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History of Honolulu

Early History

Evidence of the first settlement of Honolulu by the original Polynesian migrants to the archipelago comes from oral histories and artifacts. These indicate that there was a settlement where Honolulu now stands in the 12th century. However, after Kamehameha I conquered Oahu in the Battle of Nuʻuanu at Nuʻuanu Pali, he moved his royal court from the Island of Hawaii to Waikīkī in 1804. His court later relocated, in 1809, to what is now downtown Honolulu.

British Captain James Cook first sighted Oahu in 1778, when he named the islands the Sandwich Islands after the Earl of Sandwich. In 1795, Captain William Brown of England was the first foreigner to sail into what is now Honolulu Harbor. More foreign ships would follow, making the port of Honolulu a focal point for merchant ships travelling between North America and Asia.

19th Century

Honolulu was such a convenient centre of trade between the Orient and the West that it became the seat of a series of European occupations: Russia in 1816, England in 1843, and France in 1849. New England missionaries began arriving in 1820; some of their buildings, preserved by the Mission Houses Museum, can be seen today. The missionaries established schools and also functioned as government advisors to the royal Hawaiians. During the mid-19th century, the whaling industry began to decline and the sugar industry grew. The cultivation of sugar cane brought in a great influx of immigrant labour from throughout the Pacific basin; the descendants of these peoples are partially responsible for modern Honolulu's cosmopolitanism. A 1876 treaty that admitted sugar duty-free into the United States strengthened the power of this industry.

In 1845, Kamehameha III moved the permanent capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom from Lahaina on Maui to Honolulu. He and the kings that followed him transformed Honolulu into a modern capital, erecting buildings such as St. Andrew's Cathedral, ʻIolani Palace, and Aliʻiōlani Hale. At the same time, Honolulu became the centre of commerce in the Islands, with descendants of American missionaries establishing major businesses in downtown Honolulu.

At the time Honolulu was named the capital city, traditional Hawaiian life was breaking down. The islands were basically ruled by the sugar interests consisting of an oligarchy of plantation owners. Native customs were declining both through the breakdown of taboos and the introduction of guns and liquor. Furthermore, the Hawaiian people were not immune to diseases brought to them by the Westerners; within a hundred years of the islands' discovery by the West, 80% of the native population was dead. The language and history of the Hawaiians is nevertheless preserved, partly through native dance and folklore.

In 1893 Queen Liliuokalani, the last Hawaiian monarch, was deposed by a group of American businessmen and US Marines, and in 1898 the islands were annexed by the US.

20th Century

In 1907 Honolulu was incorporated as a city and county. Through the efforts of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, a member of Congress from 1902 to 1922, Pearl Harbor was dredged, extending the sea power of the US. On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, but it survived to become the most important staging area for the US in the Pacific during World War II. The area around Honolulu is still an important constellation of military bases.

Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959 and joined the Union as the 50th state with Honolulu as its capital. Today Honolulu is the Aloha state's centre of business, culture and politics. In recent years, Hawaiian sovereignty has become a contested political issue. In 1993 President Clinton signed an official apology acknowledging the US role in the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom.

An economic and tourism boom following statehood brought rapid economic growth to Honolulu and Hawaii.

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