The History of the Hawaiian Islands

Table of Contents

The Main Hawaiian Islands

How Old are the Islands?

Island Facts







Hawai‘i Island


Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

The Formation of the Hawaiian Islands

Ancient Polynesians

The First Hawaiians

‘Aumākua—Sacred Guardians

Heiau and Kapu

The Ahupua‘a

‘Ōahi—The Fire-Throwing Ceremony

Games, Rituals, and Celebrations

Captain Cook Establishes Western Contact

The Hawaiian Sandalwood Trade

George Vancouver Visits the Hawaiian Islands

King Kamehameha I—Kamehameha the Great

The Breaking of the Kapu

The Twelve Companies of American Missionaries

The Hawaiian Language

Pronunciation of Hawaiian Words

The Most Common Hawaiian Words


Kawaiaha‘o Church

The Whaling Era

Paniolos—Hawaiian Cowboys

Hawai‘i’s First Constitution and The Great Māhele

Heroes of Kalaupapa—Father Damien and Mother Marianne

Mark Twain in the Sandwich Islands

The Origins of Hula

Hula and Mele

Preparing for Hula

King Kalākaua—The Merrie Monarch

The Merrie Monarch Festival

The Spirit of Aloha

Sugarcane and the Plantation Era

The ‘Ukulele

Foreign Diseases and the Hawaiian Population

The Chinatown Fires

Nā Mō‘ī Hawai‘i—The Hawaiian Monarchy

The Eight Rulers of the United Hawaiian Kingdom 

The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy

Hawai‘i’s Major Political Periods

Princess Ka‘iulani—Heir to a Vanished Throne

Iolani Palace

The Pineapple Industry

Duke Kahanamoku—Surfer, Olympian, Movie Star, Sheriff

Duke’s Creed

Historic Waikīkī

Lei Day—May 1

Pearl Harbor

The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

Hawai‘i’s Nisei Soldiers—The 442nd/100th

The Democratic Revolution



State of Hawai‘i Holidays

Elvis Presley in Hawai‘i

Eddie Would Go

Kīlauea Volcano

The Legend of Pele

Mauna Kea Astronomy

Hurricane ‘Iniki Devastates Kaua‘i

Bruddah Iz (1959-1997)

Rell Kapolioka‘ehukai Sunn—Queen of Mākaha

Humpback Whales

The Hawaiian Renaissance

Modern Waikīkī

The Hawaiian Islands Today

Hawaiian Wildlife and Endangered Species



The history of the Hawaiian Islands began many millions of years ago when volcanoes erupted on the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean. As the lava erupted the volcanoes grew taller, eventually rising above the ocean’s surface to become the Hawaiian Islands.

The Polynesians were the first humans to arrive, sailing to the Hawaiian Islands on double-hulled voyaging canoes. The ancient Hawaiians built temples of stone to worship their gods and goddesses, and chanted and danced hula to celebrate their history and culture.

Many different plants and trees from the mountains to the sea were used for food, clothing, tools, containers, weapons, musical instruments, canoes, and hale (houses).

During the Makahiki Festival, time was taken off from work to honor Lono, the god of agricultural fertility. The ancient Hawaiians enjoyed a variety of games and sports, such as he‘e nalu (surfing).

Firebrands were hurled from cliffs in the ceremony called ‘ōahi, which means “fire-throwing.” Wooden sleds were ridden at high speeds down mountains in the sport of he‘e hōlua.

Captain Cook established Western contact with the Hawaiian Islands in January of 1778 when he arrived in command of two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery.

When Cook returned to the Islands in November of 1778, the young warrior chief Pai‘ea Kamehameha was invited aboard Cook’s ship. The young chief eventually became King Kamehameha I and united all of the Hawaiian Islands under his rule, beginning the period of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Soon after the arrival of Captain Cook, many foreign ships arrived in the Islands to gather the valuable native sandalwood, which was then sold for a high price in China.

The sandalwood trade ended in 1840, but the whaling industry was growing rapidly. Hundreds of whaling ships and thousands of whalers arrived in the Islands every year.

In 1848 King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli) instituted a new system of property ownership, and soon non-Hawaiians were able to buy land. The sugarcane industry grew rapidly with the new availability of land and new irrigation methods to bring water to the sugarcane fields.

The Hawaiian monarchy ended in 1893 when the rule of Queen Lili‘uokalani [Lydia Kamaka‘eha Pākī-Dominis Lili‘uokalani] was overthrown. The overthrow was instigated by a small group of American businessmen with the support of a U.S. warship. In 1900, Hawai‘i became a Territory of the United States and citizens of Hawai‘i became American citizens.

The sugarcane era continued well into the 1900s as plantation laborers came from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal, and other countries. Descendants of these sugarcane plantation workers make up today’s “melting pot” of different cultures in the Hawaiian Islands.

Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941, entering the United States into World War II and bringing many changes to the Hawaiian Islands.

After the war ended in 1945, the availability of jet travel allowed more people to visit the Hawaiian Islands, and tourism became a major part of the economy. In 1959, Hawai‘i became the 50th state of the United States.

Many famous people have visited the Hawaiian Islands over the years, including presidents, kings, and “The King,” Elvis Presley. Famous local people include the Olympic champion swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, who was also a movie star, the Sheriff of Honolulu, and Hawai‘i’s official “Ambassador of Aloha.”

Respected Hawaiian waterman Eddie Aikau died while attempting to save the crew of the Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe. Today the annual Eddie surf contest at Waimea challenges the world’s best surfers in the biggest waves, and the saying “Eddie Would Go” honors Aikau’s bravery.

More than seven million visitors came to the Hawaiian Islands in 2005 to spend time on Hawai‘i’s beautiful beaches, hike in the mountains, and see the native species from the nēnē (Hawaiian geese) to the massive humpback whales breaching offshore.

This book tells the stories of Hawai‘i’s past, a rich history of a place and a people, and a unique experience unlike anywhere else in the world.


The History of the Hawaiian Islands

The Main Hawaiian Islands

The State of Hawai‘i includes the eight main islands as well as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The eight main islands are Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau, O‘ahu, Maui, Lāna‘i, Kaho‘olawe, Moloka‘i, and Hawai‘i Island (the Big Island).

The newest Hawaiian Islands is Hawai‘i Island, at the southeast end of the chain. The oldest Hawaiian Island is Kaua‘i, at the northwest end of the chain.

[Illustration: Map of eight main Hawaiian Islands, each island boldly labeled.]

[Text underneath: The State of Hawai‘i. Text on each island: Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau, O‘ahu, Maui, Lāna‘i, Kaho‘olawe, Moloka‘i, and Hawai‘i Island.]

[Illustration: Chart]

How Old are the Islands?

Island Age in Years[ii]

Kaua‘i 5,100,000

Ni‘ihau 4,900,000

O‘ahu 3,100,000

Maui 1,000,000

Lāna‘i 1,300,000

Kaho‘olawe 1,000,000

Moloka‘i 1,800,000

Hawai‘i Island 400,000


Island Facts

The State of Hawai‘i 

Land Area: 6,423.4 square miles (16,637 square kilometers).

Size Comparison: 47th largest of the United States.

State Bird: Nēnē—Hawaiian goose.

State Tree: KukuiCandlenut.

State Flower: Pua Ma‘o Hau HeleYellow Hibiscus.

State Marine Mammal: KoholāHumpback Whale.

State Plant: Kalo—Taro (Colocasia esculenta).

State Team Sport: Outrigger Canoe Paddling.

State Fish: Humuhumunukunukuāpua‘aReef triggerfish

State Song (Anthem): Hawai‘i Pono‘ī (words written by King Kalākaua [David La‘amea Kalākaua], music by Henry Berger).

State Gem: Black Coral.

State Nickname: The Aloha State.

State Motto:

Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘āina i ka pono.

The life of the land is perpetuated (preserved) in righteousness.

O‘ahu—The Gathering Place

Land Area: 596.7 square miles (1,545 square kilometers).

Size Comparison: Third largest Hawaiian Island; most populated island.

Island Emblem: Pua ‘Ilima—Flower of ‘Ilima.

Highest Elevation: 4,003 feet (1,220 m) at the summit of Ka‘ala in the Wai‘anae Range.

Official Nickname: The Gathering Place.

Kaua‘i—The Garden Isle

Land Area: 552.3 square miles (1,430.4 square kilometers).

Size Comparison: Fourth largest Hawaiian Island.

Island Emblem: MokihanaFruit of Mokihana.

Highest Elevation: 5,243 feet (1,598 m) at the summit of Mt. Kawaikini.

Official Nickname: The Garden Isle.

Ni‘ihau—The Forbidden Isle

Land Area: 69.5 square miles (180 square kilometers).

Size Comparison: Seventh largest Hawaiian Island.

Island Emblem: Pūpū Ni‘ihau—Ni‘ihau Shell

Highest Elevation: 1,281 feet (390 m), at summit of Pānī‘au.

Official Nickname: The Forbidden Isle.

Also Called: Island of Yesteryear (Yesterday).

Moloka‘i—The Friendly Isle

Land Area: 260 square miles (673 square kilometers).

Size Comparison: Fifth largest Hawaiian Island.

Island Emblem: Pua Kukui—Flower of Kukui (Candlenut).

Highest Elevation: 4,970 feet (1,515 m) at the summit of Kamakou.

Official Nickname: The Friendly Isle.

Lāna‘i—The Private Isle

Land Area: 140.5 square miles (364 square kilometers).

Size Comparison: Sixth largest Hawaiian Island; smallest inhabited island.

Island Emblem: Kauna‘oa—Native Dodder.

Highest Elevation: 3,370 feet (1,027 m), at the summit of Lāna‘ihale.

Official Nickname: The Private Isle.

Also Called: The Pineapple Island, The Secluded Island.

MauiThe Valley Isle

Land Area: 727.2 square miles (1,883 square kilometers).

Size Comparison: Second largest Hawaiian Island.

Island Emblem: Pua Lokelani—Damask Rose.

Highest Elevation: 10,023 feet (3,055 m) at the summit of Haleakalā.

Official Nickname: The Valley Isle.

Hawai‘i Island—The Orchid Isle

Land Area: 4,028 square miles (10,432 square kilometers).

Size Comparison: Hawai‘i is the largest Hawaiian Island.

Island Emblem: Pua Lehua—Red Blossom of ‘Ōhi‘a Lehua.

Highest Elevation: 13,796 feet (4,205 m) at the summit of Mauna Kea.

Official Nickname: The Orchid Isle.

Also Called: The Big Island.


Land Area: 44.6 square miles (116 square kilometers).

Island Emblem: Hinahina.

Highest Elevation: 1,483 feet (452 m) at the summit of Pu‘u Moa‘ulanui.

