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The Needle

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

In a lush valley above Wailuku town on Maui, King Kamehameha I sealed his conquest of the islands. The year was 1790. He’d landed on Maui with 600 war canoes, 18,000 troops and two golden keys to victory: muskets from Canton, China, and a small artillery piece salvaged from a British longboat stolen and torn apart for its iron nails by the locals.

Two captured British sailors fired the 2-pounder gun, but the other 17,998 were all K1’s crew. The king was so committed to taking Maui that he had his soldiers remove the outriggers and turn their boats upside down, so leaving without winning was not an option.

My bride and I visited the Iao Valley a few years ago. Exploring the lovliness, we tried to picture how it must have in the 18th century. Back then, the stream was dammed in several places, and more than 5,000 terraced taro patches bounded by mud dikes filled the steep-sided box canyon. 5,000! Everywhere not planted with taro had bananaa, sweet potatoes and wauke trees. All of the islands were like that. Every possible inch of land that they could grow something on with Stone Age technology, they did.

We couldn’t make the leap in our imaginations. No wonder war was constant in the islands then. Their system was maxed out.

Today, all that dense, intensive agriculture is gone. Just a few idyllic grass shacks and a small taro patch add some ‘Hang loose’ flavor that never was. But, the needle is still there, a basalt pinnacle that was once a natural altar for the Hawaiians’ animist nature religion. It was also the last redoubt of Maui’s last defenders, left as a rear guard while the royalty fled back over the mountains.

After the battle in the Iao Valley, K1 went on to capture Oahu as easily as he’d taken Maui. And the rest is Shaved Ice, Paniolos, sugar cane and Tropical Getaways.

The historical lessons that we took away from our time in that valley are two-fold. First, we were amazed at how fast people can move from the literal Stone Age to modern times. K1’s family did it in 30 years: 10,000 BC to 1830 on turbo-boost. And, second, that, given a free choice, almost no one chooses the real Stone Age.


If you’re interested in the details of King Kamehameha’s conquest of the islands, I recommend this site for lots of interesting facts and analysis minus lame Revisionist History excoriating the Evil White Man.

It really was all K1, all the time.

  1. November 16, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Stunning view, I love the post (:

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