Hands Off Hawai’i, Part 2: The Story of a Stolen Nation

Featured Image: Photo by Christian Joudrey from Unsplash.


This post continues my profile of Hawai’i, which started with a look at the first inhabitants and the Kingdom of Hawai’i.

4 for Now

Britain, France, and Hawai’i

Captain James Cook was the first known European invader of Hawai’i in 1778. Missionaries arrived throughout the 1800s. Businessmen from Europe and the US bought up plots of land for growing sugar cane. These foreigners brought unfamiliar sicknesses. Smallpox, measles, leprosy, and other ailments decimated the Native population.

While Kamehameha I had a good relationship with Britain, it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

There was a land dispute in 1843 with Richard Charlton, the British consul in Hawai’i. Captain George Paulet tried to “resolve” it by threatening to attack. Kamehameha III complied with Paulet’s demands, but Paulet occupied Honolulu, named himself head of a provisional government, and cleared the families off the land Charlton wanted. The occupation lasted six months, until Paulet’s admiral arrived and declared the occupation over.

Great Britain and France officially recognized the independence of the Hawaiian kingdom with the “Anglo-Franco proclamation” on November 28, 1843 (Lā Kū’oko’a, or Independence Day).

Despite this, France held a grudge over Hawai’i’s prior persecution of Catholics. Admiral Louis Tromelin arrived at Honolulu in 1849 and made several demands of the king. When they were not met, marines raided Honolulu, causing $100,000 in damages. Tromelin eventually took his men and left Hawai’i, but France felt the incident was justified and never made reparations.

The US and Hawai’i

In the early years of the US, itself situated on land stolen from other Indigenous peoples, we were Hawai’i’s chief trading partner. In 1842, President Tyler officially recognized Hawai’i’s sovereignty. So what happened?

USians would travel to Hawai’i, settle there, and horn in on the sugar cane industry (though some were among the missionaries spreading Christianity), bringing with them their presumed Manifest Destiny.

Some of these USians, including Sanford B. Dole (future president of the Republic of Hawai’i) and Lorrin A. Thurston (future main instigator of the overthrow of the kingdom in 1893) were among the people who demanded the signing of the Bayonet Constitution, which limited the monarchy’s power.

While US President Cleveland condemned the overthrow and delayed annexation, President McKinley’s Congress annexed Hawai’i via the Newlands Resolution in 1898. Dole, as republic president, handed Hawai’i over to the US in a ceremony I imagine they believed lent the situation any credence. (Native Hawaiians, then and now, have opposed the ceding of their homelands between entirely different people.)

After annexing the nation, the US military took over, the Hawaiian language was banned, and tourism has ousted many Natives from their homelands, farmlands, and fishing areas.

Hawai’i Today

Before foreign contact, up to one million Hawaiians [PDF] were living on the main islands. Now, of the around 1.4 million people living there, only about 10% are Native Hawaiian.

While the US issued an apology to Hawai’i for overthrowing their government, we continue to steal the land (both via military and private ownership), destroy the environment, deplete the resources, and appropriate the culture.

I’m a proponent of the Land Back movement—returning the stewardship of the land to its original inhabitants, who worked with nature instead of exploiting it. Land Back includes returning sovereignty to Hawai’i [YouTube].


4 for Later

  1. Learn more: This discussion around Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty by J. Kēhaulani Kauanui provides nuance between decolonizing and de-occupying. Civil Beat has a collection of articles focused on issues Hawai’i is facing, as well as one looking further into settler colonialism in Hawai’i.
  2. End Hate in Hawaii has a small collection of petitions to sign, books to read, and more.
  3. If you are able, donate to Hawaiian GoFundMes or organizations supporting Hawaiians like Hawai’i Community Foundation, Institute for Human Services, Parents and Children Together, or check this interactive map for stewardship organizations by location. If you’d rather get cool swag in return for your money, shop Hawaiian businesses, like Keep Hawai’i Hawaiian, Hae Hawai’i, Defend Hawai’i, and NativeBooksHawaii.org.
  4. I hope it’s obvious why traveling to Hawai’i is a bad idea, but here are Seven Reasons Why Hawai’i Hates You and Hawai’i’s Unhealthy Relationship with Tourism, in case you need more info. (If you still feel you absolutely must go, be a respectful visitor.)