by Elaine Winters and Mark Swartz


The Pacific Ocean surrounds the Hawaiian archipelago. There are eight major and 124 minor islands, volcanic in origin, with a total land mass of 6,425 square miles (16,641 square kilometers). The eight major islands are Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai, and Hawaii. Honolulu, the capital, is located on Oahu, and is 6,200 kilometers southwest of San Francisco. The islands' topography includes such diverse features as active volcanos, grassy pastures, and endless stretches of beach.

According to U.S. Census Bureau figures (1990), the population of the entire state is 1,108,229, with 836,231 persons living within the incorporated city of Honolulu and its immediate environs. Seventy-three percent of the entire population of the state lives on Oahu. Statewide, 135,263 persons identify themselves as native Hawaiians, though it is not known how many of these people are of mixed race. There has been a widespread diaspora of native Hawaiians, largely to the west coast of the United States and also to other Pacific Island nations.


The islands in the triangle formed (roughly) by Tahiti, New Zealand, and Hawaii are inhabited by people who possess prominent genealogical traits in common, speak related languages, and live similar lifestyles. They are descendants of Polynesians (Polynesia is Greek for "many islands"), who began settling in the South Pacific islands around 1100 B.C. They are believed to have reached the Hawaiian islands sometime between A.D. 300 and 500. They called the largest island Havaiki after one of the major islands of their former home. Dogs, pigs, chickens, tuber (taro), coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, yams, and sugar cane comprised much of the traditional Polynesian diet. The mulberry plant called wauke was pounded and bleached to make kapa or bark-cloth. Ti, a lily, provided leaves for hula skirts and roots to weave into matting or brew into a liquor called okolehao .

The population of native Hawaiians has diminished considerably since Western contact, usually dated from the arrival of the English seaman Captain Cook in 1778. From an estimated 300,000 that year, the population fell to 71,019 in 1853. This dramatic decrease was largely due to the introduction of various diseases (including cholera, chicken pox, influenza, measles, mumps, and syphilis), for which the immune systems and medical expertise of the natives were completely unprepared. Furthermore, Cook and those who came after him introduced firearms to the archipelago, making tribal conflicts much deadlier.


January 18, 1778 marked the arrival of Captain James Cook and the crews of his two ships, H.M.S. Resolution and H.M.S. Discovery, off the coast of the island Kauai. The British visitors recorded trading iron nails for fresh water, pigs, and sweet potatoes. Captain Cook named the archipelago the "Sandwich Islands," after his patron, the Earl of Sandwich. Cook was killed by natives on the island of Hawaii one year after his arrival in a skirmish over a small boat that had been stolen from him.

Prior to European settlement, native Hawaiians viewed land as the common property of everyone. The economic interests of the common people, the king, and the chiefs were collaborative, mutually beneficial, and intertwined. The arrival of settlers and their Western ideas of title and ownership, however, terminated that approach to government.

In 1780, Kamehameha, the first and mightiest of four leaders with the name, began a campaign to unite the islands under a single chiefdom. Hawaiian chiefs had traditionally clashed over land and the resources of the sea, but many of their disputes were settled in ritualized combat, which resulted in relatively few casualties. Kamehameha, however, adapted the modern weapons and armaments of the British visitors to suit his own purposes and hired two of Cook's seamen as war advisors. By 1795 he had obtained complete power over the eight main islands.

With the technological know-how introduced by foreigners, called haoles , (a term that later came to apply exclusively to white people), Kamehameha was able to take advantage of political and economic opportunities. He established a trade advantage and created a personal monopoly over foreign commerce. He used Kapu , the existing system of religious and social customs, to exclude both commoners and lesser chiefs from engaging in commerce with ships that passed by, and brought fresh provisions to these ships personally. As soon as he realized the value that foreigners placed on pearls, he reserved pearling in Pearl Harbor for himself and employed commoners to dive. Furthermore, he exacted tolls for the privilege of using Honolulu's harbor. In these ways, Kamehameha accumulated enormous wealth and power over the Hawaiian people and lesser royalty.

Westerners ventured to the Sandwich Islands in large numbers. Missionaries from various Protestant sects, particularly Calvinism, were the first major group of haoles , followed by Norwegian whalers, Mormons, diplomatic representatives from various countries, plantation owners, and Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese workers.

Sandalwood became a trading commodity as soon as it became known that the Chinese held it in high regard and were willing to pay virtually any price. Kamehameha incorporated sandalwood into his tribute demands from commoners and left the collection process to lesser chiefs. The sandalwood trade, however, required substantial labor, thus drawing workers from food production. Moreover, demand for provisions by ships stopping in Hawaii drew on local food supplies, causing a famine in 1810 that significantly weakened the small nation. Hawaii's position further degenerated when all the sandalwood was sold and trade ceased altogether.

In 1794 George Vancouver, a British navigator, drafted an agreement with island chiefs to transfer ownership of the islands to Great Britain. He believed the chiefs had formally granted the islands to Great Britain, while the chiefs thought they had a defense agreement. Although Britain did not ratify the agreement, the English Empire, which held sway over lands in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, established a dominant presence in Hawaii.

In 1819 Kapu was overthrown and abandoned when Kamehameha II violated one of its cardinal rules by accepting an invitation to dine alongside women. In the ensuing chaos, many temples and works of sacred art were destroyed. As Christianity, fueled by the influx of missionaries, supplanted Kapu , such cultural hallmarks as hula dancing, surfing, and kite flying were forbidden along with other so-called pagan practices.


