Chapter 5: Changes after the death of
(Kamehameha II) Ascends the Throne
King Kamehameha became
seriously ill in the spring of 1819. Upon the advice of the priests, the
chiefs built several sacred houses for the god Ku-ka'ili-moku and called
for a kapu. The native doctors at Kamehameha's bedside were
joined by Don Francisco Marin, the Spaniard living on O'ahu, who had
some medical knowledge, but none of their treatments were effective.
King Kamehameha died on May 8,1819.
The reign of King Kamehameha II began, as had his father's before him,
cloaked in the traditional rituals of mourning. Liholiho left Kailua for Kawaihae to escape the defilement of death, returning when the priests
had completed their prayers and had secretly buried the bones of their
beloved former king.
As the crown prince,
Liholiho had been taught the royal duties and responsibilities. So when
he reappeared at Kailua he was appropriately garbed in splendid
clothing, accompanied by his royal attendants. However, his power over
the kingdom was not sovereign. Like his uncle before him, Kamehameha had
made his son Liholiho the king and ruler, but had given his nephew
Kekuaokalani custody of the war god Ku-ka'ili-moku. The new king's
authority was diluted even further by the actions of Ka'ahumanu, the
favorite wife of Kamehameha, who had quickly proclaimed herself
kuhina-nui (regent). She presided over the ceremonies and informed
the new king that "we two shall share the rule over the land," a
statement that was not refuted by Liholiho.
Despite his training for the
monarchy, Liholiho was ill-prepared for his new role. He had led a
sheltered life of luxury, gaining "a reputation as a gambler and a
playboy" who was fond of whiskey.
Although trained as a warrior, he had never fought in battle, and he had
never ruled a district or an island before, much less a kingdom. It was
not long before the new king was faced with a major decision.
B. Overthrow of the Kapu System
1. Traditional Religious System
Kept Intact During Kamehameha's Reign
A major event in Hawaiian
history occurred in 1819, shortly after the death of King Kamehameha,
with the overthrow of the ancient kapu system. Indeed, E. G.
Craighill Handy has gone so far as to refer to this as the "Hawaiian
During his reign, Kamehameha steadfastly adhered to the traditional
social and religious customs of Hawaiian society that maintained the
superiority and power of the chiefs and priests. Kamehameha, as other
chiefs before him, regarded the kapu system as the central force
stabilizing the political and social systems of the culture.
It has been suggested,
however, that at times the king questioned the advisability of strict
observance of the kapu and pondered thoughtfully the continuing
performance of traditional religious practices. His continuing dialogue
with a variety of European visitors and advisors and his awareness of
subtle changes in the political and social environment of the islands
undoubtedly prompted much soul-searching on this subject. But his
upbringing in traditional ways strongly influenced his behavior, and he
probably perceived more benefits than impediments to the smooth running
of his government from continued adherence to the kapu system. It
may also be that he was not wholly convinced that the only alternative
suggested to him, Christianity, would provide his people with a better
way of life. And so, as Hawaiian consul-general Manley Hopkins later
. . . to the end of
his life, the King [Kamehameha] continued devotions to his idols. He
was probably a very sceptical [sic] worshipper; but he looked
upon the national religion as a great state instrument, which it was
better on his part to support by his patron age.
While Kamehameha ruled,
no resistance to the kapu system was allowed. Any persons brave
enough to dare infractions of the rules, who were discovered, were
summarily executed up until the time of his death.
But as he lay dying, it is said, he suggested that his successor should
give the question of continuing allegiance to the kapu system
some thought, and that perhaps the system should be maintained only if
Even prior to the king's
death, however, some Hawaiians, whose transgressions had not been
discovered by the chiefs or priests, had defied the kapu without
experiencing dire punishment from the gods. This must have provided food
for thought. In addition, during Kamehameha's reign, skepticism of the
religious system had grown on the part of the commoners. This resulted
from several factors: the growing oppressiveness of the restrictions and
of the tax burdens and military services required of the people;
increasing interaction with foreigners, whose ridicule and disregard of
the restrictions did not appear to bring them either misfortune or
death; and some awareness of the abolition of a similar system in the
Society Islands without ill effects.
2. Kamehameha's Death Provides
Opportunity for Religious Reform
It is not surprising then
that Kamehameha's death in 1819 might precipitate a dramatic change in
the social, political, and religious systems of the country. For
although Kamehameha had continued the traditional ways of his ancestors,
he had also opened the door to European influences. In fact, some
Hawaiians, notably members of the ali'i, had already acquired
many of the outward manners and accoutrements of European civilization
during the final years of Kamehameha's reign.
unfortunate "fondness for drinking, carousing, general debauchery, and .
. . unsatiable taste for Western trade goods taxed much of his ability
to rule the kingdom." Ka'ahumanu, meanwhile, as mentioned, had stated that because of
uncertainties as to Liholiho's abilities, her husband had placed her
next in authority to oversee the government and act as guardian of the
realm. In view of Liholiho's rather weak personality and the fact that
he was content to be a follower rather than a leader, the strong-willed
Ka'ahumanu would have little trouble in making changes she desired in
the kingdom. One of these involved ending the kapu system. Aiding
her in this endeavor were Keopuolani, the new king's mother and the
highest-ranking chiefess of the ruling family; Kalanimoku, functioning
as prime minister; and Hewahewa, the last high priest of the Pa'ao
On the morning after his
father's death, Liholiho left Kailua, which had been defiled by death,
for Kawaihae in Kohala, as was the custom. During his absence, as was
also the custom, the population committed all kinds of excesses,
breaking the kapu with impunity. Although the usual mourning
ceremonies on the death of a king took place, no sacrifices occurred to
provide the old king with companions in the next world. During this
mourning period, the dead chief's bones were secreted in a cave, the
traditional action that ritually disassociated the mandate to rule from
the dead king so that his heir could re-establish it on his return to
the area. After the requisite ten days of seclusion had passed, Liholiho
returned to assume power, at which time he was also supposed to
re-establish the kapu system, something he did not do. Instead he
left again for Kawaihae in the Kohala district, where he took up
residence until October, probably hoping to avoid having to make some
important decisions concerning land redistribution, requests by the
ali'i to share in the sandalwood trade, and whether or not to break
the kapu, an action he knew Ka'ahumanu and others favored.
During the new king's
absence, Ka'ahumanu had begun instigating for reform. Her motives and
those of the small group of influential individuals who allied with her
have been speculated upon for years. Ka'ahumanu was stubborn, ambitious,
and no doubt tired of the restraints upon her sex. In addition, if
serious political questions were considered within heiau, where
spiritual power might influence decision making, she would have been
unable to co-rule effectively because she could not enter those
structures. Kalanimoku, who was not a high-ranking chief, would not be
adversely affected by depriving others of their kapu
prerogatives. (He and his brother Boki had been secretly baptized by a
Roman Catholic chaplain on board the French ship L'Uranie
captained by Louis de Freycinet while Liholiho was in residence at
Kawaihae. It is not clear, however, whether either man completely
understood the meaning of the ceremony.) Keopuolani, though of very high
rank, was easily influenced by Ka'ahumanu. The high priest Hewahewa, who
appears to have had nothing to gain by the overthrow of idolatry, is
thought to have participated in the rebellion simply due to a deep
personal conviction of the inconsistencies of the religious system of
which he was head. In addition, there possibly existed some conflict and
friction over status within the government between Kekuaokalani, keeper
of Ku, and Hewahewa. It was Hewahewa's strong support that ensured the
success of this endeavor.
3. Liholiho Abolishes the Kapu
advised Liholiho to return to Kailua, having already alerted him to the
fact that she was ready to abolish the kapu system upon his
return. Having been raised during the peaceful time of his father's rule
over a united kingdom, the young heir had little training in either
civil or military matters. In addition, being of a gentle, affectionate,
and light-hearted disposition, he was averse to conflict over the matter
despite his lingering feelings of loyalty to the old system under which
he had been raised. He therefore reacted with mixed feelings to
Ka'ahumanu's declaration. Realizing that he would soon be forced to make
a decision, and uncertain as to the correct course he should take,
Liholiho's return to Kailua was slow and filled with feasting, drinking,
and dancing to delay events as long as possible.
The restriction against
"free eating," the ability of men and women to eat the same foods at the
same table, was one of the most significant aspects of the kapu
system. As stated earlier in this report, certain items denied to women
were either considered aspects of the male gods or were used as
sacrificial offerings to them and therefore were kapu. Because it
was considered highly symbolic of all the constraints on women, the
eating kapu became the focal point of Ka'ahumanu's efforts to
overthrow the system. Therefore, upon Liholiho's arrival in Kailua,
approximately six months after the death of his father, a feast was
prepared in welcome. It was attended by several foreigners as well as
such trusted counselors as John Young. In accordance with native custom,
separate tables were set up for the sexes. Young and several chiefs
described the ensuing scene as the young king, who had been drinking
fairly steadily in an attempt to settle his nerves, ordered his
attendants to carry prohibited food to the women's table, at which he
deliberately sat down to eat — the public, symbolic act of ending the
kapu system. Seeing that the influential dignitaries of the kingdom
present appeared to approve this act, several chiefs followed the king's
According to David Kalakaua, following this act of common eating,
scene ensued. "The tabu is broken! the tabu is
broken!" passed from lip to lip, swelling louder and louder as it
went, until it reached beyond the pavilion. There it was taken up in
shouts by the multitude, and was soon wafted on the winds to the
remotest corners of Kona. Feasts were at once provided, and men and
women ate together indiscriminately. . . . At the conclusion of the
royal feast a still greater surprise bewildered the people. "We have
made a bold beginning," said Hewahewa to the king. . . "but the gods
and heiaus cannot survive the death of the tabu."
