The majority of the plantation workers in Hawaii came from the Far East. However, some also came from Europe. Of these workers, the Portuguese formed the largest group. They were from the Atlantic Islands of Madeira and the Azores. Most arrived between 1878 and 1887. They numbered about 17,500 people. The Portuguese have always lived close to the sea, therefore sailing has been a way of life for them.
The first Portuguese to arrive in Hawaii were nationals that lived in the Hawaiian Kingdom as early as 1794 who jumped ship. However, the first recorded Portuguese visitor was named John Elliot de Castro. He first sailed to Hawaii in 1814. He came because he was seeking fortune around the world. While he was in Hawaii, he became a retainer of King Kamehameha I, serving as his personal physician. Additionally, he was a member of the royal court. Because of this, he was awarded large areas of land.
The next recorded history of Portuguese immigration to Hawaii occurred in 1827. In 1827, Antonio Silva arrived from Portugal and planted one of the first commercial sugar crops in Hawaii. Eventually, several hundred Portuguese people came to Hawaii. Many of these sailors were from Fayal, Graciosa, and Sao Jorge in the western Azores, and from the Cape Verde Islands located off of Africa. Many of the Portuguese also came from the Madeira Islands. Records show that in 1853 there were eighty six Portuguese on the island of Oahu. They had been known then as "Pokiki" in the Hawaiian language.
The Portuguese were recruited as families to work in the sugar cane fields. They brought their household goods, plants and the ukulele. They traveled from the Azores and Maderia Islands by ship. The trip took approximately 156 days. They left their homes hoping for a better life for their children.
King Kalakaua visited Portugal in 1881.
In the year 1881, King David Kalakaua of Hawaii visited Portugal. He was welcomed by the Portugal's King Dom Luis. During that same year, two ships brought eight hundred men, women and children from Portugal to Hawaii. The next year brought a treaty signed between Portugal and Hawaii, that involved immigration and friendship. Consul Jason Perry, signed a "provisional conventio" between the two governments in Libson in 1882. Due to the high cost, the long voyage and large percentage of women and children, there was a difficult time managing their immigration to Hawaii. By 1887, fourteen shiploads of Portuguese came to Hawaii.
Soon, Hawaii became a popular destination for people in Portugal who wanted to escape poverty and a harsh military system. In 1876, Jacinto Perreira, who was a Portuguese citizen and owner of a store in Honolulu, suggested that the Hawaiian government consider the immigrating Portuguese to help with the labor problems of Hawaii. Then, the Hawaiian government contacted Dr. William Hillebrand, who at that time was living in Madeira. He acted as an agent for the Hawaii's government. He arranged for the first importation of Portuguese immigrants to Hawaii. By 1878, which was before the ship, Priscilla, arrived, there were approximately four hundred Portuguese living in Hawaii.
The labor contracts for the Portuguese plantation workers were quite generous. The passage money was prepaid, employment was guaranteed by the Board of Immigration, men were paid $10 a month and women were paid $6-$8 a month. The Portuguese were given food, lodging and medical attention. A day's ration consisted of one pound of beef or one half pound of fish, one and one half pounds of rice, one half pound of taro or other vegetables, and one third ounce of tea. The contract lasted for thirty six months, or twenty six working days each, and each day consisted of ten working hours. One hundred twenty Portuguese arrived, which consisted of 60 men, 22 women and 38 children. The Portuguese laborers worked with the Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the sugar cane fields. Later, they replaced Chinese workers, who left the plantation life to open their own stores and work in other trades. However, Portuguese immigration was discontinued due to the high cost of transportation and the successful immigration of the Japanese.
The Portuguese immigrants had a system of folk medicine. Healers known as "curadeiras" helped to cure turned stomachs (virado). The healers were generally older women, who would massage the abdomen with oil and apply cabbage or taro leaves and bandages.
At the plantations, the Portuguese were noted for their colorful front yards. A typical Portuguese garden would consist of gandule, peas, kale and a variety of herbs. The children had to attend school. Additionally, they had to cut the grass for the animals, sweep the floors in the main house, wash the baking pans and pots in the kitchen daily. The older girls helped care for the little children and older boys chopped wood for the stove and prepared the fire for dinner.
The Portuguese values included the father as the patriarch of the home. However, many times the man would give the paycheck to the wife to handle. Before going out of the house in the morning, daughters were taught to kiss the hands of their parents in thanks for their support. There was a deep respect for elders.
In 1913, another Portuguese migration took place. They became known as "paniolo" or Hawaiian cowboys. Travel of Portuguese immigrants occurred between San Francisco and the Sacramento area and the Hawaiian Islands. They moved their homes to make money. They also enjoyed the hillsides of Hawaii that very much reminded them of their homeland, which were abundant in sea cliffs. Portuguese communities developed around Punchbowl in Honolulu, the field of Kalaheo on the island of Kauai and the coffee growing farms in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kaka'ako, which is now an industrial and office area on the island of Oahu, was known as a Portuguese suburb.
Hawaiian cowboys were known as Paniolos.
In the 1920's the Portuguese made ukuleles and are used until today. The mainland also uses the ukulele and there are festivals and schools for it. In the 1970's the brand "Kamaka" was the only one ordered and there still are kamakas.
Portuguese Historical Museum
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