U.S. President William McKinley, acting according to the national spirit of Manifest Destiny, supported a policy of amplified political, military, and economic activity in the Pacific. Citing such reasons as resolving racial unrest on the islands, arresting the influence of Japan, and boosting American shipping and commerce, the United States officially annexed Hawaii in 1893, a few months after an unofficial coup d'état (supported by white plantation owners and enforced by U.S. Marines) and the imprisonment of Queen Liliuokalani. For her refusal to go along with annexation and her support of an attempted uprising against American domination, Liliuokalani is remembered by politically liberal native Hawaiians as a freedom fighter, whereas Kamehameha is regarded as an opportunist and an accomplice in the decline of native Hawaiian culture.

U.S. involvement with Hawaii reached a new plateau after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The islands were placed under martial law for the duration of the war and were used extensively as bases, bombing practice sites, and rest and recreation spots for soldiers and sailors. The memorial at the site of the sunken battleship Arizona attracts many visitors each year, as does the national cemetery at Punchbowl (an extinct volcanic crater), with its spectacular view of Honolulu and the harbor. Hawaii joined the union in 1959, thus becoming the fiftieth state. The current flag of the State of Hawaii has eight horizontal stripes (red, white, and blue), to symbolize the eight major islands, and a Union Jack in the upper left corner, to symbolize the occupation of the islands by the British.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Writing in 1916, W. Somerset Maugham described Honolulu, in a story of the same name: "It is the meeting of East and West. The very new rubs shoulders with the immeasurably old." The ethnic variety of immigrants since the arrival of Captain Cook has created many opportunities for cultural exchange and hybridization. Of the 1,108,229 people living in Hawaii, 23 percent describe themselves as white, 22 percent as Japanese, 20 percent as part Hawaiian, 11 percent as Filipino, four percent as Chinese, two percent as black, and about one percent each as Korean and pure Hawaiian. Such clear-cut terms blur when faced by another statistic, however; about half of all Hawaiian marriages now occur between men and women of different races.

While native Hawaiians almost invariably suffered as their homeland underwent its transformations, it is also true that the Hawaiian culture greatly affected the attitudes and perspectives of many immigrant groups. The most striking example of this is the spirit of aloha , which is found on all the islands and among all ethnic groups. Although many consider the term to have been corrupted by colonialist opportunism and the tourist industry, it remains an important aspect of the culture of the State of Hawaii. The word aloha means many things: hello, good-bye, peace, and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of welcome and identity within the larger community.


Storytelling is a great Hawaiian tradition. Before the Hawaiian language was written, the literature was spoken. The Hawaiian legend of the King of Ku-ai-he-lani is similar to the western tale of Cinderella ; and Au-ke-le recalls Rip Van Winkle, or perhaps Odysseus. Menehunes are small people, rather like Irish leprechauns. Legends of their mischievous ways abound. For example, menehunes are held to be responsible when something is misplaced. In various locations, on all the islands, there are elaborate fish ponds that do not appear to have been formed naturally. Native Hawaiians believe menehunes built them, and there are strict rules about these ponds. Nothing must be removed or the menehunes will come at night and take it back. The implication is that the retrieval will be unpleasant.

Many of the old superstitions and traditions in Hawaii are still observed in modern form; ti leaves, for example, are still reputed to ward off evil spirits. Today, students in dormitories decorate entries and windows with ti leaves when they think there is an evil spirit afoot. Hawaiians bring ti leaves to football games and wave them like pom-poms to keep bad spirits away from a favorite team. Feasts, or luaus , are a native Hawaiian tradition still held on every important occasion. The traditional practice involves roasting a pig in a large oven ( imo ) dug into the ground. Weddings, childbirth, the completion of a canoe or a house, and a good catch or an abundant harvest are typical occasions for a native

Canoes have figured prominently in the marine culture of the native Hawaiians.
Canoes have figured prominently in the marine culture of the native Hawaiians.
Hawaiian luau . Today, luaus are held everywhere in Hawaii. Churches frequently hold luaus as fundraising events, and the entire community joins in the festivities and the eating. Tourists expect to enjoy a luau before leaving the islands.


The Hawaiian farmer of ancient times was a superior cultivator who systematically identified and named plants—both those cultivated as well as the wild species gathered for use when crops failed. Procedures for cultivation at every arable location on an island (approximately 15 percent of the land), for the variety of altitudes, exposures, and weather conditions were likewise developed by farmers. They practiced organic farming, meaning that the unused leaves of plants were combined with plants that grew during fallow periods in a "green" manure; that is, no animal excrement was used.

Elaborate systems of aqueducts and ditches brought water from dammed springs to planted terraces, demonstrating engineering and building skills as well as planning and organizing abilities. The remnants of these systems can still be seen from the air. Plants cultivated for food included such staples as taro, breadfruit, and yam, as well as foods that offered variety and additional nutrients, including banana, sugarcane, coconut, candelnut, arrowroot, and ti.