"Then let them perish with it!" exclaimed Liholiho, now nerved to
desperation at what he had done. "If the gods can punish, we have
done too much already to hope for grace. They can but kill, and we
will test their powers by inviting the full measure of their wrath."
No matter what the actual
words, it was clear that Liholiho was prepared to go all the way. With
the agreement of the high priest, Liholiho sent out orders to destroy
the images and temples throughout the kingdom and to generally ignore
all former kapu. Legend has it that, immediately resigning from
his office of high priest, Hewahewa then set fire to the nearest
heiau. Francisco de Paula Marin seems not to have fully appreciated
the significance of this momentous time, noting in his journal on
November 7, 1819, only that: "This day all the women ate pork and they
burnt all the churches on the island."
Lifting the kapu restrictions that protected the sanctity of the
chiefs and priests somewhat eroded their separateness from the common
people, while destruction of the temples and images removed many of the
trappings of their status. Both actions, resulting in cessation of
public rituals, worship, and sacrifices, accomplished dissolution of the
priesthood as an organized body.
It would take one final
action, however, to stabilize the new state of affairs. This involved
Liholiho meeting on the field of battle his cousin Kekuaokalani, to whom
Kamehameha had bequeathed, in addition to his war god Ku-ka'ili-moku,
co-responsibility for the care of the gods, their temples, and the
support of their worship. Kekuaokalani, who was next in line for the position of high chief after
Hewahewa, and who took his charges from the late king seriously, assumed
the responsibility of leading those who opposed the abolition of the
kapu system. These included priests, some courtiers, and the
traditional territorial chiefs of the middle rank.
that Liholiho withdraw his edicts against the priesthood, which
traditionalists believed should still be preserved; permit rebuilding of
the temples; and dismiss both Kalanimoku and Ka'ahumanu.
Kamehameha II refused. At a battle fought at Kuamo'o on the island of
Hawai'i, the king's better-armed forces, led by Kalanimoku, not only
defeated the last defenders of the Hawaiian gods, of their temples and
priesthoods, and of the ancient organized religion, but also effectively
weakened belief in the power of the gods and the inevitability of divine
punishment for those who opposed them.
4. Some Vestiges of Old Practices
The Reverend Sheldon
Dibble reported, with true missionary vigor and some exaggeration, that
The war having thus
resulted in the entire overthrow of the idolatrous party, both
chiefs and people united with one voice and in the strongest terms
to reproach the folly and impotency of their former idol gods. . . .
Their rage toward idols by which they had been so long enthralled
and who had now failed them in the day of battle was unbounded. They
began the work of destruction. Some of their idols they cast into
the sea, some they burnt, and some they treated with contempt and
used for fuel. They rushed to the temples and tore them to the
According to Gilbert
Mathison, visiting the islands about 1822, "so complete was the work of
destruction, that, in the course of a few months, neither sacrifices nor
religious observances of any sort were kept, or even thought of, by the
The Reverend Daniel Tyerman, who departed from the London Missionary
Society to visit various stations in the South Sea islands, China,
India, and other places between 1821 and 1829, noted in 1822 that
Mr. Young informs us
that though idolatry is abolished, yet the multitude of gods of wood
and stone, formerly worshipped, have been rather hidden than
extirpated, many of its inveterate abettors still hoping for a
counter-revolution in their favor; a notion fostered by the priests,
who have lost their occupation, but naturally exercise their subtle
influence to recover it. Not a single image has been brought to us
for sale, and the only one that we have obtained was a gift from the
About this same time,
however, Frederic Shoberl recounted that
the king and queen of
Atooi [Kaua'i] . . . made a tour round the island of Owhyhee
[Hawai'i], during which above a hundred idols were discovered at one
place in caves situated among the mountains: these were all burned
together; and many more were destroyed in other parts of the island
during this tour. When idolatry was formally abolished in 1819,
these images were concealed by those who were adverse to the change.
By 1826 the Missionary
Herald reported that
There are still, in many
places on the islands, multitudes who continue in rather a secret
manner to worship their old false gods, but the number is every
month growing less.
Frederick Debell Bennett
spent time in Hawai'i in 1834 and 1835, where he noted that since the
arrival of the missionaries,
religious and general
education has advanced so rapidly over all the islands, that
idolatrous ceremonies are totally obliterated, and the rising
generation now regard a ruined morai, or a wooden deity, with the
same traditionary interest that the British attach to their
In actuality, although
destruction of temple structures and their adorning large-scale images
were an obvious action that could be readily observed and monitored, the
rapidity with which smaller images were destroyed is much less clear.
The missionaries, who were closely watching these events, realized that
Where the idols were so
very numerous, and there were so many household gods, it is not to
be supposed that all would be destroyed at once. Though the burning
was general, some idols would be clandestinely preserved.
One early writer looked
back on this destructive activity with some regret. Constance Cumming
With all possible
reverence for the great work so nobly accomplished by the early
missionaries, it is certainly a matter much to be regretted that, in
the wholesale sweeping away of idolatry, so many subjects deeply
interesting to the ethnologist and the antiquarian should have been
hopelessly swamped, and everything in any way bearing on the old
system treated as being either so puerile as to be beneath contempt,
or so evil as to be best forgotten with all speed.
Numerous household gods were
not abandoned. Because they were viewed as family guardians, they
continued to be venerated during the disintegration of other
government-related trappings of the old religion.
And certainly it was almost too much to expect that mere renunciation of
these age-old traditions by the king and destruction of those physical
structures connected with the ancient religious practices would
immediately erase the training and mindset inculcated in the Hawaiians
Stephenie Levin points out
that although the formal state religion had been destroyed, certain
non-institutionalized beliefs that were mystical in nature and that
dealt with immediate needs in daily life continued to flourish. Most
Hawaiians, in fact, maintained the belief that supernatural assistance
could be obtained from gods lower in the pantheon, such as Pele, and
from ancestral spirits.
William Davenport agrees,
making it clear that Hawai'i was not totally lacking in religion until
the arrival of the New England missionaries because beliefs in sorcery,
the power of ancestral deities, and other aspects of the old religion,
such as curing rituals, persisted. These had probably been the more
important practices of their religion for most Hawaiians anyway,
Davenport surmises, because worship of the primary gods had been mainly
the privilege of the ali'i and the head of government.
5. Discussion on the Overthrow of
the Kapu System
The reasons for the
overthrow of the kapu system by the Hawaiian people and the
events leading to it have been a subject of speculation by scholars for
many years and deserve some mention here. The whole question of
voluntary culture change is certainly an intriguing one and has been
explained through the years as a result of religious and social factors
as well as political and economic motivations. The abolition of the
kapu system in Hawai'i was an extraordinary action for two primary
reasons. First, it was an abandonment of traditional religious practices
with no specific thought of replacing them with another system. It was
not a religious reformation instigated by foreign traders or
missionaries as was the case with other isolated Polynesian societies
being contacted by the Western world.
And second, the movement was undertaken by those who appeared to have
the most to lose; high-ranking officials sought to abolish an
ideological system that legitimized their authority, even though there
did not exist a strong demand among the people to do so.
Why did this religious
revolution succeed? Why was resistance to the change so ineffectual?
Primarily because the ruling monarch, influential officials, and the
high priest — those who had the most authority in the kingdom — led the
revolution. Also the timing of the change was an asset. It occurred at
the end of an era and in the midst of general unrest caused by the death
of a much-beloved king. In addition, at this particular phase in the
development of the nation, Hawaiian society was receptive to new ideas
The Reverend William
Ellis ventures that Liholiho's reasons for supporting the abolition of
the kapu system included first, possibly some desire to better
the condition of women in Hawaiian society, and second, a wish to lessen
the power of the priests and the amount of resources channeled for their
support. Certainly this was accomplished to some degree, because
abolishing the organized religion effectively emasculated the hereditary
priesthoods by reducing the need for their social and ritualistic
functions to reinforce the existing political authority, thus
effectively removing them as any kind of threat to the ruler. An
unfortunate by-product of their loss of position, however, was decreased
use of the skills, intellectual attainments, and special knowledge and
abilities possessed by that class.
Was the abolition
primarily a result of dissatisfaction with the system on the part of the
two most powerful women in the kingdom — Ka'ahumanu and Keopuolani — who
received the opportunity to exercise their influence at a time when
faith in the old socio-economic system was weak? Or as Anthropologist
Alfred L. Kroeber has suggested, did the principle of "Cultural Fatigue"
lead to this revolution, meaning that the over-elaboration of this
traditional pattern of religious and political behavior finally resulted
in a burdensome system with which the people became disillusioned and
which they finally abandoned?
This explanation downplays the influences exerted by changing social and
physical environmental factors resulting from the new European
influences impacting Hawaiian society, which others believe must have
shaped its thinking to some degree.
Robert Redfield, for
instance, stresses the importance of this culture contact and has
suggested that the overthrow of the kapu system exemplified
planned, conscious reform on the part of the Hawaiians as a result of
the "unsettling impact" of Western customs and moral attitudes. He
argues that the social strain and ideological incongruities presented by
exposure to European civilization increased the probabilities of such a
change in a culture that had shown in the past a proclivity to abandon
gods who did not achieve for them what they wanted. This explanation,
however, fails to address the social and political developments that had
taken place in Hawaiian society during the previous years that enabled
the change to take place so easily.
have used sound arguments for both political and economic motivations.
