HONOLULU (KHON2) — Oftentimes, those living in Hawaiʻi are referred to as Hawaiians by media sources or individuals located outside the Pacific region.
But, not everyone who lives in Hawaiʻi are Hawaiian. Most who live here are residents of the occupied island nation, but they are not necessarily Hawaiian.
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So, what is the difference between a Native Hawaiian, or a kanaka, and a resident?
“The American practice of marking identity according to place of residence [Californians, Bostonians, Arizonians, etc.] often validates the misconception that anyone who resides in Hawaiʻi can refer to themselves as ‘Hawaiian’ regardless of whether they have Indigenous Hawaiian ancestors,” explained ʻĀina Momoa.
The Hawaiian language (ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi) provides specific terminology that kānaka use to identify themselves. This language in couched in references to their ancestral and genealogical connection to the Hawaiian islands.
However, the understanding of the history of how Native Hawaiians’ linguistic self-identification has evolved is important when knowing how modern identities function.
According to ʻĀina Momoa, kanaka is the singular of kānaka. For centuries before European contact, the peoples of Hawaiʻi identified as kanaka/kānaka, and it meant humans in general. But this in general had the stipulation of Hawaiians being the humans of the world.
Once on the international scene, kānaka needed better ways of demarking their identity from all the other people groups coming to the islands.
The introduction of nūpepa (newspapers) to Hawaiʻi led to many kānaka writers exploring new linguistic ways of identity.
Maoli — which means native, indigenous, genuine, true or real — was used to create the term “Kanaka Maoli” or “Native person” or “Real Hawaiian” in nūpepa. It was used for the first time on April 18, 1834 in Hawaiʻi’s very first nūpepa, Ka Lama Hawaiʻi.
Kanaka maoli is by far the most commonly used identifier in modern times.
“Kanaka Hawaiʻi” became another term which means “Hawaiian person”. This was also used to identify kānaka following foreign contact and was first used on Dec. 24, 1834 in Ka Lama Hawaiʻi.
This way of identifying led to other groups gaining identities in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi.
For example, kanaka haole is a person of European descent; and kanaka kepanī is a person of Japanese ancestry.
ʻŌiwi means native and was later used as an identifying term for kānaka, according to ʻĀina Momoa. “Oiwi” or “Poʻe Oiwi” were terms recorded in nūpepa throughout the 1860s.
So, in 1875, a new term became the trend. “Kanaka Oiwi” became popular after that and led to “nā Hawaiʻi” also meaning “Hawaiian”.
As self-identification in a global society evolved in Hawaiʻi, the internationally recognized government of Hawaiʻi experienced an illegal overthrow by United States industrialists.
When these industrialists took over Hawaiʻi, they outlawed the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi; and Kanaka, Kanaka Maoli, Kanaka Hawaiʻi and Kanaka Oiwi became generally referred to as Hawaiian.
As you can see, the people of Hawaiʻi have a long history that clearly identifies who is Hawaiian and who is not.
“Being born and raised in Hawaiʻi does not make you Hawaiian. Living in Hawaiʻi for most of your life does not make you Hawaiian. Loving the culture and respecting the land and resources does not make you Hawaiian. If you truly love and respect Hawaiʻi and consider this your home, you have the kuleana [responsibility] to learn the history of the Kānaka Maoli of this place. Respecting Hawaiʻi means respecting Hawaiians and listening to our voices. You can live here and love this land alongside us, but please do not attempt to erase us by taking on titles that do not belong to you.”ʻĀina Momoa
Native America Today published a list of facts that many, even some residents of Hawaiʻi, do not know. It is in these facts that one can see a clear picture emerge of how different kanaka is from resident.
- Native Hawaiians are a race of people: As discussed above, kānaka maoli have a genetic link to the Polynesians who navigated the Pacific to establish their homes and lives in the Hawaiian archipelago.
- Hawaiians almost became extinct: When Cook landed in 1778, it was estimated that between 400,000 and one million kānaka maoli lived on the islands. Within the year, that number was reduced to 40,000.
- Hawaiʻi was an independent and sovereign nation that was recognized by Europe’s colonial powers and other states. Hawaiʻi had a monarchy that developed extensive trade relations throughout the world.
- Hawaiians quickly became literate after western contact due to missionaries who believed that literacy would make kānaka maoli easier to convert to Christianity.
- Hawaiʻi’s government was illegally overthrown by the United States of America in an effort by industrialists to take control of trade into and out of the islands.
- Native Hawaiians tried to fight back by protesting and appealing to both the U.S. Government and president as well as governments with which they had trade relations.
- The Hawaiian language (ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi) was banned as colonization took hold of Hawaiʻi. The U.S. industrialists who overthrew the sovereign state wanted to ensure that kānaka maoli did not have ready access to their traditions, culture, religions and heritage.
- Queen Lili’uokalani wrote the famous song “Aloha ‘Oe” (“Farewell to Thee”) while she was under house arrest by the foreigners who overthrew her government.
- The U.S. officially apologized for the illegal overthrow of Hawaiʻi in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.
- Native Hawaiians are revitalizing their language and culture: In 1986 John Waiheʻe was elected as Hawaiʻi’s first kanaka maoli governor. After that, in 1987, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi began to be taught in schools; and a renaissance of kānaka maoli art and culture followed through to today.
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So, to answer the question are Hawaiʻi residents Hawaiian? No, they are not. You can call yourself a kanaka haole or a resident, but you are not Hawaiian or kanaka maoli.