About three hundred varieties of taro are known to have existed in Hawaii. Early natives used the entire taro plant. The leaves were steamed alone or used to wrap potatoes or fish for steaming. The root was steamed in an imo and then peeled and pounded into a stiff paste handy for traveling when wrapped in pandanus leaves. Adding water to this paste produces poi , a starchy thick paste sometimes allowed to ferment. The entire coconut was used as well. Unripe coconuts provided nourishing liquid for journeys when no fresh water was available. The flesh of the mature nut was grated and pressed to produce a cream. Pudding was made by mixing this cream with arrowroot. The husks were halved when the mature coconut was harvested and, when empty, were used as drinking or baking cups. The fibers on the outside of the husks were pounded and then woven into rope. The leaves of the plant were sometimes used for thatching houses.

In addition to attracting laborers from China, Japan, and elsewhere, sugar production has been a major source of employment for native Hawaiians. In 1873, for instance, more than half the native male population was engaged in cultivating sugar. Women were employed stripping, grinding, and boiling cane and were paid half the wages of male natives.


Fish has traditionally supplied most of the protein in the Hawaiian diet. It is also a crucial and highly developed trade. Early Hawaiian fishermen were often accompanied by an individual responsible for actually finding the fish—the fish watchman. This skill involved understanding the sea floor, both inside and outside of the reef; the shape of the reef, including where the fish liked to hide; and what kind of net, hook, and bait were appropriate for each fish. Various traps were also devised for catching fish and other marine animals that lived in streams. Not everyone was allowed to eat every species of fish; certain fishes were for special events and then only for royalty. Priests were consulted every step of the way when it came to consumption of various foods. Rarely did women consume fish; rather, they were permitted shrimp and other shellfish.

Nautical culture was an important aspect of early Hawaiian life. There were freshwater ponds and shore ponds. The shore ponds were enclosures built of stone that encompassed both shallow and deep water; some ponds were as large as 60 acres. The walls had sluice gates made of wood. Native Hawaiians have long believed in the conservation of fresh water. In early times, after growing fish, the water was used to irrigate crops. Waste from ponds, a rich source of calcium, provided for an excellent fertilizer. (Hawaiian soil is low in calcium.) Some of these early conservation traditions have been revived and are practiced by native Hawaiians today.

Canoes were built for either transportation or racing. Racing is believed to have been reserved for royalty, and the large double canoes are thought to have been used for major inter-island travel and trading. The elaborate process of building a canoe began with a priest selecting the appropriate lumber. Suitable animal sacrifices (pigs or chickens) were offered and incantations and ceremonies accompanied each step of the process. For example, ti leaves were wrapped around the tree at various stages of the carving and building to ward off evil spirits. Canoe racing remains an active sport in modern Hawaii. One organization devoted to perpetuating the tradition of building and racing canoes is the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association in Honolulu.


Hawaii's patchwork past is most apparent in its varied cuisine. Japanese manju (sweet black bean pastry), Portuguese sweet bread, Chinese noodles or crispy duck, and spicy Korean kim chee are as easy to find as Hawaiian poi , which is served as the traditional island staple. Hawaiians eat about twice as much fish as residents of any other state, as well as more fresh fruit. Mangoes, papayas, bananas, pineapples, oranges, and avocados are grown locally. Different areas are famed for specialty crops: open-air markets on Oahu overflow with Kahuku watermelons, Maui onions, Waimanalo corn, Manoa lettuce, and Puna papayas. During a luau , a pig is roasted in a pit lined with wood, lava rocks, and banana stumps. The pig is stuffed with hot rocks, wrapped in leaves, and buried along with pieces of fish, taro, yams, and breadfruit. A festive banquet for friends and extended family, the luau has absorbed many non-Hawaiian elements. In the 1800s, missionaries brought cakes, Chinese brought chicken, and Norwegian whalers brought salmon marinated with onion and tomato (lomi salmon). All are now standard luau dishes.


Because of Hawaii's tropical climate, early natives usually wore no more than a strip or two of bark-cloth ( kapa ). Many Hawaiians also covered much of their bodies with tattoos. Warriors ornamented themselves with spectacular yellow and gold capes and helmets of woven feathers. Today, Hawaiians continue to dress casually. Some Hawaiian women wear the muumuu , a voluminous dress originally designed by modest missionaries for Hawaiian women. Today these dresses are printed in bright and colorful cotton or silk. More firmly grounded in Hawaiian culture is the lei , a colorful wreath of fresh flowers or other decorative objects worn around the neck. Originally an artful offering to the gods, leis have become an emblem of Hawaiian hospitality and warmth.


Although it has long been associated with Hawaii, the ukulele originated in Portugal. "Aloha Oe," a song written by Queen Liliouokalani, is a perennial favorite on this small, four-stringed, guitar-like instrument. Hawaiian musicians have also developed the distinctive slack-key style (a type of open tuning) for guitar, an instrument introduced to the islands from Spain. Instruments native to Hawaii include beating sticks, bamboo pipes, and rattles

These Hawaiian dancers are performing in Washington D.C. to commemorate the loss of the Hawaiian Islands as an independent kingdom.
These Hawaiian dancers are performing in Washington D.C. to commemorate the loss of the Hawaiian Islands as an independent kingdom.
and drums of various kinds. According to historians, native Hawaiians also played a bamboo nose flute, a whistle made from a gourd, and an instrument having one string that was played with a bow. A variety of Jew's harp was also used.

Singing, drumming, and the hula dance are sacred forms of worship and remain integral to the daily life of some native Hawaiians. Certain superstitions continue to be observed with regard to modern hula ; for example, while black can be used to ornament a costume, one never dresses totally in black for hula , since black is the traditional color of mourning. It is believed that ancient Hawaiians blackened their faces and limbs when in mourning.


