“When you talk about minorities in Hawaiʻi, you’re talking about everyone. Unlike in most states, no racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority in the Aloha State.” (Time)
In the dawn hours of January 18, 1778, on his third expedition, British explorer Captain James Cook on the HMS Resolution and Captain Charles Clerke of the HMS Discovery first sighted what Cook named the Sandwich Islands (that were later named the Hawaiian Islands.) Hawaiian lives changed with sudden and lasting impact, when western contact changed the course of history for Hawai‘i.
At the time of Cook’s arrival, the Hawaiian Islands were divided into four kingdoms: (1) the island of Hawaiʻi under the rule of Kalaniʻōpuʻu, who also had possession of the Hāna district of east Maui; (2) Maui (except the Hāna district,) Molokai, Lānaʻi and Kahoʻolawe, ruled by Kahekili; (3) Oʻahu, under the rule of Kahahana; and at (4) Kauai and Niʻihau, Kamakahelei was ruler.
In 1782, Kamehameha started his conquest to rule the Islands. After conquering the Island of Hawaiʻi, he moved on to defeat the armies in Maui Nui and concluded his wars on Oʻahu at the Battle of Nuʻuanu in 1795. After failed attempts at conquering Kauaʻi, he negotiated peace with Kaumualiʻi and the Island chain was under his control (1810.)
Providing the Means, as well as Ways to this End, many foreigners (mostly white men) supported Kamehameha, including John Young, Isaac Davis, Don Francisco de Paula Marin, George Beckley and Alexander Adams (and others.)
In April of 1819, Spaniard Don Francisco de Paula Marin was summoned to the Big Island of Hawai‘i to assist Kamehameha, who had become ill. Although he had no formal medical training, Marin had some basic medical knowledge, but was not able to improve the condition of Kamehameha. On May 8, 1819, King Kamehameha I died.
Following the death of Kamehameha I, leadership was passed to his son, Liholiho, who would rule as Kamehameha II. Kaʻahumanu (Kamehameha I’s favorite wife) recruited Liholiho’s mother, Keōpūolani, to join her in convincing Liholiho to break the kapu system which had been the rigid code of Hawaiians for centuries.
“An extraordinary event marked the period of Liholiho’s rule, in the breaking down of the ancient tabus, the doing away with the power of the kahunas to declare tabus and to offer sacrifices, and the abolition of the tabu which forbade eating with women (ʻAi Noa, or free eating.)” (Kamakau)
Kekuaokalani, Liholiho’s cousin, opposed the abolition of the kapu system and assumed the responsibility of leading those who opposed its abolition. These included priests, some courtiers, and the traditional territorial chiefs of the middle rank. Kekuaokalani demanded that Liholiho withdraw his edict on abolition of the kapu system. (Daws)
Kamehameha II refused. After attempts to settle peacefully, “Friendly means have failed; it is for you to act now,” and Keōpūolani then ordered Kalanimōku to prepare for war on Kekuaokalani. Arms and ammunition were given out that evening to everyone who was trained in warfare, and feather capes and helmets distributed. (Kamakau)
In December 1819, just seven months after the death of Kamehameha I, the two powerful cousins engaged at the final Hawaiian battle of Kuamoʻo, on the jagged lava fields south of Keauhou Bay. Liholiho had more men, more weapons and more wealth to ensure his victory. He sent his prime minister, Kalanimōku, to defeat his stubborn cousin.
Kaʻahumanu would rule as an equal with Liholiho and created the office of Kuhina Nui (similar to premier, prime minister or regent.) Kaʻahumanu was, at one time, arguably, the most powerful figure in the Hawaiian Islands, and helped usher in a new era for the Hawaiian kingdom.
She ruled first with Kamehameha II until his departure for England in 1823 (where he died in 1824) and then as regent for Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III). Kaʻahumanu assumed control of the business of government, including authority over land matters. Kaʻahumanu was such a powerful person and Kuhina Nui that subsequent female Kuhina Nui adopted her name, (Kaʻahumanu II, III & IV.)
Some have suggested it was the missionaries that ended the kapu that disrupted the social/political system in the Islands; that is not true – the missionaries had not even arrived in the Islands, yet. The kapu was abolished by Hawaiians and it affected only Hawaiians.
On April 4, 1820, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries arrived from the northeast US at Kailua-Kona (after the death of Kamehameha I and the abolition of the kapu by Liholiho, Kaʻahumanu and Keōpūolani.) There were seven American Caucasian couples sent by the ABCFM to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity.
Soon after the first anniversary of their landing at Honolulu on April 19, 1821, Kaʻahumanu, Kalanimōku and Kalākua visited the mission and gave them supplies. This visit became important because during it Kaʻahumanu made her first request for prayer and showed her first interest in the teachings of the missionaries. From that point on, Kaʻahumanu comes into more constant contact with the mission.
On February 11, 1824, Kaʻahumanu made one of her first public speeches on religious questions, giving “plain, serious, close and faithful advice.”