Size Comparison: Eighth largest Hawaiian Island.

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 

Combined Land Area: 3.108 square miles (8.05 square kilometers), not including Midway Islands (not part of state).

Size Comparison: One-tenth of one percent of Hawai‘i’s land area.

Also Called: The Leeward Islands; The Kupuna Islands.



O‘ahu is about 44 miles (71 km) long by 30 miles (48 km) wide, with more than 112 miles (180 km) of coastline and more than 100 white-sand beaches.

Popular surfing sites are found on all sides of O‘ahu, including the north shore’s renowned Banzai Pipeline where the world’s best surfers challenge the giant winter waves. O‘ahu has more than 900,000 residents.

[Photograph: Waikīkī]

O‘ahu has two large mountain ranges: the older Wai‘anae Mountains and the deep-furrowed Ko‘olau Mountains, creating a wet windward side of O‘ahu (the eastern side) and a much drier leeward side.

The majestic Ko‘olau Mountains run north to south for the entire span of the island of O‘ahu. Large volcanic cones such as Koko Head (Kohelepelepe), Punchbowl (Pūowaina), and Diamond Head (Lē‘ahi) provide visual reminders of the island’s volcanic activity.

[Photographs: Diamond Head; Ko‘olau Mountains at Waimanalo (steep furrows)]

[Photograph/Map: O‘ahu]


Kaua‘i is the oldest of the eight main Hawaiian Islands, having formed about five million years ago. The age of the island accounts for its many stunning features, from the deeply carved valleys of Waimea Canyon to the steep cliffs and spires of the Nāpali Coast.

Kaua‘i is about 33 miles (53 km) long and 25 miles (40 km) wide, with about 90 miles (145 km) of coastline. Kaua‘i is known for its scenic, rugged mountains as well as its beautiful, white-sand beaches. The 5,148-foot (1,569-m) summit of Kaua‘i’s Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale is one of the rainiest spots on the planet.

[Photograph/Map: Kaua‘i]

[Photograph: Cliffs and spires of Nāpali Coast]


Ni‘ihau is about 6 miles (9.7 km) wide and 18 miles (29 km) long, making it the smallest inhabited Hawaiian Island. Ni‘ihau is just over 17 miles (27 km) from the west side of Kaua‘i.

The main town on Ni‘ihau is Pu‘uwai (“Heart”[iii]), and Ni‘ihau’s 860-acre (348-ha) Hālali‘i Lake is the largest lake in all of the Hawaiian Islands. Ni‘ihau is largely isolated from the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, and is considered by some to be the last bastion of pure Hawaiians speaking the Hawaiian language.

[Photograph/Map: Ni‘ihau]


Moloka‘i is about 38 miles (61 km) long by 10 miles (16 km) wide, and somewhat rectangular in shape. Moloka‘i’s main town is Kaunakakai on the island’s southern coast.

Moloka‘i has the highest percentage of native Hawaiians of any of the Hawaiian Islands except Ni‘ihau. Much of Moloka‘i’s relatively small population (less than 8,000 total) still practices a lifestyle of farming, fishing, hunting, and gathering.

Spectacular coral reefs surround Moloka‘i. The sea cliffs along the island’s northern shore are among the highest sea cliffs in the world. Moloka‘i also has one of the highest waterfalls in the Hawaiian Islands, and it is called Kahiwa (“The chosen one”[iv]) and cascades more than 1,000 feet (305 m) down the mountainside.

[Photograph/Map: Moloka‘i]


Lāna‘i is about 17½ miles (28 km) long by 13 miles (21 km) wide, and somewhat teardrop-shaped. There are not many paved roads on Lāna‘i, and much of the island is accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles. The highest point on Lāna‘i is Lāna‘ihale (“House [of] Lāna‘i”[v]).

[Photograph/Map: Lāna‘i]


Maui is about 48 miles (77 km) long by 26 miles (42 km) wide and ringed with beautiful beaches, quiet coves, and hidden waterfalls. The broad, sloping hills of the East Maui Mountains rise up to the 10,023-foot (3,055-km) summit of Haleakalā Volcano, a site of ancient Hawaiian astronomy.

Much of Maui remains remote and undeveloped, bathed in waterfalls and rainbows and steeped in Maui’s rich cultural history. During the November to May whale-watching season, Maui is one of the best Hawaiian Islands to view breaching humpback whales.

[Photograph/Map: Maui]

Hawai‘i Island (The Big Island)

Hawai‘i Island is the youngest of all the Hawaiian Islands, at less than one-half million years old. Hawai‘i Island is also the largest of all the Hawaiian Islands, and more than four times as big as Maui, which is the second largest Hawaiian Island.

Hawai‘i Island is about 93 miles (150 km) long by 76 miles (122 km) wide, and the island is still growing due to the lava eruptions coming from Kīlauea Volcano. Near the coast, lava crackles and hisses as it flows into the sea.

The 13,796-foot (4,205-km) summit of Mauna Kea volcano is the highest spot in the Hawaiian Islands, and the site of many large telescopes used by astronomers. Kīlauea Volcano, on the southeast part of Hawai‘i Island, has been erupting lava almost non-stop since 1983, providing exciting volcano viewing for locals and visitors.

[Photograph/Map: Hawai‘i Island]


Kaho‘olawe is about 11 miles (17.8 km) long and 6 miles (9.7 km) wide. Kaho‘olawe is a relatively dry island because the rains are blocked by Maui’s Haleakalā Volcano.

Ancient chants have revealed that a Kaho‘olawe mountain called Moa‘ulaiki was a place where Polynesian ocean navigators were trained in the art of using stars to guide them on their journeys over the Pacific Ocean.

The island of Kaho‘olawe was used by the U.S. military for bombing practice from 1920 until 1990. In recent years clean-up efforts have restored much of the island, and traditional Hawaiian activities are slowly returning.

[Photograph/Map: Kaho‘olawe; Moa‘ulaiki]

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

To the northwest of the eight main Hawaiian Islands are the 124 scattered islets of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which extend as far as Kure Atoll about 1,264 miles (2,034 km) from Kaua‘i. Most of the tiny islets barely rise above the water’s surface.

[Photograph/Map: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands]


The Formation of the Hawaiian Islands

Each of the Hawaiian Islands was created by lava rising up from deep in the Earth and erupting onto the seafloor to form volcanic islands. For thousands of centuries the volcanoes continued to grow with great explosions of molten rock. The islands eventually rose above the sea, one after another, creating the Hawaiian Islands.

All of the Hawaiian Islands are being slowly carried toward the northwest by the movement of the Earth’s crust. The Hawaiian Islands sit on a large section of the Earth’s crust called the Pacific Plate.

The Pacific Plate moves northwest at about 3½ inches (8.9 cm) each year, about as fast as your fingernails grow, but over millions of years this adds up to hundreds of miles. As the volcanic islands formed and then moved to the northwest, they made way for new islands to rise up from the sea.

[Illustration: Diagram showing islands forming, hot spot moving.]

The newest volcano is still underwater about 18 miles (29 km) off the southeast coast of Hawai‘i Island. The volcano is called Lō‘ihi and is now more than 9,000 feet (2,743 m) tall and growing. Lō‘ihi is just 3,000 feet (914 m) from reaching the ocean’s surface. In about 125,000 years, Lō‘ihi will rise above the water to become the next Hawaiian Island.

After the Hawaiian Islands formed, thousands of centuries of wind and rain gradually turned the islands’ rocky surfaces into soil, and this allowed plant species to take hold. Eventually the Hawaiian Islands supported a great variety of life from colorful forest birds in the mountains to seals and dolphins in the ocean.

[Photograph: Erupting lava]

Ancient Polynesians

The Hawaiian Islands are very isolated in the middle of the world’s largest ocean, the Pacific Ocean. The Polynesians were the first humans to reach the Hawaiian Islands, arriving on their double-hulled voyaging canoes.

The Polynesians were master navigators who settled hundreds of islands in the Pacific Ocean over thousands of years before finally discovering the Hawaiian Islands about 2,000 years ago.

The Polynesians were guided on their ocean journeys by the sun and moon and the locations of the stars in the sky. The flight patterns of birds also provided clues on how to reach the Islands, as did the movements of winds and clouds.

One important star the sailors used to determine the direction toward the Hawaiian Islands was the North Star (Polaris), which Hawaiians called Hōkūpa‘a (“Fixed Star”) because it is located due north and appears “fixed” in the sky. The Earth spins to the east, so to an observer looking north, the star doesn’t change position, as do all the other stars in the sky.

The star called Hōkūle‘a (“Star of joy”) was also important, because at the high point of its nightly arc across the sky, Hōkūle‘a points the way to the Hawaiian Islands.

The First Hawaiians

The Polynesian settlers of the Hawaiian Islands brought pua‘a (pigs), moa (chickens), and ‘īlio (dogs) to the Hawaiian Islands on their voyaging canoes. They also brought more than two dozen species of plants that were used for food, clothing, shelter, and tools. Plants were also used to make musical instruments and many other items.

One of the most important plants brought to the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians was kalo (taro), which they grew in lo‘i kalo (taro patches). Networks of irrigation channels connected the taro fields to the rivers, so the fields could be filled with water.

The underground corm (root) of the taro plant was pounded into poi, an important part of the Hawaiian diet. A pudding-like mix known as kūlolo was made with taro, niu (coconut), and kō (sugarcane), all wrapped in kī (ti) leaves and baked in an imu (underground oven).

The Hawaiians also built loko i‘a (saltwater fishponds) near the sea. Pua ‘ama‘ama (mullet) and pua awa (milkfish) were raised in the fishponds and then caught and eaten when needed.

[Illustration: Taro patch; Fishpond.]

‘Ono kāhi ‘ao lū‘au me ke aloha pū.

A little taro green is delicious when love is present.

Even the plainest fare is delicious when there is love.[vi]

Tall growing niu (coconut palms) were a source of food and provided material for rope as well as for musical instruments such as the pahu (drum). Kō (sugarcane) and mai‘a (bananas) were grown near homes and in upland areas at the forest’s edge along with groves of ‘uala (breadfruit trees), which were fashioned into papa ku‘i ‘ai (poi-pounding boards).

The nuts of kukui (candlenut trees) were strung together and burned to provide the primary source of light in ancient Hawai‘i, while the tree’s blossoms and leaves were woven and strung together into lei.

Calabashes (bowls) for poi and other foods were made primarily from kamani trees and from the red-grained wood of milo tree or from the wood of the kou tree. Kou was long considered to be a Polynesian introduction but is now classified as indigenous.

