Hawaiian History


“History” isn’t a word that necessarily exudes excitement, more-so drawn-out speeches and grainy, black-and-white photos. Can it be boring? Well, sure, but that’s just me and my hours of lecture classes talking. Besides, not many people care to put effort into learning about what has already happened hundreds of years ago; people want to focus on the “now” and what’s to come ahead. Except, eventually you realize everything, both present and future, is the result of the precedence. Take a look at Kauai; you see the towns, the people, and the culture mix, they’re all a result of historic events. Imagine if Hawaii’s monarchy weren’t overthrown in 1893, can you picture the islands not being a part of the U.S and still being ruled by kings and queens? Crazy, right? There’s one place on Kauai to learn about this and so much more.

The Kauai Museum is located on Rice Street, just a few minutes away from the Lihue Airport. The dated, but timeless, architecture make it instantly recognizable for passersby. The museum is open everyday, except Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm. Inside you will discover various artifacts, exhibits, and murals, ranging from the ancient Hawaiian times, early sugar plantation life, and World War II. There is a gift shop for special keepsakes to take home. History can be a fun experience by being just that, an experience. Visualize traveling to Machu Picchu, the Pyramids of Giza, or Stonehenge, they create wonder and interest because it’s all right there in front of you. That’s what museums look to accomplish, to give the perception of physically stepping back in time.


The history of Pa’u Riders dates back to the mid 1800s following the arrival of the first horses in the Islands in 1803. Horses were unknown to the Hawaiian people of old. That changed when

Lelia Byrd – a merchant-vessel of American registry arrived in Kawaihae Bay, Hawai’i, June 24, 1803. Richard J. Cleveland the ships owner had procured a horse, two mares and foal in California to present as a gift to the King of the Sandwich Islands (Hawai’i) King Kamehemeha.

To ride astride her horse with modesty and formal dignity Hawaiian women, devised an outer cover skirt (pa’u) to protect their shoes and dress clothing while traveling over dusty and muddy trails on the way to social visits. Early pa’u skirts were fashioned from available fabric, usually calico or gingham, and fastened at the waist and ankles with rope so that even the feet were covered.

The arrival of floral parades in Honolulu in the early 1900s ushered in more elegant fabrics like satin, as well as more floral decoration and accessories for both horse and rider. Through the years the floral parades become more elaborate, pa’u riding evolved into a ceremonial display in which lei bedecked women demonstrated their skilled and graceful horsemanship.

There are traditionally eight equestrian units at the Aloha or Kamehameha parades. One to represent each island of the old Hawaiian Kingdom. Every article of clothing, accessory, color and the flowers chosen all have significance and meaning. There is a story and history behind everything. Red for example represents the island of Hawaii, Kauai is purple, Molokai is green, Kahoolawe is the color grey, Lanai is orange, Niihau white, Maui pink and Oahu is the color yellow.

Hawaiian Clothing

The Aloha shirt, a.k.a. Hawaiian shirt, originated in Hawaii in the Plantation era. During the early 1920s and 1930s, immigrants arrived from Japan, China and the Phillippines bringing Kimono cloth, Chinese silks and their unique dress styles to Hawaii. Short sleeved shirts sewn from Kimono fabric remnants were widely worn by Japanese men and short sleeve shirts in geometric plaid patterns, known as Palaka shirts, were widely worn by Plantation workers. Native Hawaiians had their own traditional geometric block patterns on fabric they wore in the form of loin cloths and pareos.

The Aloha shirt may have evolved from a melding of traditional collared shirts from the mainland U.S. and the Barong Tagalog, which was an untucked shirt from the Philippines. In Waikiki during the mid 1930s, Chinese merchants Ellery and Ethel Chun of King-Smith Clothiers and Dry Goods created the first “Aloha” shirt. The brightly printed short sleeved shirts were initially made from leftover kimono fabric. After his success with the shirts in the early 1930s, Mr. Chun trademarked the term “Aloha shirt” in 1936. Around the same time, similar “Hawaiian” shirts were created by Musa-shiya the Shirtmaker. These colorful and comfortable shirts became widely popular with beach boys, surfers, wealthy visitors to the islands and Hollywood movie stars.

