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Hawaiian Creation Stories: Occupation and Resistance

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This is a reference resource written about Hawaiian history, culture, and creation stories. You can read through the resource in its entirety, or you can use the subheadings on the right to navigate to specific topics.

The Kumulipo

The Kumulipo is a genealogical chant connecting back to the origins of everything and describing the interconnectedness of all things. Kumulipo translates loosely to “the source of darkness.” Darkness is understood to be a fertile space, not something scary to be feared. All life arose out of this darkness.

The Kumulipo is composed of 16 wā (eras) that go from darkness to light. Sea creatures birthed in each have a paired land creature or land plant. These pairings promote understanding that all things are interconnected.

The Kumulipo states that the islands are birthed in the same way people are. This shared origin reinforces the knowledge that the āina (land) is a living being. To learn more about the Kumulipo, watch this video.

During the kingdom period, Hawaiians recited the Kumulipo as an assertion of agency and statehood. After the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian government, Hawaiians continued to recite the Kumulipo, keeping their powerful cultural heritage alive in the face of military occupation. During her imprisonment, Queen Liliuokalani translated the Kumulipo into English.

The Kingdom of Hawaii

A Hawaiian man, woman, and boy pose for a photograph wearing Western clothing. Behind them hangs the flag of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Manuscript text below the image reads: Hawaiians.

The Hawaiian Islands unified under King Kamehameha’s leadership in 1795. Three years after the unification, the Kingdom of Hawaii encountered Europeans. The arrival of British explorer James Cook to the islands paved the way for two-way travel between Hawaii and Europe and the United States. European countries and the United States did not immediately recognize Hawaiian sovereignty, but by the 19th century, Hawaii was an internationally recognized nation.

The Hawaiian flag (shown in this photo) includes the Union Jack, a British naval symbol. This reflects the British Royal Navys historical relations with the Kingdom of Hawaii, particularly with King Kamehameha.

Island cliffside with clear blue water in the foreground and lightly cloudy blue sky in the background.

Situated in the Pacific Ocean, at an approximate distance of 2,000 miles from the United States’ West Coast, Hawaii is composed of approximately 132 islands, including eight main islands.

House made of natural fibrous materials stands below tall palm trees.

The beautiful archipelago is estimated to have been first encountered by Polynesians as early as 400 A.D. Voyaging throughout the Pacific may have continued between Asia and the Pacific Islands up until the 12th and 13th centuries, when kingdom-nations began to appear on the islands of Hawaii. These kingdoms were united in 1795 under the direction of the warrior-chief named Kamehameha the Great, who led a unification campaign that lasted 15 years.

Black and white illustration of Hawaiian Aliʻi wearing Western clothing and sitting in a theater box. Text below the image reads: Their Majesties King Reho Rhio, Queen Tamehamalu, Madame Poki, of the Sandwich Islands, and Suite, As they appeared at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane June 4th 1824. London Pubd by J.W. Gear, 6, Wilson Stt Gray's Inn Road. June 1824. Drawn and Engraved from the life by JW Gear. Printed by C. Hullmande.

During the kingdom period (17951893), Hawaiians traveled the world in many capacities. Makaāinana, or non-noble citizens, often found employment on whaling and fur ships. Alii (nobility) traveled the world to meet with rulers and nobles of other countries. This illustration (left) shows Hawaiian King Liholiho and other Hawaiian royalty at the theater during a visit to England.

Two white men face each other in a field of pineapple plants. Manuscript text below the photograph reads: J.L. + L.J. Kellogg.

While Hawaiians were traveling the world, foreigners were traveling to Hawaii. Missionaries, who first arrived in the decades before international recognition of Hawaiian sovereignty, were some of the first non-Hawaiians to move to the islands. A while later, plantation owners moved to Hawaii to profit off the land.

A Violent Overthrow

A Hawaiian man in a decorated uniform. Text below the photograph reads: Kalakaua. Late King of the Hawaiian Islands. A Trip to Hawaii. Forbes Co., Benton.

The Kingdom of Hawaii faced several threats from foreigners (especially plantation owners, missionaries, and lawyers) who made claims about Hawaiian governance. Through a series of violent and illegal actions, white settlers took control of Hawaii’s government and created the Republic of Hawaii.

In 1887, King Kalākaua was held at gunpoint by a militia and forced to sign the Bayonet Constitution, which was drafted by a group of white lawyers and businessmen who were motivated by sugar profits, personal gain, and power. This new constitution severely limited the power of the Hawaiian monarch and expanded the power of European and American foreigners.