The native koa was also used to make calabashes (bowls) for holding certain items, however not for food, since the tannic acid in koa wood imparts an unpleasant taste to food. The bottle gourd plant called ipu was used as a container for food and other items, such as the pā ipu (double gourd drum).

[Illustrations: Ipu gourd; Pā ipu (double gourd drum).]

Along with the plants the Polynesians brought to the Hawaiian Islands, they also used many native plants that grew in the Islands from the upper mountain valleys to the seashore.

The majestic Hawaiian koa tree was carved into large canoes, weapons of war, and papa he‘e nalu (surfboards) up to 18 feet (5.5 m) long and weighing more than 170 pounds (77 kg).

Hawaiians used fibers of wauke (paper mulberry tree) to make kapa barkcloth (also called tapa). The barkcloth was used to make clothes and many other products, and was often colored and scented with dyes and fragrances made from plants. Kapa was often stamped with intricate geometric designs.

The ancient Hawaiians also crafted magnificent weavings of featherwork. The feathers of native forest birds such as the ‘apapane and ‘i‘iwi were woven into colorful ‘ahu ‘ula (feathered capes and cloaks) and mahiole (feather-crested helmets).

[Illustrations/photos: Uses of native plants described above; kapa items; feathered cloaks/helmets; pahu drum; surfboards.]

‘AumākuaSacred Guardians

The world of the ancient Hawaiians was rich with spiritual forces closely linked to the natural environment. Certain species were considered sacred ‘aumākua (guardian spirits) that might be seen in visions or dreams. This connection to the natural world and these spiritual beliefs continue today—the Hawaiian culture is a living culture.

As personal or family gods, ‘aumākua may appear as living animals that may warn or protect someone. Some ‘aumākua are the ‘io (Hawaiian hawk), manō (shark), pueo (owl), honu (sea turtle), kōlea (golden plover), and hīnālea (wrasse).

[Illustrations/photos of above species (hawk, shark, owl, sea turtle, plover, wrasse).]

Heiau and Kapu

Ancient Hawaiians built many sacred places of worship. These structures were known as heiau and included altars to gods and places of refuge to provide protection from harm.

Offerings and prayers were made to ‘aumākua, the personal or family gods and sacred guardians considered to be protectors that should be respected and even fed. The kapu system determined if something was sacred or forbidden, and helped regulate how resources were used, how chiefs and royalty were treated, and many other aspects of daily life in the Islands.

One important heiau was Pu‘ukoholā Heiau, built on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 30 miles (48 km) north of Kailua-Kona on Hawai‘i Island (the Big Island).

The young warrior chief Pai‘ea Kamehameha, the future King Kamehameha I, constructed this massive luakini heiau (sacrificial temple) as a result of a prophecy that it would allow him to unite all of the Islands under his rule.

Thousands of Kamehameha’s men formed a human chain 20 miles (32 km) long and passed stones from hand-to-hand all the way to the site to construct the 224-foot (68-m) long, 100-foot (30-m) high structure of Pu‘ukoholā Heiau.

Note: Pu‘ukoholā means “Whale hill”[vii] according to Pūku‘i, but was later explained by Frazier to instead be spelled Pu‘ukohola (no macron), and meaning “built as the house of the god, a pu‘u [desire] for death and not for life. The death which was to be bound securely within this heiau was in the lagoon (kai kohola) and not in the deep sea nor on land.”[viii]

[Photograph: Pu‘ukoholā Heiau]

The Ahupua‘a

The ancient Hawaiians maintained a system of sharing their natural resources within land divisions known as ahupua‘a, which are formed naturally by mountain ridges and ocean bays. Each ahupua‘a extends from the high valley to the sea and includes the offshore coral reefs. The ahupua‘a contains all of the different resources important for survival, and these resources were shared within each ahupua‘a.

[Illustration: Ahupua‘a]

‘ŌahiThe Fire-Throwing Ceremony

In the ancient ceremony called ‘ōahi (fire throwing), Hawaiians threw flaming logs of pāpala and hau trees into the strong seaward winds blowing off the sea cliffs of northwestern Kaua‘i. The fiery wood showered sparks over the ocean waters as people in canoes beneath the cliffs attempted to catch the burning embers.

[Illustration: Fire-throwing ceremony]

Games, Rituals, and Celebrations

Ancient Hawaiians enjoyed a great variety of pā‘ani (sports and games). Contests of strength and balance included uma and pā uma (hand and wrist wrestling), kula‘i wāwae (foot-pushing), kula kula‘i (chest pushing), heihei kūkini (foot races), and hākōkō (wrestling). A team tug-of-war game was known as pā‘ume‘ume.

Pua (arrows, or darts) were sometimes made from stalks of kō (sugarcane), and were used in games and contests. ‘Ulu maika involved rolling stone discs for accuracy and distance. Ho‘olele lupe (flying kites) were made by covering a hau frame with kapa barkcloth or plaited lau hala (leaves of hala).

[Illustration: ‘Ulu maika contest in progress]

Many activities occurred in or near the ocean. The sport of lele kawa involved jumping off cliffs into the sea in an attempt to make the least amount of splash, while the goal of lele pahū was to make the biggest splash.

Other ocean activities included ‘au (swimming), kaha nalu (body surfing), he‘e nalu (surfing), and heihei wa‘a (canoe racing). The sport of kaupua required participants to dive deep underwater to retrieve half-ripe ipu (gourds).

Many games and sports were played during the ancient Hawaiian harvest festival known as Makahiki, when time was taken away from work for feasts, sports games, and other events in honor of Lono, the god of agricultural fertility.

Some contests engaged in during Makahiki were meant to strengthen the participants’ warrior skills, including kākā lā‘au (spear fencing), ‘ō‘ō ihe (spear throwing), and ku‘i a lua (hand-to-hand fighting).

In the sport of he‘e hōlua, Hawaiians slid down steep hills and stone ramps on papa hōlua (wooden sleds). The slides were lined with pili grass (twisted beardgrass) or tassels of kō (sugarcane), allowing the sledders to reach speeds sometimes exceeding 100 miles (161 km) per hour.

Children slid down smaller hills on stalks of a mai‘a (banana plants) or on hōlua kī, the leaves of kī (ti).

[Photograph: Hōlua (wooden sled)]

Captain Cook Establishes Western Contact

Captain Cook arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778 in command of two ships, the HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery. Cook’s crews first sighted O‘ahu and Kaua‘i, and then the following day the ships approached Kaua‘i’s southeast coast where native Hawaiians in canoes paddled out to meet them.

The Hawaiians that approached Cook’s ships traded fish and sweet potatoes for pieces of iron and brass, which were lowered down from the larger ships to the Hawaiians’ canoes. This was the beginning of Westerner contact with the Hawaiian people.

Captain Cook anchored his ships near the mouth of the Waimea River on Kaua‘i’s southwest coast, and went ashore at the village of Waimea. He was greeted by hundreds of Hawaiians who offered him various gifts including kapa barkcloth, pua‘a (pigs), and mai‘a (bananas). Cook walked inland in Waimea and saw Hawaiian hale (houses), heiau (sacred places of worship), and agricultural sites.

The Hawaiians had developed an amazingly rich and complex Pacific island culture unlike any other, with a population of more than a quarter of a million people, and possibly more than three times that number.

Captain Cook named the islands “The Sandwich Islands in honor of his patron, the Earl of Sandwich. Cook returned one year later, arriving at Kealakekua Bay on Hawai‘i Island during the time of the Makahiki festival. Cook was greeted by processions and celebrations unlike any he had encountered before.

When one of Cook’s boats (a cutter, the Discovery’s largest boat) was stolen, he went ashore with nine of his men to retrieve the boat. Cook had his crew block the harbor entrance so no one could escape, and when a canoe attempted to pass, Cook’s crew fired on the natives and killed an important chief.

The death angered the Hawaiians on shore, and when Cook and his men arrived to return to their ship, a violent encounter took place. Captain Cook and several others were killed.

[Illustration: Map of Cook’s route to Hawaiian Islands in 1778, and then north, returning to the Hawaiian Islands in 1779.]

[Photograph: HMS Discovery or HMS Resolution]

The Hawaiian Sandalwood Trade

Hawai‘i’s sandalwood trade began in 1791 when it was discovered that the fragrant wood could be sold for a high price in China. The fine-smelling Hawaiian sandalwood was valued for making furniture, carvings, perfume, and incense. To meet China’s growing demand, Hawai‘i’s sandalwood forests were logged at a rapid pace.

The sandalwood trade brought a steady influx of foreigners who brought many foreign products to the Hawaiian Islands and traded them for the valuable wood.

The supply of sandalwood in the Hawaiian Islands declined rapidly, and by 1840 nearly all of the large sandalwood trees in the Hawaiian Islands had been cut down. This ended the sandalwood trade with China.

[Photographs: Sandalwood tree; sandalwood box; and/or other sandalwood items]

George Vancouver Visits the Hawaiian Islands

British Captain George Vancouver first visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1778 as a member of Captain Cook’s crew. Vancouver returned to the Hawaiian Islands in 1792 and then two more times during the following years.

Vancouver brought many plants and animals to the Hawaiian Islands, including sheep, cattle, goats, and geese, as well as almond trees, orange trees, and grapevines. Vancouver hoped that the food products would be raised and cultivated by the Hawaiians, and then would later provide food for the crews of visiting British ships.

[Photograph: George Vancouver]

King Kamehameha I—Kamehameha the Great

In about the year 1753 on Hawai‘i Island, a young chief named Pai‘ea Kamehameha was born. As a young boy he trained in warrior skills, and then in 1775 he moved the famous Pōhaku Naha (Naha Stone) weighing nearly 5,000 pounds. It had been predicted that whoever could move this sacred royal birthstone would conquer all of the Hawaiian Islands.

In 1782, the young warrior chief Kamehameha led his army of Hawai‘i Island warriors to victory at the Battle of Moku‘ōhai in Kona. Kamehameha’s forces were attacked by the army of the Maui ruler Kahekilinui‘ahumanu [Kahekili] in 1791 in the first Hawaiian sea battle where both sides were armed with foreign guns and cannons. Neither side was victorious in this battle known as Kepūwaha‘ula‘ula (“War of the red mouthed cannon”).

Kamehameha invaded O‘ahu in 1795 with an army of an estimated 16,000 warriors on 960 canoes and 20 foreign ships. Kamehameha’s forces confronted the army of O‘ahu’s chief Kalanikūpule, which numbered about 9,000 warriors. Kamehameha’s side was stronger, and Kalanikūpule’s warriors were forced to retreat up into Nu‘uanu Valley.

Some O‘ahu warriors escaped but others were confronted by Kamehameha’s soldiers at the edge of the cliff at the top of the valley, and many O‘ahu warriors met their death on the rocks hundreds of feet below Nu‘uanu Pali. The Battle of Nu‘uanu was Kamehameha’s final major military conquest, gaining him control of all of the Hawaiian Islands except Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau.

