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The islands of Hawaii are one of the most ethnically and racially diverse places in the world. Intermarriage and mixed-race children have been common since the early days of contact between Native Hawaiians, Europeans, Asians, and Americans. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Individuals with both Hawaiian and black ancestry have a unique mixed cultural heritage that draws from both Polynesian and African roots. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the history of black people in Hawaii, examine how Hawaiian and black cultures have intermingled over the generations, look at the experiences and identity of mixed Hawaiian and black individuals today, and more.

With its location in the heart of Oceania and on the crossroads of major trade routes spanning the Pacific, Hawaii has historically attracted settlers from around the world. This includes Americans, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Koreans, Portuguese and other European groups. Among these immigrants were also a number of African Americans, particularly in the 19th century. Their meeting and intermixing with Native Hawaiians created a distinctive multi-ethnic culture.

History of Blacks in Hawaii

Hawaii is often known for its diverse population and rich cultural heritage. While the Native Hawaiian population is the largest ethnic group in the state, there is also a significant presence of African Americans. The history of Blacks in Hawaii is fascinating and dates back centuries. Let’s explore the different stages of their presence and their contributions to the Hawaiian society.

Early African Explorers and Sailors

Long before Western contact, African sailors and explorers made their way to the islands of Hawaii. These early visitors, known as the Moors, left an indelible mark on the culture and society of Hawaii. While their exact influence is difficult to trace, their presence is a testament to the global connections and trade routes that existed even in ancient times.

Whaling and Plantation Workers in the 1800s

In the 1800s, Hawaii became a hub for the whaling industry. African Americans, both free and enslaved, played a vital role in this industry as sailors, laborers, and craftsmen. Many African Americans settled in Hawaii during this time, contributing to the multicultural fabric of the islands. Additionally, African Americans were also involved in the sugar plantation industry, working alongside other ethnic groups in the grueling plantation labor.

African American Immigration in the Early 1900s

In the early 1900s, there was a significant wave of African American immigration to Hawaii. Many came seeking better economic opportunities and to escape racial discrimination on the mainland. These individuals brought with them their unique culture, traditions, and values, enriching the diverse tapestry of Hawaii. Their contributions to various industries, such as education, healthcare, and the arts, have left a lasting impact on the state.

Military Service Members in Hawaii

During World War II, Hawaii became a strategic military outpost for the United States. African American soldiers were stationed in Hawaii, serving in various branches of the armed forces. Their presence not only contributed to the defense of the islands but also fostered cultural exchange and understanding between African Americans and the local Hawaiian population. Today, many military families of African American descent have made Hawaii their home, further strengthening the connection between the African American community and the islands.

The history of Blacks in Hawaii is a testament to the resilience, strength, and contributions of African Americans to the Hawaiian society. It is a story of cultural exchange, diversity, and the power of unity. To learn more about the history of African Americans in Hawaii, visit

Blending of Hawaiian and Black Cultures

The blending of Hawaiian and Black cultures has resulted in a unique and vibrant mix that encompasses various aspects of both cultures. From music to food, language to family traditions, the fusion of these two rich heritages has given rise to a distinct identity among individuals of Hawaiian and Black mixed race.

Musical Traditions

The musical traditions of Hawaiian and Black cultures have greatly influenced each other, resulting in a captivating blend of sounds and rhythms. The ukulele, a quintessential Hawaiian instrument, has found its way into various genres of Black music, such as jazz and blues. Similarly, the soulful melodies of Black gospel music have made their mark in Hawaiian hula and chant. This cultural exchange has created a harmonious fusion that resonates with people from all walks of life.

Food Culture

The fusion of Hawaiian and Black food culture has led to a tantalizing culinary experience. The flavors of traditional Hawaiian dishes, such as poi and kalua pig, are enhanced with the addition of Black spices and seasonings, resulting in a unique fusion cuisine. Popular dishes like loco moco, a combination of rice, hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy, exemplify the delicious blend of Hawaiian and Black culinary traditions. The blending of these flavors not only satisfies the taste buds but also celebrates the diversity of cultural influences in the kitchen.

Language and Slang

The blending of Hawaiian and Black cultures has also influenced language and slang. Hawaiian Pidgin, a creole language spoken by many in Hawaii, incorporates words and phrases from various cultures, including African American Vernacular English. This linguistic cross-pollination has resulted in a unique way of communicating that reflects the multicultural identity of Hawaiian and Black mixed race individuals. It is not uncommon to hear phrases like “Brah, you stay ono for grind?” which combines Hawaiian slang (“ono” meaning delicious) with African American Vernacular English (“grind” meaning food).

