When people think of Maui, they may think of surfing, luaus, and sandy beaches. But did you know there is a treasure trove of Hawaiian history to discover? While Hawaii is the 50th state of the Unities States, it existed long before the USA was founded.
Many people were not aware of the richness of Hawaiian history and culture until Disney’s blockbuster film “Moana” was released in 2016. As it quickly captured the world’s attention, it also exposed everyone to the depth of the history of Hawaii. Suddenly, Hawaii was seen as much more than sandy beaches and lush luaus.
What is the Legend of Maui?
Myths and legends abound in the history of Hawaii, a place well-known for its close ties with the spiritual world and kinship with nature. But what about the tales that surround Maui history? Throughout Maui history, the legend of Maui has been shared.
Maui was a demigod – one of those that have god-like powers coupled with the frailty of humanity. He was born premature, and his mother threw him into the ocean. His grandfather found him wrapped in seaweed and saved him, raising him to adolescence, at which point he rejoined his brothers and mother. Known as a trickster, Maui and his many exploits are legend.
Maui’s adventures are varied, from raising the sky so humans could walk upright and farm to bringing the secret of fire to humankind. The final tale of Maui history tells of his attempt to trick the goddess, Hine-nui-te-po, to try and make humankind immortal. Unfortunately, he fails, dying himself; thus, humankind is mortal.
Here are some of the demigod Maui’s notable accomplishments:
- Maui raises the sky
- Maui lassos the sun
- Maui brings fire to humans
- Maui created the Hawaiian Islands
Maui raises the sky for humankind - throughout Maui history, it’s been said humans lived in a time when the sky was so low that they needed to crawl on all fours. So, Maui ran up to the highest peak, used his superhuman strength, and raised the sky for humankind. After that, whenever a fog enveloped the mountain peak, villagers would say the sky was trying to test Maui but was too scared to press down fully.
Maui lassos the sun to lengthen the days - Maui’s mother complained of having items that didn’t have time to dry in the sun, so he wove together coconut fronds and lassoed the sun. He held it in place until it agreed to move slower across the sky.
Maui learned how to make fire - humans only knew to make fire when they took embers from the edge of the lava flow. When out with his brothers fishing, Maui saw wisps of smoke rising into the sky. He spied mud hens (this is a legend, remember) making fire, and he leaped out of his hiding spot and grabbed one, squeezing its neck until the bird gave up its secret - rubbing wood together to make fire! He took the clever bird and burned a mark on its head with a fiery stick so all would know that this mud hen was the one that knew the secret of fire and had kept it hidden.
Maui pulled the Hawaiian Islands from the sea - Maui had four brothers, each an outstanding fisherman. Unfortunately, Maui was not good at fishing. One day, going out fishing with them, he took his magical fishhook. He threw it out, and it got stuck on the bottom. He pulled and pulled on it, and when he finally brought it up, it brought up an island! He continued to throw it into the water and dragged up the island chain that makes up the Hawaiian Islands.
Was the Island of Maui Named After the Demigod?
People studying Maui history often think that the Hawaiian island of Maui was named after the demigod from which all the legends spring. This isn’t the case! The more common story in Maui history tells that the discoverer, Hawai’i-Loa, named the island. Stories passed down through the centuries in the history of Hawaii tell us that Hawai’i-Loa named the island after his son, Maui, who was named after the demigod.
So, is Moana’s Maui Based on the Real Thing?
In keeping with Maui history, Disney worked hard to ensure the legends of Maui were authentic. They wanted to ensure they honored the Polynesians and all who shared them. Moana, the character herself and the story, was original.
What were some differences between the movie and the tales from Maui history?
- Maui's birth
- Maui's hook
Maui’s birth - The movie’s version of Maui history says he was born of humans, thrown in the ocean, saved, and then raised by gods. Yet, looking back through the history of Hawaii, traditional legend says he was the child of a human woman and god, thrown in the ocean by his mother and rescued and then raised by his grandfather.
