The colonization of Hawai’i


Date published: Fri, 1 September 23

The recent wildfire situation is Hawai’i has cast a magnifying glass effect on the issues facing Hawai’i. What many Americans don’t know is that Hawai’i is widely considered by native Hawaiians as an occupied territory. This article will go over how Hawai’i was taken over by the US, and illegally annexed into US territory. 

By the year 1810, a Hawaiian king named Kamehameha united the entire of the Hawaiian archipelago into one kingdom. In 1820, Christian missionaries arrived and started settling on the island. As more people settled in the territories of Hawai’i, natives succumbed to diseases brought by colonists. By the 1850s, the native Hawaiian population decreased from 300,000 to 70,000. American colonists started taking over Hawai’i’s agriculture, particularly sugar. By the 1900s, Americans had captured Queen Lilu’uokalani, who was imprisoned and forced to abdicate. Americans annexed the territory. The queen wrote the following letter:

“I Liliʻuokalani, by the Grace of God, and under the constitution of the Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a provision government of and for this Kingdom.

Then I yield to the superior force of the United States of America, whose minister plenipotentiary, His Excellence John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed at Honolulu, and declared that he would support the said provisional government.

Now, to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do, under this protest and impelled by said force, yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon the facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative, and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”

After the overthrow of the kingdom, teaching and learning Hawaiian was banned, effectively creating a cultural genocide against native Hawaiians. 

The US saw opportunity in colonizing Hawai’i to increase the military’s power, setting up bases on the islands. In hopes of securing the ideals of freedom, Americans stripped Hawai’i of its own independence. “Upon taking control of the islands, the US not only harmed locals, but also the local environment. Practice drills left the land deeply harmed and the growing population of military personnel depleted resources. The most densely populated main island of O’ahu illustrates the scope of the US military, as it controls 22.4% of the land (Niheu et al. 172). The increase in population from the mainland US and other countries continues to bury the native populations, as well as the exploitation of land and resources by the military continues to harm them.”

Promptly after annexation, James Dole created the Dole Plantation, a pineapple plantation. Through growing and selling Hawaiian pineapple, Dole and his company profited exponentially. Workers on the plantation were usually native Hawaiians and were paid and treated very poorly. The lands that the plantations were on were stolen from native Hawaiians, with no benefit to these natives. 

Today, Hawai’i suffers from modern-day colonization and occupation. With little regard for native Hawaiians, American elite buy land and destroy the islands. Many native Hawaiians have spoken against traveling to Hawai’i, urging mainland Americans to respect native Hawaiians, and try to help them fight for more rights. It is these modern issues of settler colonialism and exploitative travel that have caused Hawai’i to be vulnerable and susceptible to disastrous climate change, such as the recent wildfires in Lahaina, Maui. We’ll be exploring how settler colonialism has affected climate and disaster in Hawai’i in our next part.