A long while back, I had conceived of the idea of creating an imagi-nation based on the what-if concept that Hawaii had retained its independence and not become just another nation, exploited by the world at large and bereft of its own cultural identity. Though, I did a lot of research and background work, and even a test painting for a Hawaiian militia unit, the project never went farther than that.
To make this idea work, I had to change a few things in the history of the island nation, subtle but fundamental things. The first thing I had to do was to give the Hawaiian people an edge against the diseases that decimated them and left them open to easy exploitation. this was achieved by make a slight alteration to an actual note in history.
There is a record of Spanish sailors sailing close to Hawaii in 1627. In this historical accounting, they never set foot on the island, but it is a brief footnote and leaves plenty of room for creativity. In my alternate timeline, these Spaniards landed to resupply after seeing pigs on the beach. Though they did not intend to stay long, they did stay long enough to run afoul of the islanders, resulting in a hasty retreat and the omission of their landing from their logs (protecting egos and saving face). In addition to getting in a scuffle, they also managed to pass on a few of their European cooties to the locals. This early contact with the European diseases provides an exposure early enough to have developed a resistance, even if not an immunity, to such illnesses.
Going forward in time we get to the conquest of King Kamehameha I and his unification of the islands into a single nation. At this point, Hawaii had already had contact with Europeans and engaged in trade for goods and weapons which Kamehameha had put to good use in his war of unification. It is here that the early exposure to European diseases really comes into play as it gives the people of Hawaii the resilience to maintain their population and the huge military that Kamehameha had amassed, numbering 10,000 men at one time. Another benefit of having less vulnerability to viral outbreak is that the Hawaiians would have been able to maintain their strength of culture in the face of Christian missionaries.
In Hawaii's history, much of their loss of cultural integrity was done at the hands of Christian missionaries who actively worked to dissuade the Hawaiians from their pagan beliefs and lifestyles. Much of this was built on the back of the strife that befell the island people after they were devastated by disease. Had this fate not befell the people of the islands, they would have had less cause to stray from their own native beliefs. Another step toward a Hawaii able to modernize but without sacrificing their cultural identity.
The rest of alternate Hawaii's development falls into place from here. Kamehameha's warlords are granted lands by his graces and these landed lords are able to parse these lands out to their followers. This feudal model moves nicely into the 19th century. Kamehameha was a fan of things European from weapons, to ships, science and even some of their societal developments. Hawaii would adopt what it needed and make friends with European nations, making deals and sometimes caving in to foreign considerations as was usually necessary for less developed nations in order for them to maintain relations with European nations.
In my version of Hawaii, the island nation maintains a good relationship with the British Empire and never enters into the deal with the United States that gave that nation an inroad and a reason to take the actions that eventually led to her annexation (a bit ahead of the period I'd be playing in). An early alignment with Britain is part of Hawaii's history, but a stronger Hawaii would likely have been less prone to some of the indecisive, almost wishy-washy political maneuvers that it's various leaders made over the years.
A brief rewrite of Hawaiian history might look something like this (changes to history in blue) -
Spanish sailors land an undisclosed part of the Hawaiian Islands, seeking supplies. They run afoul of the natives but not before passing on European disease to the natives. Chased from the islands the embarrassed crew strike any record of their landing from the logs.
British explorer Captain James Cook discovers the Hawaiian Islands and names them Sandwich Islands after Britian's Earl of Sandwich.
Captain Cook is killed in a Big Island dispute at Kealakekua Bay, near Kona.
The first Chinese arrive after jumping off a trading ship.
King Kamehameha the Great unites all the Hawaiian islands into one kingdom.
The first pineapple plants are introduced from Spain.
First Hawaiian flag is sewn.
Coffee is first planted.
King Kamehameha the Great dies. Prince Liholiho ascends the throne as Kamehameha II (1819-1824). He also abandons the ancient taboo of eating with women.
First American Protestant missionaries arrive aboard the brig Thaddeus from New England.
1825 - 1854
The reign of King Kamehameha III.
The first Hawaii constitution of the kingdom was established.
The Great Mahele is signed by King Kamehameha III which allows commoners and foreigners to own land outright or in "fee simple," a concept that continues today. Land rights are maintained as the exclusive right of the nobles and lords of Hawaiian culture.
On August 31, King Kamehameha III declares Honolulu a city.
1874 - 1891
The reign of King David Kalakaua.
Iolani Palace is built on Oahu.
Mutual Telephone Company was started in Hawaii. The name was later changed to Hawaiian Telephone and then changed again to GTE Hawaiian Tel.
The first contract laborers from Japan arrive to work on the sugar cane plantations.
Macadamia nut trees are first planted.
Queen Liliuokalani signs an agreement with England making her an official part of the British Empire and a protectorate of the crown.