Ancient religious holidays are not known, owing to the determination on the part of missionaries to enforce the celebration of only the Christian holidays. In addition to federal holidays observed by the entire United States, Hawaii also celebrates Kuhio Day (Kuhio was a prince) on March 26, and Kamehameha Day on June 11. Hawaiians also observe "Aloha Friday" each week. On Fridays Hawaiians wear especially bright clothing and women wear a flower tucked behind one ear and perhaps a lei around their neck. The occasion is marked by a celebratory attitude and a sense of good fun.


Religion and medicine were closely related in traditional native Hawaiian life. People expected prayer to heal most things. There were several classes of Kahuna lapa'au (medical priest/healer) who treated physical and mental ailments according to a variety of traditions now mostly lost to history.

Drinking seawater followed by fresh water was considered a universal remedy. Various native plants were used as compresses for relieving pain or injury, and the leaves of plants were brewed in teas and used for healing purposes. Piper methysticum (the source of the intoxicating awa or kava ) was used in many ways. Today, this species is a sedative given in mild form to infants during teething and is used in commercial diuretics. Seasonal changes and extremes of humidity and dryness produced many respiratory problems among native Hawaiians. There were as many as 58 herbal remedies for asthma, many of which have been studied or adapted by modern medical science.

In addition to the diseases brought over by the first wave of immigrants to Hawaii, leprosy, whose origin is not known and for which there has never been a cure, had a profound effect on the public health of native Hawaiians. Because of the social stigma attached to the diseases (it was mistakenly thought to be a venereal disease) as well as its extreme contagiousness, lepers were isolated on the island of Molokai beginning in 1886. For 16 years, a Belgian priest named Demian Joseph de Veuster provided medical care for these patients, whom the medical community refused to treat, before succumbing to the illness himself in 1889.

Compared to Hawaiians of European and Asian ancestry, native Hawaiians have continued to bear the brunt of the archipelago's health problems. Whereas Hawaii as a whole boasts the longest average life span of any state (males live an average 75.37 years, females, 80.92 years), the death rates of native Hawaiians at all ages are above average. The infant mortality rate for native Hawaiians is 6.5 per 1,000 live births. In addition, native Hawaiians experience high rates of diabetes and hypertension. Health workers consider poor diet a major factor, and economic problems undoubtedly contribute to this situation.


Polynesian-based Hawaiian is dying out as a spoken language. Today, it survives mostly on the island of Niihau, in some religious services, and in words and phrases used by English-speakers (the predominant group of Hawaiians), rather than as a language of everyday use. Traditionally unwritten, Hawaiian had no alphabet until the arrival of the haole . The Hawaiian alphabet was Romanized and first written by early missionaries. It contains twelve letters: "a," "e," "i," "o," "u," "h," "k," "l," "m," "n," "p," and "w." In general, vowels are pronounced separately, except for diphthongs such as " ai " ("eye"), " au " ("ow"), and " ei " ("ay"). Thus, Kamehameha is pronounced "kah may hah MAY hah." Fewer than 2,500 people speak Hawaiian as their mother tongue, most of whom are older people. It is estimated that within 30 years, Hawaiian will survive only in isolated phrases and in place names throughout the islands. All the languages of Oceania, and particularly those of Polynesia, are linguistically related. New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, and Hawaii share many words, with slight variations. Some representative words in Hawaiian are ali'i (chief or royalty); kahuna (priest and/or expert healer); kapu (taboo or sacred); mahalo (thank you); mana (energy or spiritual power); and ohana (extended family).

Family and Community Dynamics

Although for centuries women had to endure cultural and domestic oppression, the segregation of men and women under the Kapu system provided women with a good deal of autonomy. They led their own lives, cooked food for themselves, had their own deities, and had their own function in matters of royal inheritance and social stature. Women's status depended on social position and birth order. Older sisters were respected and generally wielded greater authority than junior siblings, including males. Older women continue to command respect in the community, relative to younger men and women.

Traditionally, the differences in raising native Hawaiian boys and girls center around their eventual roles as adults. Boys learn to plant, cultivate, cook, and fish; girls learn to cook and are taught how to prepare tapa for decoration or clothing. In the past, children were raised by the entire extended family, a practice called hanai . Grandparents usually had more to say in the upbringing of children than did parents. When the first child was a boy, it was taken by the father's parents and raised by them and the father's siblings—the child's aunts and uncles. If the first child was a girl, it was raised by the mother's parents and her extended family. Childless couples were unheard of in the social sense; there were always children who needed attention and instruction.

Among native Hawaiians today, the old ways, while fragmented, are still observed. For example, in neighborhoods that are predominantly Hawaiian, children move in and out of houses freely, and adults are clearly watching out for all the children in view. The concept of children belonging to and being the responsibility of the larger extended family remains vital.


Hawaiian chiefs created political alliances by marrying both commoners and other royalty. Most chiefs had many wives and provided for adopted as well as biological children. Engagements were arranged by the parents of the prospective bride and groom during their late childhood or early adolescence. When arrangements were settled by the parents,

These Hawaiian children are gathered in celebration of  Lei Day.
These Hawaiian children are gathered in celebration of Lei Day.
the young people were consulted, and once agreement to the match was obtained from all parties, the engagement became binding. The extended community that constituted the couple's family gave the bride and groom away. Hawaiian weddings were traditionally, and continue to be, associated with flowers. Both the bride and groom wear elaborate leis —necklaces of flowers, nuts, seeds, and other plant material woven together. Traditional Hawaiian weddings are still performed with the addition of whatever civil or religious sanction is necessary for legal purposes.

