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History of the “Pokiki” in Hawaii

Reportedly, the first Portuguese in Hawai’i were sailors that came on the Eleanora in 1790. It is believed the first Portuguese nationals to live in the Hawaiian kingdom sailed through on whalers, as early as 1794, and jumped ship.

The first recorded Portuguese visitor was John Elliot de Castro, who sailed to Hawaiʻi in 1814. During his days in Hawaiʻi he became a retainer of King Kamehameha I, serving as his personal physician and as member of the royal court.

After two years in Hawaiʻi, he sailed off to the island of Sitka, Alaska and joined the Russian-American Company under Alexander Baranov, working as a commercial agent.

Later, Whitney notes, “In (1828,) extensive fields of cane were grown in and about Honolulu, and mills were erected in Nuuanu Valley and at Waikapu, Maui. At the latter place, a Portugese, named Antonio Silva, is spoken of as the pioneer sugar planter.”

For 50 years after these early visitors arrived, Portuguese sailors came ashore alone or in small groups, jumping ship to enjoy Hawaiian life and turning their backs on the rough life aboard whalers and other vessels.

The 1853 population of the Hawaiian Islands was 73,134, including 2,119 foreigners, of these, reportedly 86 were Portuguese. Hawaiians referred to the Portuguese as “Pokiki.”

Eventually several hundred Portuguese made the Islands their home. Many of the settlers came from Madeira Islands (about half the size of Oʻahu,) off the coast of Africa. They also came from the Azores, nine islands between Portugal and the US, and about 1½-times the size of Oʻahu.

The reciprocity treaty in 1875 between the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and the United States opened the US sugar market to Hawaiʻi and greatly increased the demand for workers.

Jacinto Pereira (also known as Jason Perry,) a Portuguese citizen and owner of a dry goods store in Honolulu, suggested in 1876 that Hawaiʻi’s government look for sugar labor from Madeira where farmers were succumbing to a severe economic depression fostered by a blight that decimated vineyards and the wine industry.

At that time, about 400-Portuguese, a large number of whom formerly served as seamen on whaling vessels, lived in Hawaiʻi. Then, the numbers grew.

São Miguel in the eastern Azores was also chosen as a source of labor. In 1878, the first Portuguese immigrant laborers to Honolulu arrived on the German ship Priscilla. At least one hundred men, women and children arrived to work on the sugar plantations. That year marked the beginning of the mass migration of Portuguese to Hawaiʻi, which continued until the end of the century.

In 1879 in Hawaiʻi, Portuguese musicians (Madeira Islanders) played on “strange instruments, which are a kind of cross between a guitar and a banjo, but which produce very sweet music” (this Madeiran guitar, the machete, was destined to become known as the Hawaiian ʻukulele.) (Hawaiian Gazette – September 3, 1879)

On his world tour, in 1881, King David Kalākaua visited Portugal and was entertained in royal fashion by Portugal’s King Dom Luis. That year two ships delivered over 800-men, women and children from São Miguel. The next year a treaty of immigration and friendship was signed between Portugal and the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Migration to Hawaiʻi became popular to escape poverty and a harsh military system. The dream of settling in islands that looked like home drew workers away from offers to labor in the fields of Brazil and urban seaports of the US.

Mass immigration of the Portuguese to Hawaiʻi also came from New England and California as Portuguese came to replace Chinese workers who left plantations to open stores and work in the trades.

While Chinese and Japanese workers had come as single men, whole families came from Portugal (reportedly, forty-two percent of the early Portuguese emigrants were men, 19% women and 39% children.)

The sponsoring of Portuguese immigration to Hawaiʻi was ceased in 1888 due to its high cost and the success of efforts to recruit Japanese workers. Almost 12,000-people had moved from Madeira or São Miguel, Azores to Hawaiʻi by that time.

Many continued to be employed by the plantations even after their contracts had been fulfilled. Others, however, sought to take up independent work and turned especially to farming and ranching. Between 1890 and 1910, many Portuguese left Hawaiʻi and migrated to California, primarily the Bay Area.

The Portuguese have given Hawaiʻi many traditions. In music – they brought the ʻukulele and steel-string guitar. Try to image Hawaiʻi without sausage (linguiça,) malasada (malassada) or sweet bread (pão doce) … or Frank De Lima.

The image shows the early influence the Portuguese had on Hawaiian music and hula – the ʻukulele.

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