History of the Hawaiian Islands
Who's Telling the Story? Does it Matter?
Events and people in Hawaii's history have received a lot
of attention in recent years -- the fact that you're reading
this is evidence of that!
There are many differing interpretations of what Hawaii was
like before western contact, the abilities and accomplishments
of the rulers in leading the people of the islands into relationships
with the wider world after centuries of near isolation, and
what actually happened during the period where the sovereignty
of the islands passed from the Kingdom of Hawai'i to the United
States. There are as many differing opinions of what all of
this means today.
When studying history, it's important to understand the difference
between facts and interpretations or opinions. Some believe
that sovereignty never did pass to the U.S., and this opinion
is valid, so even the statement above would be considered
interpretation! Others believe that the system of government
chosen by the citizens of the United States is superior to
any other, and this opinion is also valid, so these folks
might think it's meaningless to say any more than Hawaii's
now a state, everyone's better off, and all that stuff happened
a long time ago, so what difference does it make? These are
ONLY opinions and beliefs, though, they are not facts.
Another important consideration when studying history is
that we need to try to put ourselves in the time and place
of the people and events we study. Times were different. Customs
were different. Even some of the laws were different. Neither
Hawaii nor the United States was much then like each is today.
No matter how significant or isolated any single event may
seem, it should also be viewed in relation to other events,
in the islands, in the United States; and around the world.
A final consideration is to remember that the writer of any
history has a reason for writing what they do. This is called
motive and can influence the way an event or person is described.
Nearly all of what is written about Hawaii's history is tainted
by the motivation of the writer, including what you're reading
As you use the resources we've gathered here, please keep
these things in mind. What we know of Hawaii's history is
in as much flux as the times themselves. Much of what has
been written would have us believe that pre-contact natives
were savages, that the rulers were incompetent, and that the
overthrow, annexation, and ultimately statehood was good for
Hawaii, that it's what Hawaii's people wanted and that it's
what the people of the United States wanted. As is often the
case, it depends on who you ask!
We've divided Hawaii's history into four distinct periods:
- Ancient Times - Contact
Origins of the islands through European contact in the 18th
Century: Volcanoes; Polynesian voyaging; first settlers;
James Cook; Kamehameha the Great.
- Monarchy Years
19th Century: unification of the islands; missionaries;
Kamehameha Dynasty; international relations; trade and commerce;
immigration; constitutional government; Monarchs; overthrow
of the Kingdom of Hawaii; transitional government.
- Territorial Years
20th Century: Annexation of Hawaii to the United States;
territorial government; plantations; unions; Pearl Harbor;
World War II; post-war business and politics.
- Statehood to Present
Modern Hawaii: tourism; agriculture; military; education;
economy; government; social and political issues.