Malcolm Webb, for instance, questions whether personal desires, such as
the preference of two women for more personal freedom, would be powerful
enough to cause such a great change unless other factors were also at
work undermining the traditional process. He also questioned how on this
level one could explain the ready acquiescence of the king and the high
priest, who stood to lose considerable status, or whether this would
even adequately explain the motives of the royal women involved, who,
because of their high rank, actually suffered less from the kapu
system than the common women.
Webb believes it doubtful such a drastic change would have occurred
without foreign contact showing the availability of alternative systems.
However, although the Hawaiians were probably struck by the fact that
foreigners could violate kapu without harm, Webb believes the
Hawaiians were not overly disturbed by this because they realized these
people were not part of the same genealogical-ceremonial system.
Webb states that during the
years preceding the overthrow of the old religion, rivalry among closely
related members of ruling kin groups and the channeling of much of the
country's resources to ritual rather than to the increase of foreign
trade or as bonus payments for armies were the leading causes of the
failure of the early Hawaiian chiefs to consolidate state power. By the
time of the overthrow, however, an intense desire had grown on the part
of the local chiefs for foreign goods, to such an extent that they were
heavily in debt and needed to divert resources from other uses.
Webb's argument is that
the abolition of the kapu system was linked to the ongoing,
although probably unrealized, transformation of the Hawaiian culture
from a tribal to a state entity. European trade goods, especially
firearms, and the surplus wealth gained from their position in the
center of the goods distribution network, had by this time enabled
senior tribal chiefs to gain some measure of power. That power,
independent of tribal tribute, enabled them to safeguard their new
status by hiring and paying additional retainers. As the power of local
chiefs increased in this manner, they had less need of a leadership
system based on prestige, seniority, or rank-status within a kinship
group. Their increased wealth and power gained from trade and military
force lessened their need as well for the ritual requirements of the
traditional system but increased their need for the freedom of action
enabling fluidity within a changing social system. Elimination of the
sacred nature of the socio-political system would also remove
restrictions on the ruler in terms of the time devoted to ritual
practices, his ability to move freely around his kingdom, and his
ability to wage war without tedious ceremonials. Webb states that for
all these reasons, "the downgrading of the traditional religious
institutions should in fact be a very common or even typical occurrence
during state formation and consolidation." The weakening of traditional
religious constraints is especially likely to occur, Webb argues,
whenever chieftainships, characterized by the extension of power through
kinship and ritual ties, start to develop into states.
Webb believes, however,
that Hawai'i was unique in that foreign missionaries did not influence
the overthrow of the old religion. He points out the continuing worship
of some gods and the veneration of royal tombs, such as Hale-o-Keawe,
and suggests that if the missionaries had not arrived on the scene, some
variation of traditional religious practices would have been instituted,
controlled by the monarch, that did not interfere with the increasing
power and efficiency of the government.
In terms of timing of the abolition of the old religion, it occurred at
a point when the older ideological system had become seriously
inhibiting and when power adequate to replace it had arisen.
Webb characterizes Hawai'i
in 1819 as illustrating the changeover from ritual to secular controls
that usually accompanies the growth of state societies. The event
comprised, he thinks, a "functionally necessary adjustment," similar to
those that any culture would have to make at a certain stage of
development in response to a specific problem in order to survive.
This does not detract from
the importance of individual actions in the event, because the persons
initiating changes would be suffering "status conflict or deprivation"
within the current system. But, they could only be successful in their
rebellion if the cultural situation also demanded the change. And
possibly the people most likely to initiate such a change would be those
of high rank, rather than oppressed commoners, who were less bound by
traditional codes of behavior and freer to innovate and move toward
needed cultural changes.
Webb ends his discussion with the intriguing statement that it was not
necessary that individuals such as Ka'ahumanu and her followers
completely understand the full ramifications or the ultimate advantages
of their actions before initiating innovative measures serving the
survival needs of their society. Such acts, he states, "would be
performed because when they were done things — for some reason — simply
In other words, personal motivations may not be that important a
consideration in the overthrow of the kapu system, for
Hawaiian rulers certainly did not realise that they were part of
"the process of inevitable political consolidation within a newly
formed secondary state," but they must have had enough perspicacity
to see that the old religious system, in supporting a social
structure which worked against the new social reality, was somehow
"wrong" and had to be changed to one which was more congruent with
the new order. The motives of the innovators themselves may, of
course, have been either cynical or pious . . . and the end
product would surely have been the same.
William Davenport also
cites economic and political reasons for the repudiation of the kapu
system, and at the same time explains why members of the ali'i
would naturally be the principal instigators of reform. It was the
aristocratic class, he reasons, that had had the most contact with
Europeans after Cook's discovery and thus had been subject to the
strongest acculturative influences. In time they began to demand more
and more imported goods, which led to the need for increasing commercial
trade. As a consequence, they had to divert large amounts of labor from
traditional subsistence activities to the procurement of sandalwood, the
major trade item, straining the Hawaiian economy and a labor force that
was already decreasing due to disease.
Therefore, in addition to
simply wanting the increased power that would result from abolition of
the old socio-political system, Davenport thinks the ali'i
believed that the economic crisis necessitated freeing the culture from
the burden of supporting the various priesthoods. Levin places little
weight on this argument because, she states, it is difficult to
determine how oppressive a burden the support of the priesthood was and
whether the advantages gained would really have been worth repudiating
an entire religious system.
Davenport's argument, in
other words, also looks at the overthrow from a political perspective —
"as a deliberate political action of the legitimate government of the
Hawaiian Islands." It was, as Webb surmises, a political act resulting
from a political decision in response to stress. Ka'ahumanu, Webb believes, instigated the kapu
violations as an "intuitive political response to preserve the regime
that . . . she had helped to expand and consolidate" under Kamehameha I
She could clearly see that the traditional dual succession system
handicapped the government by providing optional leaders who could
easily rally opposing factions. By pressuring for a break in this
tradition, she raised an issue sure to create factions in the
population, but at a time when the opposition was not yet fully
organized. The faster an encounter could be forced, she knew, the less
opposition could be raised. Therefore she pushed the issue as quickly as
she could after Kamehameha's death.
This argument states that
the major goal of Ka'ahumanu at that time was to maintain the strength
of the monarchy. Davenport points out that the priesthood had functioned
as one of the most important checks against despotism; if a ruler
alienated his priests, they could weaken his rule or cause his overthrow
by interpreting divinations and auguries as adverse to his regime. If
not supported by the priesthoods in ancient Hawai'i, a ruler often found
himself in serious political trouble. To remove their status, therefore,
would strengthen the power of the ruler, a huge gain worth the price of
lowering the value of divine rank.
In addition, even the
commoners had surely begun to realize, Davenport believes, that guns
possessed as much ability to make things happen as did the gods. That
fact was probably abundantly clear to Hewahewa, who had served as
Kamehameha l's advisor in religious matters during his rise to power.
Hewahewa might have sensed that the power of the priesthood would wane
as the relationship of Hawai'i's monarchs with Europeans increased. At
the same time Kalanimoku, as senior minister, war leader, and an
intimate of the late king, could see that trade was vital to the
maintenance of governmental power because it was the only way to gain
guns and ships. Destruction of the organized priesthoods, which claimed
a large segment of the labor and produce of the land, could only
strengthen his regime both politically and economically. The interesting
aspect of the event, Davenport points out, is that those who sought to
change the system did it through the head of state, not in the form of a
coup d'etat. The strategy, a successful one, was to reform from
within in what amounted to a constitutional reform of traditional
Davenport also discusses
the economic side of the overthrow. He believes the political crisis
resulting in the change was a result of the government's stress from
trying to pay for its unrestrained purchases of foreign goods. The
commoners were kept so busy providing sandalwood for trade that they did
not have enough time to cultivate food for their own needs. That
affected not only their well-being, but also lessened the amount of
tribute and taxes they were able to contribute to support the court and
the priesthoods as well as the many religious rituals and military
campaigns. This steadily deteriorating situation was forcing the central
government to a decision — to either renounce its commercial goals or
reorganize the allocation of its resources. At the same time, the
ali'i' s strict religious doctrine had been shaken by contact with
Europeans. Therefore, there existed little opposition to an action that,
in eliminating the priesthoods, would free the country's resources for
other uses and also increase the political authority of the paramount
chief and his followers. Despite the loss of some benefits heretofore
prescribed by religious sanctions, the king could retain his power
through armed force. As Webb suggests, Davenport believes the timing of
the overthrow was all important. It took place during a period of
instability, when the kapu was already being violated as part of
the traditional mourning ritual for a beloved leader. Instead of
reinstating the kapu, an action that would have reaffirmed its
perceived value to the country, Liholiho joined the violators and thus
ensured the system's destruction.
All things considered,
Davenport agrees with Webb's evolutionary interpretation of events. He
strongly believes the abolition of the kapu was a deliberate
political response to political crisis caused by the growing power of
the monarch and local chieftains and by an increase in commercial trade,
and was further stimulated by growing religious doubts and the problems
caused by a declining population. Those internal problems were
intensified by continuing social and economic contact with Europeans.
The government response to lower this stress level involved governmental
reform that would enable reorganization of the admininstrative
infrastructure to allow more efficient allocation of the country's
John L. Fischer also
believes the overthrow was successful because it was a smart political
move and because it coincided with the popular sentiment at that time.
