Sugarcane and Black Sand: An Alternate History of the Kingdom of Hawaii
The Point of Divergence (POD): In our world, the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by American citizens was a close-run thing, with them only succeeding due to the Hawaiians reluctance to actually engage the Americans in battle, with disastrous results. In this world, due to a few misfired rifles, the Hawaiian forces take advantage of their temporary superiority in numbers and the American conspirators firing on them first to subdue the main conspirators.
The failed "Planter’s Rebellion” of 1893, as it would become known, was the largest and most infamous attempt to place the Hawaiian government firmly under American influence*. The Rebellion of 1893 was, contrary to the popular sentiment of the day, a long time coming. Especially in the later half of the 19th century, American and European sugar-planters, who held immense influence on the islands, were increasingly involved in government affairs. Most strikingly, the stated intent of the rebellion of 1893 was actually the complete overthrow of the Royal Hawaiian government and to present an offer of annexation to the United States government.
The Bayonet Constitution of 1887 and the subsequent Wilcox Rebellion, a sort of prelude to 1893, would bring competing American and native Hawaiian interests to a head. Many in the Hawaiian government realized the danger the powerful planters posed and tried to convince the Queen to either abdicate or appease them, though she would not be convinced to follow either path. The precipitating event for the Planter’s Rebellion was when Queen Liliuokalani proposed several major changes to Hawaii’s constitution, which would invariably threaten the power of the “Missionary families'', or the powerful planter class descended from the first Christian missionaries that had come to Hawaii in the early 19th century.
The conspirators, when informed of the impending constitutional changes, gathered hundreds of white Hawaiian militia members (mainly non-citizen American immigrants) to carry out the overthrow. Were it not for the tipping off of the upcoming overthrow to Hawaiian authorities, the coup might have succeeded. The Hawaiian forces were small, and given enough time, the conspirators were likely to have gathered greater numbers.
Violence between the conspirators’ militia and the Hawaiian Royal Guard soon broke out. When the shooting between the Royalists and conspirators stopped in Honolulu, over a hundred people were dead, including several dozen Hawaiians.
The brief but intense crisis that followed would propel the small island kingdom on to the world stage. It began when John L. Stevens, the US minister to Hawaii who was sympathetic to the conspirators, dispatched over 100 Marines onto the Hawaiian mainland to “protect American lives and property”, though really only to reinforce the revolutionaries and intimidate the loyalist guard into backing down. Here, the Marines faced the rest of the Hawaiian Royal Guard after they had apprehended or killed most of the main conspirators. A few shots were fired, resulting in several Hawaiian and American casualties but no deaths. But once the Marines realized they were never actually ordered to engage the natives, the shooting stopped and a standoff broke out.
Word of the situation quickly reached the governments of most major powers, with Britain, France and Japan quickly condemning the attempted coup. Both France and Britain, with vested interests in the Kingdom, did recognize it as within the American sphere of influence, but were firmly opposed to any violent revolution.
As a result, the American government (or at least their ministers in Hawaii; who ironically were directly opposed to the wishes of those in Washington which was friendly to the Royal Hawaiian government) would nearly precipitate a war between the USA, Britain, and Japan in an effort to secure American interests on the islands. The very brief threat of war soon passed however, as more British and Japanese warships arrived in Honolulu as a guarantee against any further American action. The US forces there were soon outnumbered and frankly confused, as they were ostensibly there to protect Americans from the threat of unrest, not engage in a coup. Recently elected President Grover Cleveland, already beginning his term with an economic panic, sought a speedy resolution to the rapidly growing international crisis.
Somewhat understandably, the Queen wished to execute the conspirators for High Treason and confiscate all of their property. Supported by Britain and Japan, the Hawaiians were able to sentence the conspirators to permanent exile and confiscate most of their property (with some financial compensation, which the US and Britain pressured the Hawaiian government to include). In addition, the Queen was finally able to promulgate her new constitution, which re-enfranchised native Hawaiians and Asians, while largely disenfranchising the foreign and non-citizen Americans and Europeans. The new constitution also gave the Queen greater powers, a move ironically favored by most Hawaiians. A new minister to Hawaii was deployed from Washington, one that President Cleveland made sure aligned completely with the interests of the United States and one which would not attempt any future coup.
Fortunately for the Hawaiians, their country had been able to weather the storm of Western Imperialism. The Hawaiian government, under the rewritten constitution, was able to regain stability and was able to eject the most egregious influences of the “Missionary Party” from the government. Yet not all of the planters had directly supported the Rebellion or even knew about it. As such, there were still huge tracts of Hawaiian land which were still owned by foreign interests. The Reform Party, which represented the interests of these planters, still wielded significant influence in Parliament. Though this party was in the minority compared to the National Reform and National Liberals, which both represented Native Hawaiian interests.
