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Kauai History

Recorded Hawaiian history begins at its “discovery.” However, discovery was not in 1778 by the HMS Endeavour, as archives suggest. Hawai’i was first discovered nearly 600 years earlier by Marquesan settlers. Roughly 400 years later, Tahitian settlers arrived conquering the Marquesans and establishing a society that would become the Hawaiian culture. But Kauai history harbors the legend of the Menehune, a term that once referenced a group of people at the social bottom that later came to be popularly misconstrued as people small in stature, akin to leprechauns, with an ability to construct massive undertakings as well as create mischief. One source of pride for those native of Kauai is that it was the last holdout and was never conquered through warfare. Kamehameha the Great put Kauai under his governance through diplomatic talent, not war, resulting in Kauai being known as the last holdout, aka “The Separate Kingdom,” an alias that remains today. In 1778, the HMS Endeavour captained by James Cook sighted land and came ashore at Waimea at the Western edge of Kauai. Undoubtedly, this was a watershed moment in the history of Hawai’i. Cook brought with him new weaponry that was decisive in Kamehameha the Great’s campaign to unite the islands. Cook also brought the awareness of the small chain of the Hawaiian islands back to the rest of the world. Unfortunately for Kauai, with Cook’s landing and that of his crew came a slew of venereal disease that decimated most of the native population. The first commercial Kauai sugar operation began in 1835, in Koloa. Hawaiian plantations, primarily sugar and pineapple, played a major role in Hawaiian history, custom and politics, as one of the primary reasons for the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893 was to avoid of tariffs on sugar sold to the United States. Today’s local culture hails not only from Hawaiian custom, but also from a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and Portuguese immigrant traditions rooted in the days of the plantations. The last sugar plantation closed its doors in 2009, though families who spent generations living in worker houses still reside there.