Beginning in the early part of the last millennium, Polynesians explored 16 million square miles of ocean by canoe, navigating by the stars, sun, clouds, ocean swells, and currents; they settled on every habitable island in the Pacific and likely arrived in Hawai’i around the year 300. Later, between 1000-1300, the migration of Tahitian chiefs and priests shifted the society toward a more rigid and stratified social structure, with governance through councils of elders and experts giving way to the rule of ali`i, a class of chiefs defined by lineage. The ali‘i ruled over kahuna (priests), koa (warriors), maka‘ainana (workers), and kaua (servants) enforcing a strict system of kapu (taboos). By 1400, Tahitians, sailing double-hulled canoes like the one pictured, controlled the trade routes between Hawai‘i and Tahiti.
The first documented landing of Europeans in Hawai’i occurred in 1778: British Capt. James Cook arrived in his ships Resolution and Discovery at Waimea, Kaua’i and was welcomed as the god Lono, who had been prophesied to return on a “floating island.” Protestant missionaries and whaling ships began to settle in the years thereafter.
By the 1820’s, this Western influence had begun to replace the system of social reciprocity within Hawai’ian culture—in which those lower in social standing were protected by those above in return for their obedient service—with that of a system of labor for profit in an emerging market economy.
A journal ledger from this time survives, written by a Tahitian named Kahikona, originally a teacher of Christianity to Hawaiian chiefs—and it reflects the turbulence and hardship of this cultural change.
Kahikona arrived in Hawai’i in 1819 and was recruited for the American missionary effort in Hawai’i, eventually becoming a private tutor and chaplain to the family of Queen Kaʻahumanu, who had publicly embraced Protestantism in 1824 and encouraged her subjects to become baptized into the faith. He preached sermons in Honolulu in the fall of 1826, and is listed in 1827 as a “Native Assistant…employed to conduct prayer meetings among the people at different places.”
By 1835, however, Kahikona had been excommunicated. We learn from the journal that his wife Lonokahikini has left him; we also know that his patron chiefs have been found guilty of adultery and “habitual neglect of public worship without sufficient reason”; and that Kahikona himself has been suspended “for falsehood, having signed a pledge to abstain from smoking, but having violated it”—there are also charges of drunkenness. Although his patrons are reunited with the church, Kahikona is not, having been “proved guilty of striving to prevent others from returning to the bosom of the church.”
After this fall from grace, Kahikona takes the sister of his beloved first wife as a new partner and begins a difficult life as a farmer, his journal chronicling the financial woes of the new economy. Most devastating is his imprisonment for resisting the surrender of his land to Kekauluohi, a high-ranking official. Here is an entry during his imprisonment
I received hard poi (paiai) from Kekauonohi that night. Thursday: well fed. Friday? hungry. Saturday 22 and Sunday 23, I was hungry. Monday 24: six bundles of paiai from Hoapili-wahine. Tuesday 25: slightly satisfied. Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27, I was hungry. Friday 30: the end of this month. I received paiai and some aku fish from Hoapili-wahine. I was well fed this day.  August. This is a new month. Saturday 1: hungry. Sunday 2: well fed. Monday 3: a calabash of poi and some aku fish from Kekauonohi. Tuesday 4 and Wednesday 5: well fed. Thursday 6: hungry. Friday 7: well fed. Saturday 8, Sunday 9 and Monday 10: I was hungry. Tuesday 12: hungry. Wednesday 13: some paiai and some kala fish from Kekauonohi. Thursday 15 and Friday 16: I was hungry. Saturday 17, Sunday 18 and Monday 19:1 was well fed. Tuesday 20: hungry. Wednesday 21: well fed. Thursday 22 and Friday 23: hungry. Saturday 24: well fed. Sunday 25: hungry. Monday 26: no food. A day completely famished. Eighteen days of hunger have passed. There were 17 days when there was food. This makes 35 days. Tuesday 27, Wednesday 28, Thursday 29 and Friday 31: these were days of great hunger.
He eventually seeks employment from his former patrons:
June 8, 1840 [probably 1841]. During those days I talked with Kekauonohi and Kealiiahonui about my going to Haliimaile to live and work for their enrichment. I would grind their cane and do whatever they wanted to be done.
The horse Pakaka was another thing [discussed]. I asked Kekauonohi for a horse to ride because it was a long distance for one to travel without a horse.
June 23, 1840 [probably 1841] I arrived at Haliimaile about this time. I am waiting for Kua to prepare the work that I am to do. He explained the preparations of the chiefs—he told me they were supplied with iron pots and other equipment. I had heard that they did not have any equipment, nor did they have much land. In my opinion I am the one who is more equipped.
He and his new, but unmarried, wife have a son, who goes to school:
September 11, 1846. Kale entered Mr. Steele’s school on the nth of this month, for two dollars a month. In October I paid with two dollars worth of produce.
Two dollars was paid from September to February . In March the payment was reduced to one dollar a month; the government pays the other half. In April I paid one dollar—on the 15th, 1847; May, June, July, August one dollar. In September I paid a half dollar in cash. In November, four bundles of hard poi worth one dollar. December 9, still paying.
We have $1.75 left.
Along with the many economic entries we find brief reminiscences and personal details—and the sad narrative of Kahikona’s life as he fights and separates with his wife, casts out his son, seems never to recover from the loss of his land and status, perhaps succumbs to drink, and pines for Lonokahikini, his estranged first wife:
I left the land of my birth and went to the Northwest (Nowesi). The next January—1819—I left there, and came ashore at Oahu on February 27, 1819. Kamehameha died on May 8, 1819.
