From GrassrootWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Previous Page Next Page


Text Only


Population Trends from 1778 to 1850

It is probable that Hawaii was first inhabited by "a few hundred" Polynesians who arrived in large, doubled-hulled canoes. From this modest beginning, the native Hawaiian population was estimated to be between 100,000 and 500,000 people at the time of first Western contact in 1778. The population figure that has come to be accepted by most authors is 300,000. Captain Cook found an island grouping fully populated, based on a subsistence economy with a strict hierarchical social system, and kings on various islands in almost constant warfare with each other.

Contact with foreigners after centuries of isolation from the rest of the world greatly changed the islands and their people. The total population of Hawaii for the period from 1778 to 1850 declined dramatically, from approximately 300,000 in 1778 to 84,000 in 1850. Table 1 and Chart 1 illustrate this decline. _V The major causes of the decline are examined in the next section.

Causes of Population Decline **/

Population growth or decline is the net result of four forces: birth, death, in- and out-migration. Until the first immigrants arrived in 1852, the natural decrease outweighed migration in determining the demographic make-up of Hawaii.

Epidemics and Diseases: When British Captain James Cook anchored off the island of Kauai on January 18, 1778, his rediscovery ended the prolonged isolation of the Hawaiian Islands. This lack of contact had left the native population with no built-up immunities and virtually defenseless to disease. Unlike continental peoples, the vast oceanic distances among the Pacific island groups had effectively prevented the spread of any bacterial or viral illnesses anywhere in Polynesia. As a result, Western contact in Polynesia meant the introduction of diseases that proved to be devastating to the island population. The first to be introduced in Hawaii was venereal disease.

The physical mobility among the islands and the accepted sexual behavior of native Hawaiians had assured the spread of the disease. (Although syphilis is not an immediate threat to the size of a population, its effects on the incidence and health of children born to parents carrying the disease very often include deformity or early death.) It was also the custom of native Hawaiians not to permit deformed children to survive birth. This practice of native infanticide was reported by Westerners for the next 50 years, but the exact number of such deaths will never be known.

Hawaii State Statistician Robert C. Schmitt wrote that:

...the roles of abortion, infanticide,
and infant mortality are
difficult to assess. Artemas
Bishop, writing in 1838, noted
that "the great majority of the
children born in the islands die
before they are two years old."
Some students attributed the
frequent barrenness, stillbirths,
and infant deaths to venereal
disease. Abortion and
infanticide, known to have existed
in pre-contact times, reached new
highs in 1819-1825 and 1832-
1836... 10/

^J All tables and charts appear at the end of the chapter.

**/ For more data on the historical development of native Hawaiian health, see below, pages 99 to 109.


Previous Page Next Page