Timeline of the Hawaiian Islands

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Thousands of ocean-going koa wood canoes were the principle means of travel around the Hawaiian island groups. From original field drawings by John Webber, the official artist on Captain Cook’s final voyage. All prints courtesy of Lahaina Printsellers.

Hawaiians had no written language until the 1820s when Western missionaries translated the Hawaiian sounds into English-language phonetic letters. Before this time certain talented elders could recite from extraordinary memory the history of genealogies of their families back to their first arrival.

Circa 500 A.D.
Large ocean canoes carrying perhaps 200 people from Marquesas Islands 1500 miles south of Hawaii settle the Big Island first. Several expeditions made the hazardous trip bringing domestic animals and food plants. They lived 53 generations in which no man was made chief over another.

Circa 1200
A small group from Tahiti arrived. All Hawaiian nobility can trace their origins back 40 generations to this arrival and Pa‘ao the first chief to build a heiau, initiate human sacrifice, and kapu laws.

A royal road, the Alaloa, circles Maui signifying unity.

Captain James Cook’s third and final voyage with 182 men and two ships set foot in the Islands documenting the existence of the Hawaiian people for Europeans. Gave these islands the name of Sandwich Islands in honor of his English patron the Earl of Sandwich. Modern research indicates perhaps 800,000 people living on the 8 major Hawaiian islands.

Kamehameha of Big Island defeats Maui forces in Battle of Iao Needle, using Western cannon.

Battle of Maui and Oahu, Kamehameha I defeats Maui’s King Kalanikupule with 6,000-canoe force consolidating his kingdom except Kauai.

Aromatic Sandalwood trees sold to Asian traders in exchange for Western weapons, clothing, furniture. Hawaii’s first export trade. Tree harvested almost to extinction.

First horses introduced, naturally multiplying to an 1884 peak of over 30,000.

Through marriage Kamehameha I received Kauai ceded by King Kaumualii uniting the entire Kingdom of Hawaii under one ruler, a monarchy which lasted until 1895.

Kamehameha dies. Kapu system abolished by Kamehameha II and his advisors, destruction of heiau temples signal overthrow of the traditional Hawaiian religion. First whaling ships arrive marking rise of Lahaina as whaling capitol.

First permanent Western settlers arrive, 20 missionaries from New Bedford, Massachusetts to begin the great conversion to Christianity.

Hawaiian language standardized with five vowels and seven consonants.

Lahainaluna High School opened, oldest institute of secondary learning West of Rockies, Hawaiian nobility and newly wealthy of California sent children here.

New Testament translated and printed in Hawaiian.

Declaration of Rights — Hawaii’s Magna Carta granted protection to the land and property of the people.

Hawaiian Constitution provided for a public school system: English as the medium of instruction.

Hawaiian Islands under British flag due to hasty annexation by a naval captain. Six months later countermanded by British Foreign Office.

Whaling visits to Hawaii peak with 596 arrivals, 429 anchor off Lahaina.

Great Mahele. First written records and procedures for land ownership dividing land between kinds, chiefs, and commoners.

Legislative act authorized the sale of lands in fee simple to resident aliens. Capitol moved from Lahaina to Honolulu.

First of thousands of Japanese contract workers arrive to work sugar plantations, subsequent migrations of Portuguese, Koreans, Filipinos.

Remaining Hawaiian whaling industry destroyed in Arctic ice jam; petroleum replaces whale oil.

Reciprocity Treaty with U.S. opened sugar trade and gave plantations a viable U.S. market.

Hamakua Ditch completed as the great irrigation system bringing water from Maui’s rainy north shore to the sugar fields of central Maui: Science taming nature to serve men.

Hawaii’s first telephone with three miles of line from Haiku to Paia, Maui.

Pure Hawaiian population reduced to 40,000 through 100-year contact with Western viruses. Imported nationalities reinvigorate and mix to produce the vigorous people of Hawaii in modern times.

Bayonet Constitution. King Kalakaua in bloodless revolution agrees to ceremonial status with propertied minority having the real legislative, executive, and judicial power.

Hawaiian Monarch Queen Liliuokalani overthrown by American Republican forces in Honolulu. No casualties.

Hawaii’s first auto a Wood electric. To secure a $2 driver’s license three things required to examiner: How to start car, how to keep it going, how to stop it. Speed limit 15 mph in town.

Hawaii becomes territory of the U.S., only 5% of population of American or English ancestry.

Pioneer Inn in Lahaina opens as Maui’s first visitor hotel.

First gasoline powered auto in Hawaii, by 1991 100,000 registered vehicles on Maui.

Paia becomes major town on Maui due to sugar boom with many plantation camps grouped by nationality. Lahaina lost importance. Maui a minor agricultural island. Big Five companies dominate.

First regularly scheduled air passenger service from Hawaii to Mainland in 16 hours.

Japanese planes attack U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, martial law declared.

Hawaii admitted as 50th State.

Hawaii’s first master-planned destination opened, the Kaanapali Beach Resort, with its signature Royal Kaanapali Golf Course.

First non-stop direct Mainland flights to Maui.

Replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe sailed to Tahiti in 34 days without charts or instruments, confirming Hawaiian legends and signaling the rebirth of widespread respect for Hawaiian culture.

Commission established to return Kahoolawe island to civilian control, military bombing suspended. Major airport expansion on Maui.

18,000 hotel and condominium rooms for 2.2 million annual Maui visitors.

U.S Navy transfers control of Kaho‘olawe island back to State of Hawai‘i.

Maui is named “Best Island in the World” for 17th consecutive year by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine.