Recalling the Early Days of Hawaii’s Japanese Cowboys

Dan Nakasone
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

In 1793, British Captain George Vancouver sailed to the island of Hawai‘i, where he presented King Kamehameha I with a gift of six cows. A year later, five more cows arrived at Kealakekua, courtesy of Vancouver. At that point, Kamehameha issued a kapu, a taboo punishable by death, to anyone who caused the demise of any of the kingdom’s cattle.

The kapu remained in place for 20 years to ensure the successful propagation of the cattle, which flourished to huge numbers. The feral cattle caused alarming destruction of the native forests as well as to cultivated fields of taro and sweet potato. The wild bullocks also threatened the safety of the native Hawaiians who tended those fields. Attempts to harvest the cattle and reduce their numbers were unsuccessful.

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