He states his belief that prior to Kamehameha's unification of the
islands, "sociocultural forces" were increasing the elaborateness
of the state religion; after unification, there were forces at work to
However, he states, it usually was more typical for dissatisfied members
of the general population to demand change than for the central
government to initiate reform without pressure from the people,
missionaries, or foreign governments. In most developing societies, he
states, chiefs and high-ranking persons usually attempted to maintain
the aboriginal religion and its authority- preserving sanctions. Hawai'i
was different because of the political conditions and the political
functions served by kapu and the native religion. Fischer thought
the old religion's major purpose prior to Kamehameha's reign was to
militarily and economically support local chieftainships, a function
made unnecessary by unification of the islands. Whereas in earlier
times, this had created a close relationship — the local chiefs
defending the people against enemies and organizing the production and
distribution of resources, Fischer believes the abolition of the kapu
system was a manifestation of a new alliance — uniting the central
government and the commoners against the local aristocracy.
An essential part of
Fischer's argument is that class conflict had always existed between the
local chiefs and commoners in aboriginal Hawai'i. One reason was the
hardship of supplying labor and food to the chiefs, time-consuming tasks
that put additional stress on the commoners and that depleted their own
food supply. Contact with the West increased this stress by leading to
the need for additional production by the people for trade purposes; in
addition, unification of the islands had already resulted in an
additional level of administrative hierarchy for the commoners to
support. Added to this was conflict between the central government and
its retinue and lower-ranking chiefs.
Because of this, Fischer thinks it would only have been sound political
strategy, to guarantee their continued authority, for the central
government to attempt to ally itself more closely with the commoners;
certainly one way to dramatically accomplish this would be by abolishing
From another viewpoint,
Stephenie Levin points out that the immediate period after Kamehameha
l's death was one of unrest regarding land tenure rights, which
traditionally on the death of a paramount ruler reverted to his
successor, who redistributed them. Ka'ahumanu was a member of the
ali'i group to whom Kamehameha had deeded land outright. She must
have realized that the kapu system was adverse to the interests
of her kin group in retaining these lands. As a member of the central
government, she would also be averse to the kapu system because
it threatened the continuance of her administration by implying that the
right to rule could only be confirmed through religious ritual. Ka'ahumanu
would have been astute enough to realize that secularizing the
government and making succession hereditary would not only stabilize but
increase the power and authority of the central government.
In summary, Levin believes that certain members of the ruling ali'i,
after the death of Kamehameha, probably feeling their position to be
somewhat insecure, realized that the current political system,
constrained by ancient religious tenets, was highly unstable. That
explains why the movement arose and did not constitute an attempt to
destroy a set of religious beliefs the people had already rejected, but
was a specific attempt to consolidate and strengthen the political
authority of the central government.
The reason for the
kapu system's overthrow at this particular time was probably a
result of all the conditions discussed, in varying degrees. Undoubtedly
Western contact and growing desires on the part of the people for
European amenities; the insecurities of the government — the first
monarchy to take office through hereditary succession; the far-reaching
political and social implications of maintaining the kapu system;
the disruption of the balance of power among local chiefs due to trading
advantages; and the disturbance of personal relationships in and among
the general population from exposure to Western goods and customs, all
must have played a role. And because of this unrest, strong
personalities in the forefront of the government at this time were able
to assume a critical role in nudging the course of history.
6. Effects of the Overthrow of
the Kapu System
What were the affects of
the overthrow of the kapu system? According to Marion Kelly,
The royal declaration
outlawing the taboo system did not affect all Hawaiians in a like
manner. For the most part it relieved the ali'i, and
particularly the women, of certain oppressive conditions. Although
the revolt against the declaration was not well supported, the
people did not immediately abandon their religious practices nor
their beliefs. Ancient religious rituals were set aside by the
ali'i only, and the new religion that Christian missionaries
brought was not welcomed by Hawaiians with opened arms.
In his introduction to
Laura Judd's memoirs, Dale Morgan, in reflecting upon the consequences
of the kapu abolition movement, opines that
Destruction of the
kapu system made little difference in the power of the chiefs, and
though the revolution greatly impaired the power of the priests, it
did not destroy their power wholly. A more far-reaching effect was
that the discontinuance of formal religious services left a certain
vacuum in the nation's life, subtly damaging the social fabric, the
sense of order that had shaped much of Hawaiian existence. . .
Scholars have enumerated
many detrimental effects of the abolition of the kapu system on
the Hawaiian population precipitated by the loss of order and regulation
in society and of the ceremonial motivation and efficiency of organized
labor. Psychological hardships became extremely significant for a people
deprived of the support and leadership heretofore offered by customary
ways of doing things.
Because kapu had
directed every aspect of Hawaiian culture, their removal also
affected every segment of daily life. Removing the underpinnings of
traditional Hawaiian social and political culture led to a chaotic
psychological trauma for the majority of Hawaiians who, subjected at the
same time to such detrimental influences as rum, tobacco, and venereal
disease, were assailed by feelings of doubt, fear, confusion, stress,
and depression about the future.
Changes in land tenure
and ownership rights, in the division of labor, in the types of services
performed and the kinds of goods produced, in personal relationships,
and in social stratification were many. For instance, the allotment of
land changed with the further consolidation of the government. Although
the former kahuna of the organized priesthoods were stripped of
their powers, they kept their lands, becoming landed gentry like the
rest of the ali'i. The withdrawal of the caste system tended to
weaken kinship ties between the maka'ainana and the ali'i
and removed distinctions between the kauwa and the
maka'ainana, opening the way for integration of the classes.
Ultimately the disintegration of old values and the traditional kinship
systems led to the loss of the feeling of unity in families, which had
been one of the keystones of ancient Hawaiian society.
As traditional values
fell in esteem, so did the production of native implements, arts, and
crafts and the accomplishment of other native industries as the focus of
acquisition settled on more and more foreign items. As political rivalry
and wars of succession ceased, commoners no longer regarded the king and
other ali'i as leaders and an inspiration in war. The overthrow
also affected the culture's subsistence and consumption patterns,
specifically food and craft production, which were no longer tied to the
social-political-religious system. Because the people no longer observed
seasonal cycles marked by formal religious ceremonies, planting was less
planned and more informal; the lack of kapu on fishing activities
probably resulted in increased overfishing. Although agricultural
festivals were no longer held, farmers and fishermen still had to pay
taxes, not to bring bounty through the goodwill of the gods as in
earlier times, but as impersonal payment to the central government.
The void left by
abandonment of the age-old socio-religious system would be filled only
partially by the teachings of Christianity. Members of the upper class
of Hawaiian society would support the work of the New England
missionaries upon their arrival and would, in turn, instruct the people
to learn and obey the new teachings. Possibly because they were used to
obeying edicts from above, or possibly because they were looking for a
new direction in their spiritual and daily lives, many of the population
took to the teachings of Christianity with little resistance. Even the
missionaries, however, would have rough going in countering some of the
more unwelcome attractions of the foreign trading ships and of a new
visitor to Hawai'i's shores — the whalers.
7. Death of Kamehameha II
Despite this dramatic
break with past traditions, some of Liholiho's actions were similar to
those of rulers before him. He gathered around him young chiefs,
children of warriors, and even commoners, making them members of his
household. He collected taxes in the form of food and subsistence goods
from the different islands of his kingdom.
Like his father, Liholiho moved his residence several times in response
to the need for his presence in an area. At one point he lived at Kawaihae and later, upon the advice of his cabinet, moved his principal
residence from Kailua to Honolulu.
However, the short reign
of King Kamehameha II was clouded by excesses in drinking and spending
on luxury goods. One author writes that Liholiho
did not have to rule
by ritual and he did not know how to rule by law, and so he ruled by
whim, alternately despotic and delinquent. . . . Even a decent
respect for his own position seemed to be beyond the king.
The king, queen, and
their attendants visited London in 1824. In their absence, Ka'ahumanu
acted as regent, imposing strict new moral rules on the islands. At
about the same time, a revolt was instigated on Kaua'i by the son of the
old chief Ka'umu'ali'i. Although the government put an end to the
revolt, these events combined to further the missionary cause, while
diminishing the power of the king.
King Kamehameha II and
Queen Kamamalu died of measles in London in July 1824. A national
council appointed his younger brother Kauikeaouli as king, and
Ka'ahumanu continued as regent. The council also decreed that hereditary
succession was now the law of the land.
C. Arrival of New Religion
1. Missionaries Come to Hawai'i
The year 1819 was a
critical turning point in the history of the Hawaiian Islands. As
described, the death of Kamehameha and the abolition of the kapu
system left the islands without a formal religion. Unaware of these
events, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions that
same year determined to send missionaries to Hawai'i to convert and
"civilize" the people by introducing churches, schools, and the press.
Another new element was
added to fuel the social, cultural, and economic turmoil in the islands
as whalers began to arrive in increasing numbers looking for supplies,
fuel, food, and water. This onslaught greatly increased demands for
goods and services, a situation that commercial interests and foreign
governments (largely British and American) were quick to capitalize
upon. The missionary activity, expansionist ambitions, and commercial
interests prevalent in the Hawaiian Islands in the early 1820s set the
stage for a battle for control of the Hawaiian kingdom, a battle
dominated for the first few decades by the American missionaries. They
would influence Hawaiian politics, foreign relations, and economics for
the next half century.
2. Establishment of Mission
By 1800 a number of young
Hawaiians who had signed onto trading ships as sailors had found their
way to New England. In 1816-17, the American Board of Christian Missions
opened a Foreign Mission School at Cornwall, Connecticut, for young
foreigners; seven of the original twelve students were Hawaiians. The
success of these young scholars encouraged the board to send
missionaries to the Sandwich Islands.
The first company of
missionaries left Boston in October 1819 aboard the ship Thaddeus.
