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Kingdom of Hawaiʻi

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The Royal Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Hawaii, adopted in 1845. The text, "Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono", means "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness".
Tomorrow is a mystery,
but yesterday is

Icon history.svg
Secrets of times gone by
♫ʻO ka haliʻa aloha i hiki mai

♫Ke hone aʻe nei i
♫Kuʻu manawa
♫ʻO ʻoe nō kuʻu ipo aloha

♫A loko e hana nei
—"Aloha ʻOe", Liliʻuokalani[1][note 1][note 2]

The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was a formerly independent country located in the Hawaiian archipelago. It got its official start in 1795, when Kamehameha IWikipedia (1758–1819), also known as Kamehameha the Great, conquered four of the islands and united them with his home island of Hawaiʻi.[3] Fifteen years later, the two remaining islands would join the kingdom voluntarily, uniting the archipelago. The United States was the kingdom's closest trading partner and they kept a close eye on the islands to make sure that competing colonial powers like Britain, Germany, and Japan wouldn't take control of the islands, but as time went on, the white American planters would have an increasing amount of influence on the islands, and in 1887, a group of these planters would lead a coup against the kingdom. The kingdom would have its last real gasp of independence in 1893, when another coup overthrew Queen LiliʻuokalaniWikipedia (1838–1917). Hawaii would then become a republic dominated by white American planters, and 5 years later would be officially annexed by the US.[4]


The rock that Kamehameha I supposedly turned over to prove he was king.

Hawaii was first settled sometime between 300 and 600 CE by a group of Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands, in modern-day French Polynesia.Wikipedia Sometime later, a second wave of settlers from Tahiti would arrive; there would be tensions between these two groups.[5] The islands would later develop complex social hierarchies, with the aliʻi being the top class, composed of the moʻi (king) and kahuna (craftsmen and priests), while most people belonged to the makaʻainana, with the outcasts going to the kauwa. The islands also developed a complex religious code called the kapu, which were supposedly handed down by the gods and ancestor spirits, who mandated the acceptable food to eat, clothes to wear, and how to interact with a chief, among other things.[6] Additionally, native Hawaiians had well-developed systems of agriculture, fishing, navigating, and art.[7]

The first European to arrive was Captain James Cook, a British explorer who was tasked with finding the legendary Northwest Passage.Wikipedia In 1778, while traveling to the northwest of North America after going around Australia, he spotted the island of Oahu and would land on the island of Kauai. The islands would initially be called the "Sandwich Islands", after Cook's financier, James Montague, Earl of Sandwich.[8] Initially, the relations between Cook and the islanders were friendly, and Cook and his crew slept with much of the island's women, but they would bring tuberculosis and venereal disease to the islands.[9] However, on Cook's third arrival on the islands, which happened to coincide with the four-month-long religious festival of Makahiki, their relations would fall part due to the ship and festival using up most of the island's resources, and Cook was forced to leave. Unfortunately for Cook, a storm would force him to return to the islands, and this time the islanders had had enough of him and tore apart his ship for resources. In response, Cook and a few of his marines would try to kidnap one of the high-ranking aliʻi; Cook and four of the marines were killed in the ensuing scuffle.[10]

The famous statue of Kamehameha I, commissioned by King David Kalākaua and sculpted by Thomas Ridgeway Gould. Since no one was quite sure what Kamehameha looked like, the design took influence from a photograph of John Tamatoa Baker,Wikipedia a Roman statue of Augustus, and a French copy of a Chinese copy of a Russian watercolor of the king. The designers took care to make it accurate to native Hawaiian culture, but the sandals are of a more European design and a Hawaiian would not let their cape drag on the ground, as it could damage the delicate feathers in it.[11]

During this time, the Hawaiian archipelago was divided between multiple rulers and chieftains. Supposedly born on the year of Halley's Comet, Kamehameha (birth name Paiea) fulfilled a prophecy when he was able to overturn the Naha Stone.Wikipedia With the help of Western weapons, Kamehameha the Great was able to win the Battle of Kepaniwai,Wikipedia which led Kamehameha to take over Maui, and the Battle of Nuʻuanu,Wikipedia where he took over Oahu. By 1810, when the leader of Kauai agreed to become a tributary of Kamehameha, the islands were finally united. With their unification, Hawaii was able to stave off colonization for a few more decades.[12]


ʻIolani Palace, the residence of the royal family and the only royal palace on U.S. soil. The original was torn down due to termite damage, but the palace was rebuilt in 1882 under King David Kalākaua.[13]

