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July 4 Has Two Meanings in Hawaii

The rule of monarchy ended on the United States mainland with a war and in Hawaii with a coup. July 4 is an important date to both. Some here note with sadness the end of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the role of U.S. colonists in its demise.

The islands of Hawaii were united into a single kingdom by King Kamehameha I in 1810. Over the next eighty years, Hawaii became an active commercial sea port. American colonists followed the missionaries who arrived in 1820 and became increasingly involved in the government of the islands. Over this time, also, western disease decimated the Native Hawaiian population. Some estimates put the number of Native Hawaiians at nearly a million at the time of contact with the west; that number plummeted to just over 22,000 by 1920.

This was also a time of rapid cultural change in Hawaii. The monarchy was challenged by the influx of foreigners with different views of religion, land ownership and the role of commerce. Western nations were competing with one another to place flags of conquest on newly-discovered islands across the Pacific. Hawaii was subject to a military occupation by Britain for five months in 1843. The end of that rule is celebrated each year as “Restoration Day” when the flag of the Hawaiian Kingdom flew once again, replacing the Union Jack.

In 1893 American colonists overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom, deposing Queen Liliuokalani. Many hoped that the United States government would return control of the islands to the monarchy, as Britain had done earlier. However, on July 4, 1894 the provisional government proclaimed the Republic of Hawaii with Sanford B. Dole as President. Four years later, Hawaii became a territory of the United States.

While this basic timeline is relatively undisputed (and served as the basis of the Apology Resolution by the U.S. Congress in 1993), there are many different interpretations of history and no clear consensus on what an appropriate remedy might be, if any. Traditional July 4 festivities celebrate American independence with fireworks, parades and picnics in Hawaii, and residents of every descent take part. However, many Native Hawaiians still experience a sense of loss on this date of dual historic significance.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher on Jul 4, 2010