After a turbulent eighteen-thousand-mile-voyage, they arrived at
Kawaihae on the shores of Hawai'i at the end of March 1820. Upon their
arrival they found that King Kamehameha was dead and the kapu
system had been abolished.
After lengthy consultation with his advisors, King Kamehameha II granted
the missionaries permission to land. The newcomers felt they had a
tremendous task ahead of them, for their charge from the American Board
had been to
open your hearts wide
and set your mark high. You are to aim at nothing short of covering
these islands with fruitful fields and pleasant dwellings and
schools and churches and of raising up the whole people to an
elevated state of Christian civilization.
They quickly set about
establishing mission stations. Reverend Asa Thurston; Mrs. Lucy Goodale
Thurston; Thomas Holman, M.D.; and Mrs. Lucia Holman, accompanied by
Hawaiian converts Thomas Hopu and William Kanui, were sent to Kailua to
minister to the people of that district — teaching them literature, the
arts, and most importantly, Christianity ("training them for heaven").
Among their first pupils were the new king and his younger brother, two
of his wives, and some other youths.
The king was particularly interested in having Holman present to provide
medical care for the royal family, and for a short time William Loomis
ran a "family school" for Kalanimoku and his family at Kawaihae.
Although the king and his
chiefs were gracious in receiving the missionaries, there were others —
especially among the foreign merchants — who argued against their
admission. Some of the foreigners residing on the islands were wary of
the newcomers, fearing a loss of easy access to the governing chiefs and
diminishing returns from their prosperous businesses that catered "to
They warned the chief that the missionaries would ban polygamy, alcohol,
and native religion. They also suggested that the arrival of English
missionaries was imminent and argued that the missionaries intended to
claim possession of the islands for themselves.
John Young generally
supported the missionaries, helping them with translations, housing, and
other matters. One of his sons was among the first pupils taught by the
American missionaries at Kailua. According to the captain of the
Thaddeus, Young suggested to the missionaries that the "Government
of Great Britain might not be pleased with the settlement of American
missionaries at the Sandwich Islands."
Some of the chiefs even asked Young to write to the British to avoid any
misunderstanding. Other foreigners living in the islands were not so
supportive. Frenchman Jean Rives (who had close ties to King Kamehameha
II) argued strongly that the missionaries should not be allowed to stay.
(Rives was a Catholic who later requested that priests be sent to the
islands.) In the end, the American missionaries were limited to a
probationary one-year period, and only because of Ka'ahumanu's support.
Intrigued and repelled by
traditional native customs, the missionaries quickly set about to
"civilize" the Hawaiians. This involved imposition of a strict culture
common to the New England ministers whose religion was "intolerant of
religious and moral beliefs that were not in accord with their own."
Idols that had been hidden when the kapu was broken were sought
out and burned, It was later reported that around 1822,
poison-god Kalaipahoa was burned at Hilo, and at Kailua, one hundred
and two idols, collected from various hiding places, were consumed
in one bonfire. Feasting, dancing, and revelry went together with
the burning of idols.
Laws were enacted against
gambling, drinking spirits, dancing the hula, breaking the
Sabbath, polygamy, prostitution, and other acts the missionaries
Wary at first of the new
religion, a number of the natives were won over following the conversion
of several high-ranking women, including Keopuolani, Kapiolani, and
The support of these women was crucial to the missionaries' success,
because they were extremely influential. Keopuolani, who was the first
convert in 1823, was the highest-born woman in the land and mother of
the next two kings. Ka'ahumanu served as regent of the kingdom with
power almost equal to that of the king. After her conversion, Ka'ahumanu
worked zealously for the missionary cause. One early traveler suggested
that because she had always expected "prompt and unquestioning
obedience" from the commoners, she probably believed the moral attitudes
of her people could easily be molded by government decree.
Also, because traditionally there had been no division between religion
and government, Ka'ahumanu's acceptance of the new religion gave it
official sanction in the minds of the people.
Before long, churches were
erected, and the native people, used to instruction from religious
leaders, became active churchgoers. One factor explaining their
receptivity to the new religion is that many older Hawaiians had died of
warfare and disease during the previous years, precluding instruction of
their descendants in the traditional ways.
The native Hawaiians may also have accepted Christianity for another
reason. A number of years prior to the arrival of the missionaries, a
native prophet named Kalaikuahulu had predicted that the Hawaiian people
would receive a message from Heaven "entirely different from anything
they had known, and that the tabus of the country would be subverted."
The American missionaries
actively discouraged activity by members of other religious groups,
especially the Catholics.
However, when the Reverend William Ellis of the London Missionary
Society toured the islands in 1823, he was well received by the
Americans. Ellis noted that there were eight areas suitable for mission
stations on the island of Hawai'i. On the west coast,
the frequent residence of former kings, where a depository of their
bones, and many images of their gods, still remain, has a dense
population waiting for Christian instruction. . . . Towaihae [Kawaihae]
on the north-west, a considerable village, presents nearly equal
The missionaries led a
difficult life, isolated from each other by the great stream channels
and mountains of Hawai'i. The missionaries' homes, and often their young
children, were in New England, thousands of miles away. Several times a
year, the missionary would tour his district, preaching and checking on
the schools. Because of rough terrain and the lack of roads, each tour
might require five or six weeks. However, the missionaries persisted,
and over the next two decades they accomplished much of what they set
out to do. By that time, New England Puritanism and Christian beliefs
had largely replaced the kapu system in ordering the Hawaiians'
During the early 1830s,
missionary influence on Hawaiian life began a gradual decline, broken by
a short period of revival (1837-40) when newly arrived evangelicals
baptized hundreds of Hawaiian supplicants. Some of the missionary
children, educated in the United States, later returned to the islands
as missionaries or became active in politics and commerce there. As the
islands gradually adopted Christianity, many of the missionary stations
were closed or turned over to native Hawaiian leaders.
D. Literacy Increases
Education of the Hawaiians
was a high priority among the missionaries. Their first pupils were the
chiefs and their attendants and the native wives and the children of the
foreign residents. At first lessons were taught in English, but soon the
missionaries set about mastering the Hawaiian language. By the mid-1820s
they had adopted an alphabet and reduced the spoken Hawaiian to the
written word. They then began to print textbooks while continuing to
translate religious materials, particularly the Bible, into Hawaiian so
that the lessons could be taught to a larger audience. Once materials
were printed in Hawaiian, the missionaries could teach reading, writing,
arithmetic, and religion to the native populations.
By 1824 the missionary teachers were trading copies of religious texts
for basic food supplies, and by 1834 two newspapers were being published
Lahaina and Honolulu soon
developed into important mission stations where religious tracts and
newspapers were published in Hawaiian, augmenting and accelerating the
literacy program for the islanders. Because Ka'ahumanu and several key
chiefs supported the missionary cause, Christian conversions were
accompanied by ever-increasing numbers of natives attending school at
the urging of their leaders. However, school attendance was always
affected by traditional activities. For example, entire families might
be away from an area for a period of several weeks building a wall for
one of the chiefs or searching for articles of tribute. The missionaries
also accused foreigners "of no very virtuous character" of injuring the
educational system by enticing the children away from school.
On the other hand, the foreign schooling also drew the younger ali'i
and maka'ainana away from traditional pursuits, accelerating the
pace of acculturation.
After a time, some of the
best educated Hawaiian students were assigned school districts of their
own. The area chief furnished their housing, the schoolhouse, clothing,
and food and was to ensure that all inhabitants attended school. As the
pupils progressed, this process was repeated, and soon the majority of
the population could read and write. According to one author, so many
schools were established during this time that Hawaiians became one of
the most literate peoples in the world.
Festive examinations and exhibitions were held at selected places like
Kailua on Hawai'i so that everyone could see the excellent progress the
Hawaiian pupils had made.
By 1837 the northern
district of Hawai'i could report 155 schools, with over 5,010 scholars
and 10,000 books ranging in subject from the "Child's First Lessons" to
the New Testament.
The educational system produced many practical benefits as well. As the
Hawaiians learned to read and write, they also learned that they were
being exploited by the traders and sailors and were able to revalue
their products accordingly. They also learned a number of useful new
crafts. Although the Hawaiian school system fell upon hard times
following the death of Ka'ahumanu, revitalization of missionary efforts
coupled with legislative reforms led to additional emphasis on, and
support for, education by 1850.
Levi Chamberlain, an
American missionary, played a major role in the early development of
Hawaiian schools. In addition to the missionary teachers, administrators
actively supported the Hawaiian school system. One of these men, the
Reverend William Richards, accepted a post with the Hawaiian government
in 1838. He was responsible for the adoption of vocational training in
the school curriculum and for the introduction of English as a medium of
His common sense and compassion worked to further the educational system
E. Changes in Government
Kamehameha II made few
formal changes to the government of the islands following his father's
death and the abolition of the kapu system. The land still
belonged to the king, though held by the chiefs. Distinguished chiefs
were appointed as governors over the different islands and districts,
which still paid the king tribute. Commoners worked for a chief who in
return supported them in their old age. Priests still enforced the laws
and collected revenue for the king.
However, beneath this veneer
of normalcy, the old type of government had begun to crumble. Liholiho
was caught between two worlds. The Hawaiian people had begun to adopt
Western mores, customs, and vices, and their traditional religious and
moral precepts were breaking down. Because Liholiho did not know how to
rule under the new system of law espoused by the missionaries, his
decisions were often swayed by foreign friends with their own
Kamehameha II was
ill-equipped to deal with these opposing forces. Forced to make choices,
he tried to placate the missionaries while also accommodating the
traders and merchants. Unfortunately, he dismissed many of his father's
shrewdest advisors, depending instead upon foreign companions. Heavy
drinking clouded many of his decisions. When he died in London in 1824,
he left a troubled monarchy struggling to deal with the changes that had
swept across the islands.