Maui’s hook - in the movie, his ability to shapeshift was due to a giant, magical hook that the gods gave him. In the legends, his magical fishhooks allowed him to pull islands from the bottom of the sea, creating the Hawaiian Islands.
How was the Island of Maui Formed?
There are two explanations told in Maui history for how the island of Maui was formed; one is mythical, and one is scientific. The mythical version of Maui history speaks of the goddess of the volcano, Pele. As she traveled from place to place, she would pound her foot. Each time she did this, an island would form.
The scientific one explains that Maui was formed from two volcanoes. Present on the ocean floor, a hot spot created these volcanoes. With every eruption, new lava would spew from the volcanoes, eventually hardening and creating summits that rose out of the water and became dry land. As they connected, an island would form. As this continued, each of the Hawaiian Islands was created.
Who Were the First Inhabitants of Maui?
According to Maui history, the Polynesians were instrumental in setting the culture and the tone. More than 1,600 years ago, they traveled from the Marquesas Islands to Hawaii. These were farmers and fishermen.
The next set of settlers in the history of Hawaii, also Polynesians but this time from Tahiti, came in approximately A.D. 700 and did not want to co-exist with the prior inhabitants. So, exiling them to live in the mountains, they created their community until the late 1700s when the British explorer James Cook arrived.
What is the Link Between Polynesians and Maui, Hawaii?
Polynesians, being the first inhabitants according to the history of Hawaii, established the first culture in Maui’s history. Under their leadership, Hawaii was ruled as a class system under the guidance of a king. The centuries until Captain James Cook’s arrival consisted of many wars and conquests.
What are Petroglyphs?
Petroglyphs, etchings into the rock by prehistoric people, give us a glimpse into the early history of Hawaii and what life was like at the time. The Olowalu Petroglyphs, on the island of Maui, are one of the most famous sites because they number over 100 and are easy to access year-round via a short hike. These petroglyphs were generally created at the same time as a tribal ceremony.
What was Hawaii Like in the 18th Century?
Things changed dramatically in the history of Hawaii in the 18th century with the arrival of James Cook. He was a renowned explorer looking for the Northwest Passage and accidentally came upon the Hawaiian Islands. According to the history of Hawaii, he named them the Sandwich Islands, after his good friend, the Earl of Sandwich.
Initially friendly, the Polynesians and Cook’s group exchanged goods. He and his crew had been greeted as gods. However, things soured on a subsequent trip after one of his crew members died and thus exposed that they were mortals. A cutter was stolen from Cook’s ship, and negotiations failed to get it back. In all the fighting, Cook was stabbed to death.
What was a Major Turning Point in 19th-Century Hawaii?
In the latter half of the 19th century, the United States suffered severe growing pains. This was a dark time in the history of Hawaii, and it was not immune. In 1887, the U.S. Navy took control of Pearl Harbor. A rebellion organized by predominately white settlers forced the ruling monarch, King David Kalakaua, to sign a new constitution. This incident culminated in the signing of what would come to be known as the Bayonet Constitution.
The Bayonet Constitution was so named because King Kalakaua was forced to sign it with bayonets at his neck. This legal document allowed the sugar cane companies to use Pearl Harbor as a port. It also shifted the balance of power away from the Native Hawaiians and gave it to the white settlers. It was considered a political turning point in the history of Hawaii.
What was Hawaii Like in the 20th Century?
With Hawaii officially becoming the 50th state in 1959 (annexed in 1898), tourism became the name of the game in the 20th century. World War II had exposed Americans to the idea of the lei-laden, grass-skirted hula dancers, the white sandy beaches, and the palm trees. This was a new era in the history of Hawaii.
While Hawaii had been primarily a plantation economy, tourism and military defense by way of Pearl Harbor quickly rose as its primary industries. In 1966, Don Ho released the song “Tiny Bubbles.” This signature song of his rose on the Billboard chart to the Top 20 and became synonymous with Hawaii and Hawaiian culture. Hawaiian shirts and shark teeth necklaces became stylish.
