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The Rise of American Business

Generally speaking, the missionary children showed a greater appetite for commerce than for Christ. They and other American entrepreneurs began experimenting with agribusiness ventures, particularly plantation-style production of cane sugar.

Historically speaking, Kamehameha III's unenviable job was to jerk ancient Hawai'i into the Western-dominated world. Guided by haole advisors, he developed a constitution in 1840. Then, needing an infusion of revenues for the monarchy and saying that the Hawaiian commoners deserved to own land, he announced the Great Mahele (division) in 1848. This act released some 4 million acres for sale to private owners. Ironically, the maka'ainana possessed a weak understanding of the concept of "owning" land, and 90 percent of the deeds fell into the hands of those who knew better -- mostly American planters.  

For the next 100 years, sugar was "king" of Hawai'i 's economy. Large plantations require a labor force willing to endure long hours, poor pay, and cruel treatment, and native workers largely declined the opportunity. Instead, the planters began importing laborers by contract, first from in 1852. Later recruitments drew from all corners of the globe, including the Portuguese islands of Madeira and the Azores (beginning 1878), (1885), Puerto Rico (1890), (1903), and the (1906). As workers finished their contracts, the majority stayed to assimilate into island life.