Ethnic Groups of Hawaii

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This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
the Hawaii Family History Research series.
History of Hawaii
Hawaii Vital Records
Census Records for Hawaii
Background Sources for Hawaii
Hawaii Maps
Hawaii Land Records
Hawaii Probate Records
Hawaii Court Records
Hawaii Tax Records
Hawaii Cemetery Records
Hawaii Church Records
Hawaii Military Records
Hawaii Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Hawaii Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Hawaii Immigration
Ethnic Groups of Hawaii
Hawaii County Resources
Map of Hawaii


Native Hawaiian

The ethnic group known as Hawaiian is generally reserved for descendants of the original Polynesian inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands. The present interracial mixture of ethnic groups in the state of Hawaii makes the term “Hawaiian” ambiguous to the point that it is unclear who is a Hawaiian in the modern society of Hawaii.

Many native Hawaiian historical, genealogical, and cultural collections have been gathered and preserved in libraries in Hawaii. In Hawaiian families, the firstborn child (hoiapo), whether male or female, became the inheritor of the family name. This means that in conducting Hawaiian genealogical research, it is often not possible to know the sex of the child. To complicate matters, it was often a common practice to name a child after an event, circumstance, or wish, without respect to sex. For additional information on native Hawaiian records and record repositories, see David Kittleson’s book, The Hawaiians: An Annotated Bibliography (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985).

Other Ethnic Groups

Hawaii is a unique state because all racial groups are minorities, and the majority of the population has ancestry in the Pacific Islands or Asia rather than Europe or Africa. Ethnic groups to be examined in this section include the Chinese, Caucasian, Japanese, African American, Filipino, and Korean. For additional information on the ethnic groups of Hawaii, see Eleanor C. Nordyke’s The Peopling of Hawaii (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, ca. 1977) and Andrew W. Lind’s work Hawaii’s People (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1971). Information on Asian research and repositories can be found in Greg Gubler’s article, “Asian American Records and Research,” in Jessie Carney Smith, Ethnic Genealogy (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983), 239-308.

For Chinese research in Hawaii, see the following reference works: Clarence E. Glick, Sojourners and Settlers: Chinese Migrants in Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1980); Kum Pai Lai and Violet Lai, Researching One’s Chinese Roots (Honolulu: Hawaii Chinese History Center, 1988); and Nancy Foon Young, The Chinese in Hawaii: An Annotated Bibliography (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1973).

For the Japanese, see the following references: Ronald Kotani, The Japanese in Hawaii: A Century of Struggle (Honolulu: Hawaii Hochi, 1985); Mitsugu Matsuda, The Japanese in Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1975), revised by Dennis M. Ogawa, and Jerry Y. Fujioka; and Franklin Odo and Kazuko Shinoto, A Pictorial History of the Japanese in Hawaii, 1885–1924, (Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1985). Patsy Sumie Saiki’s Early Japanese Immigrants in Hawaii (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993) provides details on the hardships and sacrifice of the earliest Japanese immigrants. James H. Okahata’s A History of Japanese in Hawaii (Honolulu: The United Japanese Society of Hawaii, 1971) covers such topics as the different immigrations of Japanese to Hawaii, disputes between the Kingdom of Hawaii and Japan, the sugar industry and plantation life, the struggle for equality, the 1920 plantation strike, and anti-Japanese feelings in America and Hawaii during World War II.

Filipino resources include Ruben R. Alcantara’s work The Filipinos in Hawaii: An Annotated Bibliography (Honolulu: Social Research Institute, University of Hawaii, 1972).

The study of the Korean experience in Hawaii continues to be documented in a series of well-written works. For the early period of Korean immigration, Wayne Patterson’s The Korean Frontier in America: Immigration to Hawaii, 1896–1910 (Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1988) provides important background. Patterson also wrote The Ilse: First Generation Korean Immigrants in Hawaii, 1903–1973 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000), which documents the first generation of Koreans who were known as Ilse. This comprehensive work weaves their social history together with the Korean experience. A recent and highly acclaimed work is Jenny Ryun Foster, Heinz Insu Fenkl, and Frank Stewart, Century of the Tiger: One Hundred Years of Korean Culture in America (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2003). This work details the dramatic story of Korean culture in the United States with special emphasis on Hawaii.

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