When Captain Hackfeld opened his first store in Honolulu in 1849, only seventy-one years had passed since Captain James Cook discovered the Hawaiian archipelago. The discovery was accidental. Captain Cook, like Columbus, had been searching for a shorter route to the Orient, when he sighted the islands of Kauai and Oahu. This accident in 1778 marked the end of a thousand years of isolation for the Hawaiian people.
At the time of Captain Cook's arrival the population used stone-age techniques in their building, agriculture and fishing. Except for dogs and hogs, both of which were used for food, there were no domestic animals or beasts of burden in the Islands. The people were not agriculturally minded. Although their crops were planted in well-managed gardens and some of the dry lands were irrigated by an ingenious system of ditches drawing water from higher land, agriculture was not their main concern.
This is hardly surprising when one considers some of the chief geographic features of the Islands. The last livable parts of the globe to be inhabited by man, the Islands are of volcanic origin. The center of each is mountainous and much of the soil is rocky or covered with lava or ash. Of the 6,435 square miles that constitute the total area of Hawaii (almost exactly that of Connecticut plus Rhode Island), only ten per cent is arable.
The miracle is that Hawaii, thus handicapped, should have emerged with an integrated and prosperous agricultural economy in an amazingly short space of time. As one student of Hawaiian history has put it, "no other island area has sprinted from naked-primitive to streamlined-modern in so short a period." The same writer observes that although Hawaii was the last important island area to be discovered in the Pacific, it was the first to achieve modernity.
From the economic point of view, the story of its change is largely one of fur traders, sandalwood, whales, sugar, pineapples, military establishments and tourists. Politically speaking, it is a story of rival native chiefs wielding despotic power over their subjects, of unification into a single monarchy, of gradual introduction of democratic attitudes, and finally, of annexation to the United States in 1898.
At the center of these changes is Hawaii's strategic position in the Pacific. "Crossroads of the Pacific" the Islands are called -- and with reason. In the long voyages between the Orient and the Western World, Hawaii has served as an ideal stopping point. The first to appreciate its conveniences were the fur traders, who plied their ships from the Northwest Coast (what is now British Columbia, Washington and Oregon) across the Pacific to China and other countries of the Orient. In Hawaii they could obtain whatever provisions they needed at extraordinarily low prices; they could also employ any extra help they might need for the Hawaiians were excellent seamen.
Commenting on the convenience of the Islands, one American fur trader wrote:
"What a happy discovery these Islands were! What would the American fur trade be without these to winter at and get every refreshment? A vessel going on that trade will only need sufficient provisions to carry her to these islands, where there is plenty of pork and salt to cure it, and yams as a substitute for bread."
While the fur trade put Hawaii definitely on the commercial map, it was not until the discovery of sandalwood that the Islands began to assume economic importance. There was enormous demand for it in China, where the fragrant wood was used in the manufacture of incense and fine pieces of furniture. The traders received good prices for it chiefly in the form of silks and porcelains which they sold in the United States at much profit.
To encourage the gathering of sandalwood the traders were willing to bring to Hawaii whatever the natives demanded in return. King Kamehameha the Great, who succeeded in placing all of the Islands under his rule by the end of the eighteenth century, exerted a complete monopoly on the product. After his death, his successor, Kamehameha II, shared it with his chiefs, enabling them to accumulate firearms, boats, schooners, large quantities of Chinese goods, and a fortune in foreign currency. Unfortunately, almost no effort was made to preserve the young trees or to replace those which had been cut down.
By 1830 the sandalwood trade had ceased to be profitable.
Once more Hawaii's strategic position in mid-Pacific helped to bolster its economy. A valuable sperm whale fishery was discovered off the coast of Japan. Midway between the southern and arctic whaling grounds, the Islands once more became a convenient place for ships to find rest, water and fresh food. Japan's refusal to admit foreigners made Hawaii almost indispensable to whalers. As early as 1824 there were 104 whalers that visited Hawaii; by 1844 their number had increased to 490.
After the decline of the sandalwood trade, the business of the Islands became mainly concerned with whaleships. A shipyard was established for repairing visiting vessels, and stores were opened to supply whalers with such goods as flour, clothing, hardware and sailcloth. Money began to replace barter in the Islands. Unlike sandalwood, which had been monopolized by the Hawaiian King and his small clique, this trade offered business opportunities to numerous individuals. It also attracted pioneers from other countries who foresaw in Hawaii a bright economic future.
Trade began to develop between Hawaii and the coast of America. Large cargoes of merchandise began to arrive from the mainland as well as Europe and China. Some of these goods were sold to whalers, some to the Island residents, and the rest were re-exported. Three years before the arrival of Captain Hackfeld, Hawaii's imports had totalled more than half a million dollars for that year alone.
The economic changes that preceded Captain Hackfeld's arrival in 1849 were accompanied by social and political changes that influenced the life of the Islands profoundly. First of these was the emergence of Hawaii as a nation with Kamehameha as its monarch. To him goes the credit for having consolidated the island group under a strong government for the first time, and for putting an end to its petty wars. Kamehameha ruled until 18 19, when he died.
