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The Hawaiian archipelago is typically thought to consist of 8 major islands. However, the concept of a “9th Hawaiian island” refers to an unofficial island that plays an important cultural role.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: The 9th island of Hawaii is a conceptual island that refers to the Hawaiian diaspora, or Hawaiians living outside of the physical Hawaiian islands.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the meaning behind the ‘9th island’ concept, its origins and cultural significance, some key locations considered to be part of this figurative island, and why it has become an integral part of Hawaiian identity.

Understanding the Concept of the 9th Hawaiian Island

The 8 Main Hawaiian Islands

The Hawaiian archipelago consists of 8 major islands: Hawaiʻi, Maui, Oʻahu, Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, Kauaʻi, and Niʻihau. These islands were formed by volcanic hotspots in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaiʻi, also called the “Big Island”, is the largest and youngest island in the chain.

The islands stretch over 1,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean. The 8 main islands have incredibly diverse landscapes, from tropical rainforests to snow-capped peaks to rocky shores and golden beaches.

The Significance of the Number 9 in Hawaiian Culture

The number 9 holds special meaning in Hawaiian culture. According to Hawaiian mythology, 9 is a sacred number that represents completeness and fulfillment. The 9th night of the moon phase is considered a time of enlightenment and spiritual power.

Ancient Hawaiians also had 9 levels to their caste system, with the 9th level representing the highest priests and healers. Even today, 9 is seen as an auspicious number and the 9th child born to Hawaiian parents will have their hair cut in a special ceremony called ʻaha ʻula.

The Dispersal of Native Hawaiians

Native Hawaiians were once solely concentrated in the islands, but various historical events led to the dispersal of Hawaiians to other parts of the world. When Captain James Cook first made contact in 1778, the native population was estimated to be between 400,000 to 800,000 people.

However, foreign diseases like smallpox decimated nearly 90% of Hawaiians by the late 1800s. During the plantation era in the 19th and 20th centuries, many Hawaiians also relocated and settled along the American West Coast. According to the U.S.

Census, over 500,000 people identify as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander in the United States today.

The Origins of the Term “9th Island”

The term “9th Island” is used to refer to the state of California by residents of Hawaii. This nickname stems from the large number of Native Hawaiians and Hawaiians who have migrated to and settled in California over the years.

The migration of Hawaiians to the continental United States began in the early 1900s when steamship companies like Matson built luxury ocean liners that enabled leisure travel from the islands. Many Hawaiians came to the mainland for vacation, education, or job opportunities and ended up settling in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

By the 1950s, the number of Native Hawaiians living in California was large enough that the term “9th Island” started being used. It was a way for Hawaiians abroad to acknowledge the strong Hawaiian culture and presence within California.

Key Factors in the Growth of the Hawaiian Population in California

There are several reasons why California specifically attracted so many Hawaiians immigrants over the years:

  • The warm climate of southern California, especially San Diego and Los Angeles, reminded immigrants of home.
  • Job opportunities were plentiful in industries like aerospace, agriculture, and entertainment.
  • The cost of living was lower compared to Hawaii, making it an affordable place to settle.
  • California’s major ports allowed for easy import/export business back to the islands.

Today, it’s estimated that over 250,000 Native Hawaiians call California home, cementing its status as the “9th Island” of Hawaii. The aloha spirit is strong across Hawaiian cultural hubs in cities like Costa Mesa, San Diego, Los Angeles and beyond.

Locations Embracing the 9th Island Identity

Hawaiian communities in the continental U.S.

There are over 160,000 Native Hawaiians estimated to be living in the continental United States. Significant populations can be found in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Denver (Source).

These vibrant Hawaiian communities embrace their culture through events like the Aloha Festivals held annually in September across various mainland cities. According to festival organizers in California, the events celebrate “the roots of the Hawaiian culture with emphasis on the importance of the ‘Aloha Spirit’” (Source).

In addition to celebrations, Hawaiian civic groups have formed over the years to connect descendants and friends to culture. For example, the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs has dozens of member clubs throughout the western U.S. states.

The association runs leadership programs, organizes events, provides scholarships, and aims to perpetuate Hawaiian traditions (Source). Other organizations like the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement support the Hawaiian community through initiatives on areas like health, housing, entitlement programs, incarceration, and governance (Source).

Hawaiian communities abroad

Native Hawaiians can be found worldwide, though population counts are estimates given that many countries do not collect separate data. After the continental U.S., Australia and New Zealand have next largest communities of Hawaiians living abroad.

Estimates indicate around 9,000 Hawaiians reside in Australia and over 7,500 in New Zealand (Source).

Australia 9,000 estimated
New Zealand 7,500+ estimated

These Pacific Islander groups celebrate Hawaiian culture actively. For example, there are annual Hawaiian festivals held in Australia that showcase Polynesian music, dance, food, and handicrafts. According to Tourism New Zealand, the Auckland Pasifika Festival hosted the largest Pacific Islander celebration in the world in 2013 with over 200,000 attendees (Source).

Events like these keep Hawaiian traditions alive across communities worldwide.

The Cultural Importance of the 9th Island Concept

Preserving Hawaiian identity

The concept of the “9th island” refers to the large number of people of Hawaiian ancestry living outside of Hawaii, especially on the U.S. mainland. This diaspora community is often viewed as an extension of the Hawaiian islands – a symbolic “9th island” preserving Hawaiian culture.

Hawaiians living on the mainland strive to maintain connections to their homeland through events, organizations, food, language, arts, and other cultural practices. For example, annual festivals like the Aloha Festivals celebrate Hawaiian music, dance, food, and handicrafts.

Community groups like the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs promote cultural preservation and Hawaiian values. Prominent Hawaiians also visit communities to reinforce cultural identity.

Additionally, Hawaiian restaurants, annual lūʻau celebrations, Saturday Hawaiian language schools, and hula keep Hawaiian traditions alive. Mainland Hawaiians learn olelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language), pass down customs through generations, replicate traditional architecture, and more – allowing Hawaiian identity to thrive thousands of miles from the islands.

Strengthening connections

This large 9th island community not only preserves culture but reinforces connections to the islands. Hawaiians living abroad often feel strong ties to their ancestral homelands. Visits back for family reunions, high school graduations, festivals, sporting events, and vacations help reinforce these bonds.

flights make Hawaii accessible for many mainlanders. In fact, over 9.4 million visitors flew to Hawaii in 2019 alone – many to visit friends and relatives. This two-way travel supports lasting relationships with family and friends back home.

It also facilitates investment in Hawaii’s economy through remittances, business partnerships, philanthropy, and real estate purchases.

Furthermore, this diaspora wields political influence in Hawaii. Mainlanders participate in local elections, lobby for Hawaiian causes, and shape attitudes back home. Some even repatriate later in life.

Together, these civic, economic, cultural, and political connections make mainland Hawaiians an integral extension of the islands.


The 9th island of Hawaii represents the resilience and unity of native Hawaiians wherever they may reside. By embracing the idea of a figurative additional Hawaiian island, Hawaiians aim to keep their shared identity and traditions alive.

The dispersal of Hawaiians beyond their homeland brought challenges, but the ‘9th island’ mindset helps foster meaningful connections both in Hawaii and cities abroad.

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