Hawaii: a paradise on Earth, with a welcoming tropical climate and lush landscapes surrounded by breathtaking blue seas. Most of us associate the island chain with palm trees, luaus, and floral necklaces. But who are its people? Here, we highlight some facts that may pique your interest in this distinctive and enduring population.
1. The Hawaiian People Came Back From Near-Extinction
In 1778, Captain James Cook became the first European explorer to land in Hawaii. Missionaries, whalers, and traders followed beginning in 1820, bringing with them diseases previously unknown in the islands. Dysentery, influenza, measles, and whooping cough outbreaks in the late 1840s, along with the introduction of smallpox just a few years later, were particularly devastating.
Estimates of the native Hawaiian population in the 1770s have ranged from 300,000 to as many as 683,000, but by 1920, it had decreased to less than 24,000. Recent projections suggest, though, that the native population will completely rebound to nearly 700,000 by 2060.
Planning a visit to Oahu? Take in Hawaiian culture and history at the Bishop Museum.
Stay nearby in a luxury Kaka’ako vacation rental condo.
2. Hawaiians Have a Rich Belief System
Native tradition holds that supernatural forces are at work in the earth, sea, and sky in the form of major and lesser gods and goddesses, along with guardian spirits known as aumakua. Early Hawaiian people obeyed the kapu system, which demanded that they conform to a strict set of guidelines not only for worshipping, but for behaviors such as farming, fishing, eating, and socializing.
As King Kamehameha II abolished the kapu system and Protestant, Mormon, and Catholic missionaries began to spread their theologies, many Hawaiians’ faiths evolved. However, their original beliefs continue to influence many traditions and expectations for conduct in daily life.
When vacationing on Kauai visit the Wailua Complex of Heiaus, the site of several ancient places of worship.
Stay nearby in a Kapaa condo.
3. Music and Dance are a Major Part of Native Culture
The ancient hula, which follows the rhythm of oli (chant) and traditional instruments like the ipu heke (a large, hollowed gourd), was performed to honor gods and goddesses, to recount history and family genealogies, and to entertain chiefs. The more contemporary version of hula relies on mele (songs) produced by ukulele and guitar. In fact, Hawaiians invented the slack-key style of guitar play to accompany this newer form of dance.
For many modern-day keiki (children) in the Aloha State, the kumu hula (hula teacher) is still the primary source for native history and tradition. Music and dance therefore represent an essential part of preserving the Hawaiian identity.
Some of the best hula you’ll see all year is at the Merrie Monarch hula festival.
Attending Merrie Monarch? Stay in a nearby Hilo vacation rental.
4. Native Communication Has Adapted to Change
As missionaries arrived in the islands, they began to write down the language they heard and teach its written form to the population. However, when Americans dethroned Queen Liliuokalani (the last monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom) in 1893, English became the official language of the territory.
Pidgin, a “shorthand” combination of Hawaiian and English, emerged in the early days of the sugar industry when plantation owners needed a way to interact with laborers. Although English and Hawaiian are now the two official languages of the 50th state, Pidgin also remains a common form of communication among natives.
5. Hawaiians Have Also Welcomed New Influences on What They Eat
In its earliest form, the native population’s diet consisted of just a few main foods, such as taro (the root vegetable from which poi is made), sweet potatoes/yams, breadfruit, coconut, bananas, and sugar cane. On special occasions, a pig might be cooked kalua-style (in an underground oven called an imu) and served along with lau lau (taro leaf-wrapped pork).
Today, many of the most popular foods in Hawaii reflect past waves of immigration to the islands. Saimin (noodle soup) and manapua (pork-filled buns) arrived from China, while poke (cubed, marinated/seasoned raw fish) and musubi (a cube of rice with a slab of meat on top, wrapped in a thin sheet of seaweed) arrived from Japan. The Portuguese brought lomi-lomi salad (made of diced salmon and tomatoes), sweetbreads, and malasadas (their version of a doughnut). From Korea came kimchee (pickled cabbage) and kalbi ribs (usually sweet soy beef short ribs), and from the Philippines came lumpia (a thin, crepe-like wrap typically containing either stir-fried meat and vegetables, or a banana-and-brown-sugar dessert).
Experience the vacation of a lifetime. Stay in a luxury Maui villa.