Lots of things were happening in the Islands when Columbus crossed the Atlantic in 1492 on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.
About that time, four major leaders ruled over various Islands in the Hawaiian Islands: Māʻilikūkahi on Oʻahu, ʻUmi-a-Līloa on Hawaiʻi, Piʻilani on Maui and Kukona on Kauaʻi.
Early in his reign, Māʻilikūkahi moved to Waikīkī and was probably one of the first chiefs to live there (prior to that, Oʻahu chiefs typically lived at Waialua and ‘Ewa.) Waikīkī remained the Royal Center of Oʻahu aliʻi, until Kamehameha I moved the seat to Honolulu.
What is commonly referred to as the “ahupuaʻa system” is a result of the firm establishment of palena (boundaries) that Mā’ilikūkahi set up around the Island. This system of land divisions and boundaries enabled a konohiki (land/resource manager) to know the limits and productivity of the resources that they managed.
ʻUmi-a-Līloa (ʻUmi) from Waipiʻo, son of Līloa, also moved the Hawaiʻi Island Royal Center about this time, from Waipi‘o to Kona. He, too, started to divide the lands following the mauka-makai orientation.
ʻUmi started a significant new form of agriculture in Kona; archaeologists call the unique method of farming in this area the “Kona Field System.” (These are long, narrow fields that ran along the contours, along the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualālai; farmers then planted different crops, according to the respective rainfall gradients.
Piʻilani’s reign showed a boom in construction of heiau, fishponds, trails and irrigation systems. Famed for his energy and intelligence, Piʻilani constructed the West Maui phase of the noted Alaloa, or long trail (also known as the King’s Highway;) his son, Kihapiʻilani laid the East Maui section and connected the island.
Missionaries Richards, Andrews and Green noted in 1828, “a pavement said to have been built by Kihapiʻilani, a king … afforded us no inconsiderable assistance in traveling as we ascended and descended a great number of steep and difficult paries (pali.)” (Missionary Herald)
Kukona, on Kauaʻi became a symbol of the very highest ideals of chivalry in battle. He once captured all four chiefs of Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu, Maui and Molokaʻi and had the opportunity to kill them all. However, he preferred peace and allowed them to return safely home with a promise that they never again make war on Kauaʻi.
As noted by Fornander: “The war with the Hawaii chief, and the terrible defeat and capture of the latter, as well as Kukona’s generous conduct towards the four chiefs who fell into his hands after the battle, brought Kauai back into the family circle of the other islands, and with an eclat and superiority which it maintained to the last of its independence.”
Back to Columbus and America …
Columbus wanted to find a new route to the Far East, to India, China, Japan and the Spice Islands. If he could reach these lands, he would be able to bring back rich cargoes of silks and spices.
Columbus called all the people he met in the islands Indians because he was sure that he had reached the Indies. When Columbus reached Cuba, he thought it was the mainland of Japan.
“At no time during the life of Columbus, nor for some years after his death, did anybody use the phrase ‘New World’ with conscious reference to his discoveries. … It was supposed that he had found a new route to the Indies by sailing west, and that in the course of this achievement he had discovered some new islands.” (Fiske)
“At the time of his death their true significance had not yet begun to dawn upon the mind of any voyager or any writer.” Still believing that he had found a new route to the East Indies, Columbus died in 1506.
It wasn’t until 1499, when an Italian an explorer, financier, navigator and cartographer, Amerigo Vespucci (March 9, 1454 – February 22, 1512,) sailed back to the area Columbus ‘discovered.’
Columbus found the new land; but Vespucci, by travelling down the coast, came to the realization that it was not India at all, but an entirely new continent.
What should they call it?
It wasn’t until a German clergyman and amateur geographer (Martin Waldseemüller) and his Alsatian proofreader (Matthias Ringmann) reportedly put the name “America” on the new land mass (April 25, 1507 – the first written use of America.) (They made up the name, using a feminized Latin version of Vespucci’s first name.)
Waldseemüller and Ringmann were at work on a reproduction of Ptolemy’s treatise on geography, to which they were adding a preface entitled ‘Cosmographiae Introductio.’ They determined to incorporate the story of Amerigo Vespucci’s voyages into this work, and Ringmann, who was acting as editor, wrote an introduction.
“Now, these parts of the earth have been more extensively explored and a fourth part has been discovered by Amerigo Vespucci. Inasmuch as both Europe and Asia received their names from women, I see no reason why any one should justly object to calling this part Amerige, i.e., the land of Amerigo, or America, after Amerigo, its discoverer, a man of great ability.” (Cosmographiæ Introductio of Martin Waldseemüller)
“(T)he name America was, for the time being, restricted to the southern part of the New World. After the lapse of three decades, however, another German cartographer applied the name America to the northern portion of the Western Hemisphere.” (Cosmographiæ Introductio of Martin Waldseemüller)
But the new name didn’t completely catch on, at first.
The Pilgrims, in signing the Mayflower Compact (1620,) noted they were headed to Virginia. The Massachusetts Bay Colony (1628) and its initial laws Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641) reference being in New England. In the mid-1700s, the British Colonies were referenced into the New England Colonies (northern,) Middle Colonies and Southern Colonies.
The earliest recorded use of this term in English dates to 1648, in Thomas Gage’s The English-American: A New Survey of the West Indies.
It wasn’t until 1740, in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (a fight between Britain and Spain in what is now known as Columbia,) that the British colonists on the continent were called ‘Americans’ for the first time (about 3,600-colonial troops supported the British effort – the Spanish won.) (nih-gov)
The name ‘United States of America’ appears to have been used for the first time in the Declaration of Independence (1776.) (At least no earlier instance of its use in that precise form has been found.) (Burnett)
Back to Columbus … President Franklin D Roosevelt created the first federal observance of Columbus Day in 1937; Richard Nixon established the modern holiday by presidential proclamation in 1972. Columbus Day is observed the second Monday in October; it’s a federal holiday, it is not a State holiday in some states.
The image shows a portion of the map prepared by Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann, noting ‘America.’ In addition, I have included other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.