The Portuguese in Hawaii: A Story of my Ancestors

The Portuguese in Hawaii is a story I share often. I cherish my heritage. I am in awe at the strength and survival of my ancestors in an unknown land. My excitement is evident every time I get to tell people of the many “Hawaiian” things that actually came with the Portuguese settling in the islands. It’s a rich story, full of honor and pride.

A brief history on Portuguese in Hawaii

Seeking a better life, the Portuguese first arrived in Hawaii in 1878 to work the sugar cane fields. Their customs added greatly to the rich diversity of 19th century Hawaii. With great savvy, they soon became landowners and were a major factor in the development of a growing dairy industry.

A defining characteristic of the Portuguese is a strong family structure. From the beginning of the immigration period, Portuguese insisted that their families accompany them when they migrated to the islands. A better life and promises made by Hawaiian landowners exceeded the expectation of the Portuguese immigrants; life was good and the family unit would thrive in this new land.

Portuguese contributions to Hawaiian culture 

The Portuguese brought with them expertise in growing and harvesting grapes for wine making. They are famous for creating the familiar Portuguese sausage and flavorful smoked sausages such as linguica and chourico. And Portuguese Bean soup, made with the delicious sausage, is a staple in many Hawaiian homes.

Hawaiians didn’t have bread prior to the plantation workers introducing it into the culture. The Portuguese sweet bread was introduced to Hawaii in the late 1800s.  The world knows this bread as Kings Hawaiian Sweet Bread, but in fact it’s origins are Portuguese.

The Portuguese are, however, most known for introducing the ukulele to Hawaii in about 1879. The Hawaiians renamed the braguinha (original Portuguese name) to ukulele. In Hawaiian, ukulele means “jumping flea” as suggested by the jumping motion of the hands playing the instrument.

Now you know…it’s Portuguese not Hawaiian

So, the next time you pass the bread rack in a store and see Kings Hawaiian bread, you will know. The neighborhood Hawaiian themed party playing ukulele music will remind you. A people from a far away island brought it’s robust culture to another island. The Portuguese influence will live forever under the Hawaiian sun.


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