People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Hawaiian Americans Part 1

About the Hawaiian Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Hawaiian-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: Before becoming Americans due to the annexation of their islands, the Hawaiians had inhabited what is now the 50th state of the U.S. for at least 1,500 years. But their origin is still an anthropological enigma. There is general agreement that the first Hawaiians were Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands.

Why They Left: The ancient Hawaiians were excellent navigators. They knew the stars, the currents, the vagaries of the sea--and prayed to Lono, the god of the seas. But why these Stone Age explorers sailed into the unknown, leaving their island Edens to risk their lives in a voyage north is still shrouded in mystery.

Where They Settled: The big island of Hawaii, the southernmost in the chain, apparently was the first landfall. This island, larger than the rest of the islands combined, could be seen from far out at sea. Its two peaks towered over 13,000 ft. Radiocarbon datings from charcoal retrieved from ancient campfires go back to 950 A.D. on the big island, to 1004 A.D. on Oahu farther to the north, and to 1230 A.D. on Kauai.

Numbers: When Capt. James Cook discovered Hawaii in 1778, there was a population of approximately 300,000 natives scattered throughout the archipelago. By 1970 less than 1% of the total resident population of 770,000 was pure Hawaiian, and nearly all of these live on the small island of Niihau. The virtual destruction of the Hawaiians as a race was caused by the introduction of tuberculosis, the plague, the measles, and various venereal diseases. These Western diseases were deadly to the previously unexposed Hawaiians. Also, the missionaries' insistence that the natives should dress modestly in western-style clothing kept the beneficial effects of sunlight from their bodies.

Seventy-five years after Captain Cook landed, the native population, in the first official census, totaled 71,019, a quarter of the pre-European figure. Epidemics killed 15,000 in 1804. By 1896 the number of Hawaiians had dropped to 39,504.

Also, intermarriage led to the disappearance of "pure" Hawaiians, and part-Hawaiians soon established themselves as the most rapidly growing people on the islands. Beginning with the 1920 census, there was an official increase in the population of Hawaiian ancestry, caused by classifying all persons with any Hawaiian ancestry as members of that group. Part-Hawaiians are now one of the largest racial groups in the islands, while pure Hawaiians are among the smallest.

Their Story in America: American Hawaii didn't officially exist until July 7, 1898, when Pres. William McKinley signed documents of annexation. On June 14, 1900, the flag of the U.S. was raised and Hawaii became a territory. But for a century before, Hawaii's background had brought it under constantly expanding American influence, and U.S. military leaders had long been aware of the growing strategic value of the islands. Annexation was a defense measure taken by the U.S. in the interests of its own security and to prevent Hawaii from falling under the influence of Russia or Great Britain, both of which had been attempting to curry the favor of the Hawaiian monarchy.

In 1903 the territorial legislature petitioned the U.S. Congress for admission into the Union as a state. Similar petitions were repeated every two years. Three wars and 56 years later, Congress passed the Statehood Bill. On Aug. 21, 1959, President Eisenhower displayed the new U.S. flag with 50 stars and announced that "admission of the state of Hawaii on an equal footing with the other states. . . is now accomplished."

Niihau was the only island to vote against statehood, because the residents believed that it would endanger the preservation of their pure Hawaiian culture. The island has been owned by the Robinson family since 1863 when King Kamehameha IV sold it to their Scottish ancestor, Elizabeth Sinclair. Since its purchase by the Robinson family, tourism has been banned and only pure Hawaiians may live there. Residents are permitted to leave the island only for education and temporary employment on the other islands and may not return if they choose to marry outside the Hawaiian race. Niihau is operated as a cattle ranch where the people live in much the same manner as they did when the Europeans first landed on their shores. They choose to speak the Hawaiian language instead of English and are dedicated to keeping the pure Hawaiian culture intact.

Since Prince Kuhio, Hawaii's sole, nonvoting representative to the U.S. Congress from 1902 to 1922, none of Hawaii's elected representatives to Washington has been racially Hawaiian.

Famous Hawaiian American: Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, swimming champion, was born Aug. 26, 1890. He competed in the 1912, 1920, 1924, and 1928 Olympics and for 16 years held every international swimming record up to the half-mile.

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