Shortly after independence, Hawaii was a frequent stop for whaling expeditions, and they were able to make some money off of taxing the whalers. The British and American Protestant Missionary societies agreed to each Christianize half of the Pacific, with the Americans getting the islands north of the Equator, including Hawaii.[14] These missionaries would arrive in 1820, one year after the death of Kamehameha I; they introduced Christianity to the islands and discouraged native traditions. The descendants of the missionaries would become the dominant elites of the islands, putting them firmly in the American sphere of influence.[15] While not colonized, Hawaii was on the radar of many of the colonial empires of the time. In 1838, Hawaii was occupied by the British Empire for five months due to a land dispute with a British citizen.[16] In 1849, a French admiral named Louis Tromelin invaded Honolulu, partially due to the persecution of Catholics but mostly to secure French trade interests in the region.[17] These events would lead the rulers of Hawaii to seek closer relations with the United States.[16]

Kamehameha III's cabinet was filled with foreign ministers, who by that point would hold most of the real power. A big change happened in 1850, when foreigners were allowed to own land in Hawaii.[16] The descendants of the missionaries quickly bought up most of the land and turned it into sugar plantations, essentially turning Hawaii into a banana republic.[18] Foreign laborers from many countries including China, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and Korea were brought to Hawaii to work for the sugar plantations; the largest group was the Japanese, of which 80,000 would be brought to the islands by 1900.[19] At the same time, the native Hawaiians were dying out due to disease; by 1832, there were only around 130,000 native Hawaiians left (out of an initial population between 300,000 and 1,000,000), and by 1900, the population had declined to only 28,000.[20] When Kamehameha V died without an heir, David KalākauaWikipedia (1836–1891) was elected as the next Hawaiian monarch. He composed Hawaii's first national anthem, was able to implement some reforms, such as unbanning the hula (which had been banned since 1820), and was the first monarch to circumnavigate the world, travelling to far-off places like China, Egypt, and of course, the U.S., but he was still limited by the power of the white missionary class, and the tensions would soon reach a breaking point.[21]

American conquest[edit]

U.S. Marines raising the American flag in ʻIolani Palace during the annexation of Hawaii.

Kalākaua was well aware that the American business owners were a threat to the sovereignty of his kingdom. On the other hand, he needed to placate them in order to stay in power, and the Americans did at least protect them from other colonial powers like Britain, France, and Germany. Thus, he had to play both sides by seeking closer relationships with countries that could protect Hawaii from American colonization, all while staying close to America; his apocryphal last words were fabricated by novelist Eugene Burns, in Hawaiian, "tell them that I tried."[22][note 3] In 1867, the U.S. annexed the nearby Midway Islands, so named because they were about midway between the U.S. and Japan.[23] The American-owned plantations would become more powerful with the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875,Wikipedia which allowed Hawaiian sugar to be sold in the U.S. without levies or tariffs and also gave the U.S. Pearl Harbor.[24] Twelve years later, Kalākaua would be forced at gunpoint to sign the "Bayonet Constitution", which took power away from the monarchy and gave it to the settler-dominated legislature. The document was written by the Hawaiian League, a group led by the grandson of one of the missionaries that was plotting U.S. annexation of Hawaii, with the closely-associated militia group known as the Hawaiian Rifles forcing the king to sign it.[25]

Kalākaua died in 1891, and he was succeeded by his sister Liliʻuokalani, who was no fan of the constitution that was forced on her country. She would write a new constitution for the country, which would give her power over the islands' governors and legislature and would also lower the property requirements for voting (as the old ones made it virtually impossible for native Hawaiians to vote).[26] The white planters reacted about as well as you'd expect. In 1893, the Hawaiian League, now rebranded as the "Committee of Safety", took over Aliʻiolani Hale (which was next to ʻIolani Palace). On January 16, U.S. Marines arrived to the island, supposedly under orders on neutrality, but the message was sent to Liliʻuokalani, who, outgunned, surrendered a day later to avoid bloodshed.[27] A provisional government would be led by Sanford Dole, cousin of James Dole, who founded the Dole Fruit Company.Wikipedia Even U.S. President Grover Cleveland wanted Liliʻuokalani to be put back on the throne, but Dole refused his request.[28] Ultimately, the more imperialist William McKinley would annex Hawaii in 1898 shortly after the Spanish-American War. The islands would become an official U.S. territory in 1900, and Dole would be its first governor.[29]