There are also superstitions linked with weddings: The bride and groom are not wished good luck on their wedding day, as this can result in bad luck. The only way this unfortunate situation can be reversed is for the individual who was offered the wish to cross his or her fingers immediately after it is offered, thus counteracting the curse. In addition, pearls should not be worn on the wedding day, as they resemble tears and will cause the marriage to be filled with sorrow.


When someone died, the kahuna aumakau (priest of the appropriate ancestral deity) of the dead person came and ritually sacrificed a pig or a chicken to ensure that the soul would live with its ancestors. There were several ways of disposing of the dead. Burial in the ground was the most common method; there are ancient graveyards found on all the major islands. In another disposal ritual, the corpse was eviscerated, filled with salt, and burned. Sometimes, the flesh was scraped off the bones, and the skull, femur, and humerus were saved. The rest of the body was taken by boat far out to sea and dumped. Those in the boats were not permitted to look back once the remains were deposited into the sea, or the soul would follow them back to the land and thus not rest properly. Remnants of special, woven caskets have been found, and it is believed they were used to hold the bones of kings. Such caskets are considered extraordinary works of art and are unique to Hawaii.

The bones of the dead are revered among native Hawaiians. Water is sprinkled in the house of the deceased so the soul will not return. After attending a funeral, it is important to sprinkle one's body with water so that the soul will not follow a mourner home.


Many bilingual programs exist to accommodate children for whom English is not a first language. Many classes are given in Hawaiian, which is the second official language of the State of Hawaii. For native Hawaiian children there are the well-endowed Kamehameha Schools, which were established in perpetuity by the estate of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of Kamehameha. The schools were intended to provide native Hawaiian children with a place where they could learn together, away from the influences of the children of various immigrant groups.


The University of Hawaii has two major campuses (Manoa and Hilo), and several smaller ones, which provide both education and employment to various strata of the native Hawaiian population. There are also several community colleges. The 1990 Census revealed that 22 percent of those between 18 and 24 years old who identify themselves as native Hawaiians are enrolled in school. There were 318 people under the age of 24 identifying themselves as native Hawaiians who had a bachelor's degree or higher. Of those native Hawaiians aged 25 or older, 1,549 are reported as having graduate or professional degrees.


The ancient religion of Hawaii incorporates hundreds of deities as well as magical and animist beliefs. Hawaiians worshipped both in their homes and in open-air temples called heiau . Ruins of these temples are still visible on all the islands. The largest were heiau waikaua , or war temples, at which sacrifices occurred. Chief gods were Ku (god of war and male fertility), Kane (the creator and chief god), Lono (god of thunder and agriculture), and Kanaloa (god of the ocean and winds). With the arrival of other immigrant groups, particularly early explorers in the early 1800s, ancient Hawaiian religious practices disappeared completely. Today, many Hawaiians practice Buddhism, Shinto, and Christianity.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Before tourism and the establishment of the U.S. military on the islands, agriculture was the biggest industry in Hawaii. Sugar, coconut, and pineapple formed the core of the plantation system. When the large plantations were established in the 1820s and 1830s, native Hawaiian men were employed as farm workers while Hawaiian women worked in the houses of white immigrants as maids and washerwomen.

Wage labor first developed to meet foreign demand and was centered in Honolulu and Lahaina. Beginning around 1820, commoners were enticed to work for wages (although records show that such payment was usually practiced to avoid taxation). By the mid-1840s there existed a group of landless native Hawaiian laborers in Honolulu; these people were paid about a dollar a day in 1847, less than half of what haoles earned. Plantation owners, in fact, set wages at different levels for each of the different racial groups, in order to maintain distrust among them and thereby prevent workers from organizing.

A statement made by the plantation kingpin Sanford B. Dole (who also served for a time as president of the Hawaiian Republic) at a planter's convention in the 1880s captures the disregard in which the planters held their native Hawaiian employees: "I cannot help feeling that the chief end of this meeting is plantation profits, and the prosperity of the country, the demands of society ... the future of the Hawaiian race only comes secondarily if at all." Even to those commoners who were conscious of their exploitation, however, working for wages on plantations seemed a better way of life than working to pay tribute to chiefs. Plantation workers, for example, had taxes paid for them by plantation owners, and an early strike forced plantations to pay workers directly rather than through the chief.

Emigration of male native Hawaiians to the west coast of the United States occurred during the California Gold Rush. The growing absence of local labor resulting from this exodus, as well as from the dwindling native Hawaiian population, encouraged the importation of Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese farm workers; a total of 400,000 came between 1850 and 1880. Smaller numbers of European workers came from Germany, Norway, and other countries.

