Maui’s Amazing History

Leis. Flowers. Luaus. The Hula. These are all part of Maui’s culture, stemming from its long history, along with kings and battles.

Maui's Amazing History

Legend has it that mythical hero Maui, who lived on Kaʻuiki, across from Hana, caught the various islands while fishing with his brothers with his magic fishing hook, but could not get them all together. Maui also lassoed the sun and slowed it down at his grandmother’s request.

Fables like these have been handed down through more than 100 generations by Hawaii’s Kahuna priests and are still told today.

Polynesian & Tahitian Immigration

The first settlers sailed north from other islands in the area now called Polynesia. Hawaii contains the most northernmost islands, and the area includes New Zealand, Fiji, Pitcairn, The Cook Islands, Easter Island, Samoa, and Kiribati, among others.

Polynesians first began settling in Hawaii about 450 AD, and possibly earlier. Settlers from Tahiti began arriving about 700 AD. Tahitians introduced into Hawaiian culture:

  • Language
  • Religion
  • The hereditary caste system
  • Economic activity
  • Land tenure, with each district ruled by a family or a chief’s family
  • Other cultural elements such as the kapu system, a strictly enforced code of conduct that affected every aspect of life

Maui had three distinct kingdoms Piilani was the first ruler who united all of Maui, bringing not only peace but construction that progressed the culture. During his reign, he began building what’s now known as the Alalou, or royal road, which was completed by his sons and grandson and now goes around the Island. Piilani also built irrigation fields, fish ponds, and Hawaii’s largest heiau (temple) in honor of the god of war, Piilanihale. That temple is still in existence today. 

The islands later became a unified kingdom when Kamehameha I established the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810, and brought an end to the kapu system.

European Contact And Immigration

Oral history tells the stories of castaways (possibly Spanish) that shipwrecked on the Islands between 1521 and 1530, with the Maui version describing several white men and one woman at Kiwi near Waihee. The men stayed, married, had families and were ancestors to some of the later chiefs.

Captain James Cook was the first European to see Maui in 1778. He didn’t set foot on Maui because he was unable to find a suitable place to land. He had previously sailed to other areas in the South Pacific, and discovered Hawaii by accident. Naming the Islands after the Earl of Sandwich, who paid for the journey. Hawaii, and Maui, was now “discovered,” and fur traders between Canada And China now had a place to stop for fresh water.

In 1786, French admiral Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse became the first European to visit Maui, landing at what is now known as La Perouse Bay.

Other groups began visiting and settling, including whalers, missionaries,


Beginning in 1849, during the California gold rush, a sea captain named George Wilfong began planting 60 acres of sugar cane and built a mill in Hana. Although he began Maui’s first sugar plantation, he wasn’t the last. Hawaiians didn’t like working for him, so he brought in Chinese workers, adding to the inbound migration.

When Wilfong’s mill burned down, he ceased operations of his sugar plantation. However, others continued sugar production until 2016, when the last sugar mill in Puunene ceased operations. The mill was closed and 375 employees of the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company were laid off.

Becoming A US State

After the death of Kamehameha I, Hawaiian society had begun to change as well as unravel.

Continual arrivals of people from around the world brought changes, new religions, education, and other modernizations to Hawaiian society. The old kapu system eventually fell apart as Christian missionaries brought a new religions to the Island.

After the Kingdom of Hawaii was over thrown in 1893, establishing the Republic of Hawaii in 1984, the US annexed the island nation, calling it a US Territory.

During WWII, all airfields in the territory were militarized to support the Pacific Theater. At one point, more than 100,000 GIs were stationed at the new Naval Air Station, built in 1942. Many stayed after the war, and others returned as tourists.

Congress then passed the Hawaiʻi Admissions Act, in March of 1959, which was then signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A referendum put to a vote on June 27, 1959 asked Hawaiian residents to decide on statehood, with more than 93% voting in favor of becoming a state.  On August 21, 1959, just eight months after Alaska, Hawaii was finally granted statehood. The entire state experienced rapid prosperity after entering the US, adding state programs to promote indigenous Hawaiian language and culture. 

Visit The Land Of Raging Fire

While Maui’s people and the culture have changed over time, the land has not. 

Call to book your next reservations at 1-800-346-2772, or book directly online. We’re open 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Hawaii time to answer all of your questions.