Between 1825 and 1840,
changes in the Hawaiian government were largely influenced by foreign
ideas and the American missionaries. Conversion of Hawaiians such as
Keopuolani and Ka'ahumanu to Christianity swiftly paved the way for
changes in the lives of ordinary Hawaiians. For example, Ka'ahumanu,
once the favorite wife of Kamehameha, possessed more power and property
than any other Hawaiian woman.
Following her conversion to Christianity, she rigidly enforced many of
the religious dictates of the missionaries among her people. During the
1820s, these dictates were established as laws, enforced by the
missionaries but resisted strongly by the foreign traders and merchants. Boki, the royal guardian and tutor of the young king, challenged
Ka'ahumanu's leadership, but was diverted from attempts to depose her
and died on a sailing trip seeking sandalwood.
death, Hawaiian leaders attempted unsuccessfully to regain native
Hawaiian control of the islands and return to the old ways. Foreigners,
especially the American missionaries, continued to influence the
F. Development of a Hawaiian
By the 1830s there was a
growing sentiment among the Hawaiians for more self determination. After
two decades of Christian instruction, Hawaiian leaders "were forced to
consider in earnest a fundamental reconstruction of the government of
As the numbers of
influential foreigners in the community continued to increase, so did
questions as to their rights to property and a place in the community.
Imperialistic pressures from various foreign nations raised the question
of Hawaiian independence, and the Hawaiians turned to the missionaries
for guidance. After failing to secure teachers of the science of
government from New England, the American Missionary Board released one
of their members, William Richards, to aid and advise the Hawaiian
Between 1839 and 1852, men like Richards, Gerritt P. Judd, R. Armstrong,
R.C. Wyllie, Lorrin Andrews, William Lee, and John Ricord were joined by
a group of well-educated Hawaiians in helping King Kauikeaouli
(Kamehameha III) formulate major changes in the Hawaiian government.
Over the next few years,
the government announced a policy of religious toleration (1839),
declared a policy of human rights for the king's subjects (the 1839
Hawaiian Magna Carta), placed elementary schools under the management of
the government, and developed and adopted a national constitution (1840)
that provided for a legislative system. A series of organic acts were
passed. The first of these provided for appointment of an executive
cabinet (administrative department heads). One of John Young's sons
(Keoni Ana) had been the premier and now became Minister of the
Interior. The other cabinet members were Euro-Americans with interests
in Hawai'i. The executive cabinet joined the four governors of the
islands to constitute a Privy Council, replacing the council of chiefs.
Laws were passed to create a civil service and an independent judicial
system. These documents began the separation of power into the
executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of government, an idea
new to the Hawaiian culture.
One of the most important
changes was revision of the Hawaiian land tenure system.
Foreigners using or holding Hawaiian lands were very anxious to secure
title to them. Resident merchants saw future opportunities for
large-scale agriculture and capital investments and viewed the land
tenure system as a roadblock to progress.
By mid-century, the
native autocracy had given way to a more liberalized form of government
under the newly adopted democratic constitution. Unfortunately, the
constitution (which was intended to help native Hawaiians) and the 1850
land law were all too often manipulated to the advantage of the fiercely
competitive foreign business and commercial interests and land-hungry
G. Changes in Food Production
reign, fertile soils, astute agricultural practices, and a stable
population provided for a fairly healthy native economy — one that could
support both the maka'ainana and the large numbers of priests and
chiefs. During the 1820s, as traders and chiefs alike demanded more
goods, and as cities like Honolulu expanded, there were tremendous
demands upon local farmers to produce increased supplies of food, wood,
and water. Numerous vessels, sent by the government in Honolulu, came to
the busy ports of Kailua and Kealakekua Bay on a monthly basis seeking
Some of the chiefs
responded by planting more land to crops like sweet potatoes, melons,
and taro, while European-operated gardens supplied other foods. By 1825
the Kona Coast was producing large quantities of food. Yet because of
the abolition of the kapu system, there were fewer ways for
chiefs to regulate production. Also these increased production demands
occurred at the time of a general exodus of native peoples away from the
small farming villages to the larger cities; continued sandalwood
cutting was also drawing workers away from their farms. Several authors
suggest that the influence of the foreign missionaries also affected
food production. That is, many of the workers "were obliged to quit
their work, and to repair to the nearest auxiliary [missionary] school
so frequently during the day" that food production suffered. Missionary
prohibitions against working on the Sabbath also reduced the amount of
time and energy an individual farmer could give to the land. The
missionaries, on the other hand, blamed the problem partially on
foreigners whose "horses and cattle desolate the land and prevent
cultivation, and the people are famished."
They also suggested that the foreigners had neglected to teach the
natives agricultural skills and that the moral decline during Liholiho's
reign (fostered by the foreigners) had contributed to diminished taro
By 1830 many new
varieties of produce were being cultivated across the islands. While
taro, yams, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, plantain, bananas, fish, and
mulberry trees (for kapa cloth) comprised the major food crops,
fruits and vegetables introduced for trade had gradually found their way
into native gardens. Cabbages, onions, pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers,
beans, radishes, and melons had become abundant, but were cultivated
"almost exclusively, for the refreshment of ships, and the tables of
foreign residents." As a result, more and more land had to be developed
to support new products. Yet the people had little incentive to produce
more goods. Perhaps two-thirds of their produce had to be given to the
chiefs, and any unauthorized increases in stock or plantings were likely
to be taken in tax or tribute as well. Missionaries suggested that the
commoners were so poor they seldom tasted meat, living almost
exclusively on taro and salt.
By 1831 attempts were being
made to develop large-scale farming operations to produce sugar,
tobacco, coffee, cotton, spices, flax, hemp, and beef cattle. Fearing
undue influence upon their parishioners, the missionaries steadfastly
opposed the expansion of foreign commercial and agricultural interests
in the islands. Instead they tried to help the native people by
fostering a variety of commercial agricultural enterprises, including
sugar mills, cloth making, and production of corn meal.
These attempts were generally unsuccessful because of the lack of
capital. In the end, the missionaries agreed to work with trader P.A. Brinsmade, who had religious leanings.
In 1835 or 1836,
Brinsmade and partners William Ladd and William Hooper (operating as
Ladd and Company) received support from the missionaries in obtaining a
long-term lease from King Kamehameha III. This lease included cane land,
a mill, water power, and road building privileges. As changes in land
tenure and government occurred, other companies began to lease or
acquire sizeable parcels of land for large-scale agricultural
By mid-century, major
social, political, and economic changes had "caused the rapid demise of
the traditional Hawaiian landscape."
Shortly after that time, the whaling trade began to decline, lessening
the demand for a variety of agricultural products. Specialized
plantation agriculture was introduced, and Western tools, foreign
indentured laborers, and new forms of land ownership and economic and
agricultural practices began to replace traditional farming methods. The
plantation system did not utilize the 'ohana-ahupua'a economic
units in the traditional manner, encouraging instead the emigration of
workers to the upland plantations or into cities.
H. Changes in Trade Patterns
1. Sandalwood Trade
In America, the Panic of
1819 made it difficult for traders to obtain specie for the China trade.
However, because the Hawaiian chiefs had become enamored of items of
foreign manufacture, the islands provided an open market for goods like
rum, clothing, cloth, and furnishings.
Foreign traders shipped these goods to the islands, exchanging them for
sandalwood, which continued to be in demand in the Canton ports.
(Sandalwood was a desirable cash crop in Hawai'i because it could be
harvested year round and did not have to be irrigated or cultivated.)
Between about 1810 and 1820, the major item of Hawaiian trade was
sandalwood; this trade continued at an accelerated rate following Kamehameha's death. Although Liholiho should have inherited all of
Kamehameha's lands, the chiefs wanted the revenue from the sandalwood.
By persuading the king to give them control of the royal sandalwood
monopoly, they effectively removed any regulation of the harvest or sale
of the wood.
Liholiho's taste for foreign
luxury goods continued to grow, including such large and expensive items
as schooners and brigs. Soon most of the Hawaiian royalty began to
purchase goods on credit, against future sandalwood income, and the
Hawaiian economy became overextended.
Part of this problem
derived from the traditional cultural system, which had little provision
for such credit arrangements. As Samuel Kamakau explains, the chiefs
bought ships and turned their debts in to the king, and he in turn gave
them to the government. The king's friends were among the worst
Let us run up the debt
and make the chiefs and commoners work; they are no friends of ours,
so let us get what we can while our lord is alive.
The increasing scarcity of
the trees and the growing demands of the king and his chiefs for trade
goods led to the harvesting of large quantities of immature timber,
which brought lower prices. The royal domain was stripped of sandalwood
to gratify the tastes of its upper class, encouraged by easy credit. The
Hawaiians' huge sandalwood debt was renegotiated several times as
merchant traders continued to charge inflated prices for trade goods,
leading the king and the chiefs into owing more sandalwood than they
could deliver. Eventually traders sought the aid of their individual
governments in collecting these monies, but it was years before the
Hawaiian national debt was retired.
It is estimated that over 100,000 piculs (over 13 million pounds) of the
fragrant lumber, worth more than a million dollars, was stripped from
the mountains and hills of Hawai'i during the first thirty years of this
trade. The unpaid debts contracted in the time of Kamehameha I and II
(including interest) may have reached as high as $200,000, of which most
was owed to American merchants.