In 1796, King Kamehameha I married 17-year-old Keōpūolani [Keōpūolanikauhiakama; Kalanikauika‘alaneokeōpūolani], whose name means “The gathering of the clouds of heaven,” also translated as “The cluster of royal chiefs.” [ix]

King Kamehameha I and Queen Keōpūolani [Keōpūolanikauhiakama; Kalanikauika‘alaneokeōpūolani] had three children: Kalaninui Liholiho ‘Iolani (King Kamehameha II), Kauikeaouli (King Kamehameha III), and Princess Nāhi‘ena‘ena [Nāhi‘ena‘enaikekapuewela‘aikapēkapuokeakua; Nā‘ahi‘ena‘ena; Nahienaena; Harriet Keōpūolani]. That same year, Kamehameha’s invasion fleet set sail for Kaua‘i with an estimated 800 or more canoes and more than 8,000 soldiers. Rough seas forced Kamehameha’s invading warriors to turn back, and Kaua‘i was not conquered.

In 1797, King Kamehameha I forgave a fisherman who 12 years earlier had hit him with a paddle. Instead of punishing the man, Kamehameha gave him land and set him free, and passed a law known as Kānāwai Māmalahoe (“Law of the Splintered Paddle”) protecting weak people from injustices done to them by those who are stronger.

Kamehameha was known as a ruler who truly cared for his people. He loved to fish and farm the land, and he encouraged his people to do this also so that they would always have food.

Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau came under Kamehameha’s control in 1810, and he was finally able to declare a united Hawaiian Kingdom. King Kamehameha died in 1819 at his home called Kamakahonu (“Eye of the turtle”) in Kailua-Kona.

[Illustration: Nu‘uanu Pali battle scene]


The Breaking of the Kapu

After the death of King Kamehameha I on May 8, 1819, changes occurred rapidly throughout the Islands, beginning with the breaking of the eating kapu that prohibited men and women from eating together.

The breaking of the kapu occurred when King Kamehameha II (Kalaninui ‘Iolani Liholiho) ate with the dowager queens Keōpūolani [Keōpūolanikauhiakama; Kalanikauika‘alaneokeōpūolani] and Ka‘ahumanu, beginning a process that eroded away at traditional Hawaiian religious beliefs and led to the complete overturning of the kapu system. Many sacred temples were dismantled and abandoned, and religious idols were burned.

The Twelve Companies of American Missionaries

The First Company of American missionaries arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1820. During the following decades, a steady stream of United States missionaries arrived in the Hawaiian Islands, which were known at the time as the Sandwich Islands.

In all, twelve companies of American missionaries came to the Hawaiian Islands, and they converted many Hawaiians to Christianity. During an evangelical crusade lasting from 1838 to 1840, more than 20,000 Hawaiians were converted to Protestantism and became members of the Congregational Church. This crusade later became known as “The Great Revival.”

The Twelfth (and final) Company of American missionaries arrived in 1848, when at least 17 mission stations were operating throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

[Photograph: Missionaries]

The Hawaiian Language

When Captain Cook first visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, Hawaiian was a spoken language but not a written language. In 1829, missionaries selected a 12-letter alphabet for the written Hawaiian language, using five vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) and seven consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, and w).

The new written Hawaiian language developed by the missionaries was modeled after the spoken Hawaiian language. The written Hawaiian language developed by the missionaries attempted to accurately represent the spoken Hawaiian sounds with English letters.

Ancient Hawaiians named many things around them, including lo‘i kalo (taro patches), heiau (sacred places of worship), fishing sites, and even particular rocks and trees, which sometimes represented ancestors or gods. Today most place names in the Islands, from Hilo to Hanalei, are Hawaiian words.

Many towns, streets, buildings, mountains, valleys, beaches, and bays have Hawaiian names, as do many stores and homes.

[Photograph: Hawaiian elders]

Pronunciation of Hawaiian Words

To say Hawaiian words, pronounce:

a as in about, or above

e as in wet, or let

i as in sweet, or the y in pity

o as in rope, or hole

u as in root, or moon

The Most Common Hawaiian Words

These are the Hawaiian words most often heard in the Islands, and very useful to know.


yellowfin tuna


natural watershed land division extending from the mountains to the sea


land, earth


chief, chiefess, royalty of ancient Hawai‘i


hello, good bye, love, affection


family or personal god, guardian, ancestral spirit (plural: ‘aumākua)



he‘e nalu

surfing, to ride a surfboard


sacred temple, ancient Hawaiian place of worship


sea turtle


Hawaiian dance, cultural practice, art form


an underground earthen-oven using hot rocks; traditional for lū‘au


spiritual guide, priest, expert in a profession (plural: kāhuna)




cooked underground, baked (e.g., kālua pig at a lū‘au).


native born, (means “child of the land”), also long-time resident

kanaka maoli

native Hawaiian


man or boy, male (Kāne is a Hawaiian god)

kapa (tapa)

cloth made from bark


sacred, forbidden


child, offspring (also kama)


help, assistance




ancestor, grandparent, relative



lau hala

leaf of hala tree, used to weave many items


garlands of flowers, seeds, ferns, shells, feathers or other materials


passion fruit


seaweed (many types are edible)


Hawaiian feast (also means “young taro leaves”)


thank you


toward the sea


spiritual or divine power, wisdom


toward the mountains, inland


song or chant, to sing

Mele Kalīkimaka

Merry Christmas


legendary small race of ancient Hawaiians


native goose, Hawai‘i’s state bird


family, extended family—named after the ‘ohā (offshoots) of kalo (taro)


delicious (also the name of wahoo fish)


steep cliff or precipice


Hawaiian cowboy


finished, done (pau hana—end of work.)


root of kalo (taro) pounded into an edible paste


flower, blossom, garden


appetizer, hors d‘oeuvre


grandmother, aunt


small, guitar-like instrument




Maui’s Lahainaluna Seminary was founded in 1831 by American Protestant missionaries to educate young Hawaiian men. Scholars at Lahainaluna published several Hawaiian-English dictionaries and many important books about Hawaiian history based upon interviews of Hawaiian elders.

Lahainaluna students David Malo and Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau collected and documented many legends and chants as well as information about family relationships and historical events dating to ancient times.

The Hawaiian translation of the New Testament was published in 1832, and was presented by missionary Hiram Bingham (17891869) to Ka‘ahumanu, the former queen as wife of King Kamehameha I, shortly before her death. The first complete translation of the Bible into the Hawaiian language was completed in 1839.

[Photograph: Lahainaluna]

Kawaiaha‘o Church

The historic and still functioning Kawaiaha‘o Church at the corner of South King and Punchbowl Streets is O‘ahu’s oldest church and largest church. The original church on the site was built in 1821.

Known as the Christian Meeting House, or Hale Pule, (pule means “church”). The structure was framed and thatched by Hawaiians, and then the missionaries installed imported windows, doors, a pulpit, and a bell. The grass-thatched church was built to hold 300 people, and was dedicated in 1821 (see Chapter 11, Timeline: 1821, Sep. 15).

On January 7, 1822 the first printing in the North Pacific region was done in this 54-foot (16-m) by 22-foot (6.7-m) building. This was the beginning of the Mission Press, which eventually printed millions of pages, many in the Hawaiian language. (See Chapter 11, Timeline: 1822, Jan. 7.)

In 1837, construction began on a large, new church, following plans drawn by missionary Reverend Hiram Bingham. More than 1,000 people worked on the construction of Kawaiaha‘o Church, using blunt axes to cut coral reef from beneath 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 m) of water.

Approximately 14,000 coral blocks were cut from the reef for the church. Many of the blocks weighed more than 1 ton (.8 mton). Logs for the church were brought from Ko‘olau Loa in northern O‘ahu to Kāne‘ohe Bay by canoe, and then hauled over the mountain.

Built in the New England style with Gothic influences, the structure was originally known as Stone Church, and was dedicated on July 21, 1842 (then named Kawaiaha‘o Church in 1862). The church’s clock tower was a gift of King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli). The clock was built in Boston and continues to keep accurate time.

Kawaiaha‘o Church was later the site of many important historic events, including an 1843 service for the restoration of the monarchy. This took place after King Kamehameha III had been forced into a formal “provisional cession” of the Hawaiian Islands to Britain on February 10, 1843, by Lord George Paulet of Britain, who had arrived on the frigate Carysfort and demanded the cession under the threat of military force.

King Kamehameha III acquiesced and the British flag was raised in Honolulu. (See Chapter 11, Timeline: 1843, Feb. 10.)

On July 31, 1843, the provisional cession of the Hawaiian Islands to Britain was rescinded by Admiral Richard Thomas (1777-1851) of Britain, who had arrived in the Hawaiian Islands on July 26, 1843 on the H.M.S. flagship Dublin. The Islands were restored to Hawaiians and King Kamehameha III, and the British flag was lowered and the Hawaiian flag was raised.

Later that day, King Kamehameha III gave a speech at a Kawaiaha‘o Church service, and is said to have spoken the words which later became Hawai‘i’s official state motto: “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘āina o ka pono” (“The life of the land is perpetuated [preserved] in righteousness”). The date of July 31 was later proclaimed Restoration Day.

Kawaiaha‘o Church was also the site of the 1854 coronation of King Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho ‘Iolani) as well as his wedding to Emma in 1856. (See Chapter 11, Timeline: 1821, Sep.15; 1843, July 31; 1872, June 11.) In 1885 a bigger bell tower was installed at the church, and electricity was installed in 1895. A complete reconstruction of all but the coral took place in 1925 due to extreme termite damage.

Today Kawaiaha‘o Church still reserves pews for descendants of the Hawaiian royalty that once worshipped there. These velvet-lined pews at the rear of the church are marked with kāhili, the traditional feather standards that are symbols of Hawaiian royalty.

Portraits of Hawaiian royalty and important figures associated with the church line the walls along the upper balconies of the church. The rear upper balcony is dominated by the church’s spectacular pipe organ.

To the left of the front door of the church, near the original cornerstone, is a centennial memorial plaque honoring Reverend Hiram Bingham (17891869), one of the founders and the architect of Kawaiaha‘o Church. Bingham preached his first sermon in the Hawaiian Islands on April 25, 1820. The cornerstone of the church was laid on June 8, 1839.

The 10:30 a.m. Sunday service at Kawaiaha‘o Church is said in Hawaiian as well as English, and for a small offering visitors are welcomed to a breakfast following the service. Across the street from Kawaiaha‘o Church is the Mission Houses Museum (see above), home to the first missionaries to come to the Hawaiian Islands.

