What’s in it for me? A detailed economic examination of a little-understood paradise. 

When you picture Hawaii, what do you see? Most of us imagine a paradise of volcanic sand beaches, dramatic jungle mountainscapes, and gently swaying palm trees. It’s scenes like these that have attracted visitors for the past eight hundred years, from the earliest Polynesian colonists to your Aunt Helen who went there on a cruise last winter. Your aunt might not understand that much about Hawaii’s history, but she’s not alone. Even historians knew very little about Hawaii’s past until recently. That’s because there was no written language in Hawaii before it was integrated into the world economy in the early nineteenth century.

But we can still learn much about its centuries of history. For example, we can interrogate the archaeological record and compare it with the mo’olelo – Hawaiian fables and legends passed down orally for hundreds of years. As a result, we can glean a new sense of how this unique Pacific community came to be what it is today. But we can only fully understand this history if we consider economics. Resources, trade, and the politics of compensation have played an outsized, unexpected role in this island paradise’s story.

In these blinks, you’ll learn

  • how Polynesian voyagers sustained themselves on long sea journeys;
  • about the complex social order of premodern Hawaii
  • how guns, germs, and sandalwood changed Hawaii’s history forever.