History of African Americans in Hawaii: Part I

Hawaii, as we know it today, is an island paradise, located 2500 miles from the U.S. Mainland, and home to an exotic number of plants, animals, cultures, and one of the best vacation destinations in the entire world. Travelers from all over come to experience the Aloha of the Islands, and take in the ethnic diversity of Hawaii. Individuals of European, Asian, Polynesian, and African decent call the Islands home. Throughout centuries, the mixed pot of cultures all found different paths to our chain of islands, perhaps none more difficult than the descendants of African ethnicities, who overcame long voyages aboard slave ships and trade vessels in the early 1800’s. Long before the arrival of missionaries in 1812, settlers of African ancestry, including Euro-Africans, Portuguese-Africans, and Polynesian-Africans, found a home in Hawaii and were active members of the community. Finding great success as entrepreneurs, business owners, advisors, and musicians, these immigrants were able to live as common people, when the time period for their brethren was callous. Whaling and Merchant ships arrived throughout the Hawaiian Islands between the years 1820-1880, with crews of approximately 70% blacks from the Cape Verde Island, off Africa’s West Coast. Following their completion of service on board the ships, many men chose to stay in Hawaii and take up residency, working as tailors, cooks, barbers, and in many instances, entertainers and musicians. Some Sailors were able to escape before their service was finished, by jumping ship in the Ports of Hawaii, and were able to blend in easily with locals due to their similar pigmentation, filling jobs on land. In turn the ships were forced to fill the vacated positions with local Hawaiians, experts of sea navigation previously, who were now trained on board the ships and became further experts in navigation, among other duties on the ship. Many accomplishments and creation of Hawaii’s African beginnings survive today. Among many other establishments, the well known Royal Hawaiian Band was originally led by two great African American musicians both of whom, hired by King Kamehameha III, would go on to higher positions in leading Mainland musical groups. The band is still one of the most noteworthy performing acts in all of Hawaii, with weekly shows at the Iolani Palace and Kapiolani Park. The Royal Hawaiian Band also performs at special events, like King David Kalakaua’s 175th birthday celebration. As we trace back the roots of Hawaii, it is very well-discovered that prominent accomplishments would not exist without the research, efforts, and advancements by African-Americans of Hawaii’s long past. In the coming weeks, in the commemoration of Black History Month in Hawaii, Discover Hawaii Tours will explore this fascinating and important topic through a series of related articles. We invite you to join us on this exploration as we reveal more interesting and intriguing facts on African Americans in Hawaii.

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