Western Contact

Western Contact

After Captain Cook established Western contact with the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, the physical and cultural landscape of the Islands underwent rapid change.

Foreign diseases were brought by Cook’s crew, and then by other exploration and trading ships that arrived during the following decades on their way to and from China. Native Hawaiians had little immunity to these foreign diseases, which decimated the native population.

Captain Cook’s ships also brought pigs that were larger than the Polynesian-introduced pigs. Vancouver’s expeditions in 1792, 1793 and 1794 brought sheep, goats and cattle. These introduced species quickly began to have negative effects on native plants, birds, and other species.

In 1820, the First Company of American missionaries arrived on the 85-foot brig Thaddeus and began to actively convert native Hawaiians to Christianity. Missionaries continued arriving in the Hawaiian Islands throughout the following decades, culminating with the Twelfth Company of American missionaries in 1848.

The missionaries preached, built schools, and increasingly exerted a significant influence on native ways of life while discouraging many traditional cultural beliefs and practices, including hula.

E kipi ana lākou nei. ‘A‘ole na‘e o lākou pono‘ī akā lākou mau keiki me na mo‘opuna. O ke ali‘i e ola ana ia wā e ku ‘ōlohelohe ana

ia, a o ke aupuni e kūkulu ‘ia aku ana, oia ke aupuni

pa‘a o Hawai‘i nei.

These people [the missionaries] are going to rebel; not they themselves, but their children and grandchildren. The ruler at that time will be stripped of power, and the government established then will be the permanent government of Hawai‘i.

Prophesied by David Malo.

(Pukui: 321-39)

A sandalwood trade began in 1791 and lasted until 1840, bringing a steady influx of foreign products to the Hawaiian Islands. The arduous labor involved in sandalwood harvesting further degraded traditional ways of life and caused a sharp decline in traditional food production, including a marked decrease in the farming of kalo (Colocasia esculenta, taro), an important staple food of early Hawaiians.

The era of whaling began in 1819, and during the following decades whaling ships brought tens of thousands of foreigners to the Hawaiian Islands. In 1846 alone, 596 whaling ships visited the Hawaiian Islands. Traditional Hawaiian ways of life continued to be affected by the influx of foreigners and there was a marked increase in alcohol consumption among residents of the Hawaiian Islands.

In 1829, missionaries in the Hawaiian Islands selected a 12-letter alphabet in order to develop a written Hawaiian language that was modeled after the oral Hawaiian language. The missionaries outlined a structure that adopted five vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) and seven consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, and w), attempting to accurately represent the sounds of Hawaiian words with English letters.

In 1836, Lorrin Andrews (1795-1868) compiled a list of 5,700 words, the first significant Hawaiian-English vocabulary (some earlier lists were published—see Hawaiian Language, Chapter 3). Andrews was head of Maui’s Lahainaluna School, which was founded in 1831 by American Protestant missionaries as a seminary of advanced education for young Hawaiian men, with an overarching missionary goal of advancing Christianity.

Commercial production of sugarcane in the Hawaiian Islands began in Kōloa, Kaua‘i in 1835, and then began to significantly increase throughout the Islands in 1856. The advent of commercial sugarcane production led to the immigration of hundreds of thousands of foreign laborers, and this rapidly changed the demographic makeup of the Hawaiian Islands.

Sugar production became a major industry affecting all facets of island life, bringing vast political, social, economic, and environmental changes. In 1893, prominent sugar merchants in the Hawaiian Islands were directly linked to the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Throughout the 1800s, foreign diseases continued to decimate the native Hawaiian population, which went from an estimated 300,000 in 1778 to about 40,000 in 1890. (Note: Estimates of the Hawaiian population at the time of Western contact in 1778 vary from 200,000 to more than 700,000.)

The decline of the native Hawaiian population occurred even as the non-native population of the Hawaiian Islands continued to grow with the steady influx of immigrant laborers who came to work on the sugar plantations.

Foreign introduced diseases that significantly affected the native population included measles, smallpox, Asiatic cholera, whooping cough, scarlet fever, diphtheria, influenza, syphilis, gonorrhea, bubonic plague, dysentery, and numerous other maladies that took many native lives.

Throughout the 1900s, tourism increasingly became a driving force of the economy of the Hawaiian Islands. Everything changed, however, on December 7, 1941 when 350 Japanese bomber planes attacked Pearl Harbor, killing 2,383 people and wounding another 1,178. The attack on Pearl Harbor also sunk eight huge American battleships, damaging 21 ships in all and destroying 347 planes, and entering the United States into World War II.

During the following years, hundreds of thousands of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps troops were stationed in the Hawaiian Islands. Millions of servicemen passed through the Islands on their way to combat areas in the Pacific. This large military presence in the Hawaiian Islands was another significant factor changing the demographic makeup of the Hawaiian Islands.