- Historic Sites
Niihau A Shoal Of Time
For a century Hawaii’s westernmost island has stubbornly resisted the tides of change
October 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 6
Should the economy cease to be viable, the Niihauans would find it very difficult to take up life anywhere in Hawaii except at the Robinson ranch on Kauai. Over the course of the years, some Niihauans have moved away and found work on other plantations, on the Honolulu waterfront, and on inter-island ships. But in the event of a final exodus, a long-range educational program, in English, would be necessary to fit everybody—men, women, and children—for normal existence on the outside. This, of course, could not begin to take account of all the adjustments they would have to make, and its very inauguration would depend on the word of Aylmer Robinson, whose whole life has been dedicated to slowing the rate of change on Niihau. His grand plan has always been, as he explained to an Interior Department official in 1946, to preserve intact the Hawaiian cultural pattern. In practice this meant preserving not pre-white Hawaiian culture, but the missionary culture of the nineteenth century, transmitted in the native language, and leaving language alone reasonably intact among the native institutions. Even with this limitation, however, the Robinsons’ efforts in behalf of the diminished Hawaiian race have far outstripped those of the state government.
The Niihauans have no real sense of the past that was theirs before 1864, when the Sinclairs bought their land; and they have at most an uncertain future. They concentrate their best hopes upon their Protestant God, and at the same time they continue to show an unswerving trust in the Robinsons, believing that no harm can befall them as long as the haku watches over them from Makaweli, where a great window in the west wall of the old home frames a hundred years of island history, poignantly quiet across the water.