Portuguese have given Hawai`i many traditions. In music - they created
the `ukulele and slack-key guitar. They enriched Hawai`i's cooking with
the malasadas (light doughnuts), paodoce (sweet bread), beef and fish
marinated in vin d'alhos, bean soup and tasty sausages. They are honored
with street names on O`ahu, like Lusitana, Funchal, Lisbon, Madeira,
Correa and Enos. In rural areas, they are famous for ranching,
homesteading thousands of acres. But perhaps the most noticeable
contribution across the Islands is their kindly and humorous approach to
life, with a large body of jokes and a reputation for non-stop
Portuguese in Hawai`i, however, possess a rich history that is largely
overlooked. Their seafaring heritage predates European discovery of
America. Seafarers from Portugal settled the Azore and Madeira islands
in the Atlantic leading the way to Brazil and possibly pre-dating the
arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Western Hemisphere. Columbus was
from Genoa, Italy, but applied a nautical knowledge gained from the
Portuguese to sail his tiny ships across the Atlantic. Columbus'
father-in-law, Bartholomew Perestrello, was the governor of Porto Santo,
in the Madeira Islands.
first Portuguese nationals to live in the Hawaiian kingdom sailed
through here as early as 1794 and jumped ship. The first recorded
Portuguese visitor was John Elliot de Castro, who sailed to Hawai`i in
1814. De Castro was a rover seeking easy fortune across the globe.
During his sojourn in Hawai`i he became a retainer of King Kamehameha I,
serving as his personal physician and as member of the royal court.
Kamehameha awarded large tracts of land to de Castro, but after a year
he sailed off to the island of Sitka, Alaska. De Castro joined the
Russian-American Company under Alexander Baranov, who hired him to guard
a shipment heading to California. In October of 1816 de Castro joined
forces with Otto von Kotzebue, the German explorer, who became
Kamehameha's foreign minister.
next record of Portuguese immigration occurred in 1827, with the baptism
of two Portuguese children in Honolulu. In 1828 Antonio Silva arrived,
planting one of the first commercial sugar crops. 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.
several hundred Portuguese made the Islands their home, keeping in
communication with growing Portuguese colonies in San Francisco and New
England. Many of the sailors were from Fayal, Graciosa, and Sao Jorge in
the western Azores, and from the Cape Verde Islands off Africa. Many of
the settlers came from Madeira Islands, off the coast of Africa, and
about half the size of O`ahu. They also came from the Azores, nine
islands half-way between Portugal and the United States, and about 1.5
times the size of O`ahu.
records show that in 1853 the 86 Portuguese on O`ahu had became known as
Pokiki to Hawaiian language speakers. Jacintho Pereira, a Portuguese
citizen of Hawai`i and owner of a dry goods store in Honolulu, suggested
in 1876 that Hawai`i's government look for sugar labor to Madeira where
farmers were succumbing to a severe economic depression fostered by a
blight that decimated vineyards and the wine industry. A German botanist
named Hildebrand toured Madeira in the late 1860s to survey its plant
life. Instead he discovered a hard-working people who tilled island farm
lands similar to Hawai`i. Hilldebrand enthusiastically told his Hawaiian
contacts that Madeira might be a source of plantation labor.
Miguel in the eastern Azores was also chosen as a source of labor. In
1878, 114 Madeirans, including a number of wives and children, arrived
aboard the ship Priscilla. In 1881, King David Kalakaua visited Portugal
and was entertained in royal fashion by Portugal's King Dom Luis. The
same year two ships delivered over 800 men, women and children from Sao
Miguel. The next year a treaty of immigration and friendship was signed
between Portugal and the Hawaiian Kingdom. Migration to Hawai`i became
popular to escape poverty and a cruel 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 U.S. Mass
immigration of the Portuguese to Hawai`i also came from New England and
California as Portuguese laborers joined Chinese and Japanese workers in
the sugar fields. They came to replace Chinese workers who left
plantations for to Honolulu and Hilo to open stores and work in the
trades. The reciprocity treaty in 1876 between the Kingdom of Hawai`i
and the United States opened the U.S. sugar market to Hawai`i and
greatly increased the demand for workers.
Pap's book, The Portuguese Americans, describes life in Hawai`i for
early Portuguese immigrants to Kaua`i. In 1887, Madeiran-born M.F.