Located just inside the main entrance gate to Kawaiaha‘o Church is the Tomb of King Lunalilo (see below). (See Chapter 11, Timeline: 1821, Sep. 15; 1837; 1843, July 31; 1872, June 11; and Mission Houses, Chapter 12.)

[Photographs: Kawaiaha‘o Church; Tomb of King Lunalilo]

The Whaling Era

Hawai‘i’s whaling era began in 1819 when two New England ships became the first whaling ships to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands. Rich whaling waters were later discovered near Japan, and soon hundreds of ships headed for the area. The central location of the Hawaiian Islands between America and Japan brought many whaling ships to the Islands.

The whaling era peaked in 1846 when nearly 600 whaling ships arrived at Lahaina, Honolulu, and other ports. Whaling supported a busy trade at port towns, and had far-reaching influences throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Many Hawaiians were hired to work aboard the whaling vessels.

[Illustration/photograph: Whaling]

Paniolos—Hawaiian Cowboys

The first horses to be brought to the Hawaiian Islands arrived in 1803 from California, and King Kamehameha I was given a mare and a stallion. Commercial stock raising began on Hawai‘i Island in 1830 when cowboys from Mexican California arrived in the Islands and began instructing Hawaiians in techniques of managing cattle.

The introduction of horses and cattle began the era of Hawaiian cowboys, who are known as paniolos, a word that comes from the Spanish “Españoles.”

[Photograph: Paniolos]

Hawai‘i’s First Constitution and The Great Māhele

Hawai‘i’s first constitution was enacted in 1840 by King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli). The new constitution was based on the political structures used by the Americans and the British, and provided for a Supreme Court (including the king), an Executive branch, and a Legislative body of 15 hereditary nobles. Seven Representatives were elected by the people, and freedom of religious worship was guaranteed.

In 1848, King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli) ended Hawai‘i’s traditional land use system with the institution of a new system of private property ownership known as the Great Māhele (mahele means “division”). The new laws divided most of the land between King Kamehameha III and his ali‘i (chiefs), with smaller plots offered to maka‘āinana (commoners).

Within a few years after the Great Māhele, non-Hawaiians were allowed to buy land in the Hawaiian Islands. A large amount of land became available for commercial sugar production, which soon became the driving force of the economy of the Hawaiian Islands.

Heroes of Kalaupapa—Father Damien and Mother Marianne

In 1865, the first victims of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in the Hawaiian Islands arrived at Kalaupapa Peninsula on Moloka‘i, beginning the practice of sending patients to the remote site.

The peninsula is surrounded on three sides by ocean and on the other side by cliffs rising up to 3,000 feet. Kalaupapa is accessible only by boat or airplane, or by hiking or riding a mule down a long, steep trail into the valley.

In all, nearly 9,000 Hansen’s disease patients were sent to Kalaupapa. A Belgian priest known as Father Damien volunteered to minister to the needy at Kalaupapa in 1873. He served tirelessly for 16 years before dying of leprosy at Kalaupapa. Father Damien is known as the “Martyr of Moloka‘i,” and his spirit lives on as one of Hawai‘i’s beloved heroes.

Another selfless and dedicated servant who ministered to the leprosy patients of Kalaupapa was the Roman Catholic nun Mother Marianne Cope, who worked alongside Father Damien and then continued working at Kalaupapa after Damien’s passing.

Mother Marianne ministered to the needy at Kalaupapa for a total of 30 years until she passed away at the age of 80.

[Photographs: Father Damien; Mother Marianne]

Mark Twain in the Sandwich Islands

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Missouri and worked as a riverboat pilot before taking a job as a correspondent for a California newspaper, the Sacramento Union. Clemens arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1866 at age 31 aboard the steamship Ajax and called himself Mark Twain.

Twain had a Wild West moustache and auburn hair, and he came to the Islands on assignment to write a series of travel letters about the whaling and sugarcane industries. During his four month stay he penned 25 letters about the Sandwich Islands. Mark Twain later became famous as the author of Huckleberry Finn.

[Photograph: Mark Twain]

The Origins of Hula

According to legend, the first hula occurred when Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, wanted her sisters to entertain her with song and dance. Only Pele’s youngest sister, Hi‘iaka, would comply, and she performed gracefully and powerfully for Pele to the amazement of all.

Today hula is a beautiful art form that carries on Hawaiian history, legends, and culture.

[Photograph: Hula]

Kuhi no ka lima, hele no ka maka.

Where the hands move, there let the eyes follow.

A rule in hula.[x]

Hula and Mele

Ancient Hawaiians used chants known as oli and dances called hula to record their history and tell stories of their ancestors and the gods they worshipped. An oli is a chant that traditionally was not accompanied by dance.

Often long phrases were chanted in a single breath, with each phrase ending with an ‘i‘i (trill). Long oli (chants) were memorized, and passed down through generations. Chants were often accompanied by dancers performing the sacred art of hula.

Wreathed with the woven ferns of the forest, the ancient Hawaiians chanted and danced to give thanks for what they had, preserving the stories that deeply enriched their island existence. Today Hawaiians continue to study and perform the arts of hula and mele that are full of the power and history of the Hawaiian people.

Hula dancers are trained by a hula master, or kumu hula, in a school called a hālau. The dancers are trained not only in the dance movements but also in the philosophy of hula. In ancient Hawai‘i, one who trained from childhood in the art of chanting was known as haku mele, a prestigious accomplishment that gave the person a high ranking status in the society.

During hula, women often wear knee-length skirts made from flat green kī (ti) leaves. They may wear a necklace made from the polished nuts of the kukui (candlenut tree), or lei ‘ā‘ī (draping vines or flowers).

Bracelets of ferns around their wrists and ankles are known as kūpe‘e. The lei po‘o encircles the dancer’s head, which is traditionally graced with long, dark flowing hair.

Mele is a general word that refers to any type of song or chant. Hula and mele are the ancient ways that Hawaiians told their stories and celebrated the beauty of the heart of the Hawaiian people, their love and aloha.

Hawaiians today continue to use hula and mele to remember their origins and give thanks for all of the many natural wonders that enrich their world, from the birds and fish to the mountains and streams.

Traditional instruments that accompany hula include the pahu hula, a drum made from the trunk of a niu (coconut palm) or ‘uala (breadfruit tree), with a sharkskin drumhead. Drumming sticks are called lā‘au ho‘okani pahu.

Also used are pū‘ili (split bamboo rattles) and the ‘ulī‘ulī, a gourd rattle that contains seeds and is adorned at the top with colorful feathers.

[Photograph: Hula and Mele; Traditional Instruments]

Preparing for Hula

On the morning before performing hula, dancers enter the rainforest where they take into their hands the green leaves and ferns and gently begin to weave and braid them into the strands of lei that will soon encircle their heads, necks, and arms.

Hula students also learn about the ‘āina (land) and how to respect and care for the ferns and flowers so the plants remain for future generations.

The dancers may gather the lacy pala‘ā and palapalai ferns, and the fragrant leaves of maile. The palapalai fern is a representation of the hula goddess Laka, while pala‘ā represents Hi‘iaka, the sister of the volcano goddess Pele.

Maile is considered sacred to the hula goddess Laka. Today many hālau (hula groups) also give thanks to the god of Christianity.

[Illustrations: Ferns; maile]

King KalākauaThe Merrie Monarch

David Kalākaua was elected king in 1874, and in 1881 he became the first ruler of any country to sail around the world. During his journey, King Kālakaua visited the leaders of the United States, Japan, Great Britain, and many other countries.

In 1883, King Kalākaua [David La‘amea Kalākaua] held an official coronation on the grounds of the newly completed ‘Iolani Palace. He supported traditional Hawaiian practices, including the revival of hula, which had previously been discouraged by the missionaries.

King Kalākaua later came to be known as the “Merrie Monarch” for his reintroduction of hula and other ancient customs.

In 1887, King Kalākaua signed a new constitution that restricted the king’s power. The document was later given the nickname “The Bayonet Constitution” because it was said that Kalākaua was forced into signing it.

The Bayonet Constitution ended 23 years of rule under the previous constitution of King Kamehameha V (Lot Kapuāiwa Kamehameha). King Kalākaua died in 1891 and was succeeded by Queen Lili‘uokalani [Lydia Kamaka‘eha Pākī-Dominis Lili‘uokalani].

[Photograph: King Kalākaua]

The Merrie Monarch Festival

The Merrie Monarch Festival is just one of many annual gatherings, festivals, and competitions held throughout the Hawaiian Islands. These events celebrate the living Hawaiian culture with hula accompanied by mele songs and chants.

[Photograph: Hula at the Merrie Monarch Festival]

The Spirit of Aloha

The ancient Hawaiian culture embodied the concept of aloha, emphasizing giving without the expectation of return. This aloha spirit of loving, sharing and caring for all the ‘ohana (extended family) was an important part of Hawaiian life, and continues strongly today.

Ua hilo ‘ia i ke aho a ke aloha.

Braided with the cords of love.

Held in the bond of affection.[xi]

Sugarcane and the Plantation Era

In 1835, Koloa [Kōloa] Sugar Plantation on Kaua‘i became the first successful sugar plantation in the Islands. Other plantations soon followed. The use of new water irrigation methods began in 1856 and resulted in a huge increase in sugarcane production in the Hawaiian Islands.

King Kalākaua [David La‘amea Kalākaua] negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty in 1875, and it was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1876, allowing Hawaiian sugar to be sold in the United States for lower prices. In return, the United States was allowed to use Pearl Harbor as a naval base.

The sugar industry in the Hawaiian Islands grew rapidly after the passage of the Reciprocity Treaty, which was signed by King Kalākaua in 1875. By the early 1900s, at least 100 sugar mills were operated by 51 sugar companies.

The rise of the sugar industry in the Hawaiian Islands led to the immigration of many foreign laborers. By the 1930s, hundreds of thousands of sugarcane plantation workers had arrived from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal, Korea, Spain, Puerto Rico, and other countries. These ethnic groups became the basis of Hawai‘i’s “melting pot” of cultures.

The plantation era brought major political and economic changes to the Hawaiian Islands. The sugar industry was dominated by the “Big Five” sugar companies: Theo H. Davies; American Factors (Amfac); C. Brewer & Co.; Alexander & Baldwin; and Castle & Cooke.

The Big Five companies cooperated to control every aspect of the sugar trade in the Hawaiian Islands, from the workers in the fields to the laws and politics of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

By 1933, the amount of land in the Hawaiian Islands dedicated to sugar production reached a peak, totaling more than 250,000 acres, and more than 95% of the crop was controlled by the “Big Five” companies.

