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Hawaii in the early 19th century


Hiram Bingham
Hiram Bingham

From 1782 to 1795 Kamehameha, a chief on the island of Hawaii, waged several wars that won him control of all the major islands except Kauai and Niihau. When these two islands were ceded to him in 1810, he became the first ruler of a unified Hawaiian kingdom as Kamehameha I.

Kamehameha ended regional warfare and adopted uniform laws throughout the islands. He shrewdly promoted trade with Europe and the United States, increasing the islands’ wealth. Although he remained open to new ideas brought by foreigners, Kamehameha guarded old Hawaiian customs and religion, and he maintained Hawaiian independence during a time of Western colonial expansion.

Kamehameha


When Kamehameha died in 1819, he was succeeded by his young son Liholiho, who took the name Kamehameha II. For some time before Kamehameha II became king, many Hawaiians had been abandoning their ancient religious practices; contact with foreigners demonstrated that many of the old kapus could be violated without bringing punishment. Within a few months after assuming the throne, the king was persuaded by Kamehameha I’s favorite wife, who was blocked by kapus from the highest circles of power, to publicly violate one of the most obvious taboos, which barred men and women from eating together. This destroyed the kapu system, and the king then formally abolished the Hawaiian religion, ordering the destruction of all idols and temples. Despite initial resistance, the ancient Hawaiian religion was all but extinct by the end of 1819.

In 1820, several months after the king’s actions, the first Christian missionaries arrived in Hawaii. They were a small group of Protestants from New England, led by Hiram Bingham. Other Protestant missionaries followed and gained thousands of converts among the Hawaiians. The first Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in 1827.

The Protestant missionaries played an important role in the religious and secular life of Hawaii, trying to convert the native people to their religion, morality, and lifestyle. They devised a system for transcribing the Hawaiian language into the Latin alphabet and produced the first books and pamphlets printed in the Hawaiian language. They were also largely responsible for creating an extensive public school system. In the 1830s, several foreign missionaries began to exert considerable influence on Hawaiian politics. By this time, the old social ties were virtually demolished; the kapus were gone, and the authority of the chiefs was threatened as the white newcomers gained power and prestige. "Hawaii" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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