In August 1959, Hawaii became the 50th State of the U.S.A. and the Aloha shirt gained exposure in Hollywood movies and TV shows such as Magnum P.I. Servicemen during the war were buying Aloha shirts as quickly as they could get them, and they brought the fad of Aloha shirts back to the mainland U.S. By the ’60s, surfers had brought Aloha shirts back to Southern California and developed a craze for them. Those same surfers who brought surfboards and Aloha shirts to Southern California in the ’60s are also the people who helped found the casual Friday that began in Hawaii in 1965, known as Aloha Friday.

The Aloha shirt is currently the most popular textile export of the Hawaii manufacturing industry, and the garments have transcended to the level of high fashion with artistic prints, high-grade materials and quality construction. The classic island motifs and vintage prints are reflective of a tropical island paradise and the laid-back “Aloha” that defines Hawaiian island-style. It is common to see a single Aloha shirt design designated for employee uniforms especially in the visitor industry throughout Hawaii.

“Aloha Attire” is often designated on invitations in Hawaii and refers to a casual style of dress that is smarter than board shorts and a surf T- shirt! Men will pair an Aloha shirt with dress shorts or pants. Slippahs can still be worn; however, it is usually the nicest and newest looking pair that is chosen for the occasion. Muumuu and Aloha shirts are less popular with the women who opt for short or maxi summer dresses and skirts in island prints.

“Aloha Friday” is a tradition of celebrating the end of the workweek by wearing Aloha attire on Fridays.

Hawaii State Public Libraries

On August 21,1959 Hawaii was welcomed into the Union as the 50th State. 140,000 votes were cast out of 155,000 registered voters, which is the highest turnout in Hawaii ever. 93% of the voters voted for Statehood. On that day, school students were dismissed and the government offices were shut down. Retail shops closed. Hundreds danced in the streets. We can certainly understand the celebration with such a high percentage of the voters wanting Hawaii Statehood. It was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who dissolved the Territory of Hawaii and established the State of Hawaii as the 50th state.

It took more than six decades of campaigning, petitioning and politicking before Hawaii received its star on the U.S. flag. Many of our citizens have T.H. on their birth certificates, for Territory of Hawaii. Hawaii had 10% of the residents that they have today. Our economy was agricultural back then with a huge sugar and pineapple industry.

Many Native Hawaiians protested against statehood and still do today. Over 50 years later, Hawaii Statehood remains controversial due to a belief that Hawai’i never legally became a state and that it has been illegally occupied by the United States since 1898.


Niihau Island, also known as the “Forbidden Isle,” is located 18 miles from the island of Kauai across the Kaulakahi Channel. Niihau is the oldest of the inhabited Hawaiian islands and also the least changed by modern progress.

Niihau is a private island owned by the Robinson Family, descendants of Elizabeth Sinclair. Ms. Sinclair purchased Niihau in 1864 from the Kingdom of Hawaii for $10,000 in gold. She chose Niihau over Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. The Robinsons recently turned down a one billion dollar offer from the U.S. government to purchase the island. They are committed to the preservation of the Hawaiian culture and traditions on Niihau.

All Niihau residents live rent-free. They do not have telephone service, plumbing or running water. There are no paved roads or power lines on the island, and solar power provides all electricity. The residents fish using nets and spears and hunt for their food with ropes and knives. Much of the arid island is covered in kiawe trees and Polynesian Boar, Hybrid Sheep, Eland and Oryx roam freely. Supplemental food items are flown in by helicopter and barges deliver groceries from Kauai, often purchased by relatives. Residents commonly commute to Kauai for work, medical care and school. The Robinsons maintain a helicopter for emergencies and to transport Navy contractors and residents to and from Kauai.