Olival, at age 15, stowed away on a Hawai`i-bound English bark calling
at Funcha, Madeira's capital. "Together with 11 other stowaways, he was
soon put to work by the captain. After a grueling voyage of over five
months (including 33 days just to get around Cape Horn in a heavy
storm), during which time 16 persons died and 16 were born aboard the
battered sailing vessel, they arrived in Honolulu, April 1888. Olival
went to work on a sugar plantation (in this instance as a free laborer,
not indentured). In 1894 he married a girl from Sao Miguel. A year later
he quit plantation labor to join the new army of the Republic of Hawai`i
(the monarchy there having been overthrown); and upon annexation of the
islands by the United States in 1898, he served as a volunteer in the
American army there until 1902. Three years later he moved to
thousand more Portuguese immigrants arrived through 1913 when the last
mass immigration was made. Portuguese from continental Portugal also
joined their islander cousins during this era, many of them becoming
paniolo, the Hawaiian cowboys. Travel and communication with Portuguese
colonies in the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento and other west coast
cities allowed the Portuguese immigrants to move back and forth from
Hawai`i, shifting home to make the most money, or to settle where they
felt most comfortable. Geographically, the early Portuguese in Hawai`i
seemed to like hillsides that reminded them of the sea cliffs of
Madeira. Punchbowl in Honolulu, cattle country around Kalaheo in
southwest Kaua`i and mountainous areas in the coffee growing district of
Kona and cattle lands of the saddle area on the Big Island developed
Portuguese communitiues. Kaka`ako, now an industrial and office area
near downtown Honolulu, was once named the Portuguese Suburb. The
Portuguese were also wide ranging as individuals, with one man becoming
the kaliau, or governor, of isolated Ni`ihau in 1912. The Portuguese
left the sugar fields to establish small independent farms outside the
plantation districts. They started dairy farms, and introduced the
commercial manufacture of butter and corn growing.
in Hawai`i was beneficial for the Portuguese immigrants. One social
observer of the early 1900s wrote that the Portuguese from Madeira bore
the marks of oppressive poverty, with a small stature, slender build and
skin darkened from field work. However, after a generation in the
Islands, their children grew in stature, becoming taller and stronger.
life was run along traditional Portuguese lines. A Madeiran-born woman
who landed in Honolulu with her parents in 1884 recalled that her father
was the boss at home, but gave his paycheck to his wife. Before
departing in the morning, daughters would kiss the hands of her parents
and thank them for their support. Respect for parents, grandparents and
aunts and uncles was taught and practiced, she said. Her own courtship
to a shop clerk took ten years to culminate in marriage.
also noted that Hawai`i's Portuguese broke away from their traditional
family lifestyle, molding it with the ways of Hawai`i's people, while
the Portuguese in the chilly climate of San Francisco and Boston clung
to the old ways somewhat in isolation. Many success stories began to
come out of the Portuguese colonies in the 1920s and 1930s as second
generation immigrants began to take their place in mainstream society.
M.A. Silva, a native of Madeira who arrived in Hawai`i in 1884 at
sixteen, became owner/editor of a Portuguese immigrant newspaper at
Hilo, and for several years worked for the Territorial Board of
Immigration recruiting plantation laborers in Portugal and Spain.
Freitas Rapozo, born in the Azores in 1882, went to school in Hawai`i,
worked some years on a sugar plantation, and as a cowboy, managed a
hardware department, and finally set up his own general merchandise
store on the island of Kaua`i, doubling at the same time as local
postmaster. By the mid-1920s some 27,000 Portuguese lived in Hawai`i.
Father Reginald Yzendoorn, in his History of the Catholic Mission in the
Hawaiian Islands, called the Portuguese, "by far the best immigrants who
have ever been brought to these shores. They are moreover a prolific
race, families with a dozen children being by no means rare."
the 1960s most Portuguese and part-Portuguese had lost their ethnic
distinctiveness and had settled mostly in Honolulu and Hilo. On Maui and
the Big Island some were still working at sugar plantations and
pineapple fields. Portuguese could still be heard spoken at Honoka`a on
the Big Island, at Makawao and Kula in up-country Maui, and at Lihu`e
and Kalaheo on Kaua`i in areas where Portuguese farmed and ranched.