What About Lahaina’s History?
Lahaina is brimming with Maui history, so there is no need to go any further! Until 1845, Lahaina was the capital of Hawaii. (Honolulu replaced it.) Then, until the late 20th century, it was known as a pineapple-canning and sugar-refining hotbed. Now, tourism is its primary industry, offering visitors plenty of sites to soak up the history of Hawaii.
The top historical spots you will want to check out in Lahaina are:
- The old Lahaina Courthouse
- Lahaina Jodo Mission
- Wo Hing Museum & Cookhouse
- Hale Pai Museum
- Lahaina Lighthouse
How did the Whaling Industry Shape Hawaii?
Beginning in the early 19th century, whalers began arriving in Hawaii. Whales would be used for:
- Industrial machinery
- Skirt hoops
- Buggy whips
Whalers would visit Hawaii, especially the ports of Honolulu and Lahaina, generally twice a year. They made up most of the economy for over 20 years, spawning new industries and trends in farming and ranching. According to the history of Hawaii, due to the outsiders’ desire for more than the traditional Hawaiian diet of Poi and fish, the Hawaiians branched out.
They began growing potatoes and other vegetables to make up for the wider varieties of items desired by the incoming whalers. When petroleum oil was discovered in 1859, the dependence on whale oil declined, and the whaling industry dwindled with it. This was a distinct shift in the history of Hawaii.
What Began the Sugar Cane Industry in Hawaii?
As the whaling industry ended, the sugar cane plantations rose in their place. They began to make their mark in the 1830s. The Civil War had shut down many of the sugar cane plantations in the South so that Hawaii could cultivate relationships with the California sugar cane market. By 1870, there were dozens of plantations in Hawaii, spurring immigration from Japan, China, the Philippines, and elsewhere as they sought cheap and often indentured labor.
By 1890, nearly three-quarters of Hawaii was owned by foreign investors who owned sugar plantations. However, by the late 20th century, all the sugar plantations were shut down. They have since been leased to the seed corn industry or used for urban expansion. Farming was soon going to become history in Hawaii as tourism became the new trade.
What is Tourism Like in Hawaii Now?
Visiting Hawaii today allows the visitor to indulge in the richness of islands brimming with culture, natural beauty, wildlife, and the rich history of Hawaii. Few places in the world can match Hawaii's accessibility to year-round outdoor activities, thanks to its consistently good weather. Known for its tourism industry, its population caters to visitors, with most inhabitants having at least one family member working in the industry. They like to promote what is called the “aloha spirit.”
It’s filled with the history of Hawaii and culture for those who love to learn on vacation. The world-renown beaches boast an array of white, red, yellow, black, and red sands and epic waves. Its geographic stand-out, the volcanos and lava fields are intriguing to visitors. The oceans give some of the best surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving opportunities worldwide. As ecotourism has risen in popularity, Hawaii has become a natural destination to benefit.
What is the Malama Hawaii Program?
Hawaii, from its beginnings, has always been a place that has found itself bound together, nature and humans alike. Malama means to give back. The Malama Hawaii Program allows visitors to participate in a volunteer activity of their choice, be it beach cleanup, wildlife preservation, conservation, or one of several other activities, and receive a special discount or free night from a participating partner. Our world is a circle, and humans are its stewards.
How Do I Bring Maui History Home?
Maui is filled with the history of Hawaii, both legendary and real. You can remember those early whalers and bring home a bit of Maui history with a shark tooth or shark tooth necklace. Perhaps you want to tell your friends about Maui and his extraordinary gifts to humankind and pick a fishhook? Maybe you were fascinated by the petroglyphs, and fossils captured your heart. And we can never rule out the beautiful crystals that inhabit the island. But, no matter what you choose, once you have felt the “aloha spirit,” you will want to return!