The turn of the 20th century would see Hawaii drifting closer to the US. Pearl Harbor was expanded as a Naval base for the USA (it would see use in the Spanish-American War) and the USA was the Kingdom’s largest trading partner. The USA also increasingly looked to assert its influence over the island, and soon the Kingdom became a de facto US protectorate and an important base of operations for the US Navy in the Pacific.
The Royal Family was very pro-Western; both the Princess Ka’iulani and Prince Kawānanakoa were especially popular in the United States, and both were well-received by many European Royal families. This was in contrast to many of their subjects who began to adopt a decidedly anti-Western attitude. As a result, the National Liberal Party, the most left-wing party in the Hawaiian Parliament, would become the most powerful political party in Hawaii and form several governments during the early 20th century due to increased support from the electorate.
The Hawaiian government in this period would also make a concerted effort to curb the power of the planter class, largely represented by the “Big Five” firms which had supported the rebellion and still controlled many of Hawaii’s sugar plantations. In addition to other initiatives, the Hawaiian government was able to make it more difficult for non-citizens to acquire land, began encouraging farmer’s rights and unions and generally asserted increased sovereignty over the Islands. The government would also begin to make provisions for the rapidly dwindling Native Hawaiian population. They encouraged them to resettle on previously unused land and resume traditional farming practices.
As much of the world increasingly moved towards free trade during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the US was able to procure sugar from other areas. This also helped to curb the power of the remaining planter class. But it also had the negative effect of decreasing government revenues substantially and significantly curtailing the ability of the Hawaiian government to enact reform and modernize the country. Despite this, the Royal University College of Hawaii, Hawaii's only University, would be founded in this period, being chartered in 1900 in Honolulu.
Queen Liliʻuokalani, the first and still the only Queen of the Hawaiian Islands, would pass in 1917 in the middle of the Great War. She was remembered as one of the most resolute and strongest monarchs of Hawai’i, who was able to steer the nation through the tumult of the dawn of the 20th century and secure Hawaii's future as an independent nation. The issue of her successor however was an unfortunate business, as there was a dearth of Royal Hawaiians at the end of her reign. The Princess Ka’iulani, the Queen’s niece, was her immediate heir at the start of her reign, and she was married to her distant relation Prince David Kawānanakoa in 1899, who was next in line to the throne after her. Yet the Princess tragically died soon after giving birth to her only son, the Prince John Edward Kawānanakoa in 1901. Prince David Kawānanakoa would remarry, but he would die of illness in 1908, leaving the young heir to be raised by his grandmother the Queen, and his Uncles, Prince Edward** and Prince Jonah, as well as his maternal grandparents. Prince John Edward Kawānanakoa or “Johnny'' as he was affectionately known by his siblings, would be crowned King Kawānanakoa I in 1918. The King would travel around the world, continuing the traditions of his ancestors. He was also a good friend and close companion of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, and the Hawaiian King was one of the most photographed celebrities of his time making surfing and Hawaiian culture popular world-wide.
World War 1 and its aftermath would have profound effects on the small island nation like much of the rest of the world. Hawaii had no real industry other than agriculture, and with that the islands only really exported sugar, and some other fruits like pineapples. The vast majority of the islands were rural. In addition, a large number of Japanese, some Chinese and a marginal number of European and Indian laborers had been brought to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations. Hawaii was neutral in the conflict, but many American settlers and some native Hawaiians did volunteer for service once the USA entered the War in 1917. This, in addition to emigration caused by the failed rebellion of 1893 and subsequent nativist policies, continued the decrease in the white population of the islands.
The beginning of the Roaring Twenties saw a brief recession, but as the economies of the US and much of Europe began to prosper, Hawaii’s economy began to do so as well. Immigration from Asia continued to flow into the country. This period would also see a greater emphasis on Hawaiian democracy with universal suffrage implemented and the continued domination of the National Liberals in the legislature.
The Great Depression saw major unemployment as demand for luxury goods, like sugar, fell. Almost a fifth of the island’s population (mostly immigrants) found themselves out of work. However, resulting from the exceedingly rural and communal nature of the country, living standards did not really change too much.
The same could not be said for the plantation owners, who were stuck with many large, unprofitable estates. The thirties would see the white population of Hawaii outside of Honolulu drop precipitously, and those who stayed were few in number and largely confined to the capital city as merchants or diplomats. The Great Depression began the consolidation of many of the large plantations, and those planters who were unable to modernize their estates were forced to sell them off. By 1940, an increasing number of Native Hawaiians were present in government posts and seats in the legislature. Though some large plantations still remained, by the 1950’s Hawaii’s mainly agricultural economy was increasingly in the hands of individual farmers.