By the mid-1830s, supplies of sandalwood were virtually exhausted, and
other commodities such as salt, coconut oil, and beef cattle had begun
to take its place.
The sandalwood trade
exacted a heavy price in human life and health and in ecological damage.
In 1823 the Reverend William Ellis described the transport of sandalwood
from the adjacent mountains to the beach at Kawaihae by "between two and
three thousand men, carrying each from one to six pieces of sandalwood,
according to their size and weight. It was generally tied on their backs
by bands made of ti leaves."
2. Effects on Society
Lacking food and
suffering from an excessive workload, many laborers died, contributing
to the general decline in the Hawaiian population. As the labor force
was drawn away from the fields and fish ponds, less time and energy were
devoted to subsistence crops. Society was turning to a market economy,
and the new foreign trade articles and luxury goods quickly became
necessities, particularly for Hawaiian leaders. Eventually this
situation created a large negative trade balance. Changes in the
patterns of trade resulted in a number of impacts upon the native
culture. As the chiefs increasingly incurred debts for imported luxury
goods, they imposed additional taxes and expectations for service upon
their tenants. For example, in 1831, an additional tax of one picul
(133.33 pounds) of sandalwood was levied on each individual. The wood
was to be brought from the mountains and deposited with the authorities
at Honolulu; those who failed to comply with this tax were fined a sum
of four dollars.
The Hawaiian historian David Malo wrote that the "chiefs seem to have
left caring for the people . . . and [the people] are more oppressed at
the present time than they ever were in ancient times."
The raising of cash crops left less for the well-being of the individual
tenant farmer, resulting in increased numbers of poor and homeless. The
landholders also spent more and more time away from the land as they
dealt with the foreign traders at Honolulu or other port cities. Thus,
the power of the konohiki grew, again resulting in increased
oppression of the commoners.
3. Whaling Industry
The whaling industry had
a major effect upon Hawaiian commerce and trade. As the Northwest fur
trade decreased and sandalwood supplies and values dropped, the whaling
industry began to fill the economic void. Frozen out of traditional
hunting areas by the Europeans, American whaling ships began to sail
farther and farther into the Pacific. In the autumn of 1819 the first
whalers (the Balena [also known as the Bellina or
Balaena] of New Bedford and the Equator of Nantucket) dropped
anchor in the Hawaiian Islands. A year later, Captain Joseph Allen
discovered large concentrations of sperm whales off the coast of Japan.
His find was widely publicized in New England, setting off an exodus of
whalers to this area. These ships might have sought provisions in Japan,
except that Japanese ports were closed to foreign ships. So when Captain
Allen befriended the missionaries at Honolulu and Lahaina, he helped
establish these areas as the major ports of call for whalers.
Within a few years, dozens
of whaling ships were calling at the Sandwich Islands. Because the
islands were centrally located — close to summer whaling in the north
and winter hunting near the Equator — they were a logical choice for the
Pacific base of operations. The friendly natives and mild climate of the
islands especially appealed to the whalers after their long voyages
aboard cramped, dirty, evil-smelling ships.
Twice a year (spring and fall) the northern Pacific whalers put ashore
at Honolulu and Lahaina for up to three months at a time, taking on
large quantities of fresh provisions, fruit, and vegetables.
Supplies of clothing, sail, and other items were stocked for the ships'
stores. Several hundred sailors from the ships went ashore during each
visit, demanding additional supplies and entertainment.
The number of American
whalers and trading ships in Hawai'i reached its zenith in the 1840s and
1850s. By that time many of the larger mercantile houses of the American
East Coast were operating in the Pacific, and a whole range of service
and commercial industries began to flourish in the major port towns to
serve the whalers and traders. Many of these commercial agents and
traders had purchased land at Honolulu and Lahaina with profits from the
sandalwood trade. As that trade diminished, they turned their attention
to the whalers. The traders purchased the whalers' bills of exchange and
stored their whale oil. Because local supplies were inadequate to
service the whaling ships, the traders imported goods from Boston and
shipped whale oil and whalebone there in return. By 1831 stores
belonging to the "several respectable American merchants" on O'ahu
contained "all the necessary articles of American manufacture, the
productions of the China market, wines, and almost every article of sea
The income from these retail
outlets amounted to perhaps $100,000 per year.
There were also numerous other businesses in Honolulu, including two
hotels, two billiard rooms, and ten or twelve public houses selling
spirits. Ships chandlers, shipyards, and warehouses took in large
profits. The shipyards at Honolulu were especially important to the
whalers, for there ships could unload their cargoes and be repaired and
refitted for another six months of whaling. The whalers' voyages could
be prolonged for as many as four years without having to return to home
The Hawaiian rulers made
several abortive attempts to continue their monopoly on the sales of
island products. For example, an 1823 order reserved the right of
vegetable sales to the Hawaiian governor. But these trade restrictions
were generally ineffectual because the agents and traders kept insisting
on a free market and because local supplies were inadequate to meet the
whalers' needs. Also, after 1824 foreign merchants largely controlled
prices, making large profits and adding to the drain on the Hawaiian
resources and native economy.
The 1840 discovery of
another whaling ground off the coast of Siberia caused a dramatic
increase in whaling ship visits to the island ports. Many of the firms
established during that period continued in business into the twentieth
century. The whaling industry had another aspect. Simpson suggests that,
although the sandalwood trade enriched a few Yankee traders and some
Hawaiian chiefs, whaling was "the first capitalistic venture which truly
involved the Hawaiian people." Increased revenue came from fees and
import duties charged on whale products. Many Hawaiians worked in the
shipyards and warehouses. In addition, thousands of Hawaiians shipped
out as seamen aboard the whaling ships, so many that the crews were
often half Hawaiian. Many of these sailors, through death or emigration,
failed to return to the islands, profoundly changing the face of
Hawaiian society. The American Civil War, the discovery of petroleum,
and the decimation of the whales ended the reign of the whalers in the
Pacific by about 1876. Whaling had been "an economic force of awesome
proportions in these Islands for more than forty years,"
enabling King Kamehameha III to finally pay off the national debts
accumulated in earlier years.
4. Honolulu Becomes Major
Not only foreigners
stimulated trade. The island chiefs filled their houses with luxurious
silk and velvet furnishings and clothing. Expensive cut glass and silver
plate were purchased as presents for the king or for a favored wife.
(Meanwhile, the missionaries, who could not afford the high prices
charged by the merchants or by the chiefs, continued to rely upon gifts
of food from their native parishioners or produce from their gardens.
The alternative choice was even less palatable:
they had to suffer eating
stale salt beef and pork and sea biscuit.) By the mid-1820s, Honolulu
had become a major redistribution point, as imported goods and locally
produced items were repackaged, stored, broken up, or sold, both for
local consumption or to refurbish ships' stores. Trading establishments
imported goods for the natives, collected vessel cargoes, and maintained
a supply of ships' goods.
I. Conflicting Values and Foreign
The first two decades
after the arrival of the missionaries were a crucial period in Hawaiian
history. Conflicting values and ambitions led to confrontations among
the various factions — the missionaries, the native leaders, the
traders, the whalers, and the representatives of foreign governments.
The missionaries (and those
Hawaiian leaders who had converted to Christianity) were affronted by
the ongoing drunkenness and prostitution occurring at places such as
Honolulu. And they were firmly convinced that the natives could not be
successfully converted to Christianity unless their private lives
underwent reform. So, despite instructions from the American Board to
refrain from interfering in local political affairs, the missionaries
sought to impose their own strict moral code on both the Hawaiians and
foreigners and issued a number of commandments for the larger community.
As one writer reports, the laws regarding the Sabbath were particularly
onerous — the natives "were not even allowed to smoke or cook any meals
on Sunday." When criticized by the merchants, the missionaries suggested
that because the traders' interests lay in making a profit, they were
"only mildly concerned with the welfare of the Hawaiian people among
whom they lived."
In turn, the traders were
convinced that the presence of the missionaries, especially those at
Honolulu, interfered with enterprise, private business, and profits. The
whalers and traders especially resented attempts to restrict their lives
— especially when the rules forbade work on the Sabbath, drinking, or
prostitution. They retaliated by attacking the missionaries, accusing
them of meddling in the affairs of commerce and government. These two
divergent viewpoints led to conflicts between the groups, and there was
a great deal of competition for the support and favor of the Hawaiian
leaders. Serious violence directed at the missionaries flared up several
times in the mid-1820s and again in 1852.
At first, the Hawaiian
government under Liholiho continued the policy established by
Kamehameha, that is, its leaders regarded the British as the protectors
of the Hawaiian kingdom. Once American missionaries began to influence
the Hawaiian leaders, much of the British advantage was lost.
At the same time, the British, American, and French consuls and naval
officers opposed many of the commandments issued by the missionaries and
came into conflict with the Hawaiian government by trying to expand and
protect their own financial and political interests.
J. Great Mahele
Perhaps the most
important of the reforms that the Hawaiian government undertook during
the 1830s and 1840s was the Great Mahele, or division of lands.
The Mahele provided a basis for modem land titles by changing the
old feudal tenures to allodial (absolutely independent) modern land
titles in the islands.
Following the death of
Kamehameha, Kamehameha II reassigned a few properties to his intimate
friends but failed to carry out the traditional redistribution of lands.
Generally, he allowed current landholders to continue to occupy their
land, possibly due to the combined influences of Ka'ahumanu and the
landed interests of the chiefs. Gifts of land were also made by
individual chiefs and by the king to foreigners, but with the tacit
understanding that the gift could be revoked at any time.