[Photographs: Sugarcane; Sugar Mill]

The ‘Ukulele

Portuguese laborers arriving in the Hawaiian Islands on the ship Ravenscrag in 1879 brought with them a stringed instrument that later came to be known as the ‘ukulele.

The ‘ukulele quickly became popular throughout the Hawaiian Islands, and today it is played by thousands of Hawaiian residents.

[Photograph: ‘Ukulele]

Foreign Diseases and the Hawaiian Population

With foreigners came many foreign diseases, including epidemics of mumps, measles, smallpox, whooping cough, tuberculosis, diphtheria, Asiatic cholera, and bubonic plague. These terrible diseases led to the death of many Hawaiians.

The native Hawaiian population was particularly vulnerable to foreign diseases because they had been isolated for so long and thus lacked natural resistance to these diseases. Less than 100 years after Captain Cook arrived in the Islands, only about one-fifth of the native population remained.

The Chinatown Fires

In 1880, a three-day fire engulfed eight blocks of Honolulu’s Chinatown district, burning the homes of 7,000 Chinese and 350 Hawaiians, and causing about $1.5 million in damage.

In January of 1900, a fire was intentionally set in the Chinatown area of Honolulu to rid the area of homes harboring disease. The fire accidentally got out of control and burned more than 38 acres over 17 days. More than 4,000 residents were displaced by this second Chinatown fire.

[Photograph: Chinatown Fire]



Nā Mō‘ī Hawai‘i

The Hawaiian Monarchy

The Eight Rulers of the United Hawaiian Kingdom

Hawaiian Monarch Reign 

King Kamehameha I 1795—1819

King Kamehameha II 1819—1824

King Kamehameha III 1825—1854

King Kamehameha IV 1854—1863

King Kamehameha V 1863—1872

King Lunalilo 1873—1874

King Kalākaua 1874—1891

Queen Lili‘uokalani 1891—1893

The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy

In January of 1893, a small group of United States sugar planters and businessmen overthrew the rule of Queen Lili‘uokalani and declared a Provisional Government. This ended the Hawaiian monarchy that had begun with King Kamehameha I.

To avoid bloodshed, Queen Lili‘uokalani yielded not to the Provisional Government but to the United States government, “...until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”

The overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy occurred with the backing of the U.S. Minister to Hawai‘i, John Leavitt Stevens who ordered troops from the warship U.S.S. Boston ashore in Honolulu.

U.S. President Cleveland denounced the overthrow as lawless and ordered the queen’s power restored, but the Provisional Government refused.

[Photograph: Queen Lili‘uokalani]

In 1897, President Cleveland was succeeded by President McKinley. The next year the Spanish-American War moved to the Philippines and the Hawaiian Islands became strategically important as a coaling base for the United States warships.

Hawai‘i became a Territory of the United States in 1900, and Hawaiian citizens became American citizens of the Territory of Hawai‘i. Hawai‘i’s first governor was Sanford Ballard Dole.

Hawai‘i’s Major Political Periods


1795—1893 Kingdom of Hawai‘i

1893—1894 Provisional Government

1894—1900 Republic of Hawai‘i

1900—1959 Territory of Hawai‘i

1959—Present Statehood

Princess Ka‘iulaniHeir to a Vanished Throne

Princess Ka‘iulani was the niece of Queen Lili‘uokalani and King Kalākaua [David La‘amea Kalākaua]. Kalākaua was proclaimed as the next heir to the Hawaiian Kingdom when Lili‘uokalani became queen in 1891.

Princess Ka‘iulani (1875-1899) was the daughter of Archibald Scott Cleghorn and Miriam Likelike (the sister of King Kalākaua and Queen Lili‘uokalani). Her full name was Victoria Kawēkiu J. Lunalilo Kalaninuiahilapalapa Ka‘iulani Cleghorn.

Princess Ka‘iulani attended school in England and was active in many charitable causes. She was a talented artist, musician, and athlete who was particularly skilled at horseback riding and swimming. On O‘ahu, Ka‘iulani lived at the spacious Waikīkī estate known as ‘Āinahau, which was the palace of her uncle, King Kalākaua.

Princess Ka‘iulani was sometimes referred to as the “Princess of the Peacocks” because many peacocks (called pīkake in Hawaiian), roamed the gardens of fragrant, white Arabian jasmine flowers at ‘Āinahau. The Arabian jasmine flower also later became known by the Hawaiian term pīkake because the flower was a favorite of the princess.

In 1899 at the age of 23, Princess Ka‘iulani died at ‘Āinahau, where her favored flowers grew and where her peacocks roamed. Her death was attributed to a fever, but many believe she died of a broken heart as the last Hawaiian princess and heiress to a vanished throne.

On the night she died the peacocks (pīkake) are said to have made extremely loud vocal displays of their grief.

[Photograph: Ka‘iulani]

Iolani Palace

‘Iolani Palace was completed by King Kalākaua in 1882 and served as the royal palace of the Hawaiian monarchy until 1893. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, ‘Iolani Palace was used as a capitol building for the Republic, the Territory, and then the State of Hawai‘i. ‘Iolani Palace underwent extensive renovations beginning in 1969, and was opened as a museum in 1978.[xii]

[Photograph: ‘Iolani Palace]

The Pineapple Industry

In 1901, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company was formed by James Drummond Dole and he began growing the tasty fruits on O‘ahu. Dole constructed a pineapple cannery in 1906 on O‘ahu, and it was the largest fruit factory in the world.

In 1922, Dole purchased the island of Lāna‘i for $1,100,000, and he was soon producing almost one-third of the world’s pineapple crop. Dole became known as the “Pineapple King,” and the pineapple industry dominated Lāna‘i for the next 65 years, producing as many as 250 million pineapples each year. Pineapple production in the Islands peaked in 1955, and the last major commercial pineapple harvest on Lāna‘i took place in 1992.

[Photograph: Pineapple plantation]

Duke Kahanamoku

Surfer, Olympian, Movie Star, Sheriff

Duke Kahanamoku was a muscular man, standing 6 feet, 1 inch tall, and he was known for his gentle kindness and humility. In 1905, Duke Kahanamoku surfed Waikīkī and began the rebirth of Hawaiian surfing, which had largely disappeared in the Islands after the arrival of New England missionaries in the early 1800s.

Duke Kahanamoku won an Olympic gold medal in swimming in 1912, completing the 100-meter freestyle event in a world record time of 63.4 seconds, and also winning a silver medal in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay.

Duke eventually competed in four different Olympics and won a total of six Olympic medals. Duke also saved many lives in numerous brave ocean rescues of people in distress.

Duke had a career in Hollywood, appearing in about 30 movies between 1922 and 1933. He served as Sheriff of the City and County Honolulu for 26 years, from 1934 to 1960. Due to his great generosity and caring nature, Duke was officially appointed as Hawai‘i’s “Ambassador of Aloha” in 1960.

Duke Kahanamoku passed away in 1968 at the age of 77, and he will forever be remembered as a real-life folk hero for the people of the Hawaiian Islands.

[Photographs: Duke Kahanamoku]

Duke’s Creed

In Hawai‘i, we greet friends, loved ones or strangers with aloha, which means with love. Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality, which makes Hawai‘i renowned as the world’s center of understanding and fellowship. Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha. You’ll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it and it is my creed. Aloha to you.

Plaque on the Duke Kahanamoku Statue in Waikīkī.

Historic Waikīkī

Waikiki means “Spouting water,” a reminder that the region was once covered with wetlands and marshes. In ancient times, Waikīkī encompassed more than 2,000 acres of marshland that held water flowing down from the Ko‘olau Mountain Range. Early Hawaiians settlers converted the marshland into fishponds, taro patches, and other agricultural uses that utilized the fertile and productive lands of Waikīkī.

In the late 1800s, duck ponds replaced many areas of Waikīkī that were formerly taro patches and fishponds. The Sans Souci Hotel opened in 1893 in Waikīkī along the shoreline of Kapi‘olani Park, and hosted the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850—1894) for a five week visit.[xiii] Many other influential tourists also visited Waikīkī.

On March 11, 1901, the Moana Hotel opened and was known as the First Lady of Waikīkī. It was the tallest building in the Hawaiian Islands and hosted such important guests as King George V of the United Kingdom and Edward, Prince of Wales who stayed at the hotel in 1920.

In 1902, Waikīkī’s horse-driven tram cars were replaced by an electric trolley (tram line) connecting Waikīkī and downtown Honolulu. The tram line and hotel construction began the process of popularizing Waikīkī as a resort destination.

Waikīkī gradually became a place of quiet palm-lined beaches where the wealthy built their gingerbread-trimmed cottages. It was also home to Hawaiian royalty, and was considered a place of healing, peace, and hospitality.

The marshlands of Waikīkī were drained by the building of the Ala Wai Canal, constructed from 1919 to 1928. The prominent waterway runs for 25 blocks and separates Waikīkī from Honolulu. Filling Waikīkī’s duck ponds, taro patches, rice paddies, and marshland with coral rubble created some of the most valuable real estate in the Islands.

[Photographs: Old Waikīkī; Robert Louis Stevenson with Queen Lili‘uokalani; Moana Hotel; horse-driven tram cars; Ala Wai Canal.]

In July of 1926, the square-shaped Aloha Tower opened on the waterfront at Honolulu Harbor, becoming the tallest building in the Islands at 184 feet, 2 inches (56.1 meters) high with balconied openings.

The tower is topped with a 40-foot (12-meter) flagstaff and seven-ton clock, and each side of the tower has a clock face and the word “Aloha.”

In 1927, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel opened in Waikīkī. Nicknamed the Pink Palace of the Pacific, the hotel featured elegant chandeliers, high ceilings, pink stucco walls, and pink turrets.

The Royal Hawaiian was built and owned by the Matson Navigation Company, which also built an elegant cruise ship called the Malolo. Costing more than $7 million, the Malolo held up to 650 passengers and provided luxurious transportation to the fine new hotel.

The opening of the Moana Hotel, Aloha Tower, and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel increased Waikīkī’s reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. Guests such as Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Ford II, Babe Ruth, and Charlie Chaplin enjoyed the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s accommodations, as did a whole multitude of heirs, heiresses, and Hollywood stars. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stayed at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel during World War II.

The Moana Hotel is now called the Moana Surfrider Hotel and is a National Historical Landmark, as is the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

[Photograph: Royal Hawaiian Hotel]

Lei DayMay 1

Every year on May 1, the people of the Hawaiian Islands are encouraged to participate in Lei Day, making lei as well as wearing lei and giving them away. May Day is Lei Day in the Hawaiian Islands, and most schools celebrate Lei Day with festivals. Many other Lei Day events are held throughout the Islands.