Under the terms of his will, his eldest son became King Kamehameha II, while Kaahumanu, his favorite queen, was made premier. Their first important act was to abolish the ancient tabu system. This took place at a great feast held in 1819, at which men and women ate together in public for the first time. The tabu institution was a system of prohibition, violations of which were considered sinful and criminal and were often punishable by death.
Since the tabu system combined political with religious elements it was often abused by the chiefs. It served, in effect, to tyrannize the people and tie them to their past. With the arrival of the foreigners and the spread of liberal ideas, the tabu system became doomed.
Famous in the annals of Hawaiian history is the story of the high chieftainess Kapiolani who, having become converted to Christianity, decided to defy the fire goddess Pele -- an action which is considered one of the most courageous ever recorded in history. Accompanied by some of her followers, she journeyed to the edge of the Kilauea volcano. After eating fruits that were considered sacrificial, she addressed her followers with these words:
"Jehovah is my God. He kindled these fires. I fear not Pele. If I perish in her anger then you may fear Pele; but if I trust in Jehovah, then you must fear and serve him alone." The fact that no harm came to her helped to shatter the power of the Hawaiian priesthood, and advanced the cause of Christianity.
The coming of American missionaries provided one of the major influences in modern Hawaiian history. They brought with them not only Bibles but also "a good supply of the common implements of husbandry -- ploughs, hoes, shovels, etc., also a printing press and a font of type." Their arrival was happily timed. Having renounced their ancient gods, most Hawaiians were literally in a "religious vacuum." But their needs extended beyond religion. Diseases were ravaging entire villages. The population was declining with alarming rapidity. The white traders had brought with them certain diseases, like measles and the common cold, against which the natives had no immunity. They were fatal to thousands of Hawaiians.
From the very beginning, the missionaries taught and exemplified, by their own behavior, the advantages of virtue, industry and thrift. With the help of natives they set about building churches, schools, and more healthful homes. "They ordered villages cleaned up, prescribed remedies for the sick, and labored day and night to bring order into the lives of the Hawaiians." Through their good work they quickly gained the support and confidence of the King and his chiefs.
Seven ministers, teachers and other workers comprised the first group that arrived in 1820. By 1844, their number had grown to seventy-seven. They not only contributed to the welfare of the natives but also gave Hawaii the basis for a democratic way of life based on a system of free enterprise. They encouraged agriculture, and under their auspices attempts were made to cultivate sugar cane and produce sugar. In 1838 one of the missionaries wrote his agent in Honolulu:
"The school I find destitute of books and I must as good as give books to the thousand children of Kohala. If we had a sugar mill I have no doubt we could get good pay for the books in sugar cane, a thing very abundant here. If you can procure a boiler of good size, get one and charge it to me and send it as soon as you can."
By 1823 the missionaries had learned the Hawaiian language sufficiently well to print the first hymn book and pamphlets written in that language. In their early schools, adults were more numerous than children. At first only reading and writing were taught, but gradually the curriculum was expanded to include many more subjects, including manual training and home economics.
The missionaries also played a significant part in the evolution of the Hawaiian government as a democratic force. Acting on their advice, the King of Hawaii requested the American Board of Missionaries to provide him with an adviser on governmental problems. Failing to have this request granted, the King invited the Rev. William Richards to become his government's teacher and interpreter.
Mr. Richards severed his connections with the missionaries and became the first of a series of American missionaries to advise and direct Hawaii's governmental policy. He began his new duties by delivering a series of lectures on "the science of government."
Shortly afterward, Hawaii's first "declaration of rights" was promulgated. It formed the first step toward establishing individual property rights in land. As several historians have demonstrated, the basic ideas in the document were of American origin. The very language was suggestive of the phraseology used in the Declaration of Independence.
The first constitution of Hawaii was proclaimed a year later, in 1840. It provided for a legislative body, consisting of a Council of Chiefs and chosen representatives of the people, who were to meet annually. The constitution also defined the duties of the Governors and provided for a Supreme Court.
The land reforms made effective under King Kamehameha III were among the great social changes that took place during his reign. UP until 1840 all the land of Hawaii theoretically belonged to the King. Part of it he kept for his own use; the rest he divided among his various chiefs. They, in turn, allotted their lands to others who served under them. The commoner received a small piece of land, usually as much as he could cultivate, in return for which he paid tribute (either in labor or produce) to his chief and his King.
Since the ordinary tenants did not own their properties outright, they were more or less at the mercy of their chiefs. The system also worked a hardship on foreigners who, after being given grants of land, found that they had no secure title. The agitation against this method of land distribution finally culminated in what is known as the Great Mahele (Division). It enabled the common people to own land they occupied and cultivated, and gave foreigners clear title to the lands which had been previously granted to them. In addition, a law was passed under which government lands could be sold in small lots at a low price, thus permitting the common people to purchase additional property.
These sweeping reforms, which went into effect the year before Captain Hackfeld came to Honolulu, helped drive the final nails into the coffin of Hawaiian feudalism.