Historic Maui brief History of Maui Maui Museums

Maui’s story is one of travel, conflict, and change. Polynesians settled here first, sailing their canoes from Tahiti and the Marquesas. They built huts and temples and fishponds and cultivated taro fields edged with sugar cane on Maui’s fertile lands.

Their leaders established kingdoms and fought each other. For a time the fifteenth century King Piilani ruled the whole island. While he, his sons and his grandson ruled great temples were finished, the stone King’s Highway circling the island was built and irrigation fields were extended. But by the 18th century, other leaders were fighting over Maui’s kingdoms. Then the white man came.

In 1788, James Cook ‘discovered’ Maui. Others followed – traders, whalers and missionaries. They brought powerful tools and weapons, unfamiliar ideas and new diseases, and changed the islanders’ way of life forever. King Kamehameha used their guns and cannons to conquer Maui in 1790 at the battle of Iao, and eventually all Hawaii. He chose the port of Lahaina in Maui for his first capital in 1802.

The first missionaries arrived in 1823, after the King’s death. They found unrest in Maui caused by Queen Kaahumanu’s decision to break the system of kapu, the rules and taboos which had guided Hawaiian life. The missionaries worked hard to instill their own rules and taboos – advised the royal family, built schools and churches, printed newspapers and textbooks, introduced Western style medicine and assailed customs they considered sinful.

In the 1850s, Hawaii’s capital moved to Honolulu. Fewer ships called at Lahaina, the whaling industry declined and the island grew less prosperous. Then the commercial cultivation of sugar cane was introduced and growing exports of sugar restored the island’s economy, helped by the Sugar Reciprocity Treaty with the United States negotiated by King Kalakaua in 1876. When more workers were needed for the expanding sugar plantations they were brought in from China, Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. The new immigrants brought even more changes.

By 1891, sugar was king and the sugar planters reigned. In 1893, a group of Americans and Europeans deposed Hawaii’s last queen, Liliuokalani, and made Hawaii a republic. Seven years later Hawaii became an American territory. Pineapple cultivation began in 1912 and became an important part of Maui’s economy.

Then in 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States imposed martial law on Hawaii and used Maui as a staging ground and place of rest for the troops. Hawaiians joined the war. When civil rule was re-established in 1945, attitudes and ideas had changed, sugar was no longer king, and tourism was being introduced into the islands.

Maui’s first resort, a small six room inn for wealthy travelers, was established in Hana in 1946. As sugar declined more resorts were built on plantation lands. When Hawaii became the United State’s fiftieth state in 1959 the tourist industry was becoming established; now tourism is Maui’s most important industry, ahead of agriculture.

Maui actively preserves and shares its culture and history. At the Old Lahaina Courthouse you can visit the museum, then pick up a map of historic sites. They include the coral and stone Masters’ Reading Room, built for the whaling ships’ masters and captains, and the coral and wood home of Rev. Dwight Baldwin, who lived here from 1838 to 1871. The graves of the Waihee Cemetery, opened in 1823, reflect part of the history of Maui’s inhabitants. Churches and temples reflect the differing cultures of those who erected them.

Outside Lahaina lie the remnants of a lava rock heiau (temple) and a reconstructed house of refuge. There are petroglyphs at Olawalu; and Iao Valley State Park is where King Kamehameha won the battle to rule Maui. In Puunene the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum has much to teach about the time when sugar was king; near Kaanapali Beach the Whalers Village Whaling Museum gives a glimpse of whale species, whaling and the whaler’s life. And these are only some of the historic sites on the island; much awaits the history buff who wishes to explore here.