Scotland and Hawai'i in History

by Amy Hoff

Princess Kaiulani

From the lone shieling to the misty island Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas! Still, the blood is strong- the heart is Highland! and we in dreams behold the Hebrides. Fair these broad meads, these hoary woods are grand... but we are exiles from our fathers’ land. —Canadian boat song, of disputed authorship

The history of both Hawai’i and Scotland are almost the same. Two tribal nations embroiled in conflict with an oppressive foreign party intent on taking over, illegally if necessary. Both peoples went through a time where their clothing, language, music, and very way of life was outlawed. Both nations seek sovereignty today, with the memories of the wrongs visited upon them in the past. Together, perhaps we can learn that division only helps those in power; that Hawaiians and malihini alike must unite to see change come.

Kaiulani and father

For several centuries, Scotland’s enemy was England, her neighbor to the south. Even the Romans came from that direction in order to subjugate Scotland’s people, who were one of the few societies that remained free from Roman rule because of their fierce warriors. Later, England would see the Scots as barbaric and strange, and believe they had rights to the northern lands inhabited by these warlike people.

The Scottish people come from three distinct groups: the Picts, the original tribespeople of Scotland; the Irish Scotti tribe, and the invading Vikings.

The people of Scotland lived under a clan system, or tribal system, with a chief at the head. Initially, women fought alongside men, and this was a widespread practice; in the ancient tales, Scathach was the warrior woman of Skye who trained the mighty Cuchulain in battle, as the early Scots believed that women only trained men, and men only trained women to fight. Children were taken very seriously, and none would abuse or misuse them, because they had the clan’s protection. Women and children were seen as the future of the clan, and in some ways were considered more important than men. An oddity in both Scottish and Irish history is that both countries became Christian long before most others, and without outside missionary influence, force, or violence; several Pictish kings were Christian. It is the one example of a peaceful conversion in the world. Their Christianity was much different than Roman Christianity, as they just put Christ at the head of everything else they believed in, as they too had been visited by the ‘wise men of the east’, and believed their teachings. So they continued to believe in faeries, brownies, and silkies while also believing in Christ. To the rest of Europe, this was a strange world with strange beliefs, the people wore odd clothing and the women were allowed to fight. So they were considered savages, and their thoughts and feelings did not matter to those who would oppress them.

For several centuries, the Highlanders were virtually unknown to outsiders. They never left their glens for much of anything. They came down to fight in certain wars, such as the War of Independence to assist Robert the Bruce in attaining the throne. It was not until the mid-1500s that they are much written about in history. However, those in the Borders and Lowlands had contact with the English throughout this time. Borderers are known for their rebellion and their wildness; Lowlanders are considered almost the same as the English: money-oriented, dull, sometimes traitorous. However, Scotland’s famous poet, Robert Burns, came from Ayrshire in the Lowlands, so these are mere generalizations. The Scots dialects are a kind of pidgin, as the Scots were forced to learn English instead of their native Gaelic. It is sometimes said that the reason Highlanders sound more English is because war forced them to learn the foreign tongue, whereas the Lowlanders and Borderers learned it slowly over time due to proximity. It is also said that those in the Borders have a more pronounced accent because they want to make absolutely sure they are differentiated from the English.

One thing most of the Scots agreed on was Bonnie Prince Charlie. Called The Young Pretender’ because of his Catholicism (royalty in Britain alternated between Protestant and Catholic, and they were not supposed to have a Catholic on the throne twice in a row), the Scots felt that he and his father, James Stuart, were the true royal line. They put everything on the line for him, so heroic and charming was he. However, his military experience was not great, and many turned against him before the end.

It came to a final head at the battle of Culloden Field, where the Scottish army was destroyed by the English; peasants and cattle alike were slaughtered by the unforgiving Sassunnach, who did not want the savages to get away with trying to place the rightful, Scottish king on the British throne. Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped, spirited across the sea to Skye by Flora MacDonald. He died alone, a serious drunk, in Rome, his country forever lost. Following Culloden, the Act of Proscription went out among the people, forbidding the wearing of tartan, playing of the bagpipes, ownership of weaponry, and the speaking of Gaelic, the Highlanders’ native tongue. Punishment for disobeying the law was death, or being sent into slavery in the colonies. This law stayed in effect for thirty-six years, and oddly the first man who broke this law in Scotland was black! Perhaps there was a kind of racial sympathy in his heart.

The Scots were then forced to starve or to ship out; several of them were rounded up and sold as slaves to southern plantations. Others were exiled to areas of the world designated for prisoners; sometimes America, sometimes Australia or New Zealand. Many other Scots trying to escape these dreadful times went to Canada, as it was under British rule and easier to enter than the United States, where they may not have had equal footing with others, as is evident with the Irish in the following century, who had to face signs in store windows reading, No Irish Need Apply. So the Scots were homeless, landless, forced to wander foreign lands and find some place to call home.

Many Scots who were forced to travel discovered shadows of their homeland in other native peoples they encountered, and therefore tended to intermarry with Native Americans and other tribal people. In fact, Chief Kooweskoowe, the greatest Cherokee chief, was named John Ross, and was a Native American/ Scot. There are several examples of this occurring anywhere the Scots set foot. Hawai’i was no different.