The U.S.'s conquest of Hawaiʻi just led to more of the same domination by white planters over the economy; this would only begin to change after statehood when tourism became a bigger industry. The Hawaiian language was banned in 1896, and many Hawaiians would later see their lands taken away to fuel the tourism industry.[30] Native Hawaiians still suffer from a disproportionate rate of poverty and poor access to education,[31] though on a happier note the native population is starting to rebound.[32] Native Hawaiians are still fighting for their land rights,[33] and there is even a Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement that calls for greater self-determination for the Native Hawaiians,[34] but with the U.S.'s vastly superior military and economy they aren't likely to get anywhere soon.[note 4]


  1. Translation: Sweet memories come back to me / Bringing fresh remembrances / Of the past / Dearest one, yes, you are mine own / From you, true love shall never depart
  2. As the song was written by the last monarch of Hawaiʻi, it is heavily associated with the fall of the Hawaiian Kingdom and is considered a symbol of Hawaiʻi in general.[2]
  3. Kalakaua's actual last words were the less dramatic:[22]

  4. There's a strong Puerto Rican independence movement too, with a slightly higher chance of success, but given the inertia Congress has been in for the past decade it's unlikely to go anywhere as well, despite PR not being a state.


  1. Aloha’oe (Farewell to Thee), Poetry Foundation
  2. How the Music of Hawaiʻi’s Last Ruler Guided the Island’s People Through Crisis, Jane Recker, Smithsonian 26 March 2019
  3. Kamehameha the Great, National Park Service
  4. Hawaiian Monarchy Overthrown; Territory of Hawaii, Nisei Veterans Legacy
  5. When did people first come to Hawaii?, Kona Coffee
  6. What Pre-American Hawaii was really like, Deborah Kennedy, Grunge 8 March 2021
  7. European Contact & Colonization, National Park Service
  8. Why Was Hawaii Called The Sandwich Islands?, GrouperSandwich
  9. How the foolish rumour that Hawaiians ate Cook began, Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa, NITV, 14 February 2019
  10. Cook Landing Site, HI, National Park Service
  11. Kamehameha I Statue, Architect of the Capitol
  12. The Story of King Kamehameha I, Go Hawaii
  13. Iolani Palace, Go Hawaii
  14. Hey royal watchers! UK and Hawaii share a long, rich history, Jonathan Saupe, Hawaii News Now 19 May 2018
  15. Christian Missionaries in Hawaii, Alice Kim, University of Hawaii
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Hawaii, Alvita Akiboh, US History Scene
  17. French Invasion of Honolulu, Peter T. Young, Images of Old Hawaii, 25 August 2013
  18. How Sugar Brought An End to Hawaii's Nationhood, NPR 26 February 2012
  19. History of Labor in Hawai‘i, University of Hawai‘i
  20. A Wholesome Horror: The Stigmas of Leprosy in 19th Century Hawaii, Ron Amundson, Disability Studies Quarterly 2010
  21. King David Kalākaua: The Original Most Interesting Man In The World, Meghan B. Kelly, wbur 10 August 2018
  22. 22.0 22.1 Kalakaua's Famous Last Words? We thought we knew Kalakaua’s deathbed words. We were wrong. by David Thompson (February 27, 2013) Honolulu Magazine.
  23. Chronology, Midway Islands
  24. Reciprocity Treaty of 1875, Kate Farr, Dartmouth
  25. Jul 6, 1887 CE: Bayonet Constitution, National Geographic Society
  26. Draft Constitution of January 14, 1893, Hawaii Nation
  27. 13 Signatories, Peter T. Young, Images of Old Hawaii 10 July 2015
  28. Sanford Ballard Dole, Hawaii History
  29. Annexation of Hawaii, 1898, US Department of State
  30. The Struggle For Hawaiian Sovereignty - Introduction, Trask Haunami-Kay, Cultural Survival March 2000
  31. Poverty Persists Among Hawaiians Despite Low Unemployment, Anita Hofschneider, CivilBeat 19 September 2018
  32. It Took Two Centuries, But The Native Hawaiian Population May Be Bouncing Back, Gene Demby, NPR 18 April 2015
  33. The Government Promised to Return Ancestral Hawaiian Land, Then Never Finished the Job, Rob Perez and Agnel Phillip, ProPublica 19 December 2020
  34. What Is the Hawai‘i Sovereignty Movement?, Aislyn Greene, Afar 2 September 2021