Saturday, December 26, 2015

Great Leaders: King Kamehameha I (Part 5): Ruling a United Kingdom of Hawaii

Kamehameha in Civilization V
With Kamehameha setting up a new government of a united peaceful Hawaii, the people finally focused from war to livelihood. In this aspect of life, Hawaiians and Kamehameha faced a transforming dynamics with the arrival foreigners.

The economy of the Hawaiian economy saw a transformation under Kamehameha. For centuries, Hawaiian economy had been self-sufficient, mostly credited to the islands isolation from other civilization and the absence of a continental mainland. They used stones, wood, and animal bones for tools. They ate fish, fruits, taro, sweet potatoes, and breadfruit. They also had chicken and pigs. They had salt for taste and for preservation of their food. Canoes became the common mode of transportation as well as inter-island trade. After the war, Kamehameha allowed his men to return to their homes and restart working in their own farms. He promoted agricultural activities by building new irrigation and taro patches. He himself tilled his own lands to give an example to his people. This self-sustaining economy, however, altered as new people came in – westerners.

Foreigners, mostly Americans and Europeans, contributed to the transformation of Hawaiian economy from a self-sustaining economy to an economy open to foreign trade. Westerners started to come to Hawaii in the 1770’s pioneered by James Cook. After the publication of his voyage to Hawaii, many foreigners started coming to Hawaii. Because the Hawaiians had no any form of currency, trade had been conducted through barter. Foreigners gave Hawaiians iron-made goods such as nails. Iron did not exist in Hawaii; and because of its scarcity, they tremendously treasured it. And so most foreigners received numerous goods in exchange for bits of iron. Goods that were vital for their travel, such as fresh water, chicken, pigs, fruits, etc. When trade between China and the United States flourished after the latter gained its independence, the island of Hawaii situated perfectly as a pit stop for supplies and rest. Many American ships came to Hawaii and conducted commerce with the Hawaiians. By then, they traded beyond iron and sold guns and cannons to the Hawaiians. Some even sold their services as trainers and even combatants during the height of the unification and civil wars. But even with unification of the Hawaiian Islands, this trade did not ceased, but rather, it even intensified. More ships began to sell cotton and textile to the Hawaiians. Eventually, with the onset of the 19th century, foreigners noticed one product that Hawaiians had that they could sell profitably in China – Sandalwood.

Sandalwood or Santalum paniculatum came into the lime light of Kamehameha’s Hawaiian economy in the 1800’s. Before the sandalwood trade, foreigners sailed from the American west coast, gain their furs and proceed to Hawaii for provisions before going to China. But with the discovery of sandalwood in Hawaii, they stopped in Hawaii to purchase sandalwood in exchange for either textile or iron and sailed to China to their fur and their sandalwood. The Chinese had high demands for sandalwood for its fragrance and for making incense for their religious rituals. Hence, foreigners sold sandalwood easily and earned more money to purchase more Chinese-made goods to sell back in the United States for hefty profits. In the early 1800's, Kamehameha cashed in to the sandalwood trade and issued a kapu or prohibition to any Hawaiians in selling sandalwood except him. Effectively, Kamehameha placed a royal monopoly in the trade of sandalwood. Sandalwood drove Hawaiian exports and Hawaii became known to the Chinese as Tan Heong Shan or the Fragrant Sandalwood Mountains. The sandalwood trade further increased the number of foreigners trading in Hawaii and convinced Kamehameha to conduct one himself. With a schooner he ordered to be built, he loaded it with sandalwood and sent to China. However, when they arrived in Canton, China, they did not sold in profit due to the fact that they had no idea about paying customs duties. With this, Kamehameha’s venture failed but it gave him an idea. He decided to profit from the increasing arrival of foreigner by imposing his own customs duties. When it began in the middle of the 1810’s ships docking in Hawaiian ports paid 60 dollars. If the ships stayed outside of the island and in the reefs, they paid 40 dollars. Kamehameha became enthusiastic in imposing customs to foreigners that he built a cottage in the port and watched personally the arrival of foreign ships. The, however, caused a problem in the domestic economy. Sandalwood trade caused men to be diverted from plowing fields to cutting sandalwood. It caused a famine in the 1820's that brought eventually to the end of the trade.

Foreigners made other contributions to Hawaii beyond guns and sandalwood. Their arrival brought the introduction of new goods such as cabbage, corn, lime, mangoes and potatoes. New animals also arrived in Hawaii such as dogs and new breads of chicken and pigs. Other than new goods, foreign trade stimulated local shipbuilding industry, from small canoes, Hawaiians, with foreign assistance, began also to build western model ships. By the time Kamehameha passed away in 1819, Hawaii had six western model ships. Hawaiian preferences changed as well. Hawaiians began to develop liking for western textile and cotton as well as other western products such mirrors, dresses, and other consumer goods.