Rancher, Jack Ramos, of Honoka`a, has become the most famous and
successful Portuguese cattleman in Hawai`i.
of the most famous descendents of Hawai`i's Portuguese, was the fiery
baseball player and manager Billy Martin.
the most visible remnant of the early days of Hawai`i's Portuguese is
the annual Holy Ghost Festival (Fiestade Espirito Santo). This colorful
social and religious event features a dress parade, singing and dancing.
A crown of honor is placed on the head of a featured young girl or other
chosen person, and special breads and soups are served. The festival has
been transformed in the course of the centuries, and is traced back to
Queen Isabel of Aragon, wife of Portugal's poet king Dom Diniz in the
13th century. Isabel lives in Portuguese tradition as the prototype of
the pious and charitable woman, and legends have been woven around her
since her death.
built a church dedicated to the Holy Ghost, and when this divinely
inspired work was completed she instituted a tradition called
"Coronation of the Emperor." Out of this tradition the present Holy
Ghost Festival is derived. During the festival, ties to Portugal are
maintained through honoring the Blessed Virgin, the Holy Spirit, the
rulers of old Portugal and by giving food to the poor. It is also said
that Isabel placed the crown, now prominent in the festival, upon the
head of the sick and healed them. For Azorians, the festival has links
to times of healing during plagues and deadly volcanic eruptions that
occurred hundreds of years ago.
the Portuguese contribution best known outside of Hawai`i is the
`ukulele and Hawaiian steel guitar. Though many think the `ukulele is a
native Hawaiian instrument, the small guitar-like instrument is actually
the product of Portuguese immigrants. Some Madeiran men in the 1870s
played their six-stringed viola, five-stringed rajczo, and a
four-stringed little guitar known as a braguinha, or machete in Madeira,
and as a cavaquinho in the Azores and continental Portugal. Hawaiians
took a liking to the rajczo, which was easier to handle than the bass
viola brought decades earlier to Hawai`i by whalers and missionaries.
The instrument took on the nickname of "taro patch fiddle." However, the
most popular instrument was the Madeiran braguinha, which became the
`ukulele. King Kalakaua liked its gentle sound, and popularized the
instrument, starting a fad of sorts among the musicians of Hawai`i, and
leading to the development of a more modern hula with a different beat.
To capitalize on the newly-popular instrument, three Madeirans, Augusto
Dias, Jose de Espirito Santo (or Santos), and Manuel Nunes, set up shop
in Honolulu. Two had been instrument makers at home in Funchal and their
product sold well, becoming widely known as the `ukulele, or "jumping
flea" for the fast movement of fretting fingers on the short neck of the
wooden instrument. The `ukulele became popular throughout the U.S.
following a musical display at the Panama Pacific Exhibition in San
Francisco in 1915.
Hawaiian steel guitar sound came about when a young student at The
Kamehameha Schools, in Honolulu, strummed a Portuguese guitar with a
pocket knife for special effect, producing the distinctive twangy sound.
In culinary treats, the Portuguese have made Hawai`i a better place by
bringing the doughy, sugar donut malasadas, the golden yellow Portuguese
sweet bread, and by stuffing spicy Portuguese sausage, better known to
the Portuguese as linguica and chourico.
gregarious Portuguese do have much to be proud of, and thankfully the
sense of humor to laugh along with everyone else at the jokes of Frank
de Lima and other local comedians who perhaps too often target the
friendly Portuguese. The Portuguese have added a special spice to life
in Hawai`i, and will hopefully continue to provide the energy, soul and
musical talent Hawai`i needs for a prosperous future.
of the prominent Portuguese of modern times include: comedian Frank
DeLima, `ukulele player Troy Fernadez, singer Glenn Medeiros, record
producer John De Mello, Honolulu Councilman John Henry Felix, Kaua`i's
Mayor Maryann Kusaka, former Maui Mayor Elmer Carvalho and Hannibal
Tavares, Kaua`i legislators Billy Fernandes and his daughter Luhua
Fernandes-Salling, Hawai`i's late Catholic leader Bishop Stephen
Alencastre, contractor Henry Freitas, and Sgt. LeRoy Mendonca of Pauoa
who died in the Korean conflict at age 19, becoming the youngest soldier
awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.