The fascinating history of Hawaii is one of sea voyages on canoes guided by the stars and of the hula dance
Words: Priya Narayan
ARRIVAL OF POLYNESIANS AND TAHITIANS
It was around 1,500 years ago that the Polynesians, expert sailors guided by the stars in the night sky, sailed in canoes, making their way to the islands of Hawaii. They brought with them their traditions and lifestyle that blended into their life on a new island. Settlers from Tahiti followed suit, bringing with them their culture and religion that would shape Hawaii over the next century. Tahitian chiefs and priests introduced, on the one hand, religious practices and social structures and taboos (kapu), and on the other, large public projects to benefit their people – taro terraces, irrigation systems, construction of temples, among others. Hawaii offered them the right environment to settle down and flourish, ending their need for long distance voyaging.
Based on the highly structured hierarchy, the mo‘i or the king held the highest rank and was responsible for the people, followed by his chief advisors, often the high priest or the kahuna nui and the chief minister, kalaimoku. There were multiple chiefs under the king whose position and rank were decided by their genealogy. Ali‘i were chiefs under the king holding various ranks and who often attended to him and even entertained him with stories and games. Commoners or the maka‘ainana formed the largest group in terms of population and a small group of outcasts, the kauwa, born to their positions, formed the bottom of the society.
The kind of life that people lived in Hawaii depended on their position in the social hierarchy. The pleasant climate allowed Hawaiians to live most of their lives outdoors and houses that they built were simple grass or hale houses meant for protection against harsh weather. The size of the house along with the land that a family owned also depended on their social standing. Their clothing was made of plant fibres and consisted of a loincloth (malo) for men, a skirt (pa‘u) for women and a shawl (kihei) for both. They created fishponds, practiced farming, constructed temples and were great healers. Their surroundings provided them with all the food they could possibly need, allowing them free time in which they developed games, art forms and dances.
ARRIVAL OF EUROPEANS
In 1778, British explorer James Cook arrived in Hawaii and brought with him European technology and weapons for warfare. In the 1780s and 1790s, the chiefs of the land often fought for power, and it was with the help of European technology that King Kamehameha ended the battles and became the sole ruler of Hawaii. His dynasty ruled the land for another century. Cook, however, was killed after he abducted the King of Hawaii, Kalani‘opu‘u and held him as ransom for one of his boats that the Hawaiians had stolen because of the temple idols and the fencing that Cook had taken with him.
After Cook, a number of Eurasians came to Hawaii and brought with them diseases such as influenza, small pox and measles that wiped out more than half the Hawaiian population. Protestant missionaries who came also converted a significant section of the population and western influence continued to grow. Hawaii’s sugar and pineapple plantations fuelled its economy inviting Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Portuguese immigrants. It wasn’t until 1959 that Hawaii became a state of the US, the last to join the country and the only one that is a string of tropical islands located in Oceania.
Hawaii’s vast ocean floors are just as blue as the skies above, if not bluer. With a grand canyon in the ocean, sea mountains extending to the sky – perfect spots for watching the sun set or for stargazing, a blanket of lush greenery covering the hills, valleys and clear shores of the beaches, and fragrant flowers blooming in every corner of the island, not to forget one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Hawaii is nothing less than an exotic dreamland for travellers.
Priya is a writer and aspiring film maker. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul – Teens Talk Relationship. She can be reached at email@example.com