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Hawaii's Royal Legacies

The days of Hawaii's alii are past, but many of the companies and organizations they inspired are still going strong today.


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Illustration: dana paresa

It’s easy to think of Hawaii’s royalty as mere historical figures in the chapters of the books we read during Hawaiian History class. In reality, the influence of Hawaii monarchs can be seen around us every day, in the form of more than 20 well-known companies, schools, churches, hospitals, nonprofits and governmental organizations that are still alive and well today.

In fact, every Hawaiian king and queen left us with at least one powerful organization, or significant social change, still in operation, centuries later, making positive differences in Hawaii. The legacies began nearly 200 years ago, with Parker Ranch.

Kamehameha the Great and Queen Kaahumanu

Parker Ranch

When Capt. George Vancouver visited the Islands in 1793, he gave Kamehameha the Great five head of cattle. Sixteen years later, in 1809, their numbers had grown to thousands.

That same year, a 19-year-old sailor from Massachusetts named John Palmer Parker jumped ship on the Big Island. He built a home for himself and planted crops around it. He learned Hawaiian and was friendly with his neighbors.

Some of them mentioned him to King Kamehameha I, who asked him to manage the royal fishponds south of Kealakekua Bay. His responsibility was to see that the ponds were kept clean and abundantly stocked with fish. He accepted the offer and worked at it with vigor and dedication.

In 1815, the king promoted Parker, asking him to take charge of the cattle that roamed Hawaii’s remote plains and valleys.

Soon, a thriving salt-beef industry replaced sandalwood as the island’s chief export, says Nahua Guilloz, senior manager at Parker Ranch. “Parker quickly grew into a respected man of wealth and influence.  He learned to speak Hawaiian, adopted Hawaiian ways and, in 1816, married Chiefess Kipikane, the granddaughter of King Kamehameha I.” 

Kamehameha the Great’s son, Kauikeaouli, who became Kamehameha III, brought the first vaqueros (Spanish for “cowboys”) to Hawaii from Mexico in 1832. They showed locals how to rope and ride horses to round up and handle cattle on what would become Parker Ranch.

The vaquero were called espanoles—Spaniards—but Hawaiians pronounced it paniolo. Soon, all local cowboys were called paniolo.

Interestingly, the cowboy tradition in the United States dates back to 1849, which means that Hawaii had cowboys 17 years before the Mainland.

Today, Parker Ranch remains the largest private ranch under single ownership in the United States.

Kawaiahao Church as it appeared around the time of Queen Emma's funeral. Note the pointed steeple, which would be taken down in 1885.

Illustration: jason takeuchi

Kawaiahao Church and Punahou School

Kamehameha I’s favorite of 19 wives was Queen Elizabeth Kaahumanu. She became close to missionaries Hiram and Sybil Bingham, who converted her to Christianity.

When they wanted to build a church, she helped them erect Kawaiahao Church, and her stepson, Kamehameha III, gave them the land for it.

When the Binghams asked her support in building a school for their children, she obliged by asking Oahu governor Boki and his wife, Liliha, to give them the land called Ka Punahou.

Punahou means “new spring,” and was named for an artesian spring that creates a lily pond on the property.

Punahou School opened in 1841, with 15 students. Tuition was $36 a year, a far cry from the current $20,000 annual rate. On the bright side, the facilities are much better now.

Rev. Daniel Dole was the school’s first teacher, and Dole Street is named for him. As there were no schools in California at the time, some families there sent their children across the Pacific to attend Punahou.

Today, Punahou educates 3,750 students at any given time, and is one of the top private schools in the country. President Barack Obama graduated from Punahou in 1979, and applications flood in from parents around the world wanting the “Obama experience” for their children.

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Honolulu Magazine June 2020
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