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Big Island History

Brief Hawaii Big Island History
The Island of Hawaii was first inhabitated by Polynesians over a thousand years ago, perhaps as early as 700AD. Excavations at South Point tell the story of ancient mariners, Tahitians and Marquesans who sailed thousands of miles to find a new home. These invaders became the conquerors and rulers of Hawaii and brought the system of kapu which is made up of a strict form of dos and don’ts. Evidence of early Hawaiian settlement is found throughout the islands. The ancient Hawaiians lived off the sea and lowland agricultural areas. For this reason, we find petroglyph fields, refuge caves, heiau (temples) near shorelines. It is possible to drive to South Point and see some of the ancient sites such as pukas in the rocks where ropes held the ancient double-hulled canoe.

Haoles, or foreigners, first arrived many hundred years later. Capt. James Cook, the famous English explorer, arrived on the shores of the Hawaiian Islands in 1779. According to Hawaiian legend, the god Lono was supposed to return to Hawaii. Some Hawaiians mistook Cook as the long-awaited deity and he was treated well. However, in a skirmish on shore, Cook’s mortal reaction convinced the Hawaiians he was not Lono, whereby they promptly killed him. There is a plaque at Kealakekua Bay commemorating Captain J.Cook.

The most famous Hawaiian ruler, King Kamehameha, was from the island of Hawaii. His birthday was probably around the year 1758. Nowadays, we celebrate his birth on June 11th. The king was born in the northernmost region of Hawaii Island…in Kohala. Prior to Kamehameha’s rule, each of the islands had their own ruling kings. The huge Island of Hawaii had 2 kings, Kamehameha and Keola. Kamehameha set out to unite the Hawaiian islands under one ruler. After many bloody battles, he achieved his goal and ruled his kingdom from his headquarters in Kona where the King Kamehameha Hotel stands today.

The first wave of haole missionaries arrived in 1820. The missionaries came from New England where they had met Henry Opukakaia, a young Hawaiian who was educated and converted to congregationalism in the late 1700’s. Protestants and Catholics followed. The missionaries changed the way of life of the Hawaiians and their ancient way of life never returned.

Other haoles came as seamen, ship captains, merchants and ranchers. Many married Hawaiians. Honolulu and Hilo grew rapidly, each competing for the all-important deep- sea harbor business. Plantations were planted as it became obvious that pineapple and sugar would do well in Hawaii’s climate and soil. Sandalwood and Koa was logged. More labor was needed for the prosperous business and soon came the Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, Puerto Ricans, Koreans and a small number of Norwegians, Swedes, Scots and Germans. Soon Hawaii was indeed a melting pot where the common language was Pidgin English.