The state of Hawaii is the only tropical state in the United States. It is also an example of late 19th-century expansionism that saw the United States compete with other major Western powers for influence across the World and particularly in the Pacific. Hawaii was also a kingdom and the first government the US overthrew to gain possession of the islands.
The Kingdom of Hawaii came about after the conquest of the Hawaiian Islands by Kamehameha, king of Hawaii’s main island. In 1810, the islands of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau joined the kingdom after they volunteered to join the larger state. Before this unification of the islands, each of the Hawaiian islands was ruled by local chiefs who were believed to descend from the Polynesian Earth mother goddess. Native Hawaiians do descend from Polynesians who migrated to the islands sometime between 124 and 1120.
James Cook, in 1778, became the first Westerner to encounter the native population. During the 83 years of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the 19th century, many social and political changes occurred on the islands, including increasing trade relations with China and the United States. The first major trade agreements were established with China, with sandalwood traded from Hawaii.
Queen Kaʻahumanu (1819-1832), one of the rulers, also attempted to modernize Hawaiian society by introducing literacy and improving women’s rights (Figure 1). The Hawaiian military also modernized with the introduction of canons and muskets. This was also a period when a constitution was established that outlined how the state ruled its subjects. In 1848, the Great Māhele was an event that saw major land redistribution on the islands, with 98 percent of lands going to chiefs and nobles. The new order also made it so that land could not be sold but transferred to others with the same lineage.