Ni’ihau is the smallest of the Hawaiian islands, located just southwest of Kaua’i. It is considered the “Forbidden Isle” because it is the only populated island in Hawaii that visitors are not allowed to go onto unless given permission.
In 1864 King Kamehameha V, the monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii at the time, decided to put the island up for sale. A Scottish woman who moved her family to Hawaii just a year prior bought the island for $10,000. It was then passed down to Sinclair’s grandchildren. And generations later, it is now currently owned by the Robinson family.
The Robinson family is working to preserve the Hawaiian culture by keeping outside world influences from entering the island. The primary language spoken is Hawaiian. And English is considered a secondary language. There’s only about 170 people on the island. There’s no paved roads, no phone service, and no power lines. Horses and bicycles are the main form of transportation. And solar power is used to produce electricity. The current residents pay no rent and live off the land by tending to their own gardens and fishing and hunting for meat. Barges full of other supplies and groceries are periodically shipped in from Kaua’i.
There’s no hotels or grocery stores on the island. No restaurants either. There is a small K-12 school that teaches about 25-50 students. But some students stay with relatives on Kaua’i where they attend Ni’ihau-focused charter schools.
The main income for the island comes from a Navy installation atop the towering cliffs. The famous Ni’ihau shells found on the island are collected and sold which brings in additional income. The Robinson’s have a helicopter in which they’re able to transport residents to and from other jobs they have on Kaua’i. They also use the helicopter to offer tours to those who are visiting the Hawaiian islands.
Living on Ni’ihau is like taking a step back in time. A time in which technology is non-existent and the traditional conveniences of life are nowhere to be found. Ni’ihau is where you find the true Hawaiian culture being lived out. A culture which is much the same today as it was over 200 years ago.