Uncovering The True History Of Hawaii: How Economics Shaped An Island Paradise
Most of us have an idealized vision of Hawaii but know little about its centuries-long history.
But if we look more closely, what emerges is a detailed economic examination of this little-understood paradise that dates back to the earliest Polynesian colonists.
By analyzing the archaeological record alongside Hawaiian fables and legends passed down orally, we can gain insights into the resource management, trading practices, and political networks that underpinned the growth of this unique Pacific community.
For example, we can explore how technology such as guns, germs, and sandalwood altered its destiny.
We can also see how Polynesian voyagers sustained themselves over long sea journeys and how complex social order evolved in pre-modern Hawaii.
In short, looking at economics helps explain how Hawai’i became the island paradise it is today – one with real substance beneath its beautiful surface.
The Last Major Land To Be Settled Became An Egalitarian Paradise For Its Polynesian Explorers
When Polynesians first settled in Hawaii around the twelfth century, they found a paradise.
Not only was it an agriculturally rich land, but it also had a politically egalitarian society.
The settlers took advantage of the arable land and developed intricate irrigation technology that they had imported from Polynesia.
They built canoes for fishing and made fishhooks to provide sustenance.
Because there wasn’t much competition for the land, most people were able to work for themselves without any major wealth gaps forming between them.
In addition, Polynesians minimised their risk of accidents or running out of resources while travelling by observing the stars, the sun, the wind, the tides and seabirds – plus carrying enough food like a single giant taro root as well as hardy breadfruit paste that could last them months at sea.
All in all – when humans first discovered Hawai’i and decided to settle there, it was no wonder why!
It was an agricultural paradise with an egalitarian politics which provided everyone with access to enough resources to get by comfortably.
How Hawaii’S Agricultural Surpluses Sparked Complex Social Systems
The Hawaiian Islands were settled in the thirteenth century, and the taro farms of Hawaii began producing unprecedented agricultural surpluses.
This surplus gave rise to the early population growth of Hawai’i; with more land than workers, women typically gave birth to four children per family on average.
As this population grew, two distinct groups began to emerge – the elites known as ali’i and the agricultural workers known as maka’āinana.
Initially, distinctions between these two groups were not large since there was plenty of unused land available for all.
However, once that land supply ran out during the fifteenth century, this sparked changes in Hawaii’s social order that made it far more complex.
Chiefs sought to consolidate their power by enforcing tax collection and centralizing authority; this practice spread from island to islandin an attempt to imitate other rulers in Hawaii’s vicinity.
A major turning point also occured when a political crisis on O’ahu Island enabled a single chief, Haka, to take control and assign specific units of land to his subjects.
This marked the first time native Hawaiian chiefs had redistributed land for their own gain – something which would become commonlty utilised throughtout Hawai’i’s history to strengthen their power structure.
For those living in pre-modern Hawai’i, early population growth sparked significant changes both politically and socially – allowing a new ruling class capable of wielding tremendous control over their people while engraining an indelible mark upon Hawaiian society that lasts until nowdays.
The Encounter Between Europeans And Hawaiians Paved The Way For Social And Political Changes, Including The Māhele Land Reorganization And The Loss Of Native Hawaiian Land
When Captain Cook sailed off the coast of Kaua’i in 1778, he set in motion a chain of events that would forever alter the course of Hawaiian history.
By introducing weapons, ships and Western Trade to the islands, King Kamehameha I was able to consolidate his political power over six major islands.
As a consequence of this new rapport with Europeans, resource booms ensued.
Sandalwood oil suddenly became a commodity of high demanded by China and whaling soon followed as a popular industry.
This intensified labor opportunities and threatened traditional agricultural labor markets which caused many Native Hawaiians to move to cities instead.
The devastating population decline occurring shortly after Cook’s arrival added yet another blow to Native Hawaiians already altering way of life.
Between 1778 and 1831 it is believed up to 75-80% of people from native Hawaiian population died due to contact with European diseases.
This dramatic shift resulted in great destabilization between two distinct classes among natives: alii (rural landlords) and makaainana (commoners).
Forced to search for work, many began relocated to urbanized settlements like Honolulu, Lahaina and Hilo leaving the alii short on income and their farms deserted.
In an effort locate some form of order in such far reaching transformation King Kamehama III initiated The Māhele: A redistribution plan of land rights aiming at allocating properties among monarchy, ali’i, as well as commoners alike thus paving the pathway for major twentieth century economic invasions on behalf Big Sugar and ensuing thorough dispossession o Native Hawaiian citizens throughout centuries following Captain Cook’s reach shores of island chain.
The Māhele Laid The Groundwork For Big Sugar To Take Control Of Hawaii
When the Māhele was established, it introduced a new concept to Hawai’i: the formal ownership of land in the European sense.
This meant that both ali’i and maka’āinana could now legally own their land.
Most of the lower-class maka’āinana didn’t register for a title, either because there was limited communication or because they were unacquainted with the idea of property.
Consequently, much of the land allocated to them went unclaimed, so it was sold by the state to foreign investors.
Meanwhile, some ali’i leased or sold their lands to entrepreneurs from America and Europe in order to take advantage of a profitable new global market – sugar production!
By 1850, more than half of Hawaii’s exports went to the United States.
The US Congress ratified a free trade treaty in 1876 which further increased foreign investment in sugarcane as well as trade between Hawaii and the United States.
Largely due to these developments, massive growth occurred within the “Big Five” Hawaiian sugar companies during the 1880s; Hawaiian exports grew exponentially from 21 million pounds in 1876 to over 220 million pounds in 1890.
