The History Of The Island Of Niihau
What is the history of the Hawaiian island of Niihau? What should you know about it?
Niihau, a privately-owned island located just off the western tip of Kauai, is nicknamed "The Forbidden Island." Operating as one large cattle and sheep ranch, you must have a personal invitation by the owners or one of
the residents to visit this island. The island is only 18 miles long by six miles wide, with a total area of 73 square miles.
The history of Niihau is really interesting. The goddess, Papa discovered that her husband Wakea, was playing around with other women, and she left him. But, after they reconciled, she became pregnant and gave birth to Kauai.
According to the creation chants found in The Kumulco, Niihau popped out as the afterbirth, along with Lehua and Kaula, the rest of the low reef islands.
Because Niihau was never very populated because of the poor soil, islanders became famous for Niihua mats, which became a good trade item.
Niihau became part of the kingdom under Kamehameha. It was later passed down to his successors, and in the 1860s, Kamehameha IV sold it to the Robinson family for $10,000. This Scottish family has been the sole proprietor of the island ever since, although they now live on Kauai.
They began a sheep and cattle ranch, hiring the island's natives as workers. Tradition passed down over the years that only islanders could live on Niihau as long as they pleased, but that visitors were not welcome without a
personal invitation. Further, to keep the race pure, male visitors to the island were generally asked to leave by sundown.
During World War II, Niihau was the only island of Hawaii to be occupied by the Japanese. A Japanese pilot had developed engine trouble and had to land on Niihau. At first, the islanders took him prisoner, but he somehow
managed to escape and commandeer the machine guns from his plane. He terrorized the island, and the residents headed for the hills. Fed up with hiding out, Benehakaka Kanahele decided to approach the pilot. In spite of being shot three times, Kanahele grabbed the Japanese pilot, threw him
against the wall, cracking his skull and killing him instantly. This incident gave rise to two wartime expressions: "Don't shoot a Hawaiian three times or you'll make him mad," and the other, "You can't conquer
Niihau, no how."
Kanahele lived out the rest of his life on Niihau, and later died in the 1960s.
Until recently, homing pigeons were used to send messages, but they have now been replaced by two-way radios. Islanders have generators to power refrigerators and televisions. Transistor radios are very popular, and
most people get around either on horseback or in pickup trucks. The population numbers around 230 people, with 95% of whom are Hawaiian, and the other 5% being Japanese. One elementary school is located on the island, with English being the language spoken, but at home, Hawaiian is used. For high school, the children are sent to Kauai, but after they get a taste of what the real world has to offer, a surprisingly large number return to Niihau.
Niihau is considered one of the last real havens of peace, tranquility and tradition left on the face of the Earth. But unless you know someone who lives there, remember, visitors aren't allowed!