Honolulu History

Honolulu History


Polynesians rode the currents of the South Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands over a thousand years ago and built a culture that survived explorers, conquerors, missionaries, and a world war.

Renowned explorer, Captain James Cook, found the islands by accident in 1778. Twelve years later Honolulu Harbor was discovered by British merchant, Captain William Brown, a fur trader and arms dealer.

Oahu was conquered in 1795 by King Kamehameha culminating in a fierce battle at Nu’uanu Pali, where more than 400 local island defenders fell or were pushed to their deaths over the 1186 foot wind-swept cliffs. Using European weapons, Kamehameha had swept his armies from his home on the Big Island to take control of Maui and Molokai, and after adding Oahu to his empire, he went on to take Nihau and Kauai, succeeding in his quest to unify the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom.

After Kamehameha’s death in 1819, his son broke “kapu,“ the ancient taboos, dismantled the temples and opened Hawaiian society to Western influence. Christian missionaries descended and nearly eradicated Hawaiian religion and traditions. Under Kamehameha III, Honolulu replaced Lahaina on Maui as the capital of the unified Hawaiian Kingdom. The last monarch of Hawaii, Queen Liliokulani, assumed the throne after her brother, the popular “Merrie Monarch,” King David Kalakaua, died in 1891. She was forced to abdicate by pressure from powerful sugar planters and American businessmen when she wanted to make policy changes to give Hawaiians more power in their own government. Imprisoned in her Iolani Palace, she penned the mournful “Aloha Oe.” Hawaii became and American territory in 1898. Honolulu was incorporated as a city in 1907.

By the turn of the twentieth century, a trip across the Pacific from San Francisco took four days by steamship, and increased advertising induced wealthy tourists to stay at the new Moana Hotel, the first hotel on Waikiki. In the 1930’s airplanes began making daily flights into Honolulu Airport. Hollywood movies, which featured hula dancers and the music of Waikiki, introduced the sights and sounds of Honolulu to the world. Then Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor on the sleepy Sunday morning of December 7, 1941 and that “day of infamy” abruptly and violently changed the slow pace of life in Honolulu. Barbed wire lined Waikiki Beach and Honouliuli, an internment camp on leeward Oahu, held “issei,” many first generation Japanese Americans, along with Italian and German-Americans.

After the war, tourists came back to Honolulu. Hotels rose high over Waikiki and jet travel made it possible for the average person to vacation in Hawaii.

As a people who nearly lost their identity through a millennia of invasion and occupation, Hawaiians have reawakened their ancient culture. Since Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959, Honolulu has cultivated its position as a modern tropical vacation destination, reinvigorated its economy and yet managed to keep its Polynesian traditions alive.





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