The Hawaiian Islands (FC-FC-484) is a silent, black and white film from 1924, part of the Ford Motor Company Collection. At the time this film was made, Hawaii was a territory to the United States and would remain that way until it achieved statehood on August 21, 1959. The film consists of unique footage of Hawaii– its people, culture and landscape– in the early 20th century. It also documents the cultural biases of its day, for example in its narrow depiction of the Japanese population and description of traditional practices like farming.
The film opens up by showing viewers where Hawaii is on the map in relation to the United States and that travelling to Hawaii required a week long boat trip from California.
The film continues on to show the different groups of people who live in Hawaii, including the Japanese, and the Native Hawaiians, and the jobs that are common such as working in shops and on farms. Agriculture was a major part of the economy of Hawaii, due in part to the year round warm climate. Hawaii’s main crops at the time were bananas, sugar cane, pineapples, and papayas. Many of these items, such as pineapples, were canned and shipped to the mainland United States. Agriculture is still an important industry in Hawaii, but tourism has eclipsed it as the main industry. Tourism in Hawaii began to increase in popularity in the 20th century as more passenger steamships began making trips across the Pacific Ocean and as commercial airlines began to fly more frequently to the islands.
The film also highlights popular recreational activities in Hawaii, including surfing, or as it’s called in the film, “surf riding”. Surfing has origins in the Hawaiian Islands and was originally considered an art form and not just a recreational hobby. Surf boards were made from different types of trees and could be shaped into different styles. Before starting out, surfers would pray to the gods for safety and protection in the ocean.
Surfing remained popular in Hawaii until contact with European missionaries began. European missionaries saw surfing as a waste of time and put measures in place to ban the practice of it. Surfing reemerged in popularity in the early 20th century in Waikiki as tourism began in Hawaii and curious tourists took an interest in it. Today surfing is a recreational activity as well as a professional sport and is scheduled to make its debut as an Olympic sport in the next Summer Olympics.
The last part of the film covers Kilauea, an active volcano on the island of Hawaii. The film shows the volcano actively spewing lava and tourists driving to the volcano and getting close to the boiling lava. Kilauea is part of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, which also includes the volcano Mauna Loa. In recent times, Kilauea has been in the news for its eruption and destruction that it caused in May 2018.
To see more motion picture films of Hawaii from the National Archives, see these links: