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If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Portagee Hawaiian is a term used to describe people of Portuguese ancestry born and raised in the Hawaiian islands. It originated in the 19th century when large numbers of Portuguese immigrants came to work on sugar plantations in Hawaii.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive deep into the history and evolution of the term Portagee Hawaiian.

We’ll explore the influx of Portuguese immigration to Hawaii, the role these immigrants played in the development of the island’s culture, and how the term came to refer to locally-born people of Portuguese descent.

The History of Portuguese Immigration to Hawaii

Portuguese Immigrants on in Hawaii

The story of Portuguese immigration to Hawaii is a fascinating one that spans several centuries.

The Portuguese first arrived in Hawaii in the late 19th century and played a significant role in shaping the culture and economy of the islands.

Let’s take a closer look at the early Portuguese arrivals, the rise of the sugar plantations, and the recruitment of Portuguese laborers.

The Early Portuguese Arrivals

The first Portuguese immigrants to Hawaii arrived in the 1870s, seeking better opportunities and a new life. Many of these early arrivals were from the Azores, a group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean.

They were drawn to Hawaii by the promise of work on the sugar plantations and the prospect of a better future for themselves and their families.

Life for the early Portuguese immigrants was not easy. They faced language barriers, discrimination, and challenging working conditions. However, they persevered and carved out a place for themselves in Hawaiian society.

They brought with them their rich cultural traditions, including music, dance, and cuisine, which still have a strong presence in Hawaii today.

Rise of the Sugar Plantations

The rise of the sugar plantations in Hawaii played a crucial role in attracting Portuguese immigrants. The demand for laborers to work on the plantations was high, and the Portuguese were willing to take on the challenging work.

They quickly became a significant part of the labor force, alongside other immigrant groups such as the Chinese and Japanese.

The Portuguese laborers worked long hours in the fields, cultivating and harvesting sugar cane.

Their hard work and dedication contributed to the success of the sugar industry in Hawaii, which became one of the primary economic drivers of the islands.

The plantations provided employment opportunities and helped to shape the social and cultural fabric of Hawaii.

Also read: Why Are There So Many Asians In Hawaii?

Recruiting Portuguese Laborers

As the demand for laborers on the sugar plantations grew, efforts were made to recruit more Portuguese immigrants.

The Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA) played a significant role in this recruitment process. They actively sought out Portuguese workers and offered them incentives to come to Hawaii.

The HSPA provided assistance with transportation, housing, and employment placement for Portuguese immigrants. They also offered contracts with specified wages and working conditions.

These recruitment efforts led to a significant increase in the Portuguese population in Hawaii, further solidifying their presence and influence in the islands.

Today, the Portuguese community in Hawaii continues to thrive and contribute to the cultural diversity of the islands.

Their legacy can be seen in the Portuguese festivals, traditional dishes like malasadas (Portuguese donuts), and the presence of Portuguese surnames throughout Hawaii.

For more information on the history of Portuguese immigration to Hawaii, you can visit the University of Hawaii Center for Portuguese Studies website, which provides a comprehensive overview of the topic.

The Portuguese Influence on Hawaiian Culture

The Portuguese influence on Hawaiian culture is profound and can be seen in various aspects of daily life. From the food we eat to the words we speak, the Portuguese have left an indelible mark on the islands.

Let’s take a closer look at how their influence has shaped Hawaiian culture.

Food and Cuisine

One of the most delicious legacies of the Portuguese in Hawaii is their contribution to the local cuisine.

The Portuguese brought with them a love for bread, which led to the creation of the iconic Hawaiian sweet bread. This fluffy and slightly sweet bread is a staple in many households and is used to make popular local dishes such as Portuguese sausage and sweet bread French toast.

The Portuguese also introduced malasadas, a mouthwatering deep-fried doughnut-like pastry that has become a beloved treat among locals and visitors alike.

Another Portuguese culinary influence is the use of spices like chili pepper and garlic, which can be found in many traditional Hawaiian dishes.

For example, the popular dish called “Portuguese bean soup” combines beans, sausage, and vegetables seasoned with these flavorful spices.

The Portuguese also introduced the technique of marinating and grilling meat, which is commonly seen in dishes like Hawaiian-style barbecue ribs.