In the Hawaiian Islands, the lei is the very symbol of friendship, aloha, and love. A lei is traditionally given on many different occasions, including birthdays, dances, graduations, weddings, and to welcome someone to the Islands.

To show appreciation to the giver of a lei, one may give a kiss and an embrace. It is said that if one makes a lei for another and thinks of that person as they make it, the lei will carry those feelings of love.

[Photographs: Lei]

Pearl Harbor

On Dec. 7, 1941, more than 350 Japanese bomber planes attacked Pearl Harbor and other military sites on O‘ahu. Thousands of members of the United States military died in the Pearl Harbor attack, which entered the United States into World War II.

Eight huge American battleships were sunk or damaged along with many other ships and hundreds of American planes. More than 1,000 men perished in the fiery sinking of the U.S.S. Arizona, which was docked at Battleship Row. United States anti-aircraft guns responded to the attack 15 minutes after the start of the bombing, destroying 29 Japanese planes and five submarines.

Just before the attack, newly installed U.S. Army radar equipment at ‘Ōpana had picked up a large blip, but assumed it was from incoming American B-17’s, and ignored the danger. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Martial Law was imposed in the Hawaiian Islands, and many restrictions were placed on residents of the Hawaiian Islands.

Curfews were imposed, residents were forced to turn off all lights at night, and everyone over the age of six was fingerprinted. Food and gas were rationed, alcohol was prohibited, and business hours were restricted.

During the next several years, hundreds of thousands of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps troops were stationed in the Hawaiian Islands and millions of servicemen passed through on their way to combat areas in the Pacific.

World War II officially ended on September 2, 1945 when the forces of Japan surrendered on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri battleship, which is now berthed at Pearl Harbor.

[Photographs: Pearl Harbor attack]

The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial

The U.S.S. Arizona Memorial honors those who died in the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the event that entered the United States into World War II. The Memorial is an open structure that is 184 feet long, and positioned directly over the sunken wreck of the U.S.S. Arizona.

Designated as a National Historical Landmark in 1989, the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial is now one of the most visited attractions in the Hawaiian Islands. The Memorial is toured by about 1.5 million people each year.

[Photograph: U.S.S. Arizona Memorial]

Hawai‘i’s Nisei Soldiers—The 442nd/100th

In 1942, approximately 1,300 Americans of Japanese ancestry from the Hawaiian Islands formed the 100th Infantry Battalion. The 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team was formed in 1943.

Both the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Infantry initially consisted of Nisei, the second generation Japanese-American volunteers who wanted to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States. The motto of the 442nd was “Go For Broke,” a Hawaiian slang term referring to risking everything. The 442nd later became known as the “Purple Heart Battalion” due to their fearlessness in combat.

In 1944 in Italy, the 100th Infantry joined ranks with the 442nd. The 442nd/100th eventually became the most decorated unit in U.S. history, earning more than 18,000 total awards for their brave fighting in numerous battles.

[Photograph: Senator Daniel Inouye (member of 442nd)]

The Democratic Revolution

After World War II ended, a new political movement was led by returning war veterans, including Hawai‘i’s Nisei soldiers, the second generation Japanese-Americans who served as distinguished members of the renowned 442nd Regimental Combat Team and 100th Infantry Battalion. These returning veterans won many important election victories in what became known as the Democratic Revolution of 1954.

Democrats favored statehood, liberal labor benefits, land reform, and equality in education. Supported by business leaders and large landowners, they encouraged a construction boom that included new airports, hotels, golf courses, and roads. Labor unrest that had come from more than a half century of control by the large sugar companies led to the rise of unions and increased workers’ rights.

In the 1970s as government employees earned the right to join unions and bargain for better contracts. Major strikes by dock workers and transit workers further increased power among labor groups.

Meanwhile, tourism numbers continued to rise, exceeding two million annual visitors by 1972, and five million by 1986. More than seven million visitors came to the Hawaiian Islands in both 2005 and 2006.


Tsunamis are large ocean waves created by earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. Tsunamis have killed more people in the Hawaiian Islands than all other natural disasters combined.

Tsunamis travel across the ocean at more than 475 miles (764 km) per hour. The deeper the ocean is, the faster the tsunami travels, and a tsunami is typically only several feet high as it travels across the ocean. The great danger of a tsunami only becomes apparent when the wave reaches shallow waters.

In 1946, an earthquake far to the north of the Islands caused a tsunami that killed 159 people on Hawai‘i Island. Water surged as high as 56 feet (17 m) above sea level in some places and destroyed 500 buildings in Hilo. An earthquake north of the Hawaiian Islands in 1957 caused a tsunami that destroyed 75 homes on Kaua‘i.

Another tsunami struck Hilo in 1960, killing 61 people and destroying hundreds of homes and buildings. Two strong earthquakes shook Hawai‘i Island in 1975, causing a tsunami that came ashore on Hawai‘i Island’s southeast coast, killing two people and injuring many others.

[Photograph: Tsunami]


On August 21, 1959, Hawai‘i was officially admitted as the 50th state of the United States. A 50th star was added to the U.S. flag on July 4, 1960, and the state flag of Hawai‘i was formally accepted.

Statehood brought an increase in jet travel to the Islands and further fueled the rapidly growing tourism industry. At the time of Statehood, the population of the Hawaiian Islands was about 622,000 people, with more than 240,000 annual visitors. In the decade after Statehood the number of tourists visiting the Hawaiian Islands quadrupled.

[Illustration: State Flag]

State of Hawai‘i Holidays

Ø New Year’s Day—January 1.

Ø Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day—January 19.

Ø Presidents’ Day—February 16.

Ø Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole Day—March 26.

Ø Good Friday—April 9.

Ø Memorial Day—May 31.

Ø King Kamehameha Day—June 11.

Ø Independence Day—July 11.

Ø Admissions Day—Third Friday in August.

Ø Labor Day—September 6.

Ø Veterans’ Day—November 1.

Ø Election Day—November 2.

Ø Thanksgiving Day—4th Thursday in November

Ø Christmas Day—December 25.

Elvis Presley in Hawai‘i

Elvis Presley filmed Blue Hawaii in the Hawaiian Islands in 1961 and it became his most successful movie. In the film, Elvis played Chad Gates, who avoids working in his family’s pineapple business by working for a travel agency.

Elvis sang the Hawaiian Wedding Song in the famous wedding scene atop a canoe in the lagoon at Kaua‘i’s Coco Palms Hotel. Other notable Elvis songs in the movie include Can’t Help Falling in Love and Aloha ‘Oe, which was written by Queen Lili‘uokalani in 1878.

In 1964, Elvis Presley filmed Paradise Hawaiian Style on Kaua‘i, portraying ex-airline pilot Rick Richards who ran a helicopter sightseeing business and found romance at different Island locations. Elvis performed his Aloha From Hawaii concert on O‘ahu in 1973. The show was broadcast live via satellite to an estimated 1.5 billion people.

[Photograph: Elvis outrigger canoe wedding scene; Elvis on Kaua‘i]

Eddie Would Go

Eddie Aikau became Waimea Bay’s first lifeguard in 1968, and went on to save the lives of many people who otherwise might have drowned in the rough ocean waters around the Hawaiian Islands. In 1971, Eddie was voted Lifeguard of the Year, and he later appeared in surf movies. Eddie was a talented musician who wrote songs and was proficient at slack-key guitar.

In 1978, Eddie Aikau was chosen to be one of the 16-member crew invited to sail to Tahiti on the Hōkūle‘a, a 62-foot (18.9-m) double-hulled Polynesian voyaging canoe that was built to reenact the ancient voyages of the Polynesians who first settled the Hawaiian Islands.

On the night of March 16, 1978 the Hōkūle‘a capsized in large swells and gale-force winds about 12 miles (19 km) off the island of Lāna‘i in the Kaiwi Channel, forcing the 15 crew members to cling to the voyaging canoe’s overturned hull.

In keeping with tradition, the Hōkūle‘a had no modern navigation equipment or communication equipment on board. Eddie Aikau disappeared after he volunteered to paddle his twelve-foot tandem surfboard to Lāna‘i for help. He was never seen again.

In 1987, an annual surf contest was initiated in honor of Eddie Aikau. Known as “The Eddie,” the contest matches the world’s best big wave surfers against each other in the biggest of waves. The Eddie is only held if the waves reach heights considered worthy of the Aikau name, at least 40 foot faces. The first contest was won by Clyde Aikau, the brother of Eddie Aikau.

Eddie Aikau was known for his humility, and for never seeking thanks or praise for his many heroic deeds. Today the saying “Eddie Would Go” recalls the selflessness and bravery of Eddie Aikau.

[Photograph: Eddie Aikau]

Kīlauea Volcano

Kīlauea Volcano on Hawai‘i Island has been erupting almost continuously since 1983, covering more than 38 square miles (98 square kilometers) of the island with lava. The flows also pour lava into the ocean along the southeastern coast of the island, building up more land and increasing the island’s size.

In 1984, Kīlauea Volcano erupted fiery fountains of lava to more than 1,500 feet (457 m) high. By 1991 more than 180 homes were buried or burned by the lava flows.

Thousands of people visit Hawai‘i Island just to see Kīlauea Volcano pour molten earth down the mountainside and into the sea. Streams of lava cascade up to 45 feet (14 m) off the seacliffs. The lava hisses and crackles as it plunges into the ocean and sends up hot clouds of steam.

[Photograph: Lava destroying homes; lava flowing into sea.]

The Legend of Pele

Pele is the legendary goddess of fire and volcanoes. She is known as a creator of mountains and islands, including the Hawaiian Islands. Pele is also a destroyer and a burner of lands.

According to legend, Pele protects her sacred fires today in Halema‘uma‘u Crater at the summit of Kīlauea Volcano on Hawai‘i Island. Wherever the ground is hot and steam hisses up from cracks in the earth, wherever the glow of molten rock and the smell of sulfur fill the air and lava erupts in fiery fountains into the sky, “...‘ae aia la ‘o Pele”—“...there is Pele.”

[Illustration: Pele]

Mauna Kea Astronomy

Atop the 13,796-foot summit of Mauna Kea Volcano on Hawai‘i Island there are thirteen major astronomical observatories operated by 11 countries. The telescopes atop Mauna Kea are the world’s largest group of astronomical observatories, and scientists from around the world use the telescopes to conduct a wide variety of scientific research.

The largest telescopes atop Mauna Kea are the twin Keck Telescopes, completed in 1992 and 1996. The Keck telescopes are the largest optical-infrared telescopes in the world. Each Keck dome cost $70 million and measures 111 feet tall.

[Photograph: Keck Telescopes]

Hurricane ‘Iniki Devastates Kaua‘i

On September 11, 1992, Hurricane ‘Iniki made a direct hit on the island of Kaua‘i and destroyed many homes and businesses. Kaua‘i residents endured ferocious winds as they huddled in shelters throughout the island.