Individual foreigners also made a name for themselves in Hawaiian history. John Young and Isaac Davis played a huge role in the unification of Hawaii. Personally, for Kamehameha, both men served him well and became close friends to him. They helped in training his troops in the use of guns and artillery. They advised Kamehameha on strategy to effectively use modern weapons. Following the two men, another gentleman, Captain George Vancouver became an asset to Kamehameha. Vancouver, a British, served as part of the crew of Captain James Cook’s ill-fated voyage to Hawaii. Vancouver knew Kamehameha in 1779 due to the latter’s quiet demeanor and tall stature. In the 1790’s, he returned to Hawaii and also provided assistance to Kamehameha in strengthening his army. In other terms, he brought cattle, sheep and orange trees to Hawaii. He also influenced Kamehameha to be an anglophile. Thus, when Kamehameha created the flag of Hawaii, he placed the Union Jack in the top left of it. Through Vancouver's influence and other British in his court, Kamehameha also wrote a letter to the King of Britain, King George III, for a friendly diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms. Other notable foreigners included Captain Francisco de Paula Marin, a Spanish who planted the first pineapple in Hawaii. In 1803, Richard Cleveland arrived in Hawaii and brought the first horses in Hawaii to the amazement of Kamehameha. John Palmer Parker became also part of Kamehameha’s inner circle, becoming a rancher handling the King’s cattle. Later on, he founded his own ranch called Parker Ranch. Other nationalities also came to Hawaii, from Chinese to Italian. From just a dozen or so in 1794, they numbered by the hundreds by the time of Kamehameha’s death.

Besides the British and the Americans, another notable visitors to Hawaii were the Russians. In the 1810’s Russian interest in the western American coast and Pacific reached its zenith. Russia wanted to dominate the fur trade by taking territory in the American west coast and the Pacific. They built settlements and forts towards the south and as far as modern day San Francisco. But to completely corner the fur trade, they needed a base in the middle of the Pacific, which led them to eye the Sandwich Islands or Hawaii. In 1804 and 1809, Russian ships visited the island. In 1815, Kamehameha met a certain doctor, George Anton Scheffer. Scheffer worked for the Russian American Company as an agent with the mission of establishing a fort in Hawaii. Kamehameha had no idea of the doctor’s real intention. But when he got a cold, Kamehameha recovered after Scheffer treated him from the ailment. As a reward, he gave Scheffer a land in Oahu. In the following year, however, Scheffer, confident of the trust he attained, went to Kauai to talk with Kaumuali’I, the last remaining independent king of a Hawaiian island and a staunch opponent of Kamehameha. Scheffer hoped to use the conflict between Kaumuali’I and Kamehameha to establish Russian bases in the island. He offered Kaumuali’I protection of Russia that would be done by allowing a construction of a fort in Kauai. In addition to this, he also planned to construct another fort in Honolulu to dominate over the two warring factions. He built a blockhouse in Honnolulu and this house received reinforcement with the arrival of three Russian warships. The Russians aggressive venture in Hawaii, however, ended when the Americans and the British reported to Kamehameha the real intentions of Scheffer and he acted quickly to prevent them from cementing their positions. Kaumuali’I on the other hand realized the same and began to act against Scheffer as well. With the Hawaiian supported by the British and the Americans turned against him, Scheffer decided to abandon his mission and fled. Later on, a Russian mission aboard the Rurick arrived in Hawaii and completely disavowed Scheffer and his conduct. By the 1820’s Russia completely lost its interest in the Americas and the Pacific. 

During his later years, Kamehameha ruled over peaceful and developing island kingdom. In 1810, Kauai surrendered to his might. Hawaii experience unity and prosperity. By the time of his last years, he spent most of his time in Kailua in Kona. He then prepared for his own death by building a temple in the coast of Kona. During the preparations, he ordered a stop to the traditional human sacrifice at the event of the burial of a King. In 1819, he named his son as his successor who ascended as King Kamehameha II. On May 8, 1819, the Lonely One, Kamehameha, King, slayer of high chiefs and unifier of the Hawaiian Islands, passed away. His remains underwent the process of bone cleansing, removing the tissues and leaving only the bones of the King.  His officials and family conducted the traditional burial practice of Hunakele or “to Hide in Secret,” where an close friend of the King, in this case, Chief Hoapili hid the bones of Kamehameha and brought its locations to his own grave. Until now, no one knew where the great Kamehameha laid in peace.

Kamehameha was great figure in Hawaiian history and a great military as well as a nation-builder in world history. With confidence in himself and by the divine providence that blessed him, he conquered and united all of Hawaiian Islands, ending centuries of war and devastation. He was bold, as well as open to new technology to advance his interest. He used his wit to defeat most of his enemies. But when war ended, he successfully transformed to a statesman dedicated in building a new united kingdom of Hawaii. He respected tradition but also welcomed new foreigners, which transformed his Kingdom from an isolated island to a hub of Pacific trade. King Kamehameha paved the way for the formation of modern Hawaii. 

See also:

McGregor, Davianna Pomaika'i. Na Kua'aina: Living Hawaiian Culture. Hawaii: University of Hawai'i Press, 2007.

Oaks, Robert. Hawai'i: A History of the Big Island. Chicago, Ilinois: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

Potter, Norris, et. al. History of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Honolulu, Hawaii: Bess Press, 2003.

Wong, Helen, & Kayson, Ann. Hawaii's Royal History. Honolulu, Hawaii: Bess Press, 1987.

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