History of Maui

The second largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui, was named after the Polynesian navigator who discovered the islands. Legend says that he named the island after his son.

Early Settlers

The Polynesians are said to be one of the earliest settlers of Maui and they are believed to have inhabited the island even before 450 A.D. This group of people was responsible for establishing Maui's traditional culture -- language, land tenure, religion, kapu system, economy, and the hereditary class system.

Until the 1400s, Maui was divided into three territories with different rulers: Wailuku (West Maui), Lele (East Maui), and Hana (East Maui). Around 1550, King Pi'ilani married the daughter of Hoolae from Hana. This resulted in the unification of East and West Maui, thereby making a joint royal family as the ruler of Maui. Peace and prosperity was experienced during the family's reign.

Stories say that the first foreign inhabitants of Maui were shipwrecked people who were most likely of Spanish descent. The foreigners later intermarried with the locals and raised their families there.


The first European explorer to see Maui was Captain James Cook. This happened on November 26, 1778 but Captain Cook was not able to set foot on Maui. On May 29, 1786, it was French Admiral Jean-Francois de Galaup who first set foot on Maui by landing on the shores of La Perouse Bay.

An American trader, Simon Metcalf, arrived in Maui aboard his ship, Eleonora. That night, a group of Hawaiians led by Kaopuiki killed a guard and stole one of Metcalf's small boats. This incident angered Metcalf which lead to the massacre called Kalolopahu wherein over 100 Hawaiians were killed and 150 were injured.

Later on, the ship of Metcalf's son arrived at Maui. The entire ship was captured by Chief Kameʻeiamoku who killed the entire crew except for Isaac Davis and John Young.

In 1790, King Kamehameha I tried to conquer the Hawaiian Islands during the bloody Battle of Kepaniwai. With Young and Davis at the cannons, Kamehameha I defeated Prince Kalanikupule of Wailuku. In 1794, King Kamehameha I was able to gain full control of Maui after defeating Prince Kalanikupule's army at the battle of Nu'uanu in Oahu.


King Kamehameha I died in 1819. Queen Kaʻahumanu declared herself as co-ruler because of her lack of confidence in her son's ability to rule. The Queen was known to have challenged many of Hawaii's established norms and culture that caused many Hawaiians to lose confidence in their religion and social system. Within two years, the first Christian missionaries arrived in Maui.

Dr. Holman was the first Christian missionary to arrive in Maui in 1821. He built a house in Lahaina and taught religion there. Later on, he left for Honolulu. In May 1823, the next missionaries were invited by Queen Kaʻahumanu to open a formal mission in Lāhainā. The missionaries were Reverends William Richards and Charles Stewart and their wives. They were from the Congregational and Presbyterian American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Later, Richards became an advisor to several kings of Hawaii. After two and a half years, Stewart left Maui to bring his ill wife home to New England.

Betsy Stockton was another missionary whose work resulted in teaching around 8000 Hawaiians. She left Maui in 1825.

The Christian missionaries taught reading and writing and created the 12-letter Hawaiian alphabet. They also started a printing press, began writing Hawaii's history, and established the first school. Queen Ke'opuilani and Queen Kaʻahumanu were the first ones on the island to be converted to Christianity.

More missionaries arrived in the early 1830s. In 1831, Pastors Jonathan Green and Reuben Tinker established a congregation in Wailuku. More and more Hawaiians were converted to Christianity. By 1870, 13 churches were established in different locations in Maui.

Although more and more Hawaiians were being converted, more and more conflicts were also experienced. The conflicts arose because missionaries wanted to decrease drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, gambling, theft, and murder. In 1837, King Kamehameha III banned the Catholic religion and forbade ships from bringing Catholic missionaries into the islands. Some Catholic missionaries were jailed or removed from the islands. But in 1839, Kamehameha gave in to the French government's demands and soon after, religious freedom was experienced in the islands.

In 1845, Honolulu became the capital because of its harbor. But because sailors were being prosecuted due to drunkenness and disorderly behavior, the whaling fleet abandoned Honolulu and went to Lahaina.

A Catholic missionary, Father Aubert arrived in Lahaina in 1846 to establish the fist Catholic parish in Maui. The first meeting places were under thatched roofs. An adobe church was built in downtown Lahaina, which was later turned into a stone church in 1878.