Family Traditions and Values

The blending of Hawaiian and Black cultures has brought together two rich traditions of family values and togetherness. Both cultures place a strong emphasis on the importance of extended family and community support. This shared value has created a strong sense of kinship among individuals of Hawaiian and Black mixed race, fostering a close-knit community that celebrates and preserves their unique heritage.

Identity and Experiences of Mixed Individuals

Mixed individuals of Hawaiian and Black ancestry, commonly referred to as “Hapa” or “Half,” have a unique identity and set of experiences that are shaped by their diverse cultural backgrounds. These individuals navigate the complexities of their heritage and often find themselves in a space where they are simultaneously connected to and distinct from both their Hawaiian and Black roots.

Feeling ‘Hapa’ or ‘Half’

The term “Hapa” is derived from the Hawaiian word for “part” or “half” and is commonly used to describe individuals of mixed heritage in Hawaii. For Hawaiian and Black mixed individuals, this term carries significant meaning as it reflects their dual heritage and embraces the idea of being both Hawaiian and Black. This identity can be a source of pride and connection to their diverse roots. Despite facing challenges in terms of identity and racial categorization, many mixed individuals have found strength in their unique cultural blend.

Facing Discrimination and Racism

Unfortunately, mixed individuals often face discrimination and racism due to their mixed heritage. They may encounter prejudice from both sides of their ancestry, as well as from society at large. This discrimination can manifest in various forms, such as microaggressions, stereotyping, or exclusion from certain cultural communities. However, it is important to note that experiences of discrimination can vary greatly depending on individual circumstances and the societal context in which they live.

It is crucial to address and challenge these biases and stereotypes to create a more inclusive society where individuals of mixed heritage can feel accepted and celebrated for their unique backgrounds.

Embracing Both Sides of Their Ancestry

Mixed individuals of Hawaiian and Black heritage often navigate the delicate balance of embracing both sides of their ancestry. They may actively seek opportunities to connect with their Hawaiian and Black communities, whether through cultural events, language, traditions, or social circles. By embracing both sides of their heritage, mixed individuals can strengthen their own sense of self and create a space where they feel fully accepted.

It is important for society as a whole to recognize and celebrate the diversity and richness that mixed individuals bring to our communities. By embracing and valuing their unique experiences, we can foster a more inclusive and accepting society for all.

Culture and Community Today

The culture and community of Hawaiian and Black mixed race individuals has evolved over time, blending aspects of both Hawaiian and African American heritage. Today, this vibrant community is rich in traditions, art, music, and cuisine that reflect their unique identity.

Notable Figures

The Hawaiian and Black mixed race community has produced many notable figures who have made significant contributions in various fields. One such figure is Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. Obama, who has a Hawaiian mother and African American father, has become an inspiration for many individuals from this community, demonstrating that they can achieve great heights in politics and leadership.

Another notable figure is Bette Midler, a renowned singer, actress, and philanthropist. Midler, who has Hawaiian and Jewish ancestry, has used her platform to raise awareness about social issues and promote cultural diversity.

Organizations and Groups

There are numerous organizations and groups dedicated to supporting and empowering the Hawaiian and Black mixed race community. One such organization is the Mixed Plate Hawaii, which aims to celebrate and promote the unique cultural heritage of individuals with mixed ancestry in Hawaii. They organize events, workshops, and educational programs to foster a sense of belonging and pride among community members.

Another organization is the Black Hawaiian Heritage Foundation, which focuses on preserving and promoting the African American and Hawaiian heritage within the mixed race community. They offer resources, scholarships, and cultural events to strengthen the connection between these two rich cultures.

Events and Gatherings

The Hawaiian and Black mixed race community comes together through various events and gatherings that celebrate their shared identity. One such event is the annual Mixed Plate Festival, which showcases the diversity of cultures and talents within the community. This festival features music performances, dance showcases, art exhibitions, and food vendors offering a fusion of Hawaiian and African American cuisine.

Another popular gathering is the Black and Hawaiian Luau, where individuals from both backgrounds come together to enjoy traditional Hawaiian and African American dishes, music, and dance. This event provides an opportunity for community members to connect, share experiences, and strengthen their cultural ties.


Over the past two centuries, Hawaiian and African American cultures have blended in the unique melting pot of the islands. This has created a distinctive mixed-race community that draws from its diverse roots. Moving forward, the Hawaiian islands will likely continue to bring together people from all over the world and foster multicultural families, identities, and traditions.

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