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Kingdom of Hawaii

The legends mention sixty-seven ancestors of Kamehameha I, and place therefore the beginning of the settlement of Hawaii at a period which would approximately correspond to the sixth century of the Christian era. As a matter of fact human bones have been discovered under old strata of coral and lava streams; in any case with such a system of chronology a large margin of error must be allowed for. Far more important is the exceptional evidence for the solution of the question of the origin of the Hawaiians. A large mass of the traditions point to the Samoan Sawaii, as the chief point of emigration, without necessarily excluding accretions from other groups of Polynesia. The recurrence of Sarnoan geographical names in Hawaii is an argument in favor of the legends. Judging by the frequent mention which they make of Tahiti and the Marquesas the main route seems to have led over these islands.

A. Fornauder arrives at the conclusion that, some twenty generations after the first immigration, about the eleventh century, that is, a new wave of nations touched Hawaii, produced by a general movement in the island worlds of the South Sea, which, again, was due to the expulsion of Polynesian immigrants from the Fiji Islands. Into this period, therefore, fall, according to legend, the journeys of famous chiefs and priests to distant isles, rendered possible from the greater enterprise of the ancient races and the higher perfection of navigation at that time.

The first and only attempt at oversea expansion gave way to a fresh period of isolation, which lasted at least into the sixteenth century, probably down to the date of Cook's landing. During this long period the Hawaiian people developed all its peculiar characteristics ; then it was that those numerous States and societies were founded, which were mutually hostile. The waves of war surged high in the fourteenth century, when King Kalaunuiohua tried for the first time to unite all the islands under his sceptre.

The first intercourse with Europeans dated from the sixteenth century. In 1527 one of the three vessels of Don Alvarado de Saavedra is said to have been wrecked on the cliffs of South Kona, and in 1555, the Spanish navigator Juan Gaetauo is supposed to have discovered the Hawaiian Islands. This intercourse, even if it is based on fact, produced no results on the external and internal history of the country.

James Cook, on his landing (1778), found three States: Hawaii and Maui, both of which were governed by one ruler (Taraiopu, Terriobu), since the ruler of Hawaii had married the queen-widow of Maui; and thirdly, Oahu, to which Kauai and Nuhau belonged. Not only were Oahu and Hawaii at war with each other, but all these States were riddled with internal dissensions.

The task of reducing this chaos to order was reserved for Kamehameha I (Tamea-Mea; 1789-1819), who not only won more foreign successes than any other Polynesian ruler, but in intellectual gifts towered above the average of his people. He had distinguished himself in war as a young man, and national bards prophesied of him that he would one day unite the people. A few years after Cook's murder (February 14, 1779) he began to put into practice his bold plans, on Hawaii at first, and after its subjugation, on Maui (1781) and the other islands. Partly by his personal valour, partly with an army disciplined by the help of Europeans (to which after 1804 a fleet of twenty-one ships was joined), he attained his object in 1795. After storming the fort "Pali" on Oahu, to which island Kamehameha is said to have crossed with 16,000 men, he proclaimed himself sole monarch of the Hawaiian Isles. The two northwest islands, Kauai and Nuhau, then voluntarily submitted.

Like the Zulu king Shaka and the Wanyamwesi leader Mirambo, Kamehameha has been compared to great rulers of the Mediterranean sphere of civilization. Turnbull places him by the side of Philip of Macedon, and Jarves calls him the Napoleon of the South Sea; to others he has suggested Peter the Great. He must have been a powerful personality. Adalbert de Chamisso was proud of the fact that he had shaken hands not only with General Marquis de Lafayette and Sir Joseph Banks, but also with the great Hawaiian. Kamehameha I was, as Theodor Waitz says, not merely great in intellectual capacity, he was still greater by his moral strength and the power and purity of his will. If we take into account also his majestic bearing, which commanded respect, the vastness of his influence is at once accounted for.

The course of Kamehameha's reign, after he had united his kingdom, was peaceful. It was for the Hawaiians an era of revolution in every field, though least so in that of social life. Kamehameha made no changes in the relations of the several classes of the people to each other and to the monarch. The lower class remained, then as formerly, in its strictly dependent and subservient condition, and he had further weakened the power of the nobility, which even before his time had been slight. A new feature was the external reputation gamed by political union, and the growth of the people into a power unprecedented in the Pacific. This, at an early period for Oceania, had quickly turned the attention of the European powers and of North America to the north of the Pacific Ocean, as is shown by the numerous British, Eussian, American, and French expeditions.

The changes in the domain of culture and economics involved more momentous consequences for the future of the Hawaiian people. Only the higher classes of the people were materially Europeanised; the masses had to continue for some time in the old paganism and the ancient Polynesian semi-culture. Nevertheless it could not be long before the whole nation was subject to this change. Kamehameha neither intended nor suspected that it should take the form of a complete disintegration of the old national life. This decline was mainly produced by the introduction of European immigrants, who made their way into all the influential posts, and produced a temporary economic prosperity by transmarine commercial enterprise and a policy of tariffs; but at the same time their intimate relations with the natives were destined to destroy the old religion, the stronghold of Hawaiian nationality.

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Page last modified: 13-07-2017 19:08:42 ZULU