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The Hawaiian islands are about as far from India as you can get, over 10,000 miles separate the tropical paradise from the sprawling subcontinent. Yet Indians have played an important role in Hawaiian history and culture since the 19th century.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Indians first came to Hawaii in the late 1800s as laborers on sugar cane plantations. Their customs, food, and traditions influenced Hawaiian culture over the following decades.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will explore the history of Indians in Hawaii, including:

– The beginning of Indian migration to Hawaii in the late 1800s

– Working conditions on sugar cane plantations

– Establishing communities and preserving culture

– Indian influences on Hawaiian cuisine and customs

– Key figures in the Indian Hawaiian story

Arrival of Indians to Hawaii in the Late 19th Century

The late 19th century marked a significant influx of Indian immigrants to the beautiful islands of Hawaii. These immigrants played a crucial role in shaping the cultural diversity and economic landscape of the region. The journey of Indians to Hawaii can be traced back to the recruitment efforts of plantation owners, the arduous voyage from India to Hawaii, and the challenging working conditions they faced on the plantations.

Recruitment by Plantation Owners

Plantation owners in Hawaii were in dire need of laborers to work on their sugar cane and pineapple plantations. In search of a suitable workforce, they turned to India, a country known for its abundant labor supply. Indian workers were recruited through various means, including advertisements in Indian newspapers and the assistance of recruiting agents. The promise of better wages and the opportunity to improve their livelihoods attracted many Indians to embark on the journey to Hawaii.

Voyage from India to Hawaii

The voyage from India to Hawaii was a long and arduous one, spanning thousands of miles across the vast Indian Ocean. Indian workers traveled in overcrowded ships, enduring cramped conditions and limited provisions. The journey could take several weeks or even months, depending on weather conditions and the route taken. Despite the hardships, the Indian immigrants remained determined, fueled by the hope of a better future for themselves and their families.

Working Conditions on Plantations

Upon arrival in Hawaii, Indian immigrants were faced with grueling working conditions on the plantations. They toiled under the scorching sun, harvesting sugar cane and pineapples, often working long hours in physically demanding jobs. The work was challenging, but through their resilience and hard work, the Indian laborers contributed significantly to the growth of Hawaii’s agricultural industry.

Recruitment by Plantation Owners Voyage from India to Hawaii Working Conditions on Plantations
  • Advertisement in Indian newspapers
  • Assistance of recruiting agents
  • Promised better wages
  • Long and arduous journey
  • Overcrowded ships
  • Limited provisions
  • Grueling working conditions
  • Physically demanding jobs
  • Contributed to the growth of Hawaii’s agricultural industry

The arrival of Indians in Hawaii in the late 19th century marked a significant chapter in the history of the islands. Their journey from India to Hawaii, driven by the recruitment efforts of plantation owners, and their perseverance in the face of challenging working conditions, are a testament to the resilience and determination of these early Indian immigrants. Their contributions continue to be celebrated and cherished in the vibrant multicultural fabric of Hawaii today.

Forming Communities and Preserving Traditions

The history of Indians in Hawaii is a story of resilience, community building, and the preservation of rich cultural traditions. Despite being far away from their homeland, Indians in Hawaii have managed to form close-knit communities that have successfully retained their cultural identity over the years.

Building Temples and Cultural Centers

One way Indians in Hawaii have preserved their traditions is by establishing temples and cultural centers. These places serve as important hubs for religious and cultural activities, allowing the community to come together and practice their customs. For example, the Sri Venkateswara Swami Temple in Honolulu is a prominent Hindu temple that provides a space for worship, festivals, and other community events. The Indian Cultural Center of Hawaii is another significant institution that promotes Indian art, music, dance, and language.

Celebrating Holidays and Festivals

Indians in Hawaii actively celebrate their holidays and festivals, further strengthening their cultural ties. Traditional Indian festivals such as Diwali, Holi, and Navaratri are enthusiastically observed by the community. These celebrations often include vibrant decorations, traditional music and dance performances, and delicious Indian cuisine. The festivities not only bring joy and unity among the Indian community but also serve as a platform to share their culture with the wider Hawaiian population.

Passing Down Generations of Tradition

The Indian community in Hawaii takes great pride in passing down their traditions from one generation to the next. Parents and grandparents play a crucial role in teaching their children about their Indian heritage, including language, customs, and values. Cultural events and educational programs are also organized specifically for younger members of the community, ensuring that the traditions are not lost over time. This intergenerational transmission of culture helps maintain a strong sense of identity and belonging within the Indian community in Hawaii.

