I love history so before I travel to a destination, I read history books, pour over maps, watch documentaries and look at hundreds of photographs. I do that because history is about stories and stories give meaning.
My favorite historical novelist is James Michener who wrote the magnificent Hawaii. Like most of Michener’s work, the lengthy novels take you from the time when the volcanoes erupted in the Pacific and formed the islands to present day. This is basic map of Kauai. Lihue is the airport into which you would fly.
The original culture of Hawaii is tied to Polynesian influence. The string of islands were united under King Kamehameha I in 1810, about thirty years after the first
British Explorer, Captain James Cook, arrived on the islands.
As Michener’s story travels through time, you get a good feel for how the present day culture has come into being; I highly recommend you read his book. He’s also famous for Tales of the South Pacific, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. It was turned into a musical on Broadway and two movies. You can see that play while you’re on Kauai.
To understand how Kauai – and the other islands in Hawaii – became part of the United States of America, one needs to understand the Protestant Christian mission movement that started out of New England. Hiram Bingham was the first missionary to make the 7-month voyage to Honolulu, arriving in 1820.
Many missionaries like Bingham were linguists who created a spelling system to write the Hawaiian language in English. Until then, the culture of the Hawaiians was oral and knowledge was passed from one generation to the next through the telling of stories. As beautiful as storytelling is, cultures that rely solely on oral traditions are vulnerable to being lost as generations pass.
During the 1800s, Hawaii was considered one of the most literate nations in the world with over 90 per cent of the population able to read and write. The Ka Lama Hawaii, published in 1834, was the first newspaper published west of the Rockies.
Another significant name to know is Elizabeth Sinclair and her descendants, the Robinson family. Elizabeth and her husband were originally from Scotland, but moved to New Zealand. After her husband and son died at sea, the matriarch set sail with her children and grandchildren to Canada.
In 1863, the time of the Civil War in America, they stopped off in Honolulu. King Kamehameha IV suggested they stay and purchase land. After he died, they purchased the entire island of Ni’ihau – which lies just off the west cost of Kauai – from King Kamehameha V for $10,000.00 USD. The King asked for her assurance that the people of Ni’ihau (nee-eee-how) be protected. The language on the island is still the ancient dialect of Hawaii.
During the Japanese attack on Hawaii in 1941, one of the fighter pilots crashed his plane on Ni’ihau and threw the natives into panic. They had not heard of the attack because of the limited communication and, after a bit of terror, captured him. In captivity, he persuaded a few of the natives of Japanese decent to join forces with him an attack the others. This incident led to U.S. policy on the mainland to intern Japanese Americans during World War II.
Ni’ihua is also called the Forbidden Isle because the Robinson family, during the polio epidemic in the 1950s, refused to let anyone on the island unless they had a permit signed by a doctor they trusted. As a result, no one on the island contracted polio. The island is still privately owned by the Robinsons and can be visited by invitation-only. Keith and Bruce Robinson now own the island and Keith, an environmentalist, has been credited with keeping several Hawaiian plants from becoming extinct.
I mention Ni’ihua because the Robinson family plays such a huge part in understanding Kauai. Life on Ni’ihau for the native people is most similar to that of their ancestors that you can find on any of the islands. While places like Limahuli Gardens on Kauai try to protect ancient places of civilizations, in other places commercialization clashes with tradition.
Over the course of time, Mrs. Sinclair also bought land on the island of Kauai near Hanapepe and Makalewi in the south, deep red soil perfect for growing crops and raising cattle. Currently, the Robinson family owns 50,000 acres of land on Kauai and all of Ni’ihua.
Kauai, along with the other Hawaiian Islands, became one of the United States of America in 1959, some 18 years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There are obviously some who still resent the the United States for that.
This is the second part of a series so don’t forget to check out A Travel Journal, Part 1.
Next Up: Travel Tricks
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