Hawaii - Settlement
The Polynesian settlement of Hawaii was a segment in one of humankind's most audacious periods of ocean voyaging. These people set out on repeated voyages in open canoes across broad oceanic expanses separating small island clusters. Settlers who came to Hawaii 1,000 years ago, for example, are presumed to have come from the Marquesas, 4,000 kilometers to the southwest. There was some kind of pre-Polynesian population on the island, but it was probably absorbed by the newcomers. A second substantial wave of Polynesian migrants arrived 500 or 600 years ago.
The massive effort required by these voyages apparently became too great. As a result, Hawaii spent several hundred years in isolation after the second migration period. During the isolation, the Hawaiians solidified a complicated social organization in their insular paradise. Hereditary rulers held absolute sway over their populations and owned all of the land. By the late 18th century, when Europeans found the islands, the benign environment supported a population that numbered about 300,000.
The first European to visit Hawaii, which he dubbed the Sandwich Islands, was Captain James Cook in 1778. Cook was killed on the shore of the Big Island, but news of his discovery spread rapidly after reaching Europe and North America; it was quickly recognized that the islands were the best location for a waystation to exploit the trade developing between North America and Asia.
In the 1820s, the whaling industry moved into the North Pacific and, for the next half-century, the islands became the principal rest and resupply center for whalers. About the same time, Protestant missionaries came to the islands. Like most of the whalers, they were from the northeastern United States. They were very successful in their missionary work, and for decades had a major influence on the islanders.
The first Hawaiian sugar plantation was established in 1837, although the islands did not become a substantial producer until after the middle of the century. Between then and the end of the 19th century, Hawaii grew to the rank of a major world sugar exporter.
This development led to a need for agricultural laborers. Native Hawaiians were used for a time, but their declining numbers provided nothing like the labor force needed. Thus, between 1852 and 1930, plantation owners brought 400,000 agricultural laborers, mostly Asian, to Hawaii. In 1852, ethnic Hawaiians represented over 95 percent of the population of the islands. By 1900, they were less than 15 percent of the total population of just over 150,000, whereas nearly 75 percent were Oriental.
After 1930, the mainland United States became the main source of new residents in Hawaii. In 1910, only about one resident of Hawaii in five was of European ancestry (referred to in Hawaii as Caucasian). Now, nearly 40 percent of the state's population is Caucasian or part-Caucasian.
The population of Hawaii fell from its pre-European peak to a low of 54,000 in 1876 before beginning to grow again. By the early 1920s, the state's population had reached pre-European levels, and in 1988, the state had 1.1 million residents. Because of immigration, Hawaii's annual rate of population growth is well above the U.S. average.
The pre-European population was spread across the islands, with the Big Island occupied by the largest number of people. Since European discovery, the islands' population has been concentrated increasingly on Oahu. Honolulu, with its fine harbor, became the principal port city.
The political history of Hawaii was turbulent during the 120 years after Cook's discovery. The various kingdoms of the islands were eliminated by a strong chief, Kamehameha, between 1785 and 1795. The missionaries' growing influence gradually made a sham of the authority of the Hawaiian rulers, and, during the 19th century, competing European political interests moved in to fill the resulting vacuum.
But the increasing role of Americans made it inevitable that, if Hawaii was to lose its political independence, it would be annexed by the United States. As American plantation owners increased in number and influence, their dissatisfaction with the Hawaiian government grew. In 1887, they forced the monarchy to accept an elected government controlled by the planters. The monarchy was overthrown completely in 1893, and the new revolutionary government immediately requested annexation by the United States. Initially refused, they were finally accepted as a territory in 1898.
No provision was made at the time of annexation for the eventual admission of Hawaii to statehood, and it was not until 1959, after Alaska was admitted to the union, that Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state.
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