History and People

Maui King Kamehameha III


The Hawaiian Islands were discovered by the Polynesians as early as 500 AD and it is believed that the first Hawaiians traveled across the ocean on outrigger canoes from the Marquesas and Society Islands in the central Pacific. They first landed on what is now the Big Island of Hawai`i and brought with them food plants and animals. The population grew over the years and is estimated to have been as high as a million in the late 1700s. In Hawaiian legend, Maui was the hero of all Pacific islands visited by Polynesians. He was so clever and helpful that people called him “Maui-of-a-thousand-tricks.”

Captain Cook

Things began to change with the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778. He first visited what is now Oahu and Kaua`i and is believed to have arrived at Maui on November 25 or 26 of 1778. He named these the Sandwich Islands in honor of his English patron, the Earl of Sandwich. Unfortunately he brought diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria and syphilis with him, which accelerated the decline of the native Hawaiian population.

Today the island is a reflection of the spirit of Maui – with thousands of magical things to do and see.You will find yourself literally chasing rainbows and showering under water- falls.Watch amazing sunsets from mile-long beaches or listen to local bands playing ukuleles while a hula dancer with a plumeria behind her ear dances to the rhythm.Visit ancient Hawaiian heiaus (temples) or explore Maui’s whaling history in Lahaina.Taste macadamia nut-crusted opakapaka,a delicately flavored pink snapper, while sipping on a lilikoi (yellow passion fruit) margarita.

At that time, each island was ruled by its own chief. The Great Kamehameha changed this and united the islands in 1802, making Lahaina the capital. Kamehameha he First, as he was known, was born on the Big Island of Hawaii around 1758 and was one of the most popular leaders of that era. His favorite wife was named Ka`ahumanu. She was a strong woman born in Hana. Following Kamehameha’s death in 1819, Liholiho , the heir of Kamehameha the Great who called himself Kamehameha II, ruled from 1819 to 1824. Liholiho died from measles in 1824 during a trip to England and was succeeded by his younger brother Kau`ikea`ouli , who called himself King Kamehameha III. He continued to reign for 30 years with Ka`ahumanu as a regent.

The year 1820 brought the first Protestant missionaries to the area, introducing Christianity to the islands. In the early 1800s it was found that oil from humpback whales could be used as a source of fuel. This started the whaling industry, making Lahaina and Honolulu Hawaii’s largest towns. Whaling peaked around 1846 when 596 whaling boats were in service, 429 of which anchored off of Lahaina. The whaling industry began to decline in 1860 when petroleum was discovered, but a new industry would soon take over. Sugarcane fields in the United States were being destroyed in the Civil War, making the country more dependent on the islands for sugar. In 1868 thousands of Japanese contract workers arrived on Maui to work at the sugar plantations, followed by workers from Portugal, Korea and the Philippines. During this time the Hamakua Ditch was completed and stretched through 17 miles, beginning in the Hana rainforest, to bring up to 60 million gallons of water to the Central Maui sugar cane fields. Tariff wars soon followed and in 1893 the monarchy and reigning leader, Queen Lili`uokalani, was overthrown. In 1959 Hawaii officially became the 50th state of the United States of America.

The People

The people of Hawaii practice “Aloha Spirit,” which is about living your life unselfishly and treating others the way you would like to be treated. One couple I had met on a hike in Maui experienced Aloha spirit when they first arrived in Maui. It was after dark and they were lost so they stopped in a convenience store to get directions. Another customer overheard them and went out of his way to take them to their hotel in Kihei by having them follow his car there.

It won’t take long for you to realize that the pace here is slower. This pace is frequently called “Hawaiian Style” and it sometimes takes mainlanders awhile to get used to it. Some people love it; some are driven crazy by it. That slowness even affects driving, which is frequently taken leisurely.Apopular bumper sticker on the islands reads “Slow Down! This ain’t the Mainland.”

When driving in Hawaii, it is considered rude to honk at another driver – we save our honks for “hellos” to friends. And if someone lets you in while waiting in traffic, give them a friendly wave and smile – Aloha!

Leis are a traditional greeting in the Islands and can represent a welcome gesture or a token of love or friendship. The making, giving and wearing of leis have always been an integral part of the Hawaiian culture and the strands can be made with almost anything, as it’s the full circle of the lei which is important. Usually made with beautiful tropical flowers or prized kukui nuts, leis are also made into gimmicky items like candy or small liquor bottles. Remember, it’s the circular aspect of the lei that is meaningful, not the content!