Lahaina is a gorgeous little town in the western part of Maui. Today, it is bustling with tourists. Shops and restaurants dot the water-front main street.
As I researched into its past, I am confronted with a number of emotions. Foremost, the aloha spirit is abound. So far, we have met travelers from the mainland U.S., Germany, China, and even Lithuania.
The aloha spirit is contagious. People readily greet each other with smiles and take time to be curious, helpful, and generally pleasant. Drivers are usually not in the rush and waves at pedestrians to cross first.
Kamehameha sacked it in 1795, ending the Pi’ilani family’s reign over Maui. Lahaina would eventually become the capital after Kamehameha subjugated all of the Hawaiian islands (1820-1845).
During Kamehameha’s time, Lahaina was also a popular destination for whaling ships. After discovery of oil and the outbreak of the American Civil War, the whaling industry declined. Sugarcane plantations took off, especially with the advent of steam engine, allowing sugar to be readily transported across the pacific.
The following snippet from Wikipedia.org tells how Hawaii slowly got her sovereignty eroded, and the intractable relationship with the United States lead to 75% of her land grabbed by foreigners:
Industrial sugar production started slowly in Hawaii. The first sugar mill was created on the island of Lanaʻi in 1802 by an unidentified Chinese man who returned to China in 1803. The first sugar plantation, known as the Old Sugar Mill of Koloa, was established in 1835 by Ladd & Co. and in 1836 the first 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg) of sugar and molasses was shipped to the United States.
By the 1840s, sugar plantations gained a foothold in Hawaiian agriculture. Steamships provided rapid and reliable transportation to the islands, and demand increased during the California Gold Rush. The land division law of 1848 (known as The Great Mahele) displaced Hawaiian people from their land, forming the basis for the sugar plantation economy. In 1850, the law was amended to allow foreign residents to buy and lease land. Market demand increased even further during the onset of the American Civil War which prevented Southern sugar from being shipped northward. The price of sugar rose 525% from 4 cents per pound in 1861 to 25 cents in 1864. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 allowed Hawaii to sell sugar to the United States without paying duties or taxes, greatly increasing plantation profits. This treaty also guaranteed that all resources including land, water, human labor power, capital, and technology would be thrown behind sugarcane cultivation. The 1890 McKinley Tariff Act, an effort by the United States government to decrease the competitive pricing of Hawaiian sugar, paid 2 cents per pound to mainland producers. After significant lobbying efforts, this act was repealed in 1894. By 1890, 75% of all privately held land was owned by foreign businessmen.
The bottom-line was that Hawaii was powerless and the majority of her land would be usurped by White plantation owners.
Some would argue corrupt chiefs traded land for weapons and other goods. If not for the plantations and subsequent modern development, perhaps Hawaii would never enjoy the high standards of living that exist today.
Thinking back to 1778, when British navy captain, James Cook, first ‘discovered’ Hawaii, I wondered how the natives would have initially greeted him had they known how India was colonized or how China was being turned into a nation of opium addicts; again, all for profits. James Cook was a scoundrel who served the atrocious British Empire.
The Hawaiian narrative is that Cook was initially thought to be a god. Cook exploited that belief initially and took advantage of the local’s hospitality. On his subsequent visit, the Hawaiian witnessed the death of one of Cook’s crewmen. Realizing they have been duped, the Hawaiians took a much less welcoming stance. Some incidents broke out, culminating in number of Hawaiians killed as well Cook clubbed and stabbed to death.
Some discount the Hawaiian narrative, but I think it’s very plausible. The Conquistadors where greeted the same way by the natives. Cook, being an “explorer (click for BBC’s narrative),” would have undoubtedly been familiar with those accounts.
If the Hawaiians have their way today, they would insist on a very different narrative being taught in schools about Cook.
Sad as Hawaii’s history have been, the quality of life that exists there today is indeed undeniably great. That should be celebrated.