This fall I began to turn my attention to another chapter of my dissertation: the history of Native Hawaiian labor in nineteenth-century whaling. And like the stories of Hawaiians who left home to work on remote guano islands along the equator, or to seek gold in the mountains of California, Native Hawaiian whalemen also traveled to some pretty crazy places in search of commodities like whale oil and whalebone (baleen).
There are both temporal and spatial dynamics to this story. Both are worth sharing and discussing. So let's start with the temporal aspect:
Whale Ship Arrivals at Hawaiian Ports, 1824-1880
(Source: I made this.)
I made the chart above using Excel and by plugging in some pretty cool data I cobbled together from two sources: Marshall Sahlins' Anahulu (1992), and Theodore Morgan's excellent economic history of nineteenth-century Hawaiʻi, simply titled Hawaii (1948). It took me a few tries to figure out how I wanted to organize this chart. I could have shown the whale ship arrivals for various ports—Honolulu, Lahaina, Hilo—side-by-side. However, I realized that it was also important to show the overall trend across the archipelago. So I ended up using a type of graph, as seen above, that layers the data for each input field. Up through 1860 the number of whale ship arrivals at Honolulu [red], Lahaina [yellow], and at other Hawaiian ports [green] are shown and layered so that the total number of whale ship arrivals in the Hawaiian Kingdom is also apparent. For the period 1860 to 1880, the port-level data was not immediately available to me, but this graph let me easily integrate the data for "All Ports" for that period alongside the previous multiple-port data.
The graph makes some things perfectly clear. 1) The 1840s and 1850s were the peak period of Hawaiʻi's engagement in the whaling industry. This was also a peak period for Native Hawaiian labor in the industry, something I explore at length in my dissertation chapter. We also see that the 1840s were a peak period for Lahaina as a port city. And even though Lahaina was smaller than Honolulu at that time, it received more whale ship arrivals for several years during that decade. The impact that hundreds of annual whale ship arrivals had on these small port cities was substantial, and in my chapter I explore how Native Hawaiian whalemen behaved when on "liberty" ashore or after returning from a season of whaling. I describe the rise in semi-hidden economic activities like peddling and prostitution in these port cities. And I also describe the massive internal migration that Hawaiian communities experienced during these decades, as thousands of Hawaiians left interior rural communities to move to Hawaiʻi's new cities—a process that led many men, in turn, to get on ships and keep migrating.
The graph also shows the whaling industry's rapid decline after 1860. There are many reasons for this: the U.S. Civil War (which resulted in the destruction of scores of American whaling ships, on which so many Native Hawaiian men worked); devastating industry disasters in the Arctic Ocean in 1871 and 1876 (in which scores of ships were lost in sea ice, and men—including Native Hawaiian whalemen—struggled for their lives in the ice and cold of Alaska's North Slope); also, overexploitation of the ocean commons and declining whale populations, including the bowheads that sustained the Arctic industry into and beyond the 1870s; and also, the declining value of whale products, overall, especially whale oil, following the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859.
Now the graph doesn't tell us all this, but it does show the local impact of global events and processes on the Hawaiian economy and on Hawaiian labor. As whaling declined in Hawaiʻi, Hawaiian men had to look elsewhere for work. It is no coincidence that the decline of whaling (and guano mining, and all the other extractive industries I study in my dissertation) intersected with the rise of industrial sugar production in Hawaiʻi. But I'm still presently trying to figure out exactly how this transition took place, and what it meant for Native Hawaiians.
Now let's look at the geographic aspects of whaling labor. Here is a base-map of the Northern Pacific region:
Pacific Ocean base-map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Source)
How should one map whaling history? I initially thought through a few options. 1) I could show the various "whale grounds" where whale hunting centered during various periods of the nineteenth century. For example, in the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the Pacific whaling industry focused on the "offshore grounds" about a thousand miles or more west of the Galapagos islands and the South American Pacific coast. This is why, in fact, I cropped the base-map as seen above, still showing the Pacific coast of Ecuador and northern Peru—as a reference point for the "offshore ground." Then, from the 1820s through the 1850s, the "Japan grounds" were very important, especially in the experiences of Native Hawaiian whalemen. So the base-map above shows Japan on the left, as a reference point for its offshore whale grounds. Beginning in the 1830s and onwards, some Native Hawaiian whalemen traveled on ships to whale grounds off the "Northwest Coast" of North America, the region near British Columbia and Southern and Southeastern Alaska. By the end of the period I am looking at, especially from the 1850s through the 1870s, the Bering Strait region and the Arctic seas north of the Alaskan and Chukchi Peninsulas were a center of this industry.
The base map above covers all those regions, but I couldn't really figure out how to map "whale grounds." I had imagined that these grounds were just big circles on the ocean, and ships sailed out into them and then just waited around for whales to pass by. But then as I went into the archives and looked at a few ship logs, I realized that ships were constantly on the move through these "grounds." These were not just static, stable places, but, in fact, both whales and ships were constantly on the move through them. I really could not, then, find a way to accurately map that, since nothing was historically staying put! (Although take a look at this map from 1851 for an example of how people did try to map "whale grounds" in the nineteenth century. This map is highly problematic, as I discuss in my dissertation chapter. But it is also fun to look at.)
So, deciding against option one, I decided instead to 2) map points of reference across the ocean. Mapping whale "grounds" is complicated, but it couldn't be too hard to map single points, right? Port cities, islands, bays, landforms, etc. What I call "landmarks" and "seamarks": places across the ocean that were well-known to Hawaiian migrant workers in the nineteenth century. And we know these places because Hawaiians wrote about them, or we at least have evidence that Hawaiians lived or worked there.
But I couldn't possibly map every place that fits the criteria above. I have to make choices. And in making choices, map makers thus make an argument for what they think really matters, and what doesn't matter. I had to make a choice, and so I decided to make this argument: Hawaiians got around. Seriously. They went to and knew landmarks and seamarks in a surprising variety of places, and in extreme places, too! Mexico, the United States, Canada, Russia, China, and all across the North Pacific Ocean. This was, as I am trying to argue in my dissertation, the "Hawaiian Pacific World":
The Hawaiian Pacific World, c. 1870
(Source: I made this)
So here it is. This map has gone through many changes, and probably will go through many more. It is not just a whaling map. It is a map, I hope, to describe the near totality of the Hawaiian labor experience in the nineteenth-century Pacific. And it makes sense to map all the industries together, because when Hawaiian men worked in the whaling industry back then, they also sometimes knew people living and working in California or working on the guano islands, and some workers even worked in one industry or one environment and then moved on to another and so knew many workplaces themselves. There especially were significant overlaps between these various industries and environments in the 1850s and 1860s. Then, in the 1870s, as I argue in my dissertation, this "Hawaiian Pacific World" started to disintegrate. It's not that every Native Hawaiian came home and their knowledge of, and experience of, the world shrunk. But a new world rose in its place after 1880 or so.... a world with new dynamics, like plantation economies, "coolie" labor, racial eugenics, the peak of European (and American and Japanese) imperialism in the Pacific, etc. Perhaps there was a Hawaiian Pacific World post-1880, but it looked quite different than the one mapped above.
In 2013 I hope to post a fourth installment of "Mapping Hawaiian Labor History." Next up will be either 1) an examination of the rise of sugar plantations in the Hawaiian Kingdom; or, 2) maybe something about Hawaiʻi's very early salt industry (in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries). We'll see! Mahalo for reading.