Hawaiian economic life depended on a fairly complex division of labor. Special skills were required for the manufacture of outrigger canoes and the preparation of tapa, the material made by beating the bulk of the mulberry tree into a paperlike fabric that was stained with vegetable dye to be worn as clothing or used as bed covers. Some men were bird catchers, collecting feathers for the chiefs’ cloaks and helmets. An adz maker sharpened the stones used for building and fighting. Other workers thatched roofs. Each island began to specialize in a skill. Oahu was reputed to make excellent tapa; Maui, superior canoes and paddles. The Kona Coast of the island of Hawaii supplied dried fish.
Early in 1778 the British explorer Captain James Cook reached the islands of Oahu, Kauai, and Niihau, landing first on the southern coast of Kauai. Later that year he returned to explore other islands, including Hawaii; he named the chain the Sandwich Islands in honor of his patron, John Montagu, 4th earl of Sandwich. The name later fell into disuse as British influence over the islands gave way to U.S. domination. At first, Cook and his men were treated hospitably by the native Hawaiians. However, ill feeling later arose between the British and the Hawaiians, and in 1779, Cook was killed in a skirmish with the natives peoples over the theft of one of his boats. Beginning about 1785, the islands became an important provision port for European and North American ships trading with East Asia. After 1790 many of the ships stopping at Hawaii were American vessels carrying furs from the Pacific Northwest to China.
In the early 19th century direct trade developed between Hawaii and Asia; foreign vessels carried sandalwood, which grew on the islands, to Asia, where it was in demand.
Foreign ships frequently remained in Hawaiian harbors several months, so that there was substantial mingling of the crews and the native Hawaiians. In addition, by 1820 a small number of foreigners had settled permanently in the islands; they were known as haoles, a term that meant stranger but came to be used for whites of European descent. The foreigners introduced cattle, horses, and orange trees, as well as other plants and domestic animals. However, they also introduced, if only by accident, a number of highly infectious diseases, such as smallpox, measles, syphilis, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. Lacking natural immunity to many diseases and unable to obtain proper medical care, thousands of Hawaiians died. Largely because of mass epidemics the islands’ population fell from an estimated 300,000 at the time of Cook’s arrival to about 135,000 in 1820. "Hawaii" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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