NATIVE HAWAIIANS: More than meets the eye

Did you know that Hawaiian pizza and pineapples don’t actually come from Hawaii? And those fun, flowery garlands used to welcome visitors to the islands? They are called lei and were traditionally used by chiefs as a symbol of peace agreements.

In fact, beyond the wave of Hawaiian clichés lies a rich yet little-known Hawaiian culture. Known as ‘kanaka maoli’, Native Hawaiians are descendants of the original Polynesian navigators who sailed to Hawaii and settled the islands around the 5th century A.D. Probably from the Marquesas Islands, they brought with them the plants and animals they needed to start a new life: chickens, pigs, dogs, bananas, coconuts, sugar cane, sweet potatoes and taro. They farmed, fished, managed water distribution, pounded poi, and provided housing for the growing community. After Captain James Cook discovered Oahu and Kauai, two Hawaiian islands, on his third voyage to the Pacific in 1778, things took a turn for the worse for Native Hawaiians. Smallpox, measles, influenza and other contagious diseases brought over from Europe wiped out about 80% of the native population. At the end of the 18th century, a Hawaiian monarchy was established by Kamehameha I. The monarchy was overthrown by a small group of American businessmen in 1893, and Hawaii was annexed by the United States five years later. English replaced Hawaiian as the language of politics, business and education, and children were punished for speaking their mother tongue. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state. During the 1970s, Hawaiians experienced a cultural renaissance and sought to reconnect with their traditional practices and values. Despite this, the Indigenous Hawaiian populace is dwindling. Nowadays, there are said to be less than 8,000 pure-blood Hawaiians in the world.
Apr 2, 2015
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