In 1848, a new land redistribution scheme, called the Great Mahele, was established. This dispossessed most Hawaiians of their right to become heirs of the land. Many native Hawaiians worked in cane fields instead of their own family's small businesses. Asian contract workers were brought to the island to fill-in the lack of workers. The first Chinese laborers arrived in 1852, followed by Japanese laborers in 1868. In 1903, Korean laborers came to Maui, followed by Filipinos in 1909. Because of the unfair system, workers were always in debt. About half of the foreign laborers went back to their homelands while the others stayed on. The arrival of immigrants brought changes in the language, customs, and traditions of Maui. The plantation system disenfranchised the native Hawaiians while foreign corporations became more and more powerful.

In 1860 and 1861, leprosy cases were increasing significantly in Maui. The Board of Health learned that the same situation has been reported in Canada. And to contain the disease, affected individuals were separated from the unaffected people. In 1864, Dr. William Hildebrand suggested that a place be established to isolate those who were infected. This isolation area was a hospital in Kalihi in Oahu. In December 1865, 104 leprosy patients were transferred to the Leper Colony located in Molokai. Any person believed to have leprosy was immediately taken to the Colony by force or at gunpoint.

In 1878, Thomas Hobron built the first narrow railroad in Maui. Operations started in July 1879, and the railroad was named Kahului Railroad in 1881. The railroad was a huge success that it became extended to Paia in 1884. Hobron was later named as postmaster.

In 1890, pineapple was planted as an experimental crop by David and Henry Baldwin. The pineapples thrived well in Maui which lead to the foundation of Hai'ku Fruit and Packing Company in 1903. Henry Baldwin formed the Maui Pineapple Company. By 1933, over 22,000 acres of land produced pineapples.

In 1893, Queen Liliuokalani became the ruler. A year after, the Republic of Hawaii was founded. The island was annexed by the United States in 1898, and was made territory in 1900.


A bubonic plague affected Kahului. To destroy the rat carriers of the disease, the port was burned down. The port was rebuilt and improved in 1884.

In 1905, the Maui County was established. This included the islands of Maui, Molokini, Kahoolawe, and part of Molokai. The county's seat was at Wailuku.

In 1916, Mauna Loa, Kilauea and the summit of Haleakala became part of the Hawaii National Park.

The first airport in Maui was built in 1927 at Maalea. Construction of runways was completed in 1930. In 1936, larger planes were introduced by Inter-Island Airlines. This brought attention to the inadequacy of the runways' condition in servicing such type of aircrafts. In 1938, the Maalea airport was closed down and Puunene Airport was opened. Because the airport still needed improvements and expansion, the military sought to build a new Naval Air Station in 1942.

During World War II, Maui was a staging center, a training base, and a place for rest and relaxation. In 1943-1944, 100,000 troops were stationed in Maui. After World War II, Kahului airport was named the main airport of Maui. The first hotel in Maui, Hotel Hana, opened in 1946. And in 1952, Kahului airport was turned over to the Territory of Hawaii.

In 1960, Mount Haleakala became a separate national park. In 1961, the first resort community in Maui opened at Ka'anapali.

The first hippies arrived in Maui in 1969. These people introduced marijuana which caused protests from the locals. Arrests were made and the production of marijuana was stopped.


Maui's rich history has made its historical sites must-see places for tourists. Here are some suggested historical sites for you to see:

Halekii-Pihana State Monuments are the remnants of an ancient heiaus, or temple. Originally built in 1240, the monuments were reconstructed in 1958. A majestic view of Central Maui can also be seen from here.

Olowalu Petroglyphs are drawings preserved in rocks. This site shows the life of ancient Hawaiians through the drawings.

Iao Valley State Park is found in Central Maui. The Iao Needle, one of Maui's most popular landmarks can be found here. It was in Iao Valley where the Battle of Kepaniwai took place.

Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum, located in Puunene, houses information and exhibits on Maui's sugar industry.

Whalers Village Whaling Museum can be found in Kaanapali Beach. Aside from the whale museum, 75 shops and restaurants are located here. This place is a well-known ocean front shopping destination in Maui.