From the time of the missionaries until the beginning of World War II, Hawaii was economically controlled by five powerful companies: Castle and Cooke, Alexander and Baldwin, Theodore Davies, C. Brewer, and American Factors (Amfac). About one-third of the Directors of these five companies were direct descendants of missionary families or immediately related to them by marriage. Collectively, these companies formed an alliance that, by 1930, controlled 96 percent of the islands' sugar industry and every business associated with that crop. They therefore manipulated virtually all the sizable businesses and institutions on the islands: banking, insurance, utilities, transportation, wholesale and retail sales, marketing, and inter-island and mainland shipping. In 1932, the Big Five gained control of the pineapple industry, Hawaii's second most important agricultural crop prior to World War II. After the war, in which many Japanese Ameri cans served with great distinction, the Japanese vote broke the political power of the planter elite.

In the 1980s and the early 1990s, the economy of the State of Hawaii was based on tourism. Visitors to Hawaii spent almost $10 billion in 1990. The second largest employer was the U.S. Department of Defense, which spent more than $3 billion in 1990. Native Hawaiians often took jobs as domestic servants or serve in other, often menial, capacities to meet the needs of those who are staying on the islands for a short time. As agriculture diminished in magnitude and economic importance, opportunities became scarce for native Hawaiians who traditionally worked in the fields and canneries. At the same time, the economic boom through the 1980s and 1990s, when tourism peaked, began to decline. Unemployment in Hawaii was about 5.6 percent in 1998, above the national average of 4.5 percent, and the cost of living remains high, with average home prices around $300,000. These economic factors have caused many native Hawaiians to leave the islands for better opportunities on the mainland.

Statistics gathered for the 1990 census indicate that 57,185 persons over the age of 16 who identify themselves as native Hawaiians are employed. Median income for a native Hawaiian family living in Honolulu was $37,960. (No family size is given with this statistic.) That many native Hawaiian families may live on public assistance is surmised by the percentages who are reported as living below the poverty line; 14 percent of the native Hawaiian population is given as living below the standard U.S. poverty line. Some impoverished families are taken care of by those who honor the tradition of supporting extended family; many are not so fortunate. Unemployment for the entire state was calculated at 15 percent by the census taken in 1990. No figures are available for native Hawaiians as a separate category.

Politics and Government

Native Hawaiians have expressed a mix of determination and apprehension as they face the beleaguered state of their centuries-old culture. The Hawaiian language, considered a crucial aspect of cultural identity, has been the object of renewed attention. In 1978, Hawaiian won recognition as an official state language. For many, cultural survival is inextricably linked to having a political voice. More than a century after the overthrow of the last Hawaiian monarch, the issue of sovereignty has resurfaced. The organization Ka Lahui Hawai'i (The Nation of Hawaii), founded in 1987, is dedicated to mobilizing support for this objective, thus galvanizing anti- haole sentiment that dates back to the age of Captain Cook. Chief among their complaints is that native Hawaiians are the only indigenous people living within the borders of the United States not recognized as a separate nation by the federal government. Rather, they are regarded as "wards" of the State of Hawaii. Informed by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and encouraged by sovereignty movements around the globe, Ka Lahui Hawai'i asks that native Hawaiians be treated as other Native Americans and be given their own lands (in addition to homestead lands), as well as rights of self-governance.

The sovereignty movement maintains that the independent and internationally recognized government of the Hawaiian islands was illegally overthrown by the government of the United States. It is further argued that acculturation—produced by intermarriage and lack of attention to native traditions, customs, and language—is a form of racial genocide. Because native Hawaiian religion, traditions, and values are closely associated with 'aina (the land) and respect for the environment, many native Hawaiians feel that American desecration of the environment, resulting from military and commercial exploitation, constitutes a grievous crime. The island of Kahoolawe, which was rendered uninhabitable after its use as target practice by the U.S. military, is cited as a prime example of these destructive policies—as are the crowds of tourists.

In 1993, sovereignty activists picketed President Clinton while he attended fund-raising activities on Waikiki Beach. Four months later, Clinton issued a formal apology for the United States' overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and for "the deprivation of the rights of native Hawaiians to self-determination." In 1994, activists delivered a Proclamation of Restoration of the Independence of the Sovereign Nation State of Hawaii, and began work on a new Constitution, which was signed and ratified on January 16, 1995. This document called for the restoration of the inherent sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people and guaranteed equal rights to all citizens regardless of race. In 1999, a Native Hawaiian Convention convened in Honolulu to begin the process of forming a Native Hawaiian government.

The sovereignty movement, however, is far from unified. Ka Lahui Hawaii is but the largest of some 100 organizations working for native Hawaiian issues, and members disagree on what form sovereignty should take. For some, secession from the United States is the goal; others envision a status similar to that of American Indian reservations, or one that designates certain areas in Hawaii as zones for traditional lifestyles.


The circumstances surrounding the alleged rape of Thalia Massie in 1931 represent for many native Hawaiians the racial injustice of the present as well as the past. Massie testified that two Japanese, two Hawaiians, and a Chinese Hawaiian had attacked her near Waikiki, but the trial resulted in a hung jury. Massie's husband took matters into his own hands and killed one of the Hawaiians—a crime that brought him a sentence of only one hour. In a separate instance, a convicted murderer named Keanu was purposely infected with leprosy.

For a long time after annexation, Hawaii's politics were dominated by conservative men of European descent who served the interests of the plantations. In the wake of World War II and statehood, the labor unions, especially the International Long-shoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, exerted a strong political influence, creating a tradition of support for the Democratic party and a politically liberal climate. The presence of Hawaiians of Japanese descent in the political arena has created the impression of progressive attitudes regarding race. Nevertheless, native Hawaiians have not always benefited from liberal politics. "On the issue of the original Hawaiians," wrote Francine Du Plessix Gray in her book, Hawaii: The Sugar-Coated Fortress, "the most far-sighted men would tend to maintain their paternalism."

