The Five Most Important Dates in Hawaiian History

I always try to help my students remember things – one way is by selecting the most important facts and dates for each period of history. This is my personal view of which dates are most important and these are obviously debatable, so Iʻve included an alternate 5 dates for those who may find this quite basic:

5. 1848 – the Māhele was the start of private property, a system which continues until today. All titles in Hawaiʻi trace back to this “Domesday Book” – the Buke Mahele listed all lands by name (it was done without maps). Incidentally, 1848 was the year of revolutions in Europe and the year the Communist Manifesto was published.

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Kahuna Nui Hewahewa overseeing the destruction of heiau after the abolition of ʻaikapu, December, 1819. Painting by Brooke Parker

4. 1819 – Some would hold this date, the year of the fall of the kapu system (the ʻaikapu) as the most important date in Hawaiian history. It is in some ways an under-appreciated and dramatic period of the last stand of the Hawaiian religion at the Battle of Kuamoʻo, where Kekuaokalani, guardian of the war god Kū, died in the hail of musket fire. 1819 was also the year of the death of Kamehameha I. In December, a group of missionaries was also boarding a ship in Boston on their way here.

3. 1843 – Two events were occurring simultaneously in this year: the recognition of Hawaiʻi’s sovereignty by Britain, France and the United States, and the notorious Paulet Affair, in which this same sovereignty was threatened and the Kingdom temporarily overthrown. Herman Melville happened to be there, and was not impressed with Hawaiian celebrations when sovereignty was returned in July by Admiral Thomas.

2. 1778 – This scarcely needs explanation. Cook’s arrival may not have been the first foreign contact, but his marine chronometer ensure that it wouldnʻt be the last. Dozens of ships arrived in the next 15 years once Hawaiʻi was no longer a needle in a haystack for Western navigators. They brought cargo, disease, and later Christianity.

1. 1893 – Most cultures have a defining moment – the 1979 revolution in Iran, the 1789 revolution in France. For Hawaiians, it’s still 1893, the overthrow – that date that continually gets revisited, reanalyzed, and for which the question “what if?” is continually asked. The question is, which day is most important? Is it January 17th, when Queen Liliʻuokalani ceded her authority under protest? Or was is January 16th, when the US Marines landed, marking under international law the illegal intervention of the US in the domestic affairs of an allied sovereign state? 1893 is also inextricably linked to 1898, the date of “annexation.”


5. 1909 – Relatively unknown is that the date for land claims was extended for konohiki until a decade after annexation. This date shows that the deadline on land claims – held to be Feb 14, 1848 – was a soft one indeed. It also shows beyond doubt that the land tenure system established in the Kingdom was the same one in the Territory and State, a fact that suggests its architects knew what they were doing.

4. ca. 1350 – Kalaunuiohua nearly did what Kamehameha has become legendary for: uniting the islands. He conquered all the islands, but was captured on the shores of Kauaʻi – adding to Kauaʻi’s claim of being the only island never conquered militarily. He showed it could be done.

3. 1874 – the non-judicial foreclosure law may have contributed more to Hawaiian alienation from land than the Māhele/Kuleana Act or any other single event (see Robert Stauffer’s Kahana: How the Land was Lost). This was also the year Kalākaua defeated Queen Emma in the legislative election for monarch. One canʻt help wondering how history would have gone if the British-focused Emma had taken the throne.

2. 1783 – the conquest of Oʻahu by Kahekili showed his skill as a tactician and politician – his protege Kahahana (still a teenager at the time) was like a wedge which Kahekili could use to get a foothold on Oʻahu. Kamehameha later was able to conquer this large, unified area, rather than battling for each district or island.

1. 1835 – the founding of Ladd and Co. in Koloa, Kauaʻi began the sugar industry, and led to all the changes in Hawaiian government: the Bayonet constitution, overthrow, annexation and even statehood were all responses to tariffs on sugar. More broadly, the wealth generated symbolizes the rise of foreign dominance in Hawaiʻi which continues today.


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2 responses to “The Five Most Important Dates in Hawaiian History

  1. I would add 1839 (first edition of the Baibala Hemolele) as a crucial moment in the paradigm-changing technological revolution caused by Hawaiʻi’s rapidly growing literacy as well as 1840 (the first Hawaiian Constitution) as Hawaiʻi’s entry into “civilization” as most of the world understands this concept.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was glad to read this post as it contains some great knowledge. I hope people like this post and bookmark this blog because it contains some great information. Thank you so much!


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