History of Kauai

Being the oldest populated main island in Hawaii, you can be sure that Kauai has a lot of history. It has gone through a lot through the ages, from its ancient roots and first settlers, to the arrival of the Westerners, and to its current form as part of a state under the US. As such, Kauai has been at the forefront of the changes of the times, easily leaving a historic footprint on the island. Aside from the natural beauty of its vegetation and surroundings, Kawai is also ripe with all of the influence of man since his first arrival on the island's shores.

Kauai's history at a glance

200 to 600 AD -- Early Marquesans arrived at the island
1778 -- James Cook arrived at the shores of Kauai
1810 -- The Kingdom of Hawaii was established under the rule of Kamehameha the Great, which included the island of Kauai
1820 -- The first mission house in Wiamea was built
Early 19th century -- Economic evolution surged due to the sugar and pineapple industries
1893 -- The Hawaii of Kingdom was overthrown
1920s -- The tourism industry in Kauai was born
1959 -- Hawaii, along with Kauai, became the 50th state of the United States of America

In the beginning

According to archeological findings, Kauai was inhabited as early as 200 to 600 AD. It was theorized that these settlers reached Kauai on double-hulled sea vessels from Marquesas Islands, which is about 2,000 miles away. These early settlers also brought with them taro, sweet potato, sugar cane, and other plants from their land of origin.

It's believed that these first settlers were the only humans who have seen the pristine state of Kauai. Since then, it is said that about 1,000 of the 1,300 species of plants and animals in Kauai suffered extinction from the arrival of the early Polynesians to the arrival of the European settlers.

It is also theorized that the original settlers were the short Marquesans, which were then chased away by the taller and stronger Tahitians who came later. A lot of folklore was made about the Marquesans, or the Menehune, and in modern times, they are believed to be responsible for bad luck.

What is certain is that the early settlers of Kauai were proficient farmers and fishermen. These people knew how to use and make tools out of bone and stone, and knew where the good fishing and octopus spots were. They were also able to establish farming and irrigation techniques that ensured the survival of their crops. In a way, the early settlers were innovative in finding means for their survival.

Centuries later, the Tahitians came and, as mentioned, the Marquesans were overrun. The next wave of Polynesian immigrants formed the race of Hawaiians that is known today.

The early settlers have a civilized form of society, with evidence of religion and laws. Such evidence include the tradition that states Wailua as a sacred birthing ground. Members of the royalty go to Wailua to give birth to their young, believing in the special significance, blessing, and nobility that the area grants to their offspring. This tradition is so well-set that according to a song, a nobility not born in Wailua is considered a commoner, and a commoner born in the area can be considered a nobility. Another proof of the ancient Hawaiian's religious system and laws is the existence of heaius or temples that were built by these early people for worshipping their gods. These temples can still be found in the Wailua River.

Cook's arrival

It was still centuries later before Kauai and Hawaii will become known to the whole of the Western world. It was in Kauai in 1778, when James Cook arrived in Waimea Bay with his ships the HMS Discovery and Resolution, that Hawaii would be changed forever. Cook first named Hawaii as the Sandwich Islands as a tribute to his benefactor, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. However, there are accounts that it was not Cook who first discovered Kauai and Hawaii but Gaetan, a Spanish navigator. Be that as it may, it does not change the large significance of Cook's arrival and discovery of Kauai. It was due to Cook's arrival that Hawaii opened up to the ideas, culture, and influence of the Western world, leading to events that forever changed the history of Hawaii, its culture, and its people.

One of the negative impacts of the arrival of the European settlers was the diseases that they brought with them. Since the bodies of the Hawaiians did not have immunity to these diseases, it resulted to an endemic and the native population was drastically reduced by the thousands.

Kauai and the Kingdom of Hawaii

Kamehameha I has all of Hawaii subjugated except for Kauai. The then ruler of Kauai, Kaumuali'i, resisted Kamehameha's assaults, and was saved from Kamehameha's first conquest because of a storm that led to the sinking of Kamehameha's armada. A persistent leader, Kamehameha once again launched an attack on the island of Kauai. It seemed that the gods may have favored Kaumuali'i because the second attack failed because of the spread of cholera. However, using his skills as a wise leader, Kaumuali'i decided to give up his kingdom in a peaceful manner to Kamehameha during a third attack. Because of this seemingly wise decision, Kaumuali'i retained his rank and title in exchange for the surrender. Thus, the first united Kingdom of Hawaii under the rule of Kamehameha I was born.

