The Hawaiian Islands are of volcanic origin. They were created by a so-called hot spot on the ocean floor about 70 million years ago. The oldest Hawaiian island is Kure Atoll and the youngest one is the Big Island of Hawaii, which rose to the surface about one million years ago.
The First Settlers
It is believed that the first settlers, who were originally from the Marquesas Islands, arrived in Hawaii some time around the 4th or 5th century AD. They crossed 2,500 miles of ocean in double-hulled voyaging canoes and used the stars to guide them. With them they brought some crops, such as taro and breadfruit, as well as animals. Archaeologists believe that a second wave of Polynesian voyagers arrived around 1000 AD, who were from Tahiti.
It was this second group of settlers who established the kapu system. Kapu means “taboo” or “forbidden” in the Hawaiian language. It was a law system that prohibited many things and was designed to keep order. So it was forbidden for commoners to merely walk in the shadow of an ali'i (chief). Also, women were not allowed to eat together with men, or to eat bananas or pork. One wasn't allowed to interrupt a chief if he was speaking, and the list goes on.
The punishment for breaking a kapu was usually death. If the offense was very serious, the entire family of the offender was killed as well. During this time, human sacrifices were common.
The first Europeans arrived much later in Hawaii, beginning with English explorer Captain James Cook in 1778, who named the islands he discovered the Sandwich Islands after the English Earl of Sandwich.
The natives greeted Cook with bewilderment and joy, believing that he was Lono, the god of fertility of the land. Cook was eventually killed after a dispute in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. At the time of Cook's visit, the archipelago was divided into three kingdoms: Hawaii, Oahu and Maui, and Lanai and Molokai.
Unifying the Islands
King Kamehameha the Great (1758-1819) was Hawaii's most powerful king. Born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii, Kamehameha participated in numerous battles in his early years. After he became ruler of the Big Island, his next goal was to rule all the other islands as well. In 1795 his warriors arrived on Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Oahu and later Kauai, defeating the local rulers of these islands. In that year Kamehameha conquered and unified the Hawaiian Islands. Shortly after his death, the kapu system was abolished.
The Missionaries and the Monarchy
In 1820, the missionaries arrived in Hawaii. King Kamehameha III ruled the Islands from 1825 until his death in 1854. He listened to advice from the missionaries and allowed them to establish schools and preach Christianity. The missionaries developed the Hawaiian alphabet and taught it to the people. They also used it to translate the Bible into the Hawaiian language. Kamehameha III instituted religious freedom in 1839, and a year later established a constitutional monarchy.
The Sugar Industry
The sugar industry was introduced in Hawaii in the 1830s. Also, businesspeople from all over the world arrived in the Islands to exploit Hawaii's sandalwood and whales. During the same time, plantation workers were brought to Hawaii from foreign countries. Hawaii's feudal land system was abolished in 1848, which made private ownership legal.
From this point on, capital investment in the land was possible. The leaders of Hawaii themselves participated in these ventures and became more affluent. The Hawaiian government sold large chunks of land to foreigners, government officials and royalty. The ones who suffered were the Hawaiian commoners because they were stripped of their land where they had lived on for generations.
Threatened by European nations wanting to add Hawaii to their empires, American businessmen began to seek annexation by the United States. In 1875, a treaty of reciprocity was negotiated and renewed in 1884, but not ratified. It was ratified in 1887 when an amendment was added that gave the U.S.A. the exclusive right to establish a naval base at Pearl Harbor.
Lili'uokalani's Rise to Power
Queen Lili'uokalani took the oath to maintain the constitution of 1887. The legislative session of 1892 was extended to eight months because of Lili'uokalani's determination to carry through the opium and lottery bills and to have a workable cabinet.
Lili'uokalani had a new constitution drawn up, which resulted in an absolute monarchy and disfranchised a large group of citizens who had voted since 1887. At a public meeting a Committee of Safety was appointed, which issued a proclamation declaring the monarchy to be abolished and establishing a provisional government.
In the meantime, volunteer troops arrived and occupied the grounds. By the advice of her ministers, the Lili'uokalani surrendered under protest, appealing to the United States to reinstate her authority.
A treaty of annexation was negotiated with the United States during the next month, just before the close of President Benjamin Harrison's administration, but it was withdrawn in March 1893 by President Harrison's successor, President Cleveland.
A constitution for the Republic of Hawaii was framed in 1894, with Sanford B. Dole as its first president. A plot was formed to overthrow the republic and to restore the monarchy. But that plan was broken up when a police squad alarmed the town in advance.
Queen Lili'uokalani was arrested and imprisoned for nine months in the former palace after weapons and ammunition and incriminating documents were found on her premises. She renounced all claim to the throne in January 1895 and took an oath of allegiance to the new republic.
The “Modern Era”
In March 1897, President McKinley was inaugurated and negotiations with the U.S. resumed. Shortly after, Hawaii was annexed by a joint resolution of Congress. The U.S. flag was raised over the executive building in August 1898, and in 1900, Hawaii became an official territory of the United States.
Sugar and pineapple were the main industries in the early 20th century. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Oahu, which led the U.S. to enter World War II. In World War II, Hawaii served as an important base for operations in the Pacific.
In 1958, Hawaii's citizens voted in favor of becoming a U.S. state. In March 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill which led to statehood. Hawaii became the 50th state on August 21, 1959. Tourism is one of Hawaii's main industries today.