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Wired – February 2002

Seventeen miles off the coast of Kauai lies the small island of Niihau. Like the rest of Hawaii, the Forbidden Island, as it has come to be known, is part of the United States. Its roughly 200 residents pay taxes and vote in elections; some serve in the US military. But there integration ends: Niihau has no telephones, no running water, no paved roads, and only four cars. The islanders have radios and some own TVs and VCRs, but even then connection to the outside world is difficult. The island has no electrical grid. Residents rely on gas generators and solar power.

There is one explanation for how Niihau has remained isolated from modern society. For nearly 150 years, it has been under the private ownership of a single family, the Robinsons, descendants of Scottish settlers who bought the island from King Kamehameha IV in 1863 for $10,000 in gold. An intensely private family of strict Calvinist Christians, the Robinsons established the social and moral rules that all Niihauans agree to abide by if they want to stay. There is no smoking, no drinking, no adultery. Most important is a rule that’s proved to be Niihau’s most effective defense – no outsiders can visit Niihau without the Robinsons’ permission. — Matthew Yeomans, “Unplugged”

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