Individual and Group Contributions


Haunani-Kay Trask, a political theorist, is professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii and author of From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii (1993). Trask is also the author of a book of poetry, Light in the Crevice Never Seen , published in 1994.


Keanu Reeves (1964– ), whose film credits include Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), My Own Private Idaho (1991), Point Break (1991), Much Ado about Nothing (1993), Speed (1994), A Walk in the Clouds (1996), The Devil's Advocate (1997), and The Matrix (1999), is part Hawaiian. The artist Polani Vaughan has produced a work of his photos and verse called Na leo. Don Ho (1930– ), Hawaii's beloved singer, achieved fame for his recording "Tiny Bubbles" (1967). Keola (Keolamaikalani Breckenridge) Beamer, a descendant of Queen Ahiakumai Ki'eki'e and Kamahameha I, has played a central role in integrating traditional chants and instruments into contemporary music. He is also an expert in slack-key guitar. He tours widely, has recorded several slack-key albums, and has won numerous Hoku Awards.


John Dominis Holt is a playwright and author of fiction and nonfiction. Dana Naone Hall is the author of Malama: Hawaiian Land and Water (1985).


In the political arena, Mililani Trask is Kia'aina (governor) of Ka Lahui Hawai'i (The Hawaiian Nation). Congressman Daniel Akaka (1924– ) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1990 and John Waihee (1926– ) became Governor of the State of Hawaii in 1987.



KCCN-AM (1420).

Plays ethnic-contemporary Hawaiian music on weekends.

Contact: Michael Kelly, Manager.

Address: Pioneer Plaza, Suite 400, Honolulu, Hawaii 96814.

Telephone: (808) 536-2728.

KPOA-FM (93.5).

Plays ethnic Hawaiian music.

Contact: Chuck Bergson, Manager.

Address: Lahaina Broadcasting Company, 505 Front Street, Suite 215, Lahaina, Hawaii 96761.

Telephone: (808) 667-9110.

Fax: (808) 661-8850.

Online: http://www.mauigateway.com/~kpoa/ .

KUAI-AM (720).

Plays ethnic Hawaiian music.

Contact: William Dahle, Manager.

Address: P.O. Box 720, Eleele, Hawaii 96705.

Telephone: (808) 335-3171.

Fax: (808) 335-3834.


Hawaiian Cable Vision Co.

Founded in 1969, this station serves Lahaina and West Maui with 31 channels, two community access channels, and 30 hours per week of community access programming.

Contact: Jim McBride, General Manager.

Address: Daniels Communications Partners, 910 Honoapiilani Highway, Suite 6, Lahaina, Hawaii 96761.

Telephone: (808) 661-4607.

Fax: (808) 661-8865.

Organizations and Associations

Daughters of Hawaii.

An organization of native Hawaiian women working to perpetuate the memory and spirit of old Hawaii; preserves the nomenclature and pronunciations of the Hawaiian language. Offers classes in Hawaiian.

Contact: Kim Ku'ulei Birnieor.

Address: 2913 Pali Highway, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817.

Telephone: (808) 595-6291.

Halau Mohala Ilima.

A group of professional dancers offering instruction in hula and traditional Hawaiian culture.

Contact: Mapauna deSilva.

Address: 1110 'A'alapapa Drive, Kailua, Hawaii 96734.

Telephone: (808) 261-0689.

Hana Cultural Center.

Community facility which mounts exhibits about Hana history.

Address: P.O. Box 27, Hana, Hawaii 96713.

Telephone: (808) 248-8620.

E-mail: hccm@aloha.net.

Online: http://planet-hawaii.com/hana .

Nation of Hawaii.

Organization working toward renewed Hawaiian sovereignty.

Telephone: (808) 259-3389; or (808) 259-3391.

Online: http://hawaii-nation.org/index.html .

State Council on Hawaiian Heritage.

State-funded agency which sponsors seminars in dance and presents the annual King Kamehameha hula Competition. Also sponsors conferences and seminars on traditional storytelling and ancient legends of Native Hawaiians.

Address: 355 North King Street, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96817.

Telephone: (808) 536-6540.

Museums and Research Centers

Bernice P. Bishop Museum.

Founded by Charles Bishop in memory of his wife, Bernice (the last known surviving member of the Kamehameha family), it is one of the most significant scientific and cultural facilities in the Pacific Region. The collection of ancient Hawaiian artifacts is world famous. The Museum owns extensive collections and mounts frequent exhibits related to the cultural and natural history of Hawaii. There is also an Immigrant Preservation Center that houses collections and permits scholarly research of immigrant artifacts from all the major ethnic groups.

Contact: Siegfried Kagawa, President.

Address: 1525 Bernice Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817-0916.

Telephone: (808) 847-3511; or General Information Recording (888) 777-7443.

Fax: (808) 841-8968.

E-mail: museum@bishopmuseum.org.

Online: http://www.bishop.hawaii.org/ .

Hawaiian Historical Society.

Founded in 1892. Maintains historical documents from Hawaii and the Pacific Region. Publishes scholarly works on Hawaiian history. Offers free programs to the public.

Address: 560 Kawaiahao, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813.

Telephone: (808) 537-6271.