Spread of Christianity

The religious belief systems of the Hawaiians went through a drastic change when the first Christian missionaries reached the shores of Kauai. The earliest missionaries who arrived in Kauai were from New England. The fist mission house was constructed in Waimea in 1820. Biblical laws were in place, and the old Tahitian kapu system was set away. One can say that there was a slow destruction of the native culture in Hawaii, as what usually happens in other colonized nations.

As the Christian religion gained much influence on the ruling class, notably Ka'ahumanu, the widow of Kamehameha I, changes were also made to the political system of Hawaii. From an absolute monarchy, the government was transformed into a constitutional monarchy, where the laws and tenets were based or derived from Biblical laws and beliefs. During this time, Western settlers have also started to have influence due to their economic stakes in Hawaii.

One good result of missionary influence in Hawaii is the translation and recording of the native Hawaiian language in written form. As missionaries sought to translate the Bible into the vernacular, the once purely oral language of Hawaii has been set in writing, ensuring its preservation.

Economic evolution

The next phase in the Kauai's history is the evolution of its economy. Driven by the enterprising spirit of the Westerners, Kauai was transformed into one of the chief sugar producers during the early part of the 19th century. Kauai's Koloa town was witness to the establishment of a historic sugar mill that lead to an economic surge. The success of this first-ever mill prompted others to join the sugar industry. This success lasted for a century, and it brought affluence to the sugar plantation owners and Hawaii itself.

One of the effects of the sugar boom in Hawaii is the influx of immigrants from different nations. As the native population is not sufficient to provide the needed workforce to keep the plantations going, immigrant laborers came from different regions to meet the demand. Most of the immigrants came from Japan, China, Puerto Rico, Philippines, and Portugal. This arrival of different immigrants contributed to the multi-cultural flavor of Kauai and Hawaii as a whole.

The next economic opportunity for Kauai is the pineapple industry. The prominent company in Kauai that was involved in pineapple production was the Kauai Fruit and Land Co. which held operations in Lawa'i. The company lasted from the early 1900s to the early 1960s. Another company, Hawaiian Canneries Co. Ltd., also did not last long as it also closed in the early 1960s.

After the rise and fall of the sugar and pineapple industry in Hawaii, the next boom in Kauai economy is tourism. As the numbers of visitors grew, so did the establishment of hotels and resorts in the island. This created thousands of jobs and new opportunities for large and small businesses alike. Currently, tourism accounts for one-third of the income of Kauai. Previous sugar plantations have now been transformed to resorts and ranches. There are also plans to use sugar cane as means to produce ethanol.

It is because of these economic interests that certain groups of foreigners conducted an overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893. As the constitution was being amended at the time and those amendments were against the interests of foreigners in Hawaii, the revolution took place and Hawaii was eventually annexed to the US as a territory in the 1900s, and became an official state in 1959.

Kauai in present times

Kauai has gone a long way from its origins. As for its tourism, the Kauai Island is nownoted for its rich vegetation, collection of historical landmarks, and its nature and wildlife. Some of the places to see in Kauai are Kauai Museum, Kamokila Hawaiian Village, Kilauea Lighthouse, Koke'e Natural History Museum, and the Heiau of Wailua. These places should give visitors a good feel of the history of Kauai and how it evolved to its present state.

If one wants to know Hawaiian history, then one should definitely take Kauai into consideration. Being one of the oldest islands and rich with Hawaiian history and culture, Kauai has played a large role in the forming of the identity of Hawaii today. Aside from welcoming the first Polynesian settlers, Europeans, and missionaries, Kauai also was the first to welcome and experience the dynamic changes that these events brought. Kauai has within its borders all things essentially Hawaii, from the native culture, to the diverse and mixed multi-national culture that is present in Hawaii today. So if you want a good view of Hawaii, then you should also get a good look at Kauai.