Hawaiians - Orientation

Identification. Hawaiians are the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands. Now a disadvantaged minority in their own homeland, they are the descendants of Eastern Polynesians who originated in the Marquesas Islands. The name "Hawai'i" is that of the largest island in the chain. It came to refer to the aboriginal people of the archipelago because the first Western visitors anchored at that island and interacted predominantly with Hawai'i Island chiefs.

Location. The populated Hawaiian Islands are located Between 15° and 20° N and 160° and 155° W. The climate is temperate tropical, and weathered volcanic features dominate the terrain. Rainfall and soil fertility may vary significantly between the windward and leeward sides of the islands.

Demography. The aboriginal population is estimated at 250,000-300,000. Because of recurrent epidemics of introduced diseases, the native population had been reduced by at least 75 percent by 1854. In the late 1880s Hawaiians were outnumbered by immigrant sugar workers. According to the state's enumeration, Hawaiians today number about 175,000, or 19 percent of the state's population. Because of historically high rates of Hawaiian exogamy "pure" Hawaiians number only about 9,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Hawaiian is closely related to Marquesan, Tahitian, and Maori. The use of Hawaiian was suppressed in island schools during the territorial period, and the language fell into disuse during the mid-twentieth Century. Few Hawaiians can speak the language today. The colloquial language of most Hawaiians is Hawai'i Islands Creole, informally known as "Pidgin." Since the 1970s the University of Hawaii has been the center of attempts to revive the Hawaiian language through education. A few hundred children are enrolled in language-immersion preschools where only Hawaiian is spoken.

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