February 10, 1847. I was weighed on the consul’s scale at Luaehu [in Wai’anae, Lahaina]. I weighed 206 pounds.
April 19, 1847. Lonokahikini bought a boat from Akuila.30 The price was seventy dollars. Fifteen dollars and fifty-cents remains to be paid. Sixty dollars were paid for some repairs to the boat.
June 28, 1847. [Entry written in Tahitian] This place where we live, with all that is on it, belongs to the two of us.
September 9, 1847. I was weighed again on the haole storekeeper’s scale at Kaeo’s house; I weighed 212 pounds.
October 24, 1847. Kale had an herb doctor, a kahuna lapaau. He had ea [thrush] and paaoao [a vescicular disease]. The kahuna was a blind woman known by the name of Kameehonua.
May 29, 1848. Kale threw a kukui nut at Kauai’s daughter. Fifty cents was the payment for throwing the kukui by mistake. June 2, 1848, at 11 o’clock. Kale’s nose has been injured—it was punched by Uwea’s boy.
September 6, 1848. My wife made some suggestions. She said, among other things, that her quilts were dirty. I told her that was because she didn’t wash them. This resulted in a quarrel, the point of which being that I had no wealth. She said her quilts were from her bosom friends. Your excrement is the soap, she said.
She said it would have been better for her if she had taken up with another man. She said, Why don’t you build a house, in order to humiliate me. If I did as she said we would both be penniless. There was no reason for her finding fault.
July 4, 1849. I abandoned my wife’s land because of the spiny things she planted to beautify her land.
May n , 1849. I told my wife that she was not lazy when it came to making hats for nothing for the aristocratic people. That caused more ranting. She said she would get something when her work was seen. Watch out for your own welfare, I said. Maybe these aristocrats will continue to make a servant of you. . . .
[n.d.] I said to my wife, Our actions are surprising. I approach you like a lover, but you don’t respond like a wife. We find fault with each other and speak harshly to each other. This has been our way since the beginning. I am tired of your frequent scoldings. I want for us to separate because of your complaints about my smoking and not buying good clothes for you when our friends buy good clothes for their wives. I told her it would be a blessing if we separated and end her being tired of me and me of her. It was in the night that we talked of this. She told me she had simply assented to the chiefs’ wishes that I be her husband.
June 2, 1849. My wives [sic] laughed at me because I was searching for the quill pen. It belonged to all of us anyway.
September 19, 1849. Paupau spoke to me saying Hapaha ($.25) shall be the payment on your breadfruit trees. I protested, saying No. My land is taxed $.50; hapawalu ($.1:2-1/2) should be the tax on the trees. He insisted on $.25. I agreed to this if the konohiki [headman of a land division] would give me water for my plants. He consented to give me water for cultivating within my enclosure, however it would flow through their land onto my parcel.
March 7, 1852. That night Kale was haunted by a wandering ghost, right at the door of our house. How sad for him to see that evil thing. He was strongly affected by it. He staggered about, throwing pebbles at it and calling out loudly. His voice was almost gone by the time I got out of the other house. I had not seen such a thing since I was a small child. In the morning Kale’s voice was gone. He has been afraid of such a thing happening since he was little, and now it has happened.
September 15, 1853. I gave Kale some fatherly advice. He had said in jest to an elderly person: May you be roasted in an under-ground oven. Those were the words that were resented and caused my advising him. They call Kale a half-haole, half-pig excrements.
I told him to keep away from some bad girls who come about at night.
May 6, 1854. This day Maua spoke strong words to me because of my vomiting. He said it was a very bad thing. He did not realize that the cause of my vomiting was intoxication.
August 2[?], 1854. I drove out my beloved son Kale because of my disapproval of his not attending school to gain knowledge. Therefore I drove him away, like the erring children were driven out in the Word of God.
January 5, 1855. Four dollars went to Kamaka. A blanket cost S8.oo.
May 10, 1855. Maua grumbled because Haili sold some bananas for fifty cents; Maua wanted seventy-five cents. The price was all right; bananas are now selling for only a quarter.
August 19, 1855. She fornicated with a different man, Kahele, a prison guard. His companion is a negro. I was told that these were the two with whom she enjoys adultery.Contentiousness is a great fault of Kamaka’s. She has to have her way, not letting her husband have a say. She ridiculed me about husbands and wives. They are of one blood, according to the Word of God. This is what He says, The two will become one flesh.
Everyone in the house heard our noisy talk and quarreling.
September 14, 1855. I was embarrassed by Kamaka’s nasty words, calling me useless and sickening. She used harsh words, calling me an arrogant old man. She went on to ridicule me, saying those things in a way to make me laughable. There remains only for her to call me worthless.
September 17, 1855. Kamaka and I separated today. We divorced ourselves by the words of our own mouths, and by the thoughts we expressed. There is nothing to hinder our separation it is clear, since we had not been united in marriage.
There is regret for the days of our dwelling together affectionately as man and wife. Perhaps our good relationship will return when we are just friends, or perhaps not. Alas, it is over. It was settled today.
January 2, 1860. Kauhi and I leased some coconut trees for five dollars. There were two coconut trees, at $2.50 apiece.
Source: Barrere, Dorothy, “Tahitian in the History of Hawai’i: the Journal of Kahikona.” Hawaiian Journal of History, Volume 23 (1989) (here); other sources here, here, and here.
Image: “John Webber, an artist aboard British navigator James Cook’s ship, represents Hawaiians sailing a double-hulled canoe, ca. 1781” (here).