The people of Niihau are known for their excellent craftsmanship making Niihau shell leis. Ipu art was developed on Niihau as well.

Niihau has had a relationship with the U.S. military dating from 1924. There is a small Navy installation on the island, and the island is used for training special operations units which includes hiring Hawaiians that live on Niihau as “enemy trackers.” Approximately 80% of Niihau’s income comes from the U.S. military.

In 1987, hunting safaris were opened to tourists as well as half-day helicopter and beach tours, although contact with the residents is avoided.

Night Marchers

Hawaiian and English are the official languages of the state of Hawaii. King Kamehameha III established the first language constitution in 1839 and 1840. The Hawaiian alphabet has twelve letters with five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and seven consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w). In Hawaiian, a consonant is always followed by a vowel and thus all Hawaiian words end in a vowel.

Speaking Hawaiian was discouraged, and the number of native speakers gradually decreased from the 1830s to the 1950s. There was concern that the language was going to disappear. Public Hawaiian language immersion preschools called Punana Leo were established in 1984. There has been tremendous growth in Hawaiian speakers, and the language is taught in the school system and at the colleges in Hawaii.

The Island of Niihau is the only place in the world where Hawaiian is the primary language and English is considered to be a foreign language.

In the Hawaiian language, a symbol directly over a vowel called a kahakô indicates that the vowel sound is to be elongated. An apostrophe like symbol called an `okina indicates a quick pause in the word, as in “ah-ah” for the word a`a.  The language is consistent so it’s easy to pronounce the words, although their length can be daunting, as long as you memorize the rules.

a is ah, as in far

e is a as in day

i is ee as in see

o is oh as in so

u is oo as in spoon

The most common words used are aloha (a greeting), mahalo (thank you), e komo mai (welcome, come in), and hana hou (one more time), often used when watching entertainment and similar to “encore.” Visitors are familiar with Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year). Mauka (mountain) and makai (ocean) are referenced when giving directions.

Hawaiian Pidgin drew most of its vocabulary from the Hawaiian language and was also influenced by other pidgins of the Pacific region. It was spoken mainly by immigrants to Hawaii in the mid-19th Century when laborers arrived from China, Portugal, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and many other nations to work on plantations alongside the native Hawaiians. Hawaiian was the main language of interethnic communication in schools and society until 1875, when the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States was signed. The increased spread of English favored the use of an English-based pidgin. By the early 20th Century, a second generation of locally born speakers had emerged and, as these children grew older, the language developed into the creole that linguists have labeled Hawaii Creole,  which we know as Hawaiian Pidgin. Despite its name, Hawaiian Pidgin is not a pidgin but a nativized natural language used today by many Hawaii residents in everyday casual conversation.


Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands and legend says that the Menehune were the first settlers, followed by the Marquesas in around 400 A.D. The Polynesians arrived in around 500 A.D. Other early “settlers” included dogs, chickens, pigs and rats, as well as coconuts and bananas that were introduced to the island by the canoe voyagers.

Waimea Town is Kauai’s oldest settlement and a capital from ancient Hawaiian days. A statue of Captain Cook stands today in Waimea Town to commemorate the explorer’s first landing in Kauai’s Waimea Bay in 1778. Cook’s discovery of what he called the “Sandwich Isles,” named after the Earl of Sandwich, introduced Hawaii to the world.

Whalers and missionaries made Waimea a port-of-call, and the growth of the agricultural industry in the 19th century brought plantation workers from many nations to the island.

In 1835, Old Koloa Town opened its first sugar mill on the South Shore. Sugar plantation owners contracted immigrant labor from China, Japan, Korea, Spain, Germany, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Norway and the Philippines.  Many of these immigrants settled on Kauai and, as a result, Kauai enjoys a fascinating multi-cultural society and ethnic diversity.  From Tahiti fetes to Bon Dance Festivals, Kauai celebrates and preserves its diverse culture through food, music, dance, mele and crafts.