Indigenous Peoples

By Clara Marchini

We, the people of Hawaii, grateful for Divine Guidance, and mindful of our Hawaiian heritage and uniqueness as an island state, dedicate our efforts to fulfill the philosophy decreed by the Hawaiian State motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina I ka pono,” We reserve the right to control our destiny, to nurture the integrity of our people and culture, and to preserve the quality of life that we desire. We refrain our belief in a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and with the understanding and compassionate heart toward all the peoples of the earth, do herby ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Hawaii.

This excerpt is from the preamble of the most recent Hawaiian State Constitution. In the latter part of the twentieth century there has been a revival with regards to issues pertaining to the Indigenous Hawaiian Issues. But in order to rise they had to have a downfall. The history of Hawaii and how their culture was damaged had largely to do impart with the influence of western ideology specifically the United States of America.

Hawaii has very tumultuous history and it started way before the United States even thought of colonizing the islands. The islands were uninhabited for millions of years until Polynesians from a neighboring island came over by canoe and settled on the main island which was between 300 and 500 A.D. Everything was peaceful until Captain James Cook and his crew arrived at the islands in 1778[ii]. Captain Cook and his crew were the first westerners to observe the Polynesian culture, which was very different from any other culture they have ever seen. Captain Cook published journals depicting his various experiences on the islands as well as how he preserved the indigenous peoples. Captain Cook’s body never left the island because there was a fight near the water, which was caused by a lack of communication. Still today, there is a statue where Captain Cook was killed. Even though Cook’s body never left the islands, the journals he published literally put Hawaii on the map. After Cook, there were many other explorers came and explored the Islands, says Justin W. Vance and Anita Manning[iii].

When Cook arrived on the island, it came at the same time when there was political turmoil going on between the islands and a new controller took over the island, King Kamehameha. When King Kamehameha was in power he kept strict control over the interactions between Native Hawaiian and western explorers. After King Kamehameha died in 1819 his son Liholoho took over the political powers he challenged the ‘kapu’ that was restricted many social aspects, which essentially destroyed the Hawaiian religion that was in practice before. ‘Kapu” was a set of rules and prohibitions for everyday life in the Hawaiian culture. It was at this time that American Protestants arrived on the islands which they then introduced Christianity and their moral beliefs, which totally transformed the chain of islands. 

The United States entered the picture in the 1800s because of various factors that changed many different aspects of the Hawaiian culture. The biggest factor were the American businessmen that were in Hawaii investing in sugar cane corporations. Most foreigners that lived in Hawaii were American businessmen, which heavily affected the economy says historians Justin W. Vance and Anita Manning. Historian Gavin Daws said, “By the end of the nineteenth century, white men owned four acres for every one owned by a native, and this includes the Chiefs land.”[iv]  With all of the American businessmen staying in Hawaii the Hawaiian economy changed significantly to resemble western economies. One of the most desired goods was sandalwood by the Chinese culture. But when the desire for sandalwood decreased, whaling then became a source of economic gain, which was influenced by western views.  This was during the American civil war and the northerner States could no longer accesses the sugar from the southern states so there was a significant increase in demand in sugar cane but the Hawaiian government did not agree with the American businessmen regarding the different aspects of selling and growing the sugar cane. American businessmen took it upon themselves and overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy says indigenous scholar J. Kēhaulani Kauanui[v]. Many thought the United States would annex Hawaii soon after but that didn’t happen until five years after Queen Lili’ uokalani withdrew from her throne. Under the martial law that Hawaii was now under by the American business man the Hawaiians were forced to either pledge their loyalty to the new republic of Hawaii or give up their right to vote all together. This was when the Hawaiian language was banned from the schools and being spoken. The Hawaiian culture was thought as barbaric because of certain practice such as their minimal attire and the common ritual of hula that differed from western views. It was in this period of time when the Hawaiian culture experienced the most damage. And many natives are still feeling the affect of this today.

Language is the expression of our culture and our land. We cannot have one with out the others. We cannot describe our culture and our land if we do not have language.” [vi]This quote that was said by the Queensland Indigenous Languages Advisory Committee in 20006 clearly expresses the necessity of language especially indigenous languages.  When the Native Hawaiian had their language deemed as illegal and were not allowed to teach it in schools it made a huge hindrance on the various cultures in Hawaii. In Act 57, sec. 30 of the 1896 Laws of the Republic of Hawaii it states that:

     The English Language shall be the medium and basis of instruction in all public and   private schools, provided that where it is desired that another language shall be taught in addition to the English language, such instruction may be authorized by the Department, either by its rules, the curriculum of the school, or by direct order in any particular instance. Any schools that shall not conform to the provisions of this section shall not be recognized by the Department."  [vii]

In 2001 only .1% of the statewide population spoke native Hawaiian and linguistics experts were worried that it might be an endangered language says Leanne Hinton in The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. [viii]

In recent history the Hawaiian culture and language has slowly but surely coming back. A major tuning point in rebuilding of the Hawaiian culture was due to the 1978 Hawaii State Constitution convention. This was a convention that was held 200 years after Captain Cook landed on the islands and was a way to put in righting all of the laws and beliefs the indigenous peoples of Hawaii have just like any other state. The Hawaii state constitution convention had two important out comes. The first being the stress on the Hawaiian language. There was a slight peak in interest in 1957 because the territory of Hawaii commissioned Mary Pukí and Samuel Elbert to write a Hawaiian dictionary. But the real language rejuvenation was in 1978 Hawaii State Constitutional Convention because it was official state language of Hawaii since the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarch. The second major outcome of the 1978 Hawaii State convention was the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The mission statement of the office of Hawaiian affairs is to mālama (protect) Hawai'i's people and environmental resources and office of Hawaiian affair’s assets, toward ensuring the perpetuation of the culture, the enhancement of lifestyle and the protection of entitlements of Native Hawaiians, while enabling the building of a strong and healthy Hawaiian people and nation, recognized nationally and internationally[1]. As their mission statement reads, the main purpose of the office of Hawaiian affairs is to be the spokesperson for the indigenous peoples in Hawaii and try to reverse the wrong doing they have faced in their history.

The Natives of Hawaii has experienced many troubling times just like any other indigenous group but they are making their way back to their roots and over came the effects of The United States from the turn of the previous century.




[i] "Hawai`i State Constitution - Section Titles." Hawai`i State Constitution - Section Titles. Accessed December 11, 2014.

[ii] " - Hawaii History - Home." - Hawaii History - Home. Accessed December 11, 2014.

[iii] "World History Connected | Vol. 9 No. 3 | Justin W. Vance and Anita Manning: The Effects of the American Civil War on Hawai'i and the Pacific World." World History Connected | Vol. 9 No. 3 | Justin W. Vance and Anita Manning: The Effects of the American Civil War on Hawai'i and the Pacific World. Accessed December 11, 2014.

[iv] Gavin Daws, Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974)

[v] Kauanui, J. Ke. Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

[vi] "Our Languages | Importance of Indigenous Languages (Quotes)." Our Languages | Importance of Indigenous Languages (Quotes). Accessed December 11, 2014.

7"Endangered Languages Library." Endangered Languages Library. Accessed December 11, 2014.


[viii] Hinton, Leanne. The Green Book of Language Revitalization in Practice. San Diego: Academic Press, 2001.