Language and Names

The Portuguese language has also made its way into the Hawaiian lexicon. Many Portuguese words have been adopted into the local Hawaiian Pidgin English, creating a unique blend of languages.

For example, the word “pau” is commonly used in Hawaii to mean “finished” or “done,” which comes from the Portuguese word “pao” meaning “bread.”

Similarly, the word “maka” is used to refer to the eyes, derived from the Portuguese word “olhos.”

In addition to language, Portuguese surnames are also prevalent in Hawaii. Many families have Portuguese last names, such as Silva, Rodrigues, or Souza, which are a testament to the Portuguese immigration to the islands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

These surnames have become an integral part of the multicultural fabric that makes up Hawaiian society.

Religion and Traditions

The Portuguese brought their Catholic faith to Hawaii, which has had a lasting impact on the local religious landscape.

The Catholic Church played a significant role in the lives of Portuguese immigrants, and their traditions and religious practices have been passed down through generations.

Today, you can find various Catholic churches throughout the islands that continue to serve as gathering places for the Portuguese community.

Portuguese traditions have also become intertwined with Hawaiian cultural celebrations. For example, the Portuguese Holy Ghost Festival, known as “Festa,” is celebrated in many communities across the islands.

This festival brings people together to honor the Holy Spirit with music, food, and traditional dances. It is a time of joy and camaraderie, reflecting the strong Portuguese influence on Hawaiian traditions.

The Origin and Evolution of the Term “Portagee Hawaiian”

The term “Portagee Hawaiian” is a unique expression that has its origins in the cultural diversity of Hawaii.

It is important to understand that the term may have different connotations depending on the context and the person using it.

To fully grasp its meaning, we need to explore its historical background and how it has evolved over time.

Early Distinctions Between “Portagee” and “Hawaiian”

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hawaii experienced an influx of immigrants from various countries, including Portugal.

These Portuguese immigrants, often referred to as “Portuguese” or “Portagees,” played a significant role in shaping the islands’ cultural landscape. However, they were distinct from the native Hawaiians, who had their own rich cultural heritage.

The term “Portagee Hawaiian” emerged during this time as a way to distinguish individuals of Portuguese descent who were born or raised in Hawaii.

It was used to acknowledge their dual heritage and cultural backgrounds. While some used it as a term of endearment or camaraderie, others may have employed it in a derogatory manner.

Shift Towards Identifying as “Local”

As the years went by, a shift occurred in the way people identified themselves in Hawaii. The term “Portagee Hawaiian” began to lose popularity, and a new term emerged – “local.”

This term encompassed individuals of various ethnicities who were born and raised in Hawaii, regardless of their ancestral background.

The rise of the term “local” reflected a growing sense of unity and shared identity among the diverse communities in Hawaii.

It was a way for people to embrace their multicultural heritage while emphasizing their strong connection to the islands.

Also read: Hawaiian Slang For White Person: A comprehensive Guide

Reclaiming the Term with Pride

In recent years, there has been a movement to reclaim the term “Portagee Hawaiian” with pride. Many individuals of Portuguese descent have embraced their heritage and cultural contributions to Hawaii.

They see the term as a celebration of their unique identity and an acknowledgment of their ancestors’ hardships and achievements.

Through cultural events, community organizations, and social media platforms, Portuguese Hawaiians are actively promoting their cultural heritage and educating others about their history.

This shift in perspective has brought about a greater appreciation for the term “Portagee Hawaiian” and its significance in the broader narrative of Hawaii’s multicultural society.

It is important to approach the term “Portagee Hawaiian” with sensitivity and respect, understanding its historical context and the individual’s intentions when using it.

By acknowledging and appreciating the diverse backgrounds that make up Hawaii’s cultural tapestry, we can foster a more inclusive and harmonious community.


In conclusion, the term Portagee Hawaiian emerged from Hawaii’s history as an immigrant melting pot.

Though it originated as a distinguisher, it evolved into a badge of local identity and shared culture for people of Portuguese descent born and raised on the islands.

The Portuguese left an indelible stamp on Hawaii, and the resilience of their descendants in the face of discrimination is reflected in the reclaimed term Portagee Hawaiian.

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