Influences on Hawaiian Culture

Food and Cuisine

The presence of Indians in Hawaii has had a significant impact on the local food and cuisine. Indian immigrants brought with them a rich culinary heritage that has seamlessly blended with the existing Hawaiian cuisine. Today, you can find Indian influences in popular Hawaiian dishes such as curry plates, roti wraps, and samosas. The diverse flavors of Indian spices have added a new dimension to the local food scene, offering residents and visitors a unique culinary experience.

One popular dish that showcases the fusion of Indian and Hawaiian flavors is the “Hawaiian curry.” This dish combines the vibrant spices of Indian curries with local ingredients such as fresh seafood and tropical fruits. The result is a mouthwatering dish that beautifully represents the cultural exchange between Indians and Hawaiians.

Music and Dance

Indian immigrants have also played a significant role in shaping the music and dance scene in Hawaii. The introduction of traditional Indian instruments such as the sitar and tabla has brought a distinct sound to the local music landscape. Indian classical music concerts and performances are now a regular occurrence in Hawaii, attracting music enthusiasts from all walks of life.

Furthermore, Indian dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Kathak have gained popularity and are now taught and performed in various dance studios and cultural centers across the islands. These vibrant and expressive dance forms have become an integral part of Hawaiian cultural events and celebrations.

Clothing and Fashion

Indian textiles and fashion have also made their mark on Hawaiian clothing and fashion trends. The intricate designs and vibrant colors of Indian fabrics such as silk and cotton have been embraced by local designers and incorporated into their collections. Indian-inspired prints and patterns can be seen on dresses, shirts, and accessories, adding a touch of exoticism to Hawaiian fashion.

Moreover, Indian traditional clothing like sarees and kurta-pajamas have become popular choices for special occasions and cultural events. The elegance and grace of these garments have captivated locals and tourists alike, providing a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Indian culture.

The influences of Indians in Hawaii extend beyond these three aspects, permeating various other facets of Hawaiian culture. The fusion of Indian and Hawaiian traditions has created a unique and vibrant cultural landscape that continues to evolve and thrive.

Key Figures in Indian Hawaiian History

Dalip Singh Saund – First Indian-American Congressman

Dalip Singh Saund made history as the first Indian-American to serve in the United States Congress. Born in India in 1899, Saund immigrated to the United States in 1920 to pursue higher education. He faced many challenges and discrimination during his early years in America, but his perseverance and determination led him to become a successful farmer and scholar.

In 1956, Saund ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and won, becoming the first Indian-American to hold a federal office. He served three terms in Congress and championed various causes, including civil rights and immigration reform. Saund’s legacy as a trailblazer and advocate for the Indian-American community in Hawaii and across the nation is still celebrated today.

Ameen Abdul Ali – Business and Community Leader

Ameen Abdul Ali is a prominent figure in the Indian Hawaiian community, known for his successful business ventures and dedication to community service. Born in Hawaii to Indian immigrant parents, Ali grew up understanding the importance of hard work and giving back to society.

Ali’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to establish several businesses, including restaurants and retail stores, which have become popular establishments in the Indian Hawaiian community. He has also been actively involved in various community organizations, supporting initiatives that promote education, cultural preservation, and economic development.

Ali’s contributions to the Indian Hawaiian community have earned him respect and admiration, and he continues to inspire others through his leadership and philanthropy.

Kamala Pandit – Educator and Activist

Kamala Pandit is a prominent figure in Indian Hawaiian history, known for her dedication to education and activism. Born in India, Pandit moved to Hawaii in the 1960s and became deeply involved in advocating for the rights and welfare of the Indian Hawaiian community.

As an educator, Pandit has played a significant role in promoting cultural awareness and inclusivity in schools. She has developed curriculum materials, organized cultural events, and provided mentorship to Indian Hawaiian students. Her efforts have helped foster a sense of pride and belonging among the younger generation.

Additionally, Pandit has been an active participant in social and political movements, fighting for equality and justice. She has been involved in grassroots campaigns, community organizing, and lobbying for policy changes that benefit marginalized communities.

Through her work as an educator and activist, Kamala Pandit has made a lasting impact on the Indian Hawaiian community, empowering individuals and advocating for a more equitable society.


Over the past century and a half, Indians have become an integral part of Hawaii’s diverse cultural fabric. Though far from their homeland, Indian immigrants and their descendants have maintained and shared their traditions while also adopting aspects of Hawaiian culture.

The Indian presence enriched the islands socially, politically, economically and culinarily. Their journey from India to Hawaii exemplifies the potential for people from vastly different backgrounds to not just co-exist, but actively exchange and blend together, creating a new hybrid culture.

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