Captain James Cook was raised in England, but he had Scottish parents. It would be interesting to investigate how he felt about Scottish politics, as the Act of Proscription may have happened within his own, and definitely within his parents’, lifetime. It is evident in the fact that he named some of the South Pacific islands he encountered after Scotland, such as New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. Not that he had any right to do so, but it is an example that he was proud of his heritage.

John Young

Kamehameha the Great’s enterprising spirit and intelligence in war told him that Scotsman John Young (from England, probably of Scottish parentage), and Welshman Isaac Davis were just what he needed to help win the wars that brought the islands together under his rule. They manned the cannon during the battle in Maui between King Kahekihi and his men. The cannon was a major reason for his victory. Young was made a high chief, and was advisor and friend to the great king; he brought western knowledge of war and tactics to the king, as well as opinions on the state of the Hawaiian nation. He married a Hawaiian woman, and their granddaughter Emma would become the wife of Kamehameha IV.

Captain Alexander Adams was also a confidant to Kamehameha, and served on the battle fleet under Young’s command. It is said that Adams was the one who helped Kamehameha to decide what the Hawaiian flag would look like, as up to that point the Union Jack alone was flown on Hawaiian ships.

Kamehameha also, along with other ali’i, seceded the islands to Great Britain while he was with Vancouver on the ship Discovery. Although the Hawaiians exclaimed, ‘We are men of Britain!’ at the time, the secession was never rati- fied by the rulers of Great Britain, but it began long and friendly ties between Hawai’i and that country.

During the plantation era, the overseers were all hired from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland’s College of Agriculture. This led to the nicknaming of the Hamakua Coast, ‘The Scottish Coast’. James Makee, celebrated in the ‘Hula O Makee’, was the owner of Ulupalakua Ranch, which he renamed Rose Ranch and planted sugar. He was a famous Scottish sea captain that had been wounded in a Honolulu waterfront brawl. James Campbell on Oahu thought there was a way to irrigate the dry Ewa Plain to produce sugar and discovered a vast freshwater table that brings water to the people of Honolulu to this day.

Robert Louis Stevenson

King Kalakaua spent part of his trip around the world in Scotland, which he preferred to England because he felt that the Scots treated him more like a king. In London, he felt as though they saw him as more of an oddity. Kalakaua knew Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as his sister’s husband, Archibald Cleghorn, both of whom hailed from Edinburgh. Cleghorn and Stevenson both had a great love of the Hawaiian people, a love perhaps engendered by the fact that they were tribal desendants themselves, and the tribes were still very much alive in the memory of the elders of their time. Kalakaua appointed Cleghorn to the House of Nobles, and later, Queen Lili’uokalani made him the governor of Oahu. A skilled horticulturalist and businessman, Cleghorn helped found Ka’iulani Park and built Ainahau, one of Hawai’i’s most beautiful estates. ‘Ainahau was supposed to have been an eternal monument to Ka’iulani’s memory, but none of it remains today.

Robert Crichton Wyllie, another Scotsman, was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1798, and got Hawai’i recognized as an independent nation. He was the most vocal against what he predicted would be the illegal annexation of Hawai’i as a part of the United States. He engineered every treaty with foreign nations stating the independence of the Hawaiian kingdom. After Wyllie’s death, the Hawaiian Gazette of October 21, 1865, read: “The death of such a man can not but be regarded as a national calamity. There is not a Hawaiian, from one end of the Islands to the other, but who, when he hears of Mr. Wyllie’s death, will say – ‘There went a true friend of our King and His People.’”


Princess Likelike

The daughter of Archibald Cleghorn and Princess Likelike, the beautiful and intelligent Ka’iulani, was half Scottish, half Hawaiian. She befriended the famous writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, while he lived in the islands. He wrote her beautiful poetry, and some said they were in love, although their age difference calls this idea into question. Stevenson wrote her a goodbye poem when she was on her way to England to study, and she heard of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy while she was in Great Britain. Archibald Cleghorn, her father, had then lived in two nations that were illegally overthrown by an oppressive superpower. It must have been strange indeed to see his wife and daughter in such distress, and to know the other land he loved shared the same fate as his North Sea home. Ka’iulani is still fondly remembered today for her beauty, her spirit, and her dedication to Hawai’i.

Today, St. Andrew’s Societies and the Highland Games keep the Scottish spirit alive in the Hawaiian islands. Hawai’i even has its own state tartan. Many hapa haole people have a Scottish ancestor, or Scottish parent. Scotland’s history is just as heroic, passionate, and beautiful as Hawai’i’s, and teaches a great deal about what can be learned by researching the past. We are not so different. Finding our similarities may be what brings us all in Hawai’i, both malihini and kanaka maoli, to a greater understanding and friendship, to affect the change we are all hoping for, in the recognition of our own sovereign nations, the kingdom of Scotland- and the kingdom of Hawai’i.

Readers may submit editorial comments to any of our stories by sending an email to We would be happy to attach your comments and feedback to anything we publish online. Thank you for your interest.

Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.