When the militia first began threatening violence, King Kalākaua contacted the U.S. ambassador to Hawaii, George W. Merrill. Merrill refused to defuse the American-led militia, instead suggesting to King Kalākaua that he comply with the demands.

Hawaiian woman wearing a dress, cross-body sash, and jewelry poses for a photograph. Manuscript text at the bottom of the photograph reads: Lilioukalani. 12E.

Native Hawaiians attempted to repeal the Bayonet Constitution by signing several petitions. In response, Queen Liliuokalani, King Kalākaua’s successor, proposed a new constitution. Her new constitution would have given power back to the monarchy and made it easier for Native Hawaiians to vote.

In response, a cabal (political group) of U.S. and European businessmen overthrew Queen Liliuokalani. The U.S. ambassador to Hawaii lent military support to the cabal. The queen was imprisoned in the Iolani Palace, and the conspirators formed a provisional (temporary) government. This provisional government focused on protecting U.S. and European business interests.

Many Native Hawaiians supported Queen Liliuokalani after the overthrow. Some of these supporters were sentenced to death for their part in a rebellion against the provisional government. Queen Liliuokalani abdicated the throne in exchange for the release of her imprisoned supporters.

An Illegal Annexation

Large palatial building with three United States flags mounted on the roof. Military people stand facing the building in a ceremonial formation. Non-military people stand on the building's balcony facing the military people.

U.S. President Grover Cleveland ordered the return of government control to the Hawaiians. The conspirators, however, renamed Hawai‘i the Republic of Hawai‘i in order to claim it was its own country and independent of the United States and Cleveland’s control.

Hawaiians did not want Hawai‘i to be a part of the United States. In an attempt to prevent this, Hawaiians submitted anti-annexation
petitions to the U.S. Congress. After her release from imprisonment, Queen Lili‘uokalani traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby against annexation.

​Hawaiians successfully defeated the annexation measure. However, in 1898, Congress violated U.S. law and pushed the annexation through. The annexation celebration (right) included U.S. military presence and the raising of the U.S. flag.

This illegal annexation led to Hawai‘i becoming a U.S. territory and later a U.S. state.​

Appropriated Stories

The cover of a book titled "Legends of Hawaii." The cover is orange and shows a silhouette of a person raising their arms. Overlaid is an image of text reading: Revealing interesting glimpses of the spirit of Romance, the depth of affection and the superstition which, throughout the ages, have had so marked an influence upon the child-like nature of the native Hawaiians, this booklet of legends from the pen of Gardner W. Gregg is presented with the compliments of the LOS ANGELES STEAMSHIP COMPANY

After the illegal annexation, Hawaii and Hawaiian culture became a novelty for people living on the U.S. mainland.

In the 1920s, Los Angeles harbor gained national acclaim when it offered a direct route from its port to Hawaii. World War I naval ships were refashioned into luxury cruise liners and transported up to 600 passengers three times a week. In addition, the Los Angeles Steamship Company offered transportation to Hawaii.

Among the shipsmany amenities, brochures and booklets written about Hawaii were commonly provided to the clientele. Some of these booklets, like the one pictured here, attempted to refashion Hawaiian folklore and stories to appeal to the cultural sensibilities of the Anglo middle class. These romanticized accounts, although creative in their approach, were misrepresentations of traditional Hawaiian beliefs and further contributed to the practice of appropriation to fulfill a Western ideology of all things foreign.


Alexander, Kerri Lee. 2020. “Queen Lili‘uokalani.” National Women’s History Museum. Accessed November 12, 2021.

Altemus-Williams, Imani, and Marie Eriel Hobro. 2021. “Hawai‘i Is Not the Multicultural Paradise Some Say It Is.” National Geographic, May 17, 2021.

Benton, Lauren. 2004. “Colonizing Hawai‘i and Colonizing Elsewhere: Toward a History of U.S. Imperial Law.” Law & Society Review 38 (4): 835–42.

Daley, Jason. 2017. “Five Things to Know about Liliʻuokalani, the Last Queen of Hawai‘i.” Smithsonian Magazine, November 10, 2017. Editors. 2019. “Liliuokalani.” History. Accessed November 12, 2021.

McDougall, Brandy Nālani. 2015. “Mo‘okū‘auhau versus Colonial Entitlement in English Translations of the Kumulipo.” American Quarterly 67 (3): 749–79.

Silva, Noenoe K. 1998. “The 1897 Petitions Protesting Annexation.” University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa Library. Accessed December 3, 2021.

Tracks. 2019. “Hawaii: The Stolen Paradise.” YouTube video, April 13, 2019.