Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pacific Dreams

Magnet # 286:  Historic Hawaiian Islands Map

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Dad

This marks the anniversary of the day in 1898 when Hawaii was officially annexed by the United States. It would remain a territory for over 60 years until becoming the 50th and, for now, final state in 1959. Hawaii has certainly been on a long and eventful journey ever since Western cultures first discovered the islands.

While some believe that explorers from Spain, Japan, or the Netherlands may have reached the Hawaiian Islands by the 1500s, it was British explorer James Cook who let the rest of the world know that they existed.  He arrived there in 1778 and named them the "Sandwich Islands" after his sponsor, the Earl of Sandwich.  He was well-received by the natives, who treated him as a powerful chief with divine powers.  His stay was brief- only two weeks, but his second trip there in 1779 was considerably less successful.  When one of his boats was taken by a minor chief and his followers, Cook tried to kidnap the King of the Big Island to get it back.  This tactic had worked in other places such as Tahiti, but its use proved to be disastrous this time.  When the islanders fought back, Cook and four of his men were killed.  Fortunately, the rest were able to escape.  But Cook's travels there stirred up interest in the area and soon more Europeans were making their way there.  The Hawaiian Islands were no longer secluded from the rest of the world.

Even though outsiders were coming to the islands more frequently, the natives weren't giving up their hold on it just yet.  In 1782, one of the local chiefs, Kamehameha, waged a bloody war with the other tribes that would last over ten years and establish him as the ruler over the Kingdom of Hawaii.  And the firearms he had gotten from Western traders greatly helped triumph over his enemies.  The Kingdom of Hawaii would last for almost a century, with leadership passing from Kamehameha to his son and so on.  When one one the kings passed away without naming an heir, a popular election was introduced to select the next leader.  And soon, the 1887 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii was introduced that limited the king's power.  Kalakaua, who was on the throne at that time, signed it under the threat of violence if he did not comply.  And when he passed, the final Hawaiian monarch, his sister Lili'uokalani ascended to the throne.  She made the mistake of trying to increase her power by doing away with the current Constitution, but the move backfired and eventually led to her downfall.  Finally, a bloodless revolution removed her from the throne in 1893.  Within a year, the Republic of Hawaii would be established, only to be transformed into the territory of Hawaii by the end of the decade.

It's said that life on Hawaii is very slow-paced and laidback, and perhaps that take on life is partially to explain why it took the territory so long to transition to a state.  The American business executives who controlled the government seemed to be in no hurry to give up the special treatment a territory afforded them.  By by the end of World War I, the interest in achieving statehood was catching on.  And when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in 1941, statehood was still not realized.  Bills had been introduced to Congress since 1919, but it was World War II and the Korean War that helped to change legislator's attitudes toward the territory.  They had feared that the Asians who had settled there would not support the United States in times of war, but these concerns proved to be unfounded.  By 1950, the Hawaiian people had adopted their own constitution in preparation for statehood.  Both they and Congress were ready for this to happen, and it did in 1959, finally bringing the United States to the size we all are now familiar with.  It had been a long transition since the early days of exploration in the Hawaiian Islands to the first years of statehood, but I suppose that was important in giving the state both its own unique feeling and making it truly loyal to the nation it helped complete.


  1. Hawaii is one place that I never tire of visiting. Each island has its own unique personality and different attractions; even the east coast of the Big Island is very different from the west coast - much more laid back, and many less tourists. Thanks so much for posting this reminder.

  2. Hope you have a good time there one future visits - maybe I'll make it out there one day myself.