Lyman House Memorial Museum.

Historical residence containing both modern native Hawaiian history and Pre-Cook history. There is also information about native flora and fauna, geology, and local family genealogies.

Contact: Gloria Kobayashi, Curator.

Address: 276 Haili Street, Hilo, Hawaii 96720.

Telephone: (808) 935-5021.

Polynesian Cultural Center.

Presents, preserves, and perpetuates the arts, crafts, culture, and lore of Fijian, Hawaiian, Maori, Marquesan, Tahitian, Tongan, Samoan, and other Polynesian peoples.

Contact: Lester W. B. Moore, President.

Address: 55-370 Kamehameha Highway, Laie, Hawaii 96762.

Telephone: (808) 293-3333.

Online: http://www.polynesia.com/ .

Queen Emma Summer Palace.

Historical building which houses ancient Hawiiana, including tapa, quilts, furniture, and other artifacts belonging to Queen Emma and her family.

Contact: Mildred Nolan, Regent.

Address: 2913 Pali Highway, Honolulu, Hawaii 96817.

Telephone: (808) 595-3167.

University of Hawaii at Manoa: School of Hawaiian, Asian and Pacific Studies.

Umbrella center for ten research programs and centers on the main Manoa campus, including Hawaiian Studies. Their publication is Journal of Contemporary Pacific.

Contact: Professor Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa, Director.

Address: Hawaiian Studies Building, Room 209A, 2645 Dole Street, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822.

Telephone: (808) 973-0989.

Fax: (808) 973-0988.

E-mail: chsuhm@hawaii.edu.

Online: http://www2.hawaii.edu/shaps/enter/ hawaiian.html .

Sources for Additional Study

Buck, Elizabeth. Paradise Remade: The Politics of Culture and History in Hawai'i. Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1993.

Clarke, Joan, with photography by Michael A. Uno. Family Traditions in Hawai'i: Birthday, Marriage, Funeral, and Cultural Customs in Hawai'i. Honolulu: Namkoong Pub., 1994.

Gray, Francine Du Plessix. Hawaii: The Sugar-Coated Fortress . New York: Random House, 1972.

Stannard, David E. Before the Horror: The Population of Hawai'i on the Eve of Western Contact. Honolulu: Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawaii, 1989.

User Contributions:

Report this comment as inappropriate
Feb 23, 2009 @ 10:22 pm
Amazing article. Helped so much with a cultural diversity project in my class. Thanks for the great info. I want to put some hawaiian music into the presentation as well. Again, thank you!
Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 15, 2009 @ 6:18 pm
Even without the information I was particularly looking for, this helped me a lot!

My friends and I are very much into Japanese manga and anime. We recently decided to roleplay Axis Powers: Hetalia, a story about countries personified as seperate people. I have decided to represent Hawaii just after joining America. An interesting thing my friend (who plays America) found is that an affectionate gesture in Hawaii, from father to daughter, would be patting the daughter's head once, then smoothing her hair down twice. Yet, when I search for information on such customs on the internet, I can only find references to nearby Asian countries and the belief that the head is sacred. Those inform me that touching another person's head, or even lifting your hands above another's head is considered rude or threatening. Is that true also in Hawaii?

Thanks again for this great (and hopefully accurate) article about Hawaii! (Remember, this is the internet. I hope for nothing more then this to be correct)
Report this comment as inappropriate
Sep 24, 2010 @ 3:03 am
Above in your FUNERALS section: "kahuna aumakau" did you mean "kahuna aumakua"?
Report this comment as inappropriate
Mar 4, 2011 @ 9:21 pm
This is a great website! Very informative. This will be a great resource for me to come back to. Thank you so much for doing a great job!
Report this comment as inappropriate
May 3, 2011 @ 7:19 pm
This helped me allot in my state report. I'm sure now i will get an a= on my report, all thanks to the author of this! Thank you!
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 5, 2011 @ 10:22 pm
I'm doing a history report and if could answer ASAP, it would be great.

Who created this page and when was the last time is was created or updated?

Eliz. J.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 27, 2015 @ 6:18 pm
Abner Nakihei Jr.
Report this comment as inappropriate
May 11, 2015 @ 6:18 pm
Great article! I really learned a lot! This is obviously an older article, as the Hawaiian immersion schools have been reviving the language for at least 20 or so years. As a native-Hawaiian I am really interested in learning my Hawaiian History. Your article is great!
Klayre Barres
Report this comment as inappropriate
Jan 30, 2016 @ 2:14 pm
Hello, my name is Klayre Barres. I'm a 7th grade student and I am doing a National history project on the effects Captain Cook had on the native hawaiians. I would really love to know opinions of native Hawaiians and what they think about Cook's exploration of Hawaii. Like whether they personally believe it's negative or positive on the Hawaiians for a primary source. Also, do you know who was the main author or editor of this website? It would mean a lot if you could take your time to respond.
Random Person
Report this comment as inappropriate
Nov 30, 2016 @ 2:14 pm
I would like more information on the trading goods that the islanders send/received, who they received goods from, and what were the goods that were sent and received in general. This is for a project, so I would appreciate a response and would like it ASAP.
Report this comment as inappropriate
Dec 6, 2017 @ 4:16 pm
This does not have what I am looking for about how the climate effected the kanaka maoli tribe build their houses!! It only has stuff about their history about them and stuff that does not even go with what I searched. This site is stupid!!

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: