Ni'ihau: A Brief History

Stepien, Edward R.
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Starting Page
Ending Page
Alternative Title
From the time it was purchased by the Sinclair family nearly 115 years ago, the island of Ni'ihau has remained in relative obscurity compared to the rest of the Hawaiian Islands. Each of the major islands in the archipelago has been the subject of extensive research which has resulted in a better and widespread understanding about them. Ni'ihau is the exception. Owners of Ni'ihau, past and present, so guarded their possession from intruders and curiosity seekers that only fragmented reports about the island and its residents escaped from its protected shores. While factual data were contained in many of them, there were equally as many accounts, both written and verbal, that consisted of half-truths, speculation and outright fabrication. Yet, because there is a thirst for information when little exists about fascinating subjects, many myths and rumors about Ni'ihau became rooted in time. So many people believed them that they became erroneously accepted as documented evidence about the island, its inhabitants, and its owners. The purposes of this thesis are threefold. No comprehensive history of Ni'ihau has ever been written. This work is intended to fill that void. It synthesizes information from various sources and describes Ni'ihau from its bubbling volcanic emergence from the sea millions of years ago to its present-day problems as a struggling cattle and sheep ranch. There was no choice but to treat some areas in a seemingly superficial or shallow manner due only to the paucity of information about them. To achieve the goal of historical comprehensiveness, it was necessary, therefore, to review as much about the island as was written or could be recollected by informants in whatever format it was presented. This ranged from private letters by early missionaries assigned to the Waimea Mission on Kaua'i which summarized the success of proselyting efforts on Ni'ihau to recent newspaper articles describing the effect of Hurricane Iwa on the island and its residents. The second purpose of this work is an attempt to dispel some of the rumors and myths that have developed about the island over the past century. Critical to this objective was the search for original sources. Since these are extremely scarce, it was necessary sometimes to rely on the sheer volume of secondary source data as a badge of authenticity about an event. What is contained in the following pages I believe to be information as factually accurate as determinable under the circumstances. The third purpose of this work focuses on the owners of Ni'ihau. So much about this tiny island is unknown or misunderstood that it is extremely difficult to isolate a singularly dominant misperception. If pressed, however, the motive of the owners in maintaining the strict seclusivity of Ni'ihau seems to be the most recurrent mystery.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1984
Pacific Islands Studies
Polynesia - Hawaii, Niihau (Hawaii)--History.
x, 332 leaves
Geographic Location
Time Period
Related To
Theses for the degree of Master of Arts (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Pacific Islands Studies; no. 1743
Table of Contents
All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
Rights Holder
Local Contexts
Email if you need this content in ADA-compliant format.