In addition, thousands of Chinese and Japanese immigrants were taken on as workers under indentured contracts.
This all goes on show how The Māhele laid down a strong foundation for Big Sugar’s eventual domination over Hawai`i’s economy and politics.
Us Government And Sugar Barons Colluded To Overthrow Hawaiian Monarchy, Extinguishing Native Hawaiians’ Rights And Resources
When the time came to renegotiate the free trade treaty between the Hawaiian government and the US in 1883, it was clear that the King’s bargaining power had weakened due to the growth of the sugar industry.
This allowed the US government to gain an upper hand in negotiations and as a result, they received a concession that granted them access to Pearl Harbor as an American military port.
At around this same period, sugar barons were becoming frustrated with the policies of King Kalākaua and wanted more investments into infrastructure that would further propel their industries.
As tensions increased, they managed to take control of his government through force and then implemented changes – dubbed as the Bayonet Constitution – which drastically altered Hawain politics.
The United States later passed another tariff treaty in 1890 which once again took away privileges from Hawaiin sugar companies.
This propelled Hawaii into an economic depression whereupon some planters formulated a goal to incorporate Hawaii into America – ensuring cheaper access to US markets.
In 1893, with assistance from the US emissary and troops from USS Boston, Queen Lili’uokalani was overthrown who yielded her forced despite her wishes..
Ultimately, it can be said that The US government and sugar barons worked hand in glove to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy.
The US gained access many valuable resources as well as strategic military bases for its interests, whereas sugar plantations were looking for better economic opportunities through closer ties with Washington – both being aided by changes made by a powerful coup which left Native Hawaiian powerless and without economic compensation for their expropriated land.
An Elite Had Established A Dominance Over Hawaii’s Political System, Giving Wealthy White People Unprecedented Power And Advantage
Although Hawaiians gained political rights in the late 19th century with the passage of the Hawaiian Organic Act, the reality was that the Big Five – a powerful coalition of business and political interests – continued to dominate life in Hawaii at this time.
The power they wielded was significant, as they had a hand in everything from shipping to retail to finance.
The Big Five’s political control was reinforced in several ways.
Firstly, they had an advantage when it came to rural district representation; many Asian plantation workers were barred from citizenship, thus ensuring that white voters carried a lot of weight.
Furthermore, legislation during this period usually favored the Big Five over other citizens – including Hawaiian Natives who had US citizenship but didn’t have their say because cities’ share in legislature didn’t grow despite their rapidly increasing populations.
Ultimately, this resulted in a powerful elite class emerging which included individuals and families that controlled much of the economic production in Hawaii by commanding key sectors such as sugar and pineapple plantations, shipping, retail and finance.
But change would come soon enough….
Hawaii’S Path To Statehood Was Complex, With Unanswered Questions About Sovereignty And Ownership Of Land
When the Big Five opposed statehood for Hawaii, the majority of its residents were last on their minds.
But by 1934, when Congress imposed restrictions on Filipino laborers and passed a tariff act privileging mainland cane and beet sugar producers, it became clear that long-term economic stability would not come from exclusion from the political system.
To affirmatively demonstrate that Hawaii was ready to take responsibility for governing itself, leading politicians elected a constitutional convention which wrote a widely lauded state constitution.
Backers of statehood also had a powerful ally in the national Republican party, which wanted to solidify their political grip in Congress.
Finally, in 1959, Hawai’i became the 50th US State.
As a result of statehood, the people of Hawai’i gained access to greater representation in Washington; Hawaiian Senator Daniel Inouye who went on to nine terms as one of America’s first Asian-American legislators would go on to shape legislation with his home-country in mind while strengthening more access to federal spending programs.
Having said that however, the implications – namely Native Hawaiian loss of sovereignty due to land expropriation – were never addressed around this time
The Land Reform Act Strengthened Hawaii’s Democratic Political Order And Redistributed Property Bringing About Greater Equality
When Hawaii became a state in 1959, it brought about a major shift for the people of Hawaii.
With the introduction of full voting rights, citizens were able to make their voices heard in a new way.
One major way that impact was felt was through land reform.
A number of measures were taken in an effort to create an equitable distribution of property and land among Native Hawaiians and working-class Hawaiians.
Before statehood, during the colonial era, most Native Hawaiians simply couldn’t afford to own land for themselves.
In addition, large estates shifted to leasehold practices rather than selling the land off.
This created another barrier to homeownership for Hawaiian residents as they did not benefit from those proceeds due to federal tax obligations based on decades of ownership.
However, when all of Hawaii’s citizens had voting power, they worked together to pass the Land Reform Act (LRA) in 1967 with the goal of more fairly distributing both residential and commercial properties more equitably.
The LRA gave lessees the opportunity to purchase their leased property at a judicially mandated price by paying off a reasonable portion over time – something many Hawaiian residents would have been unable to do previously before statehood.
Although many challenges still remain today, Hawaii’s Land Reform Act was seen as a victory for landowners who wanted greater control over their homes and possessions – allowing them not only tangible benefits but also providing them political stability by giving them an incentive to support legislation that protects property rights for all.
The key message of the book Hawai’i is that one cannot truly understand its history without studying the economic forces at work.
From trading resources, to redistributing wealth, Hawaii’s journey is a dynamic example of how powerful economic forces can shape an island paradise.
We witness how taro agriculture was imported by Polynesians and then how the Big Five sugar planters rose to power.
The continuation of Native Hawaiian’s fight for fair ownership of expropriated lands becomes clear too.
In sum, this book provides a comprehensive summary of the historical economic forces that have played such an important role in Hawai’i’s destiny.