for him a reputation for having the favor of the god of war, Ku.
Meanwhile, a British sea captain, George Vancouver, brought horned cattle from California to the Hawaiian Islands, and he brought goats, geese, grapevines, orange trees and various kinds of garden seeds.
In 1791, Kamehameha gained control over the entire island of Hawaii. He won control over Lanai and Molokai. With a huge fleet of Hawaiian boats, in 1795 he invaded Oahu. There he fought his way across the plain that is now Honolulu, and he drove the opposing army up the Nu'uana valley. Both armies were using guns as well as traditional weapons, and both sides had a few Europeans in their ranks. Kamehameha's army had tight formations and troops with long lances, and it drove the opposing army over the thousand-foot cliff of Pali.
The struggle for supreme power in the Hawaiian Islands continued, while a scourge greater than war appeared. In 1804 around 150,000 Hawaiians – nearly half of the population – are said to have died from what was called the Great Sickness, which may have been bubonic plague or cholera.
It was 1804 that Russians first visited the Hawaiian Islands – on the way to their outpost at Fort Ross in California. A couple of years later the Russians returned and traded the skins of sea otters for salt, sweet potatoes, pork and other food. In 1809 the Russians built a fort at Honolulu and tried to establish themselves on the island of Kauai. But the Russians offended the Hawaiians by ignoring islander customs. The Hawaiians did not need the Russians for trade, and they drove them out.
In 1810, the ruler of Kauai ceded his island to Kamehameha. Kamehameha was now ruler of all of the Hawaiian Islands, and he ruled in accordance with Hawaiian tradition. Hawaii's chieftains were considered divine. Commoners prostrated themselves before their chieftain, and in theory the land belonged to the chieftain, who could dispose of his land as he saw fit. Chieftains parceled their land to sub-chiefs – supporters that he best try to please – and these sub-chiefs parceled their holdings to people below them, down to the commoners who worked the land.
In Hawaii's hierarchical society, common people did not own land, and they were forbidden use of words thought to have extraordinary power – for example, the words life and death.
With hierarchy in mind, Kamehameha sent a letter to the lord of the ships that often arrived from England: King George III. And in that letter, with courtesy, Kamehameha described himself as George's subject.
When Kamehameha was facing death in 1819 he commanded that his priests follow all customs but one: human sacrifice. He was succeeded by his son, Liholiho, who acquired the title Kamehameha II. These were times of cultural revolution. Tahitians had been arriving in the islands aboard British ships and bringing with them their Christianity, which they passed along to a few Hawaiians and described to the royal court.
In 1820, missionaries arrived, not from Britain but from the United States, led by the Reverend Hiram Bingham. American whaling ships were calling on Hawaiian ports to gather provisions, and their trade was bringing wealth to island sub-chiefs. Whaling crews were coming ashore in search of a good time, and islanders were wondering why ugly foreigners could break rules and they could not. The missionaries gained respect among the islanders by denouncing the behavior of the whalers. The missionaries befriended island aristocrats and introduced Western social mores. They also denounced the gods of the islanders, and, with all of the disease and war that had been endured, the islanders were receptive to teachings that replaced the gods that had let them down.
As elsewhere in Polynesia, cooking had been men's work, and the men ate together, excluding women, believing they were taking communion with ancestral gods. Women had separate eating houses, and women were forbidden from entering temples. Men of high rank were permitted to eat pork, coconut, shark, sea turtle, whale and most varieties of banana. Women were obliged to eat fish and taro but had been eating forbidden foods when they could do so unseen by men – at the risk of having an eye destroyed or being put to death, if they were commoners. A woman of high rank who had been caught eating forbidden food might be obliged to sacrifice one of her servants to the gods.
The mother of Kamehameha II was among some high-ranking women strong enough to rebel against the eating prohibitions. King Kamehameha II declared an end to the old moral (kapu) system, and in a dramatic ceremony he ate and drank with women. Then temples were destroyed and images of the old gods were burned.
In 1822, notices were posted prohibiting boisterous conduct by visiting sailors – Hawaii's first written laws. Sailors responded by rioting and were set upon by island police. In 1824, written law was extended by a list of injunctions drawn from the Ten Commandments. The missionaries managed to have the hula outlawed, and they introduced the new fashion in dress: the mumu.
Islanders remained vulnerable to European diseases, and, in 1824, Kamehameha II and his wife died of measles. In 1825 their son, Kauikeaouli, age eleven, became Kamehameha III.
Meanwhile, Honolulu had become a busy port of trade. While on their way elsewhere, U.S., French and British warships stopped at the islands for supplies, sometimes staying across the winter months. Ships traded between Mexico's coastline, including California, and the Hawaiian Islands. New England traders brought kitchen utensils, pins, and scissors to the islands – and a billiard table.
The elite among the islanders were the main consumers of imported goods, and to acquire the means for trade the common people were taxed in various forms, including the sandalwood that grew in Kauai's Waianae mountains. Sandalwood was selling in China for about $10 per 133 pounds, and by 1829 sandalwood in the Islands was all but gone.
A British agriculturalist and former planter in the West Indies, John Wilkinson, arrived in Honolulu and started seven-acres of sugar cane, but he had difficulty acquiring islanders willing to work for him. A coffee plantation was also begun. In 1830, Mexican cowboys (paniolos) arrived from California for involvement in the cattle business on the island of Hawaii. Whites in the Hawaiian Islands now numbered around 1,000. The population of the islands in 1830 has been estimated at 130,000, down from 142,000 seven years before – a loss of around 1,700 per year. [note]
In the late 1839s, Hawaii's King Kamehameha III had been interested in trade with the Americans, and Americans had been interested in Kamehameha maintaining the kind of stable government that was conducive to commerce. Kamehameha responded with a Bill of Rights in 1839. In 1840 a constitution was created that provided for the king to share power with a legislature. And on December 19, 1842, the United States recognized the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
French moves in the Pacific frightened Hawaii's King Kamehameha into believing that they were on their way to Hawaii, and in February, 1843, a British warship arrived and threatened an attack on Pearl Harbor concerning a dispute over the treatment of Britain's resident agent in the islands. Nominally for protection against the French, Kamehameha III ceded his kingdom to Britain. Soon thereafter the British restored sovereignty to Kamehameha in exchange for an agreement that British subjects in the islands would have parity of treatment with other foreigners. And in November, Britain and France, in a joint declaration, announced their recognition of the Hawaii Islands as an independent state, declaring that this was justified on the basis of the islands being "capable of providing for the regularity of its relations with foreign nations."
Copyright © 2003-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.