The attack on Pearl Harbor and the entrance of the US into WW2 would change the islands forever. In addition to contributing both men and ships to the war effort, with Hawaiians serving valiantly in most theaters of the War, Hawaii's economy was put into overdrive with the incredible amount of men, supplies and infrastructure coming over from the US. Post-war, the Hawaiian economy did become depressed, however there was some recovery in the early years of the Cold War. Internally the Native Hawaiian population began to grow as well with continued immigration from Asia, mainly from China, Korea, Japan, and India. WW2 also saw a bit of a rebound in the numbers of White Hawaiians on the islands, as many American soldiers obtained Hawaiian citizenship through their marriage to native Hawaiian women during and after the war.
As the Cold War began to heat up in the 60’s and 70’s, Hawaii became a popular destination for tourists. At first, this was unwelcome by the Hawaiians, but it was soon encouraged as a way to boost Hawaii’s extremely rural economy. The 60’s and 70’s would see a “Hawaiian Renaissance”, or a resurgence in the awareness and popularity of traditional Hawaiian religion and culture, especially in the capital of Honolulu. This mass social and cultural movement was also decidedly anti-Western and perhaps most notoriously anti-Christian. Some branded this new movement as Fascist, as a small part of the movement actually did hold fascist ideals and sympathies. But it was more of a mass cultural movement, similar to the counterculture movements in the West of the same period. For the increasingly prosperous Native Hawaiians, the movement sought to expel all “foreign” influences from Hawaii and criticized the government and monarchy for their collaboration with imperialist powers in the past. Despite starting out as a fringe movement, the “Hawaiian traditionalists'' rapidly gained popularity.
As a consequence, since 1970, the number of Hawaiian Christians has decreased dramatically. Even the Royal Family decided it was best to end their outwardly Christian affiliation in the 1980’s, switching to strictly traditional Hawaiian marriage and religious practices. However King Kawānanakoa I and his grandson King Kawānanakoa II would maintain close relations with the USA, and actively prevented any and all Communist influence on their islands.
In the 21st century, the Kingdom of Hawaii has remained proudly independent both culturally and politically. As a major tourist destination and exporter of agricultural goods, the country is considered a developed nation with a strong social welfare state and healthcare system. The Hawaiian people have been able to largely maintain their traditional culture and religion in a world that is increasingly globalized and digitalized. Yet Hawaii has also maintained large immigrant populations and is both ethnically and religiously diverse, being home to practitioners of Japanese Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity and even Hinduism. These immigrant populations have formed a unique culture unto themselves, which has resulted in an extremely vibrant modern Hawaiian society. It is also home to significant scientific research as the islands host immense ecological and biological diversity both on land and sea, funded and facilitated by the Hawaiian government and the Royal University College of Hawaii.
More recently, the massive space telescopes built near and on the summit of Mauna Kea in the past two decades facilitated by the personal efforts of King Kawānanakoa II and the Royal Family themselves*** (like the internationally funded Thirty Meter Telescope that is nearing completion) are expected to make immense leaps in the field of astronomy and cosmology, fundamentally reshaping our understanding of the universe. However, the island kingdom is rather poor when compared to other well-off nations, and is still a very rural country. As a result, many Hawaiian citizens live abroad, most commonly being found in the USA and Canada. Today, the Kingdom is an active participant in the politics of the Asia-Pacific region as well as North America, having especially close ties with the USA and Japan, while maintaining Hawaii’s mostly neutral position in global affairs.
The new Hawaiian flag, adopted in 1981. This new flag dropped the Union Jack and American style stripes in favor of more traditionally Hawaiian colors and symbolism.
*= In our world, this “Planter’s Rebellion” was obviously the actual overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by American citizens. ITTL, it becomes known as something much different. And seeing as how President Cleveland did not want to annex Hawaii anyway, he gives his support to the Royal Hawaiian government to re-establish order on the islands.
** = Prince Edward Abnel Keliʻiahonui was the middle brother of Prince David Kawānanakoa, the direct ancestor of the current claimants to the Throne of Hawai’i. Edward along with his brothers introduced surfing to the United States and the world during their lifetimes, but Edward himself did not live to see the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Here, he survives and is able to help stop the attempted overthrow and govern the Kingdom during the minority of his nephew, future King Kawānanakoa I.
***= In our world, the Hawaiian monarchs were very pro-science and generally advocated for the construction of telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea, even after the American annexation of the Islands. So, in this world, we ironically see much less opposition to the construction of massive ground based telescopes on Mauna Kea and other Hawaiian volcanoes, and a large contribution to scientific research by the Royal Hawaiian government.