Hawai'i and Native Hawaiians - What You May Not Know
What You May Not Know About Hawai'i
Many think of Hawai’i merely as the 50th state of the United States where the weather is sunny all year long, we have hula dancers, beaches, luaus, surfers, and a TV show called Hawaii 5-0. However there's so much more beyond just what modern day popular culture depicts about Hawai'i.
This article will go far beyond what you thought you knew about Hawai'i. Read on and learn about the relationship between the U.S., Hawai’i and its native people—it's a complicated one that a majority of people have not learned about. Each of the following topics will be explained more in the article:
- Native Hawaiians are a race of people
- Hawaiians almost became extinct
- Hawai'i was an independent and sovereign nation
- Hawaiians quickly became literate after western contact
- Hawai'i's government was illegally overthrown by the United States of America
- Native Hawaiians tried to fight back
- The Hawaiian language was banned after the overthrow
- Queen Lili'uokalani wrote the famous song titled "Aloha 'Oe" (translation: Farewell)
- The U.S. officially apologized for the illegal overthrow
- Native Hawaiians are revitalizing their language and culture
- Ongoing efforts are being made by Kanaka Maoli for self-government
Native Hawaiians Are a Race of People
- Hawaiians are not named for the state (think Californians, New Yorkers, Texans, etc). Unlike the aforementioned states' residents, the state of Hawai'i is actually named for the native people.
- Native Hawaiians, known also as kanaka maoli, are the indigenous people (and their descendants) of the Hawaiian islands. Their ancestors were the original Polynesians who sailed to Hawai’i and settled the islands around the 5th Century A.D.
- “Native Hawaiian” is a racial classification recognized by the United States. In the 2010 Census: 527,077 people reported that they are Native Hawaiian alone or of a mixed race that includes Native Hawaiian. There now may be as few as 8,000 pure-blood Native Hawaiians remaining in the world.
Hawaiians Almost Became Extinct
- The first recorded western contact with Hawai'i was in 1778 when Captain James Cook, an English explorer, sailed on the HMS Resolution into Waimea Bay on Kaua'i. The next year he sailed into Kealakekua Bay in Kona on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
- It is estimated that between 400,000 and as many as one million Native Hawaiians were living on the major Hawaiian islands in the late 1700s when Cook landed in Hawai'i.
- Because Hawai'i is a group of islands isolated from other land masses and people, diseases known in the rest of the world were not known in Hawai’i. Within a century after Cook first landed, the Native Hawaiian population had dropped to about 40,000. Deaths were attributed to a number of "new" diseases including smallpox, measles, influenza, sexually-transmitted diseases, whooping cough and the common cold.
Hawai'i Was an Independent and Sovereign Nation
The Kingdom of Hawai’i was an internationally-recognized monarchy that entered into bilateral treaties of trade and friendship with other countries including:
- The United States (1826)
- Great Britain (1836)
- France (1839)
- Denmark (1846)
- Hamburg (1848)
- Sweden and Norway (1852)
- Tahiti (1853)
- Bremen (1854)
- Belgium and Netherlands (1862)
- Italy and Spain (1863)
- Swiss Confederation (1864)
- Russia (1869)
- Japan (1871)
- New South Wales (1874)
- Portugal (1882)
- Hong Kong (1884)
- Samoa (1887)
Hawaiians Quickly Became Literate After Western Contact
- The first Christian missionaries came to Hawai’i in 1820 and Hawaiian children began attending school and learned to read and write in the Hawaiian language.
- In 1869, a newspaper article reported that Hawai’i was the only government from the Pacific area to attend a Paris exposition. At the event, Hawai’i displayed newspapers, Bibles, textbooks, books of law, agricultural products and other examples of ‘civilization.’
- European visitors were reportedly astounded that in Hawai’i, the common man was taught the same sorts of things that only European elite of the time were entitled to learn.
Hawai'i's Government Was Illegally Overthrown by the United States of America
- When? On January 17, 1893, an illegal overthrow of Hawai’i’s government took place.
- Who? U.S. Marines from the USS Boston, two companies of U.S. sailors, and U.S. Government Minister John L. Stevens landed at Honolulu Harbor and, along with U.S. and European businessmen, effectuated an illegal coup against Queen Lili'uokalani.
- Their motives? Greed, control over cheap land, and control over the sugar industry. The businessmen and sugar planters were led by Sanford Dole who some refer to as a "sugar baron." Sanfordʻs cousin, James Dole, sometimes called the "pineapple king," also began the pineapple industry in Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.
Native Hawaiians Tried to Fight Back
After the overthrow, Native Hawaiians tried to fight back through the U.S. legal system.
- An investigation by the Cleveland administration. Hawai’i became a U.S. protectorate while an investigation was done by U.S. President Grover Cleveland at the written request of Queen Lili'uokalani. Cleveland and his administration concluded that the overthrow had been illegal (“a grievous wrong has been done.”) He then turned the issue over to Congress where it languished while the “straw government” in Hawai’i, who now had Sanford Dole as its President, continued to gain a stronger hold over the islands.
- Native Hawaiians also launched a petition. Meanwhile, Native Hawaiians launched a massive petition drive to stop the formal annexation of Hawai’i to the U.S. They thought that if Congress realized that Native Hawaiians did not want to be part of the U.S., they would restore independence to Hawai’i. Public meetings were held on the five major islands. Of the known population of 39,000 Native Hawaiians, 21,269 signed the petition. This is an incredible majority, since many of the remaining were children.
