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After the arrival of foreigners, the native population of the Hawaiian Islands began a drastic decline. The major causes of this depopulation were epidemics and disease. The population of the Hawaiian Kingdom as a whole began to increase in the second half of the nineteenth century, largely through the importation of immigrant laborers to work in Hawaii's sugar fields. The result of this immigration, along with the continuing decline of the native Hawaiian population, was a decrease in the proportion of native Hawaiians in the total population. By the end of the century, native Hawaiians accounted for less than one-third of Hawaii's total population.

The part-Hawaiian population began to increase dramatically after the turn of the century. The primary reasons for this were better health and increased inter-marriage with other racial groups. Today, the native Hawaiian population of Hawaii can be characterized as follows:

  • According to the State of Hawaii, there are 9,366 full-Hawaiians and 166,087 part-Hawaiians, constituting about19 percent of the State's population;
  • Native Hawaiians are a young population—in 1980, the median age for males was 22.0, and the median age for females was 23.2; and
  • The male/female ratio for native Hawaiians is fairly equal—in 1980 males accounted for 49.5 percent of the native Hawaiian population, and females accounted for 50.5 percent.


Prior to the arrival of foreigners, the geographic distribution of the native population among the eight major islands of Hawaii was a direct consequence of the ability of the land area to sustain necessary crops and fish. Estimates at the time of contact placed the greatest native numbers on the island of Hawaii, followed by Maui, and then Oahu. (Not coincidentally, this ordering is also indicative of the physical area of each island.)

Pre-contact settlement was organized within the ahupua'a:

. . . the basic landholding unit was the ahupua'a, which ranged in size from 100 to 100,000 acres and usually had natural boundaries. The ideal ahupua'a was an economically self-sufficient pieshaped unit which ran from mountain tops down ridges to the sea. Most ahupua'a were in turn divided into ili, some of which were virtually independent while others were mere operating subdivisions of the ahupua'a. A hierarchical society paralleled this pattern of land division. At the top, a chief controlled each ahupua'a; land agents (konohiki) and subchiefs subordinate to the chief controlled smaller amounts of land; and at the bottom of the hierarchy, common farmers worked the land for the benefit of the chief. Commoners had other plots for their own use and had certain gathering rights in the noncultivated lands of the ahupua'a. . . . 16/

1778 to 1850

During the period from 1778 to 1851, each of the islands experienced a decrease in population roughly


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