Following Kamehameha II's
death in London in 1824, the Hawaiian government faced increasing
demands for land from island chiefs and from assertive foreign traders
and merchants. Used to owning land in fee simple, foreigners had begun
to object to the right of the king and his chiefs to dispense land at
will and to evict foreigners as they pleased. Before 1820, most foreign
residents were common sailors, men who conformed to native customs.
After 1820, foreigners arriving in the Islands were often "men of higher
status in life" who had little regard for native traditions and who
"began to deal with their property like they would do in their
For this reason, earlier disputes over moral laws and sandalwood debts
gradually shifted to dissension over land and property rights.
The land tenure system
with its self-sufficient ahupua'a and communal subsistence
economy had, for a long time, worked well for the Hawaiians. Although
the chiefs controlled the land and extracted food and labor from the
commoners who farmed the soil, "everyone had rights of access and use to
the resources of the land and the sea. . . . The people were sustained
by a tradition of sharing and common use."
The system reflected the islands' social stratification from the ruling
chief down to the lowest commoner. Production and consumption patterns
had been partially regulated through the kapu system. However,
once that started to deteriorate, the subsistence economy was easily
breached by foreign intervention, and the land tenure system became
dysfunctional. The political division of labor among men and women,
commoner and chief, was no longer sanctified, and ceremonies such as the
Makahiki ceased to have much meaning within the political system.
In a land ruled by one leader, the redistribution of land became
irrelevant because a need no longer existed to periodically divide the
The breakdown in the land
tenure system began during the early trade with foreigners. At that
time, the chiefs and priests controlled trade, while the commoner had to
supply ever-increasing amounts of produce. The farmers' labor increased,
not only to produce more food, but to help gather firewood, water, and
sandalwood for the traders. Most early nineteenth-century Euro-American
visitors held a simplistic view of Hawaii's land tenure system,
complaining that it was backward and oppressive, resulting in "a nation
of shirks." The missionaries also criticized the system and lobbied for
changes, noting that its existence kept the people poor and "forbid
cheerful industry." William Richards noted that the elder chiefs'
objections to proposed land reform centered around loss of control over
Under pressure to change the system, Kamehameha III and his chiefs,
assisted by their Euro-American advisors, reviewed national land tenure
policy. To correct some of the problems plaguing the Hawaiian kingdom,
they issued the Hawaiian Bill of Rights in 1839, followed shortly by the
first constitution. That document acknowledged that
though all the land
belonged to King Kamehameha I, "it was not his own private property.
It belonged to the chiefs and people in common, of whom Kamehameha I
was the head, and had management of the landed property.'" This was
the first formal acknowledgement by the king that the common people
had some form of ownership in the land, aside from an interest in
the products of the soil.
Within five years a land
commission (The Board of Commissioners To Quiet Land Titles) had been
established to begin reform of the Hawaiian land system. The stated
intent of the reform was to facilitate land acquisition by the poorer
classes, allowing them to derive a "proper reward for their industry,"
and to encourage population growth.
Eventually the chiefs and konohiki joined Kamehameha III in
supporting the Great Mahele, beginning in the 1840s.
The Mahele was an agreement on the "separation and identification
of the relative rights of the king, the chiefs, and the konohikis" with
regard to the lands within the Hawaiian Islands.
At first consideration,
the Mahele would seem to have been the culmination of the
sweeping cultural changes that occurred following the death of
Kamehameha. However, one author notes that
long and undisturbed
possession of their lands by chiefs was a preparation for the
development of a sentiment favorable to permanent individual rights
in land . . . and may be regarded as the seed germ of the system of
land tenures which afterwards developed.
Suggesting that the idea of
hereditary transmission of estates originated with Kamehameha, Dole
notes that from about 1795 until 1839, there appears to have been a
growing tendency to allow descent of lands from parent to child.
Also, as land occupants became increasingly secure in their
landholdings, there were more land transactions, both as gifts and
The Great Mahele
did not convey land, but established a land commission and provided the
means whereby land claims could be presented to the commission and
adjudged by them. The king, still concerned over foreign control of
Hawaiian lands, then signed instruments that divided his land into two
portions. One part, "the Crown Lands," he retained; the rest,
"Government Lands," went to the chiefs and the people. The third act of
the Great Mahele, commonly known as the Kuleana Act of 1850,
enabled the Land Commission to award small parcels of land to commoners
for subsistence purposes.
The Great Mahele
was followed by legislation that allowed the sale of lands in fee simple
to resident aliens and authorized the award of kuleana to
commoners. Some say that the Great Mahele stands out in Hawaiian
history as an extraordinary example of altruism, for the Hawaiian
aristocracy peacefully relinquished many of their hereditary rights and
privileges for the good of the people. Others point out that there
existed a vast gulf between the provisions of the law and actual
practice; that is, the laws and their administration proved inadequate
to protect commoners rights, Indeed, all too often the laws
intensified the oppressive control over commoners either by chiefs
or foreigners who quickly gained ownership and control over large
tracts of land. . . . Basically, history shows that the chiefs
As it became evident that
the Great Mahele had not achieved its stated goals, government
holdings were used to provide land for commoners. According to Kelly,
this too was a failure, and only a few parcels were actually sold to
Many of the kuleana lands that commoners received in the 1850s
were later lost. The list of reasons is lengthy: natives received lands
that lacked firewood or were too rocky and poor to farm, a number of
kuleana were sold by unscrupulous land agents before the farmers
could get a survey, the land commissioners delayed getting notices to
landholders, prices were out of reach for commoners, or foreigners
evicted legitimate kuleana owners without due process.
K. Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
The reign of Kamehameha Ill
ended in December 1854. Under his liberal guidance, Hawai'i had
established constitutional government, a workable legislature, and
executive and judicial branches, and had redefined personal and property
rights. The Hawaiian government made a number of treaties and agreements
with foreign nations during the years 1826 to 1839. In most of them, the
Hawaiian government had little room for negotiation because demands
"made by the military representatives of powerful nations" were usually
backed "with threats of violence and the presence of warships."
The French, British, and Americans all sent warships several times to
protect their commercial interests, acquire special rights for their
citizens in Hawai'i, collect sandalwood debts, and protest Hawaiian land
tenure policy. In addition, each foreign nation tried to prevent the
other from annexing Hawai'i. Negotiations began in 1854 to annex Hawai'i
to the United States, but ended with the death of the king.
Kamehameha IV and V
(1854-63 and 1863-72) were well-traveled and well-educated leaders whose
policies were somewhat pro-British. Kamehameha IV and his queen, Emma,
founded the Queen's Hospital and introduced the Episcopal Church into
Hawai'i. In the early 1860s King Kamehameha V called and dismissed a
constitutional convention and then proclaimed a new constitution in
By 1862, sharply
diminished returns from the whaling industry made it clear that some new
economic incentive was needed in the islands — that product proved to be
sugar. During the American Civil War, Hawai'i's exports of sugar
"increased tenfold," establishing a new industry that continued into the
In 1863 the American
Board of Missionaries ended four decades of work in the islands by
transferring its work to the Hawaiian Board. By 1882, most of the
original Hawaiian missionaries had died, and those who came later had
left. The only remaining missionary stations were at Kohala, Waimea, and
Hilo; the churches had been turned over to native Hawaiian pastors.
Following the death of
Kamehameha V, the popular pro-American Lunalilo reigned for only a year
before the kingdom was taken over by King Kalakaua, who ruled from 1874
to 1891. He helped bring about the reciprocity treaty with the United
States in 1875. As extended in 1887, this treaty gave the United States
the exclusive right to Pearl Harbor and allowed tariff-free exchange of
certain items, especially Hawaiian sugar and molasses, for several
American products. King Kalakaua also made a world tour — the first by a
Hawaiian monarch — thereby catching the attention of world leaders.
However, he increasingly leaned toward a return to many of the aspects
of the old Hawaiian system, including the idea of divine right. A new
constitution was promulgated in 1887, guaranteeing more responsible
Lili'uokalani assumed office in 1891, but was deposed in 1893. Her
opponents, mostly American residents in the islands, objected to her
attempts to provide a more authoritarian government and reduce American
influence. These Americans also sought annexation of the islands by the
United States in order to end the prohibitive McKinley tariff of 1890,
which had precipitated a severe depression.
There were other underlying reasons behind the move for annexation.
Honolulu's protected Pearl Harbor was needed as an American fueling
station during the Spanish-American War. In addition, some Americans
viewed the Hawaiian Islands as a logical steppingstone for United States
manifest destiny in the Pacific.
Over the years, large
landholders had acquired Hawaiian lands at the expense of the small
native farmers. By 1867, seventy-two large private landholders and the
government owned approximately 95.36 percent of the land in Hawai'i.
Americans continued to heavily influence the course of Hawaiian
industry. For example, American investors furnished approximately three
quarters of the funds invested in the sugar industry and also managed
the plantations. Hawaiian government lands continued to be sold until
the Revolt of 1893 placed the remainder of the Crown Lands in the public
By the late 1800s cattle
ranches had grown up in the Kona District. Sugar, cattle, and pigs were
major products. Japanese workers grew cotton, and there were several
cotton gins in the area.
After World War II, Kona became an important producer of coffee and
macadamia nuts. Similar changes occurred in the Kohala District, which,
with its good fishing and excellent soils, had supported a large
population before Cook's arrival. With the advent of commercial
plantations there, laborers and planters came from a number of countries
to work in the mills and sugarcane fields, contributing to the growing
cultural diversity of the area.