As Hurricane ‘Iniki moved over Kaua‘i, one ferocious gust of wind within the hurricane was measured at 227 miles (365 km) per hour by wind gauging equipment at the Navy’s Mākaha Ridge radar station just before the equipment was blown off the mountain!

Property damage due to Hurricane ‘Iniki totaled more than $3 billion, including damage to over 70% of Kaua‘i’s homes. In all, about 14,000 homes and apartments were damaged and 1,421 homes were completely destroyed.

[Photograph: Hurricane]

Bruddah Iz

Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole, a pure-blooded Hawaiian, was born on O‘ahu in 1959. His first musical group was called the Mākaha Sons of Ni‘ihau. In 1993 Israel began his solo career and quickly became the most popular entertainer and singer in the Hawaiian Islands. He also won many awards and gained international fame.

Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole was said to be the ali‘i (royalty) of the common people of the Hawaiian Islands. He passed away in 1997 at age 38, and his memorial was attended by more than 20,000 people. Israel’s ashes were scattered off O‘ahu’s Mākua Beach.

[Photograph: Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole]

Rell Kapolioka‘ehukai Sunn

Queen of Mākaha

Rell Kapolioka‘ehukai Sunn (1950-1998) excelled not only at surfing, but also at bodysurfing, outrigger canoe paddling, and spearfishing. She was also a kumu hula and a black belt in martial arts.

Rell won the Hawaiian Junior Championships, and in 1966 she competed in the world championships. For many years Rell was ranked as one of the world’s top women surfers. She also earned a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Hawai‘i.

Truly an all around waterwoman, Rell was an expert diver and was the first female lifeguard in the Hawaiian Islands. She was also an international surfing champion and a founder of the Women’s Professional Surfing Association.

Rell was a tireless advocate of children’s surfing, and founded the Rell Sunn Menehune Championships at Mākaha in 1976. In 1982 she was the top ranked longboard champion.

Rell Kapolioka‘ehukai Sunn passed away due to cancer on January 2, 1998 at the age of 47. Rell was loved and respected by many, and thousands of people attended her funeral at Mākaha.

Rell’s middle name, Kapolioka‘ehukai, was given to her by her grandmother, and means “Heart of the sea.” She was affectionately known as the Queen of Mākaha.

[Photograph: Rell Sunn]

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are a common sight in Hawaiian waters during winter. Adult humpback whales may be more than 45 feet (14 m) long and weigh more than 40 tons, and they jump from the water in spectacular breaches. Seeing these massive whales leap out of the water and come crashing down onto the ocean’s surface is the highlight of any whale-watching trip.

The ocean surrounding the Hawaiian Islands are the breeding and birthing waters of more than 4,000 humpback whales that arrive around October and stay as late as May. The whales spend the summer months in Alaskan waters feeding and then migrate to Hawaiian waters for the winter where they mate and give birth.

The first humpbacks to come to the Hawaiian Islands each year are the whales that gave birth the previous year along with their yearling calves. The last humpback whales to arrive are the pregnant mothers who stay in northern waters as long as possible so they are well fed before heading south.

Humpback calves are about 12 feet (3.7 m) long at birth and feed on more than 100 gallons (379 liters) of their mother’s milk each day.

In 1992, a large area around the Hawaiian Islands was designated as the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Today more than 300,000 people go on whale-watching trips in Hawaiian waters each year.

[Photograph/Illustration: Breaching humpback whale]

The Hawaiian Renaissance

The 1963 essay titled On Being Hawaiian was written by John Dominis Holt and is considered by many to be an important work that inspired a “Hawaiian Renaissance,” celebrating a renewal of Hawaiian culture and traditions. This was given further impetus in the 1970s when protests began to stop the military use of the island of Kaho‘olawe for bombing practice. (See Kaho‘olawe, Chapter 2.)

Some say the “Hawaiian Renaissance” began when the Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe was launched in 1975 with the goal of demonstrating that migrating Polynesians could have sailed east against the prevailing winds. Voyagers have now sailed the 62-foot (18.9-m) long canoe more than 100,000 miles (160,934 km), including many major Pacific voyages.

Several more voyaging canoes have now been built, including the 57-foot (17.4-m) long Hawai‘iloa, which made its first voyage in 1995 and was built almost entirely out of traditional materials. More recently the Makali‘i, Nāmāhoe, and Hōkūalaka‘i have been constructed.

This growing voyaging canoe fleet is helping native groups to continue their quest for traditional knowledge while educating local children about Hawaiian canoe culture and non-instrument navigating.

[Photograph: Voyaging Canoe]

Poho pono na pe‘a heke a ku ana.

A well-filled topsail helped him to arrive.

Said of a fast traveler.[xiv]

Recent decades have seen a continued resurgence in traditional Hawaiian cultural knowledge and practices, infusing the native population with a renewed spirit and pride in ancient traditions.

The “Hawaiian Renaissance” has been enlivened by musicians and writers, and is celebrated in many annual festivals and competitions. The number of speakers of the Hawaiian language also continues to grow, with a new generation now learning the Hawaiian language and keeping the culture alive, perpetuating ancient Hawaiian knowledge and traditions.

Today the number of native Hawaiian speakers is estimated to be more than 10,000 people, and most are younger than thirty years old. Music written and sung in the Hawaiian language has also become increasingly popular.

Increasing cultural awareness has also brought new efforts toward resolution of Hawaiian sovereignty issues.

In 1993, President Clinton signed a Joint Resolution of Congress (Public Law 103-150), which “...apologizes to the Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893,” and supports “...reconciliation efforts between the United States and the Native Hawaiian people.”[xv]

More recently, Daniel Akaka sponsored the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act (Akaka Bill), which sought to protect Hawaiian entitlements and provide federal recognition to native Hawaiians.

The Akaka Bill was passed by the United States House in 2000 but then refused a vote in the Senate. The bill was blocked by the Senate again in 2002, and then approved by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in 2003 before being blocked by Republicans.

In 2004, the House Resources Committee passed the Akaka Bill. Then it was dropped in exchange for a promise that it would be put to a floor vote of the Senate the following year. In 2005, however, a vote on the bill was blocked by a group of Republican senators.

The Akaka Bill apparently met its final demise in 2006, although new approaches are being developed to deal with a variety of issues affecting native Hawaiians.

On June 23, 2006 the Office of Hawaiian Affairs approved a plan of action called Ho‘oulu Lāhui Aloha (“To Raise a Beloved Nation”) to develop a Native Hawaiian registry known as Kau Inoa (kau means “to place”; inoa means “name”), which will serve as the voting base in forming a new entity that will seek self-government rights, including the right to form a “nation-within-a-nation,” Hawaiians-only government.

Kau Inoa will then attempt to negotiate with the state and federal governments over money, land, and other assets. As of April, 2007, more than 61,000 were registered. (See Chapter 11, Timeline: 2006, June 23.)

[Photograph: Kamehameha Schools Song Competition]

Modern Waikīkī

Waikīkī is only about ½-mile (.8 km) wide and less than 2 miles (3.2 km) long, but in this relatively small area there are about 1,000 stores, 500 restaurants, and 200 hotels and condominiums. More than 25,000 people live in Waikīkī, and another 70,000 tourists visit each day.

Surfers flock to Waikīkī’s many white-sand beaches. Tourists and locals alike fill the sidewalks along Kalākaua Avenue to see the famous old hotels and historic statues, rent surfboards from the Beachboy surf stands, and shop in Waikīkī’s hundreds of stores and restaurants.

[Photograph: Waikīkī]

The Hawaiian Islands Today

During the last decade, Hawai‘i’s economy has thrived as the state continues to attract an ever-increasing number of visitors from around the world—more than seven million in the year 2005. Visitors come to the Islands for the ideal climate, stunning natural beauty, and genuine aloha spirit of Hawai‘i’s people.

Many native Hawaiians continue their ancient traditions and native culture—fishing, hunting, gathering plants from the land and limu from the ocean, stringing beautiful flower lei, and spending time with their ‘ohana (extended families).

[Photograph: ‘Ohana]

Hawaiian Wildlife and Endangered Species

The Hawaiian Islands can be a rugged and unforgiving place—volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, landslides, tsunamis—and the daily news often tells of rescues on the rough seas and in the treacherous mountains. Yet Hawai‘i is also a beautiful and enchanted land, a place of sandy beaches and colorful rainbows, waterfall-laced mountains and lush valleys.

The tropical landscapes of the Hawaiian Islands are filled with rare and extraordinary plants, animals, and birds while the coral reefs offshore support an amazing variety of fish and marine life. Scientists come to the Islands from around the world to study the plants, birds, fish, and other species of the Hawaiian Islands.

Isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian Islands are home to many rare life forms, and also have many endangered species. Hawai‘i also accounts for nearly three-fourths of all United States’ plant and animal extinctions, and about half of Hawai‘i’s unique bird species are already extinct.

Many endangered Hawaiian species populations have been protected, including the state bird, the nēnē goose, which was nearly extinct in 1949 when only 30 birds remained in the wild. The nēnē is now making a remarkable comeback.

[i] Hawaiian words in this book conform to proper Hawaiian spellings, including diacritical marks—the glottal stop (‘okina) and the macron (kahakō).[i] However, to preserve the authenticity of quotes, all cited material is presented as originally written, and has not been altered to conform to proper spelling and punctuation.

[ii] Island ages based on: Blay, Chuck, and Siemers, Robert. Kauai‘’s Geologic History: A Simplified Guide. Kaua‘i: TEOK Investigations, 2004.

[iii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[iv] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[v] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[vi] p. 276, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 2523.

[vii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[viii] p. 309, p. xxiv, Desha, Stephen L., translated by Frazier, Frances N. Kamehameha and his Warrior Kekūhaupi‘o. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 2000; originally published in Ka Hoku o Hawaii (The Star of Hawai‘i) between December 16, 1920 and September 11, 1924.

[ix] p. 161, Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. & Mookini, Esther T. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.

[x] p. 201, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 1868.

[xi] p. 307, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 2786.

[xii] ‘Iolani Palace is located at King and Richards Streets in Honolulu; phone: 808-522

-0832; internet site:; guided tours offered to the public from 9 to 2:15, Tuesday to Saturday; gallery 9-4. The non-profit organization Friends of ‘Iolani Palace now runs the Palace as a museum, offering guided tours of the United States’ only royal palace.

[xiii] Stevenson also visited Waikīkī in 1889

[xiv] p. 293, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 2681.

[xv] The Apology to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the United States for the Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Kapolei, Hawai‘i: Ka‘imi Pono Press, 1994.