At a meeting of the chiefs and school teachers, Kaʻahumanu and Kalanimōku declared their determination to “adhere to the instructions of the missionaries, to attend to learning, observe the Sabbath, Worship God, and obey his law, and have all their people instructed.” The Hawaiian people followed their native leaders, accepting the missionaries as their new priestly class. (Schulz)
Ka‘ahumanu had requested baptism for Keōpūolani and Keʻeaumoku when they were dying, but she waited until April, 1824, before requesting the same for herself. “She was admitted to the church in 1825, and was baptized by the name of Elizabeth.” (Lucy Thurston)
“Her influence and authority had long been paramount and undisputed with the natives, and was now discreetly used for the benefit of the nation.”
“She visited the whole length and breadth of the Islands, to recommend to her people, attention to schools, and to the doctrines and duties of the word of God, and exerted all her influence to suppress vice, and restrain the evils which threatened the ruin of her nation.” (Lucy Thurston)
The arrival of the first company of American missionaries in Hawai¬ʻi marked the beginning of Hawaiʻi’s phenomenal rise to literacy. The chiefs became proponents for education and edicts were enacted by the King and the council of chiefs to stimulate the people to reading and writing. Missionaries taught, but also taught the Hawaiians to be teachers.
By 1831, in just eleven years from the first arrival of the missionaries, Hawaiians had built 1,103 schoolhouses. This covered every district throughout the eight major islands and serviced an estimated 52,882 students. (Laimana)
In 1839, King Kamehameha III called for the formation of the Chiefs’ Children’s School (Royal School.) The main goal of this school was to groom the next generation of the highest ranking Chiefs’ children and secure their positions for Hawaiʻi’s Kingdom.
The King asked white missionaries Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke to teach the 16-royal children and run the school. The Hawai‘i sovereigns who reigned over the Hawaiian people from 1855 were educated in this school.
This included, Alexander Liholiho (King Kamehameha IV;) Emma Naʻea Rooke (Queen Emma;) Lot Kapuāiwa (King Kamehameha V;) William Lunalilo (King Lunalilo;) Bernice Pauahi (Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, founder of Kamehameha Schools;) David Kalākaua (King Kalākaua) and Lydia Liliʻu Kamakaʻeha (Queen Liliʻuokalani.)
Interestingly, these same early missionaries taught their lessons in Hawaiian, rather than English. In part, the mission did not want to create a separate caste and portion of the community as English-speaking Hawaiians.
Kamehameha III asked missionary William Richards (who had previously been asked to serve as Queen Keōpūolani’s religious teacher) to become an advisor to the King as instructor in law, political economy and the administration of affairs generally.
Betsey Stockton served with Richards at Lāhainā; she was an African American missionary who was part of the American mission, and the only single woman missionary to the Islands.
Richards gave classes to King Kamehameha III and his Chiefs on the Western ideas of rule of law and economics. His decision to assist the King ultimately resulted in his resignation from the mission, when the ABCFM board refused to allow him to belong to the mission while assisting the King.
“The Hawaiian people believed in William Richards, the foreigner who taught the king to change the government of the Hawaiian people to a constitutional monarchy and end that of a supreme ruler, and his views were adopted.” (Kamakau)
Of his own free will, King Kamehameha III granted the Constitution of 1840, as a benefit to his country and people, that established his Government upon a declared plan. (Rex v. Booth – Hanifin)
That constitution introduced the innovation of representatives chosen by the people (rather than, as previously, solely selected by the Aliʻi.) This gave the common people a share in the government’s actual political power for the first time. Hawaiʻi was not a race-based constitutional monarchy – Hawaiian citizens were from varying ethnicities.
Today, there remain ongoing claims and discussions about restoring the Hawaiian Government that was deposed on January 17, 1893 and replaced by the Provisional Government of Hawaiʻi, later the Republic of Hawaiʻi, then annexation and statehood.
Some suggest that “American white supremacist racists” overthrew the constitutional monarchy and initiated a calculated campaign of social, cultural and spiritual genocide.
On January 16, 1893, the Committee of Safety wrote a letter to John L Stevens, American Minister, that stated: “We, the undersigned citizens and residents of Honolulu, respectfully represent that, in view of recent public events in this Kingdom, culminating in the revolutionary acts of Queen Liliʻuokalani on Saturday last, the public safety is menaced and lives and property are in peril, and we appeal to you and the United States forces at your command for assistance.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 17, 1893)
The Committee of Safety, formally the Citizen’s Committee of Public Safety, was a 13-member group also known as the Annexation Club; they started in 1887 as the Hawaiian League.
The Committee of Safety was made up of 6-Hawaiian citizens (3-by birth and 3 naturalized (1-former American, 1-former German & 1-former Tasmanian;)) 5-Americans, 1-Scotsman and 1-German.
Most were not American, and, BTW, none were missionaries and only 3 had missionary family ties – the Missionary Period ended in 1863, a generation before the overthrow. I am not sure where the evidence is that they were racist, or what the details were for the ‘calculated campaign.’
Some suggest the make-up of the 1901 Legislature (the first Legislature in the Territory of Hawai‘i) as an example of racial tensions and concern for lack of racial representation of the people.