- Petitioning all the way to Washington D.C. Queen Lili'uokalani traveled to Washington D.C. to present her protest and the petition to Congress. At the time, a trip of this distance took months by sea and land. All to no avail. Congress had not acted on President Cleveland’s request and a new Congress came in with the administration of President William McKinley. By that time, the Spanish American War was brewing and the U.S. didn’t want to give up Hawai’i’s prime location in the Pacific.
- An illegal annexation. Hawai’i was then illegally annexed as a U.S. territory in 1898, along with 1.2 million acres of Hawaiian crown lands that had belonged to the monarchy and to the nation of Hawai’i. No compensation was paid to anyone.
The Hawaiian Language Was Banned After the Overthrow
Soon after the overthrow, a law was passed to make it illegal to teach in the schools in anything but the English language. English replaced Hawaiian as the official language of government, business and education.
So began the colonization of the Native Hawaiian people—children were punished in school for speaking Hawaiian and those who spoke Hawaiian in the home were looked down on. This systematic oppression of the culture and language took place for decades, and the language was almost lost due to parents and grandparents who were uncomfortable passing the language on to younger generations.
It was not until a constitutional amendment passed in Hawaiʻi in 1978 (almost a hundred years later!) that it was once again legal to teach Hawaiian in the school system.
Queen Lili'uokalani Wrote the Famous Song "Aloha 'Oe." (Translation: Farewell)
Ironically, the only person who saw any jail time from the overthrow was Queen Lili'uokalani.
- Arrested for treason. In 1895, a clandestine group of supporters of the monarchy attempted an unsuccessful counter-rebellion against the government led by Sanford Dole. There was no bloodshed, but weapons were discovered on the grounds of the royal palace. Lili'uokalani was found guilty of treason . . . against the government that had illegally overthrown her. Although she was sentenced to five years of hard labor, she served nine months of house arrest.
- "Aloha 'Oe." It was during this time while she was incarcerated that she wrote several songs, but the song “Aloha ʻOe” is her most famous composition. Lili'uokalani wrote "Aloha ʻOe" in 1878, originally as a love song, though it is now commonly sung as a farewell song.
- A small pension. The territorial government eventually voted her an annual pension of $4,000. The United States never compensated her for personal lands that were taken. Lili'uokalani died in 1917 at the age of 79. In her will, she ordered that all of her belongings be sold with the proceeds going to the Queen Lili'uokalani Children’s Trust for orphaned and indigent children. Her trust still operates today. A statue of Lili'uokalani was erected on the grounds of the Hawai'i state capitol.
Do you think Native Hawaiians should have the right to govern themselves again?
Tribute to Queen Lili'uokalani by Adam Manalo-Camp
The U.S. Officially Apologized for the Illegal Overthrow
In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed an official apology to Native Hawaiians for the illegal overthrow of their nation. Public Law 103-150 was passed by a joint resolution of Congress in 1993 to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the overthrow. Stipulations in the law stated that:
- The overthrow was illegal. Section 1 states: "The Congress...on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893, acknowledges the historical significance of this event which resulted in the suppression of the inherent sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people; (italics added)
- The U.S. apologizes. "...apologizes to Native Hawaiians on behalf of the people of the United States for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii on January 17, 1893."
- Native Hawaiians may have legal claims against the U.S. "Nothing in this Joint Resolution is intended to serve as a settlement of any claims against the United States."
Native Hawaiians are Revitalizing Their Language and Culture
- In the 19th century, Hawaiians were decimated by disease until less than 40,000 survived.
- In the 20th century they were colonized and had to learn to live with their homeland being lost to the largest super power in the world, along with an unlimited influx of tourists and immigrants from other states and foreign countries.
- Additionally Pearl Harbor was bombed during World War II because America used Hawai’i (and continues to) for its Pacific fleet.
Although they are now only 12% of Hawai'i’s population, Native Hawaiians continue to work towards finding their rightful place in modern-day Hawai'i.
- Gov. John Waihe'e was the first elected governor of Hawai'i of Native Hawaiian ancestry. He served from 1986-1994.
- In 1987, instruction in the Native Hawaiian language began again in public schools. Today there are 21 public Hawaiian immersion schools in the state of Hawai'i. Students are of diverse races who choose to be educated in all subjects in the Hawaiian language.
- A renaissance of the Hawaiian culture – language, dance, arts, customs - began in the 1970’s and continues today.
- Native Hawaiians continue their quest to regain self-governance in some form, and rightful compensation for the illegal overthrow and a nation lost.
Ongoing Efforts by Kanaka Maoli for Self-Governance
In today's Hawai'i, the turbulence of a people who love their nation is palpable. Opinion and fact sometimes collide, and the menace of generational colonialism continues to penetrate the hearts and minds of many. This turbulence is a natural reaction to more than a century of frustration with America's apparent disregard for native rights.
There are ongoing efforts to restore Hawai'i to its rightful place in the global community of nations. If you would like to begin your journey of learning more about the sovereignty and de-occupy movements in Hawai'i, here are a few links to start with.
You have been forewarned: Everything you thought you knew about Hawai'i will be challenged. It is far more than sun and surf.
Additional Resources and Reading on Hawai'i
Here are some resources if you would like to learn more about the Native Hawaiian people. Feel free to contact me with any questions as well.
- Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs
- Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center
- Hawaiian Independence
- Hawaiian Kingdom
- Native Hawaiian Roll Commission
- Hawaiian Studies Program, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
- Office of Hawaiian Affairs
- Papa Ola Lokahi - Native Hawaiian HealthCare System
- Punana Leo Hawaiian Immersion Schools
© 2013 Stephanie Launiu
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