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  • Writer's pictureChloe Nakagawa

A Brief Summary on Hawaiian History

During my trip to Portland, Oregon with the National Millennial Community, I was astounded at how little my fellow community members knew about Hawaiian history. As a Maui-born girl, raised on the base of the sacred volcano known as Haleakala, I was taught Hawaiian culture and history for as long as I can remember. Hawaiian culture is mostly taught through storytelling, and the written language was only introduced to Hawaii through missionaries in the 1820s (“Hawaiian Standardized as a Written Language”, n.d). Before pen was introduced to paper in Hawaii, history was passed down from generation to generation through legends. However, rather than expound on the thousands of legends that Hawaii has to offer, I’ll be focusing on a couple of great events in Hawaiian history that has shaped Hawaii today.

Before becoming the 50th state of the United States of America, Hawaii was a thriving monarchy. Lead by Queen Liliuokalani, the Kingdom of Hawaii was recognized as an independent state by the USA, UK, and countless other countries. Amid this Kingdom, though, powerful and rich American sugarcane plantation owners and lawyers, including Sanford B. Dole, schemed to overthrow the Hawaiian government. Calling themselves the “Committee of Safety”, this group of individuals staged a coup against Queen Liliuokalani with the intention of annexation. When President Grover Cleveland blocked their attempt to annex Hawaii into the United States, the Committee of Safety established the Republic of Hawaii in 1894, with Dole acting as President. Four years later, when the Spanish-American war broke out in 1898, American Congress members realized the strategic positioning of Pearl Harbor as a military base. With this information in hand, Hawaii was absorbed into the United States as a territory and later became the 50th state in 1959 (“Americans overthrow Hawaiian monarchy”, 2020).

Immediately after the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the newly established government went to work to wipe out the Hawaiian culture. In 1896, the Hawaiian language was banned in schools and in almost all public spaces to be replaced with English. Hawaiian kapuna, or honored elders, reported being punished for using their native language in the schoolroom. The stigma against the Hawaiian language became so negative that parents refused to teach children their native tongue, resulting in the near-total elimination of the Hawaiian language. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when a resurgence of pride in the Hawaiian culture known as the Hawaiian Renaissance, prompted citizens to relearn the language (“History of Hawaiian Education”, n.d). Regardless of the renewed interest, the Hawaiian language is still only spoken by a small portion of the Hawaiian population and is currently listed as a critically endangered language by UNESCO (“UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger”, n.d).

As a result of the illegal overthrow and annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii, the cultural identity of the Hawaiian people was changed forever. With shame tainting the Hawaiian language and spanning across multiple Hawaiian practices, Native Hawaiians repressed their own identity to conform to America’s expectations. This repression led to intergenerational trauma spanning over 100 years in Hawaii. Only in the past couple of decades have Hawaii citizens began to stand up to the US government regarding Native water rights, protecting sacred grounds, and implementing fair laws for Native Hawaiians. As a country, we still have a long way to go before Hawaii can even be semi-restored to what it was prior to the overthrow. However, through teaching Hawaiian history and culture in nationwide schools, a larger population of American citizens can come to a better understanding of the current state of Hawaii.

Works Cited

“Hawaiian Standardized as a Written Language.” N.d. Hawaiian History. Retrieved 21 August 2021.

“Americans overthrow Hawaiian monarchy.” 14 January 2020. History. Retrieved 21 August 2021.

“History of Hawaiian Education.” N.d. Hawaii State Department of Education. Retrieved 21 August 2021.

“UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.” N.d. UNESCO. Retrieved 21 August 2021.


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