HAWAII

THE STORY OF THE KAMEHAMEHAS

 

Hawaiians lost their lands and their sovereignty under Kamehameha's less capable successors. Persuaded to help the large plantation owners protect their invested interests, Kamehameha III gave up his title to all Hawaiian land, except certain large estate that became known as crown land. He then allowed the chiefs, foreigners, and commoners, in a series of laws from 1845 to 1850, to file fee simple titles or purchase the rest.

 

With the passing of Kamehameha in the spring of 1819, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and Kaahumanu became co-rulers of Hawaii. After six months, they broke the kapu that forbade men and women from eating together. The two of them then ordered the destruction of the heiaus and abolished most religious and social taboos and in doing so, brought about one of the most abrupt and puzzling ends of a society in history. The Hawaiian people were thus receptive to the teachings of a new god when Christian missionaries from New England arrived on their shores in 1820.

Hawaiians lost their lands and their sovereignty under Kamehameha's less capable successors. Persuaded to help the large plantation owners protect their invested interests, Kamehameha III gave up his title to all Hawaiian land, except certain large estate that became known as crown land. He then allowed the chiefs, foreigners, and commoners, in a series of laws from 1845 to 1850, to file fee simple titles or purchase the rest. Because the concept of land ownership was unknown to most Hawaiians - land, like the sky, belonged to the gods - common Hawaiian people acquired less than one percent of the land. The Hawaiian people felt dispossessed and no longer in control of their own destiny.

Power slips slowly from the hands of Hawaiian monarchs. On January 14th, 1893, Queen Liliuokalani tried to rectify this with a new constitution. A handful of mostly American businessmen, eager for more favourable trade agreements, seized the opportunity to promote annexation with the United States. They were aided by resident U.S. diplomats John Stevens, who called in a contingent of marines and sailors, ostensibly to protect U.S. lives and property. On January 17th, the Queen yielded "to the superior force of the United States," and a provisional government headed by Judge Sanford Dole, the son of a missionary, was established. President Grover Cleveland was appalled by the conspiracy and withdrew the hastily presented annexation treaty from consideration by Congress.

Five years later, however, Congress did pass an annexation resolution. Crown land comprised most of the two million acres appropriated by the interim government and ceded to the United States. They were eventually turned over to the state when Hawaii joined the union in 1959.      

In the midst of the forces that swelled around them, and which ultimately they could not control, Kamehameha's successors tried to provide for the people. Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendant of Kamehameha the Great founded the Kamehameha Schools for children of Hawaiian ancestry, which are supported by her vast land holdings. To honour her memory, her husband created the Bishop Museum, now an important centre for the study of Hawaiian and Pacific cultures.

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