In 1900, the Kanaka Maoli (aboriginal Hawaiians) had formed their own political party, called the Home Rule Party, through merging two organizations, Hui Aloha ‘Āina and Hui Kālai‘āina, who had worked together to support Queen Lili‘uokalani and oppose annexation. (Silva)
That year, the Home Rulers elected Robert Wilcox as Hawaiʻi’s first delegate to the US Congress. (However, on July 10, 1902, Prince Kūhiō split from the Home Rule Party, joined the Republican Party and won the Congressional seat in the election on November 4, 1902.)
Some suggest the early Legislative elections and party affiliations were based on race (Home Rule for Hawaiians and Republicans for whites.) However, it’s interesting to note that in 1901, 1903 and 1905 there was successive decline in representation by Home Rule candidates in the Legislature, although there continued to be a total of around 30-Hawaiians (out of 45) in the Legislature.
The next election (1907,) there was only 1-Home Rule party member serving in the Senate, and none in the House; however, a total of 32-Hawaiians were in the Legislature; there were more Hawaiians in the Legislature then, than that first 1901 session. With Republicans dominating both chambers, it is clear that most of the Hawaiians were Republicans. (While the Home Rule Party was race-based, the Republican Party was not.)
It is evident that native Hawaiians did not need the ‘Home Rule’ race-based political party to get representation in the local or national legislatures. After a decade of election losses, the Home Rule Party was disbanded after the elections of 1912.
However, Hawaiian representation in the Legislature continued to be just under 30 – out of a total of 45 (15-Senators and 30-Representatives.) (Report of Secretary of the Interior)
Since ‘contact,’ Hawaiians (especially Hawaiian Aliʻi and Chiefs) had partnered and collaborated with the white foreigners. Kamehameha was successful because of his collaboration with the white foreigners.
Over the years, the growing partnership and collaboration between native Hawaiians and the American Protestant missionaries resulted in the introduction of Christianity, a written Hawaiian language, literacy, constitutional government, Western medicine and an evolving music tradition.
Today, “White residents make up just a quarter of the population — the lowest proportion in the country (which is 66% white overall, according to US Census figures.) Nearly 40% of Hawaiians are classified as Asian, with an additional 9% native Hawaiian. … Hawaii (is) a place where ‘racial and ethnic lines are often blurred or deemed irrelevant.’” (Time)
Our forefathers of different races got along fine; I am not sure what the benefit (or goal) is with repeated slurs and racial rants, today. The Hawaiian nation was overthrown … not the Hawaiian race (it was a constitutional monarchy, not race-limited.)
By international practice and laws, as well as the specific laws and practice of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Hawaiian citizenship in the constitutional monarchy included people of other races (not just native Hawaiians.) Their descendants carry the same right to citizenship as the native Hawaiians.
Yet, to date, apparently, the only people permitted to exercise their rights related to discussions on restoration, reparation, sovereignty, independence, etc related to the Hawaiian nation have been those of one race, the native Hawaiians.
All Hawaiian citizens lost their nation in 1893 … Hawaiian citizens with their varying ethnicities, not just those who descend from those who lived in the Islands prior to 1778.
Why aren’t all Hawaiian citizens included in the recognition and sovereignty discussions and decisions today? And, why don’t people stop the racial focus, name-calling and racial rants (and other inappropriate distractions), and start working together?
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Byron Easley says
COMMENDABLE!! Your article “It’s not about race” is the clearest, most fairly presented, authoritative expression of our Hawaiian founding Father King Kamehameha intensions ‘for the good of the people’. And, NOT what the devisiveness ‘us against them’ ‘for the good of the few’.
Blue Jade says
ITA with you, I’m asian but everywhere I see the hate towards haoles, even though born and raised here. Racism can never be understood it’s just about an irrational hate. I think those are filled with hate and fear for no reason. I knew a Haw’n studies profeesor at the UH and she herself was Haw’n. She said that the movement is about getting $$…she was an educated woman, she knew the issues.
So true. All that hate is rooted in fear, and only love can destroy all the fear. We all need more respect, more humility, and more ALOHA!!!!!!!!
John FitzGerald says
Your comments are very timely. I have been preaching this for 15 years as I am a non-blooded Hawaiian. Our model politicians seem to like to play the “race” card to keep the people they represent disconnected to further own political aims. Good article and very well written. i always enjoy reading you daily post.
Bowman Olds says
The opening comment to this article “When you talk about minorities in Hawaiʻi, you’re talking about everyone. Unlike in most states, no racial or ethnic group constitutes a majority in the Aloha State.” is absolutely perfect. As a youngster growing up in Hilo, we could never appreciate this unique feature. It was not until my travel throughout the US and overseas that I began to have a greater appreciation for this special presence in my homeland.
Historical inaccuracies aside, I think is a very interesting article. The main message is a very good one. But it leaves a gap: if we are to not dwell on race so much (always good to not be racist), how can we create more unity in our island communities? How can we better adopt the Hawaiian culture, and embrace pono, to honor the “Hawaiians” of all races who came before us?