The Hawaiian Connection

Portuguese Immigration to Hawaii

Portuguese immigration to Hawaii began in 1878 when Portuguese residents made up less than 1% of the island population. However, the migration that began that year of laborers from Madeira and the Azores to work in the sugar cane plantations rapidly increased the Portuguese presence in Hawaii, and by the end of 1911 nearly 16,000 Portuguese immigrants had arrived.

Years:  1878 — 1911

Immigration of 1878 to 1911
Jason Perry (Jacinto Pereira), a Portuguese settler who served as the Portuguese Consul to Hawaii, suggested in 1876 to plantation owners of the Planters' Society (predecessor of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association) that Madeira and the Azores Islands of Portugal might be ideal sources of reliable laborers. Portuguese colonists had first settled these islands in the Middle Ages, and the terrain and subtropical climate were very similar to that of the Hawaiian Islands. More important, though, sugar cane had been the mainstay of the economy in Madeira and the Azores for over 400 years, and most of the population was involved in one way or another in the sugar cane industry.

Immigrant culture and traditions
Native Hawaiian speakers called the Portuguese immigrants who came to their country "Pukikī". These newcomers were devout followers of the Roman Catholic faith with strong family ties. Most were short, with slender builds, and dark skin from long hours of working out under the sun in the cane fields. Many, in fact, were so dark that their race on some of the early U.S. Census returns is listed as black, which contributed to prejudice against them.

Because few of these immigrants could read or write, they had strong oral traditions, and they retained much of the culture and traditions they brought with them.

One popular Portuguese tradition in Hawaii today is the making of "malasadas", deep-fried pastries similar to the "beignet" of New Orleans that traditionally have no holes or fillings but are coated in granulated cane sugar. They were first made by Hawaiian residents from Madeira and the Azores Islands who would use up their butter and sugar prior to Lent by cooking "malasadas". These pastries play an important part in Madeira and the Azores on "Terça-feira Gorda", also known as Carnaval.  The holiday is also known as "Fat Tuesday" or "Mardi Gras" elsewhere. This day in Hawaii is called "Malasada Day", and it dates back to the time of the 19th century sugar cane plantations.

The best-known Portuguese contribution to Hawaiian culture is the ukulele, based on the traditional Portuguese "braguinha (cavaquinho)". The introduction of the ukulele is generally credited to Madeiran cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias, and José do Espírito Santo, who came to the Islands in 1879.

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